Getting Started: Cultivating Your Own Mindfulness Meditation Practice
We should be more afraid of avoiding our inner path than walking on it. If you have the courage to look within and let go of “getting it right,” meditation will be a genuine friend. In this Part 1 of a 4 part series, I begin laying out your Meditation Map – a voyage back to yourself.
No matter how much we talk, study or read about mindfulness, cultivating a practice is the greatest challenge. For years, I loved the idea of being a mindful maven but until I embraced my sitting meditation practice, I only understood mindfulness conceptually. Mindfulness isn’t an intellectual knowing, but rather, an embodied experience. Science continues to validate what ancient yogis have known for thousands of years. I have already written about WHY we should meditate, now here’s where the rubber meets the road.
Give yourself permission to start small. Choose a specific amount of time that you can realistically dedicate to your daily sitting practice. This could be 5, 10, or 20 minutes. Listen to your intuition and acknowledge you can build on this later. Consistency is key and to promote the longevity of your meditation practice, you need to be honest with yourself. Release judgmental thoughts about how long you should be sitting. Meditation is not meant to be another item on your to-do list or a competition, but rather, a practice we’re pulled to.
We’re creatures who thrive on daily rhythm and predictability. Choose a dedicated meditation space in your home or office. As you begin practicing, your intentional, calm energy will fill this environment. This will reinforce the energetic consistency of your meditations as you return to your cushion time and time again. To enhance the structure of your practice, choose a specific time during the day to meditate (morning, afternoon or night). Consider your practice a non-negotiable, like eating breakfast, taking client calls or brushing your teeth. This shift in perspective solidifies your meditation as a routine rather than an option.
Instruments of Attention
As you begin practicing, utilize the breath flow as an instrument to rest your attention on. Settle your focus on the breath and each subtle and pronounced body sensation of this experience. For example, how the air feels when it hits the tip of your nostrils. Then, attend to the feeling in your throat as the air travels towards the lungs. Here, you are using your body as a way to strengthen your awareness muscle. Like doing bicep curls, your awareness will be strengthened with repetition.
The goal isn’t to not have thoughts, it’s to gain awareness of your thoughts. Think of yourself as a non-judgmental observer of your thoughts, emotions and body sensations. The aim is to be curious about where the mind goes, what feelings arise, etc. As Irvin Yalom would point out, anything that emerges is simply “grist for the mill.”
Trust me, your mind will wander. One moment, you’re focused on breath flow, then all of a sudden, your mind jumps to creating a grocery list! Everyone’s mind wanders, even for meditating monks who have been practicing for 30 years. As you embark on this inner journey, you’ll soon see the folly of the mind and the illusion that we are our thoughts.
Process Not Progress
I’m often asked by clients “how to I know if I’m doing it right?” or “how do I know I’m making progress?” For a meditation practice to be genuine, you need to be vulnerable. Remember, a practice is not a performance. In other words, allow yourself to sit-with the confusion, failure, distraction, agitation and boredom all while nobly sitting on your meditation cushion. I’m guilty as charged and I can write genuinely about striving to “get it right” as I sit in lotus position, yearning for Nirvana.
As a recovering perfectionist, I struggled with letting go of the results my practice would provide. What did this mean? Embracing the imperfection of my practice and of myself. This brought me much confusion and discomfort. But actually, seeing my confusion and intense discomfort with imperfection was a genuine discovery. Through acknowledging those tough meditative moments, filled with frustration and sometimes tears, I knew the teachings were real. Then, after a while, a little voice would creep in: Abandon perfection. You are here. You are ready.
Now, I bow to that little voice.
With Compassionate Peace,