Cultivating a meditation practice can seem daunting for many of us. There is no right way to mediate, and discovering what meditation means to you is a personal journey. Though tools are provided to guide us, meditation is not something that can be taught through instruction, it must be experienced through practice. Each of us will have a unique meditation practice, and within our individual practice, each time we sit will be a unique experience in itself. I encourage you to try different kinds of practice and discover what meditation means to you.
The results of spiritual practice are directly related to the energy we bring into it. If we are resentful of the practice the fruits will be sour. If we enter into practice with love, curiosity, and openness, the fruits will reflect that. Being still may be quite uncomfortable for some of us, but discomfort does not need to equal suffering. Being open to discomfort and allowing it to be, will actually change the feeling over time. If there is discomfort in the mind or resistance to practice, begin slowly and let the practice evolve.
Early morning, especially around dawn, is a subtle and clear time of day. Though it is often suggested to meditate in the early morning hours, this is not always realistic. Meditation is valuable at any time of day, and is most valuable during a time when you are able to engage the practice with love and devotion. This could be in the evening before bed, just after work, or in the middle of the day. However, I will risk the assumption that each of us has some time, even 30 seconds, to take a moment upon waking and cultivate gratitude as we honor and set the tone for a new day.
Making sure the physical body is comfortable can aid your practice. While sitting with a straight spine allows breath to flow with ease, I encourage you to sit in a way that is comfortable and feels safe. This could be reclining, laying down, sitting in chair, or resting your back against a wall. Taking care of the physical body allows space for the mind to settle. Though building discipline is a valuable spiritual practice, there is no reason to be in physical pain with meditation.
Meditation helps to ease anxiety, racing thoughts, insomnia, and excess mobility in the body-mind-spirit. I often meet with clients who feel anxious immediately upon waking. The mind is moving before the eyes have even opened. Having experienced this feeling myself, I understand the gripping this can cause. Being in this state, sitting quietly for any amount of time may feel impossible. Not trying to suppress mental activity, we allow the mind move while maintaining focus. Watching the thoughts and allowing them to be, rather than following them.
When there is excess mobility in the body-mind-spirit, engaging in some kind of physical movement prior to seated meditation can be a great medicine. Allowing the body to move slowly with walking meditation is another option. Spoken word or song can be helpful in learning the art of concentration, and gives the mind a point of focus. This can be prayer, poetry, mantra recitation, or affirmations. These practices are also useful for people who experience lethargy, depression, stagnation, or emotional attachment.
For people who experience heavier and more sticky qualities, engaging in aerobic exercise before seated meditation can be beneficial. A practice that includes movement, song, and vigorous breathing (prāṇāyāma) helps to clear stagnation. Motivation to try new things can be challenging when we are depressed and stagnant. Meditation in a group setting or walking outdoors can be of great benefit. As we move into the light of higher awareness, attachments loosen, resistance lessens, and vibrance is restored.
Some of us are highly motivated and able to concentrate with ease. While these qualities can aid the practice, we need to be careful not to turn meditation into a type of competition or achievement. Meditation helps to ease excess fire in the form of irritability, criticism of self and others, reactive moods, and the tendency to control. People who are highly motivated, competitive, and driven, often neglect to breathe or nurture themselves. Sitting quietly in meditation is an invitation to slow down and invite breath and calm into every cell of our being. Conscious, full breaths release excessive fire. Space is created, and we are able to respond to life from a place of higher awareness and compassion, making room for choice in how we problem solve, prioritize, or approach situations. We bring in gratitude, sweetness, and slow qualities, focusing on self love, compassion, and forgiveness.
The practice of “sitting on the cushion” helps us to remain stable in our selves when daily life moves erratically around us. We gain skill in order to practice stillness, detachment, and non-judgement in daily activities. I have recently noticed that even when my mind is racing or the feeling of rush comes into my being, there is another layer of calm and steady. I am actually experiencing both at the same time. The fluctuations of the mind are there, and yet stillness abides. The fact that I am able to witness this, is an example of how the practice works over time.
My personal practice has deepened and evolved over the years. It took time to figure out what meditation even meant to me, let alone develop a practice that suits my unique being. My practice changes through the seasons and is affected by current reality. I keep some aspects consistent to build stability, but in order to flex along with what life offers on a given day, I have found great benefit from making space to hold practice differently as needed. I might lengthen or shorten the amount of time, practice in different locations, incorporate different breathing techniques, mantras, or prayers. My message to you is to start. Just start practicing, see what happens, and enjoy the journey even when you’re not.