How to Start Meditating Daily

How to meditate daily

The benefits of meditation are widely touted these days. You may have tried it out yourself, or had it recommended to you by a friend, a healthcare professional, or even a podcast. But what’s the best way to start–and more importantly, maintain–a meditation practice in your daily life?

In this article, we’ll look at the practical and motivational aspects to consider when starting to meditate. Many of these are similar to considerations in developing any good habit. In addition, we’ll touch on some of the obstacles that are specific to meditation and how to work with them. 

Meditation is a simple practice, but once you start you’ll find there are many, many layers to it. The scope of this article is to get you started in developing a home practice. I’ve also linked to some resources so you continue exploring this vast topic.

How to Meditate Daily: First, Learn to Meditate

While it’s outside the scope of this article to teach you how to meditate, many good resources are available for learning to meditate. This article has numerous text and video resources to get you started. You can also review our list of the best books for new meditators.

Learning from a reputable teacher in person (or live online) is a good way to start, as it gives you the chance to try it out and also ask questions about what comes up for you.

Many Shambhala centers offer introductory “Learn to Meditate” classes and open houses that include meditation instruction. Meditation centers in other traditions also offer similar sessions. Attending an in-person class gives you the opportunity to meet other meditators and can help you to build support for your ongoing practice.

Ready, Set, Meditate!: Starting Your Practice

Let’s look at some practical ways you can make incorporating meditation into your daily life easier.

1. Make a Space

Identify a place in your home where you plan to meditate.

Identify a place in your home where you plan to meditate. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does help if it’s out of the way, a place you can sit quietly without interruptions. The corner of a bedroom or home office can work well.

You don’t have to sit on the floor, though if that’s comfortable for you, go for it. A chair that allows you to maintain an upright posture is perfectly acceptable. 

If you live with other people, let them know where you’ll be meditating and ask not to be interrupted while you’re doing it. A room with a door you can close is great.

Pets can be a challenge, especially ones that want to be with you. All. The. Time. You may have to experiment with spaces to find one that will work. Fortunately, most animals are routine-oriented, so they will learn about their human’s ‘time out’. My cats now ignore me while I’m meditating and sleep on my meditation cushion later in the day!

Some people like to make their meditation space special by lighting a candle or incense or setting up a small shrine (see this article on making a home shrine). It isn’t necessary, though, so don’t make not having the ‘perfect’ space an obstacle to meditating. Your space will probably evolve as you continue to meditate, anyway, so let it evolve naturally.

2. Set a Time

Routine is helpful in establishing new habits, so begin by setting a time of day to meditate.

Routine is helpful in establishing new habits, so begin by setting a time of day to meditate. I like to meditate in the morning right after I get up (and make tea and brush the cats). Mornings may be busy for you, so perhaps setting time aside when you get home from work would be better.

If you like plans and schedules, you can set a specific time. For instance, 8:00 am, breakfast; 8:15, meditate; 8:30, leave for work. My inclination and schedule is looser, so my routine (such as it is!) has an order but not a specific time. There are no rules, so what works for you, well, works for you. Follow your natural tendencies, and please, be gentle with yourself as you figure out your new routine.

How Long to Meditate

In general, it’s best to start out with relatively short sessions, something that feels manageable in your schedule and your meditation experience. Ten minutes a day is doable for many people. Even five minutes will get you started. Whatever amount you choose, resolve to stick with it for each session.

Maybe you love to meditate and decide to sit for an hour a day. That’s great… and may not be sustainable. Choose a length of time that feels realistic to maintain for a month or so, and see how it goes.

A pro tip from meditation teacher Susan Piver: “Don’t say to yourself: ‘I’m going to meditate every single day for the rest of my life.’ This is a big mistake–first, because you’re not, and second, because it’s just too much pressure.” That is, don’t set yourself up to fail. This isn’t a race!

You’ll gain more benefit by sitting for shorter periods more often.

You’ll gain more benefit by sitting for shorter periods more often. Ten minutes most days a week will make more difference in your life over time than sitting one hour-long session on Saturday. Consistency is important.

Timing your Session

I like to use a timer when I’m meditating alone, so I’m not continually checking the clock. The timer on your phone or watch or an alarm clock works great. Many meditation apps have timers as well, with nice-sounding gongs and bells to start and end your session.

You may not be able to meditate every day. That’s OK! Remember to be gentle with yourself. Three or four times a week might be the perfect place to start. 

What if you miss a day you planned to meditate? No problem. Really. Not a problem. Do not beat yourself up. Feeling bad about missing a meditation session is worse than just missing the meditation session and moving on.

A Word About Apps

Mindfulness/meditation apps can help motivate you. I use an app for my home practice because I like the gongs it offers and because it keeps track of how many sessions I’ve done overall and in a row.

It turns out, these many years after elementary school, I am still motivated by gold stars. I have been known to meditate simply to avoid ruining my streak. Hey, whatever gets you to the cushion! Now, after many years of meditating, the practice is simply a part of my life and essential to my wellbeing. But in the early years, having the motivation of an award was worth it for me.

Apps also offer ways to connect with other meditators as well as classes, guided meditations, music, yoga, and more. So much, in fact, it can be overwhelming. If you find you’re spending your meditation time scrolling through classes or listening to one guided meditation after another, it might be time to go back to a basic timer. 

