How to Maintain a Meditation Practice
One of the most common questions I get from students is how to maintain a meditation practice.
This is especially hard when you’re starting out. Once you begin to see the benefits of meditation, it’s easier to stay with it. The simple practice of noticing and sensing what is happening in a non-judgmental way makes a big difference in how you respond to the whole of life. You can notice in just a few conscious breaths that it’s possible to create a gap between the stimulation and response of our nervous system. We can get out of fight and flight. We can evolve into something bigger than always self-protecting. And we can feel this when we meditate.
As you’re just beginning to build the habit, though, you might often find yourself giving yourself too much negative reinforcement and not enough self-love.
For example, there was a time in my life when sitting consistently for meditation became painful. At a point in my sitting practice, I could hear my grandmother saying this to me, “hold those shoulders back.” She even bought me a back brace. No wonder the story of “something is wrong with me” comes up when I struggle to sit up straight in meditation practice.
But here’s the thing: we get to rewrite the stories of our lives with mindfulness practice.
That’s true of the inner critic – even when it yells at us for not sitting like we think we should. As soon as I recognized that voice, I didn’t have to believe it as much.
It’s also true of that inner two-year-old who – like my actual two-year-old – does not want to sit still, who throws tantrums, who seems determined to throw me off balance.
Mindfulness invites us to accept and even love all of these parts of ourselves. Both the part of us that won’t sit still, and the part of us that yells at the other part.
Consider how you wanted to be loved as a kid, by your parents. What does that look and feel like? How would you raise you? Or, for that matter, how do you take care of a plant? This is how we want to take care of ourselves as we’re cultivating mindfulness. We want to settle in, in a way that invites presence.
Of course, if your attention is jumping everywhere, it’s hard to sit. Of course, it is! You’re not alone in this. Or you may be able to sit, but you may not want to meditate. Of course! How often are you asked to really feel your feelings? To get curious about your thinking process? To sense into your joys and pains, aches and tensions, to really fall in love with breathing?
Set a clear container for your meditation practice. You can still sign up for Ten Percent Happier’s New Year’s challenge, for example. Or if it’s a commitment of five minutes a day, making that commitment will support you. Or maybe let yourself take a weekly average of five minutes per day. That’s fine. The recent scientific research on neuroplasticity is confirming that every time we meditate, it changes the grooves in our brains and bodies.
Eventually, with mindfulness, your whole life becomes the container, because it’s a whole orientation toward life – a whole vision of a life worth living, in which you can be fully present for all of it….. eventually.
Emily Horn is on the core team of Buddhist Geeks, which integrates technology, culture and meditation. She is a teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Insight Meditation Society, and InsightLA, and has been called a "power player of the mindfulness movement" by Wired Magazine.