It is as simple as choosing a time to sit down, finding a way to sit that you can be truly comfortable, selecting something to focus on (a mantra, your breath, a candle) and making it your intention to draw your mind’s attention back to that every time it wanders off. Your mind will wander off. Over & over again.
But it is also as difficult as finding it within yourself to sit still for 15 minutes when you have so many other things to do; it is as hard as keeping the faith with all of the articles you have read & all of the people that you admire that have told you time & again how meditating is good for the soul, good for your mind, good for your body; it is as challenging as sitting with your own wildly oscillating mind, with all of its memories, resentments, distractions, to do lists & plans.
So it’s a simple principle, but hard to do.
An article in the news this week said that about one quarter of people on mindfulness retreats experience uncomfortable feelings afterwards. My only surprise was that it was so few. Of course you will come up against uncomfortable feelings when you sit in perfect silence with yourself. These are the old emotions, sentiments & ruminations that you are seeking to get to know, so that you might be able to free yourself of them. If you don’t learn to understand and release these old impressions (what yogis refer to as samskaras), then you are forever condemned to be subject to them & to bring them to every interaction that you ever have. I don’t want to respond badly to every middle aged man that tells me what to do because my father was overbearing; I want to understand how his dominance made me feel, find peace with it, let it go & meet every new situation or person with a clear mind & no prejudice. I don’t want to hold on to resentments forever, because it hurts me to do that more than it hurts the person who wronged me & I don’t want the people who have hurt me to have that much sway over my life.
This is why it is so important to commit to your practice. Life sometimes feels pretty bad. In the course of a lifetime you will experience loss as well as gain, sorrow as well as joy. Your meditation practice has to be something that you can be with through all of life’s vicissitudes & it is possible that you might learn the most from the difficult days.
You will have seen the happy monks, the ones who have had electric cables attached to their heads that science might identify by computer what we have already seen on their faces: they are happy, content, full of joy. What you have not seen is the years of practice & sitting quietly with their own pain & disfunction that each monk will have been through to get to that peaceful, smiling state. More than this: pain & disfunction is permanently recurring, which is why it is called a practice, which is why you have to do it every day, which is why a happy monk continues to meditate every day, sometimes multiple times.
As with any great skill, be it the power & grace of an athlete or the deft & beautiful talent of a great musician, it is daily practice that brings accomplishment.
How to meditate?
Commit to doing it every day, on the happy days & the sad.
Remember that thinking that you don’t have time is an excuse & nothing more. Everybody has time; how you choose to use it is the real question here.
Have a mentor who can support you, help you find answers to your questions, give you guidance; or join a group in which you feel at home.
Set a timer
Patiently draw your mind back to your chosen focus
Forgive yourself when you find yourself distracted, or ruminating, or planning, or doubting. You are human; it happens.
Then let it be. No expectations. No judgement. Those are yet more habits of mind that you might wish to watch, accept & let go of.