Category Archives: Getting Started

Tips for Developing a Regular Sitting Practice

A personal sacred space

Choose a space that is dedicated just for your practice.
Select a place in your home that you will only use for your practice. Choose a space that will be relatively quiet when you practice and where you can be alone. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A corner of the bedroom or a large closet would even do. Place a cushion there and something meaningful to you, such as a candle or a picture that inspires you. You don’t balance your checkbook in this space. You don’t play on Facebook here. You turn the ringer off when you’re here. You just sit. Treat the space as sacred and only use it for your practice.

Practice at the same time every day, as much as possible.
It can be very helpful to begin your day with meditation, but if that doesn’t fit your schedule right now, find another time that works for you. Perhaps it will be easier for you to end your day and unwind with your practice, or you may find a 15 minute window of time during the day that works for you, perhaps when you first get home or when you put the baby down for a nap. The important thing is to practice at the same time of day, as much as possible. It sets the expectation in your mind and a makes that time for yourself a priority. Put it in your calendar and set an alarm in your phone if you must. No one else will make your practice a priority for you, if you don’t.

Create a meaningful ritual for your time in that space.
Find a way to make your practice your own using a simple ritual that is meaningful to you and sets your intention for your practice. Maybe you can light a candle and take a moment to express gratitude before you begin. Maybe you can include a picture of someone who is especially endearing to you that inspires you. Maybe it’s a simple mantra practice like loving kindness meditation that helps you begin your practice. Do whatever works for you that helps you to shift gears from the busyness of your life and into your practice.

Set reasonable goals for yourself.
If you’re not a morning person, it will be very difficult to suddenly try to get up at 4:30 am to meditate every day. Be realistic. Don’t try to sit for an hour any time soon. Even 5 minutes a few times a week is a good way to begin a new practice. If all you do is sit down on the cushion and put your body there in that space in that posture for a few breaths a day then get up and go about your day, it can be a very healthy way to begin creating a meaningful practice. Set small reasonable goals for yourself and make them a priority.

Be accountable to others.
The practice of meditation may seem like a lone ranger mentality, but the truth is that we need a safe supporting community. Even if it’s just one friend that we can share about our practice with, it really helps us to know someone else is on a similar path as ours. We all need encouragement and the opportunity to offer encouragement to others. Find a local yoga class or meditation group that you can practice with on occasion, or join an online discussion group on meditation. Even using an app on your phone like Insight Timer will put you in touch with other people who are engaged in similar types of practice as yours.

The bottom line is you just do it. You set your intention, you make it a priority, and defend that time in your day as a way of giving back to yourself and cultivating the enormous potential that is in you. Sometime you have to be a little selfish in order to be more selfless for everyone else in your life.

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Lovingkindness Meditation

We begin by extending lovingkindness to ourselves using traditional phrases or mantras. It may seem odd at first, but if we are unable to love and be gentle with ourselves, we will be unable to extend lovingkindness to others. It’s ok if you don’t particularly feel the phrases at the moment, just set your intention and gather your attention behind each phrase. Say them first for yourself.

May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.

Then you repeat those phrases for a loved one, whoever comes to mind:

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.

Then repeat those phrases for someone you feel neutral toward, perhaps someone you remember from your day that you encountered.

Next repeat those phrases for someone you feel resistance toward or struggle with.

Lastly, open your heart wider to extend lovingkindness to all beings everywhere.

May all beings everywhere be safe.
May all beings everywhere be happy.
May all beings everywhere be healthy.
May all beings everywhere live with ease.

Finding your balance on the cushion

Some rights reserved by Beautiful Insanity PhotographySiddhartha Gautama was born a prince and lived in luxury. His father the King sheltered him from religious influences and the realities of poverty and suffering outside the palaces. Later in his life when he finally saw the enormity of suffering present in the world he left the privilege of royalty and became an ascetic monk.

In addition to discovering higher states of concentration he also adapted the ascetic practices of self-mortification and rejection of all worldly comforts, even to the point of living on a grain of rice or one nut per day. Upon his awakening Buddha realized that there is a Middle Way between indulgence and depravity.

The book of Ecclesiastes teaches, “Don’t be overrighteous. Don’t be overwicked. The man who fears God avoids all extremes,” (7:16-18). Religion and politics can both be loony or dangerous when practiced at the extremes. Contemplative practice of all kinds has pitfalls at the polarities, but a life of balance and moderation is where happiness, contentment, and well-being can be realized.

Most people who come to meditation are all too familiar with living on autopilot in this fast paced rat race we call Western life. We have come to know that having more stuff doesn’t satisfy, but the antidote is not found in rejecting our lives and replacing them with Eastern imitations. If you’re new to meditation practice, you can commit to sitting for hours everyday for the rest of your life, but it’s very unrealistic that you will be able to live up to that goal, especially when the realities of work and family interrupt the new spiritual life you’ve planned. There has to be a balance between spiritual ambition and apathy.

Buddha used the illustration of a stringed instrument. He told his student that if you tighten the string too much it will break. If you make it too loose, it will not make music, but if you tune it somewhere in between, the string will sound just right. Whether in our meditation practice, our yoga practice, or our work and family life, we need balance. Take it serious, but not too serious.

It would be better to start out small and slow than to blow your engine out at the starting line. The tortoise proved to the hare that “slow and steady wins the race.” If you’re just starting out, why not make a small commitment to spend just 5 minutes a day in meditation or whatever your practice is. In time you can increase it when you’re ready. It’s best to find a healthy balance between what is challenging and what is realistic. Yoga instructor Travis Eliot tells his students that “full effort always equals full benefit.” How we engage our practice is the key to finding the middle way in every other area of our lives.