If you are reading this site, I suspect you have at least a passing familiarity with meditation. Perhaps you are a regular practitioner. However, I suspect that for many, establishing and maintaining a regular practice is elusive.
This column is for y’all — for those who think they might be interested in meditation, who want to try it, who are curious to see what a regular practice might be like.
In honor of this month’s theme, I’d like to extend an invitation. For the next thirty days, take a few moments each day to meditate. Think of it as a thirty-day challenge, or an experiment, if that’s helpful. Further, let’s join together, as a sort of virtual support group.
Interested? Read on for details.
“Sounds great,” you say, “but I don’t have time in my busy schedule.” This is one of the most common objections we make. It is true that many of us do have busy schedules. Meditation can actually help with that, but you’ll never know how if you don’t try. So make it a very small commitment, say just five minutes a day. It’s a gift to yourself. You can think of it as a date with yourself if you like.
One of the keys to maintaining a regular practice is find the right time, the right moment in the rhythm of your day. This will be different for everyone. Experiment. Find the time, make the time. I like to meditate in the morning, before I get too deeply involved with all the activities of the day.
Another common objection: “It’s hard! It’s difficult for me to meditate.” Indeed, a recent study published in Science indicates that many people would rather administer electric shocks to themselves rather than simply sit with their own thoughts. Perhaps some other form of contemplative practice is better suited to your unique temperament. However, I invite you to challenge your notions of difficulty. Many practitioners recommend approaching meditation with a sense of ease, more like a tree growing than a weight-lifter grunting under a barbell. Be like a tree.
What to Do
There are of course many different styles of meditation, but I am keen to recommend the simplest kind I know, often known as mindfulness meditation. Simplicity is a huge advantage, and you can’t get much simpler than this.
Just sit quietly for a few minutes. That’s it.
Really, that’s all? Well, yes. Of course, there’s a universe of possibilities and potentialities within that. But the basic idea is just to sit there and pay attention.
You may well ask: To what, exactly, am I supposed to pay attention? At the risk of sounding flip: whatever. Attend whatever is going on, whatever is arising, within and without, moment to moment. Pay attention to your sensory experiences and your thoughts. Don’t fall asleep — that’s kind of the opposite idea.
How to Do It
A few tips may be in order.
You’ll want to sit comfortably, with good but relaxed posture.
You can light a candle or burn some incense or sit in front of your altar if you are into that sort of thing. It’s certainly not necessary, but it can serve as a reminder that you’re doing something important, something sacred.
You’ll notice that your mind starts to wander, that all sorts of things bubble up or bear down on you, taking you away from the present moment. That’s entirely normal. In fact, that’s one very good reason to do this sort of meditation: to notice just how noisy the mind really is.
Many people focus on the breath. Your mind will wander away from your breathing sooner of later, but whenever you notice that happening, you can just return your attention to your breath, gently, with ease.
If you say you brush your teeth every day, no one is impressed. No one says, “Gosh! How do you do that?” It’s simply good dental hygiene. Yet what is regular daily meditation but good mental hygiene?
There are benefits to meditation, just as there are benefits to brushing your teeth. However, it may not be a matter of instant gratification. Think in the long term.
Yes, meditation can provide some immediate good feelings, but these can become a hindrance if you expect them every time. When they don’t come, you may be inclined to give up and abandon your practice. It’s better to enjoy them as they come, without expectation.
Break out of the reward/benefit model entirely. You are not a rat navigating a maze in search of cheese. You’re just sitting there, paying attention.
Other tips for staying regular include setting short-term goals (thus the thirty-day challenge) and joining a support group. For many people, the social dimension is absolutely crucial to maintaining a regular practice.
So, let’s take advantage of the affordances of this interactive medium. Let’s turn this post into a virtual support group. You can join just by leaving a comment below. If you like, leave a comment each day for the duration of the thirty-day experiment. It doesn’t have to be substantive. You can just write, “I meditated.” Or maybe you’ll write, “I wanted to meditate, but I got in a big dramatic political debate on Facebook and ran out of time.” Whatever works for you.
This simple technique will help you stick with it for the full thirty days.
And of course, if you have any questions, be sure to share them as well.
In addition to writing the A Pedagogy of Gaia column here at HumanisticPaganism, Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.