How to Meditate Daily: Maintaining your Meditation Practice

Once you’ve learned how to meditate and figured out when and where you’re going to do it, you simply start, right? Like Nike says, just do it.

Yes. And.

It can feel a little strange. We’re not used to sitting quietly, by ourselves, basically doing nothing. Just breathing. In our Western culture, we’re encouraged to get things done, improve ourselves, or make things better for others. You might be wondering, “what will my family and friends think if I just sit and do nothing for 10 minutes a day?” Or maybe, “is this doing any good? Maybe I should do something more ‘useful.’ Why am I doing this, anyway?”

Understanding your motivation and intention can go a long way to helping you maintain and deepen your practice.

These are excellent questions. It’s important to investigate your motivations for meditating. Understanding your motivation and intention can go a long way to helping you maintain and deepen your practice.

Examining your Motivation

Many people come to meditation because they’ve heard it’s a good way to manage stress, to develop calm and equanimity, to become happier, or to deal with difficult thoughts and situations. All those things can be outcomes of meditating, along with many other delightful insights. 

However, meditation is not a self-help tool. It’s not a life hack. The purpose of meditation is not to fix you or make you a better person. In fact, according to Buddhist and Shambhala teachings, you (as well as everyone else) are already fundamentally wholesome and good. There’s nothing to fix.

There may be confusion to dispel, however, and this is where meditation is helpful. Essential, in fact.

The main purpose of meditation is to give us the time and space to make friends with ourselves.

The main purpose of meditation is to give us the time and space to make friends with ourselves. To really get to know ourselves, warts and all, as they say. Without judgment.

As when making friends with other people, it helps to be open and gentle. Friendly. Curious about who this person is. Learning about their quirks and tendencies in an open, kind way. 

Gentleness is key.  

When I was starting to meditate–and struggling to get to the cushion–my husband, a long-time meditator, said to me that the meditation cushion was the friendliest place he knew. Like home.

Yeah, right, I thought.

My experience of meditating was more along the lines of noticing how my thoughts pinged and raced around in my head.  And then getting hit with waves of big emotions–sadness over past or imagined losses, anger at myself for not doing something right or well enough, frustration at not finding any calm, or when I did feel calm, spacing out or falling asleep. I was sure no one else had those problems.

No wonder I didn’t want to meditate! I was not being nice to myself. Quite the opposite.

But over the years, as I’ve worked to shift my view away from trying to meditate the “right” way toward a gentle, open curiosity about myself, I’ve found that my husband was right. Meditating is like coming home. Sometimes my mind is grouchy, sometimes busy, sometimes dull, sometimes peaceful. It’s all OK.

And it’s all very ordinary. As Chögyam Trungpa says, “meditation is extremely down to earth, irritatingly down to earth.” He goes on:

“It can also be demanding. If you stick with it, you will understand things about yourself and others, and you will gain clarity. If you practice regularly and follow this discipline, your experiences won’t necessarily be dramatic, but you will have a sense of discovering yourself.”

Get Support

I have a friend who hosts a daily meditation session on Zoom. Every weekday at 7:30 am she opens her Zoom room, rings the gong, and she and whichever of her meditation cohort joins her meditates for 25 minutes. 

Support from others can be a key motivating force for your meditation practice.

Having support like this can be a key motivating force for many people. Finding a meditation accountability buddy who you text each day might be your style. Or try joining a challenge offered by a mindfulness app to meditate every day for a month. Or start your own Zoom meditation group.

Many local Shambhala Centers host weekly in-person and hybrid meditation sessions. Sitting with other people can be a powerful reinforcement of your motivation for sitting and keep you going through the week. Not only will you have the chance to sit longer than you might at home, but sitting with others who seem* to be meditating so peacefully is a strong incentive to stay on the cushion.

*They aren’t any more peaceful than you are.

Meditation centers also provide the opportunity to meet and get to know other meditators. My local center hosts a CommuniTEA session after Sunday meditation, a chance to chat, snack, ask questions, and laugh about the crazy things our minds get up to on the cushion. This is where we develop our spiritual community, known as sangha in Buddhist terms, an essential part of the Buddhist and Shambhala path.

Shambhala Centers also offer the chance to meet one-on-one with a meditation instructor–an experienced meditator who has studied how to assist other meditators in their practice. An “MI,” as they’re known in Shambhala parlance, can help with everything from how to deal with your aching back, to working with racing thoughts while you’re meditating, to what to do with big emotions that come up on the cushion. Check with your local center to arrange a meeting with an MI.

Having an experienced meditator to meet with and ask questions can help in so many ways.

Having an experienced meditator to meet with and ask questions of can help in so many ways, especially when you’re starting out. They can also recommend resources for study and to help you as you become more experienced.

How to Start Meditating Daily: Summing Up

Above all, be gentle and kind with yourself. Meditation is challenging, wonderful, exasperating, grounding, and many other things. Keep at it. You can do it.

This article is part of the Shambhala.org Community Blog, which offers reflections by Shambhala community members on their individual journeys in meditation and spirituality.

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2024-06-23 20:21:50