I’ve read about (and listened to podcasts about) mindfulness meditation and have tried it some… Unfortunately, what I’ve found is that I had a hard time continuing with the mindfulness practice and didn’t keep it up for long. Did you have a hump to get over when you first started? If you have a routine, how do you (or how did you at first) stick with it?
-mistertwo, in a comment on Secular Meditation: How It Helps With My Depression
When I write or talk about meditation, I get asked questions like this a fair amount. Lots of people are interested in meditation and mindfulness, as a mental health care technique or just as a way of staying calmer and more present in the world — but they don’t know how to find the time, or the motivation, or the discipline, or all three, to stick with it in the long run. Or else they’ve dabbled with it in the past, and found it valuable, but still didn’t stick with it. How do you stick with it?
This is a large and complicated question. In fact, it’s currently my own biggest challenge with the practice. I am meditating fairly regularly, about five days a week, but maintaining a regular meditation routine over the long haul — folding it into my everyday life, finding the time and motivation and discipline to do it every day (or almost every day) — is definitely a challenge.
So here are a few thoughts about how I keep up the practice, and how other people might.
I think for a lot of people, this would be a really good idea. If you make meditating into something like showering or brushing your teeth — a self-care routine that you do every day, at the same time every day — eventually, doing it could become something you just… do. Instead of being an extra activity you have to fold into your life somehow, it could become one of the pillars of your life, something the rest of your daily activity gets folded around.
Another “stick with it” technique that the teacher suggested was to find a meditation group. For a lot of people, external social support helps them keep it up. Seeing the benefits other people are getting from the practice helps motivate them; it reinforces the activity as part of a group identity; they don’t want to disappoint their groupmates; and it helps it become a regular routine (“this is just what I do on Wednesday night”). It’s like having a Pilates class or a workout buddy.
Unfortunately, this wouldn’t work for me, either. In San Francisco, the only regular meditation groups that are open to the public are religious ones, or at least ones that have religious overtones or some sort of religious affiliation (generally Buddhist). Yes, I know that for a lot of atheists, this wouldn’t be a problem: if there’s something they find valuable that’s offered in a religious context, they can filter out the religious stuff or just shrug it off. (In fact, I have an atheist friend who goes to one of these meditation groups, one that’s in my neighborhood even, and she deals with the religious stuff fine.) And I get that secular Buddhism is a thing.
And frankly, there’s an aesthetic of most meditation groups and centers that I find.. let’s say “off-putting.” There’s a reason I took my original course in a medical setting. I hear about somatic experiencing, the alchemy of letting go, our heart as a light emitting entity, the natural outer expression of realization, and the embodiment of awakening in our lives, and I immediately want to drink straight bourbon and crank up The Ramones. Fuck that noise. Fuck it right in the ass.
So what do I do to keep this practice up?
How could this work for you? If you’re not a blogger, you might Facebook about it. Or if you don’t blog but you do keep a journal, you might write about it in your journal. Create some sort of regular self-reminder. (And if you are a blogger and you do blog about it — let me know! Don’t be shy about sending me links.)
Speaking of which: It helps a lot to remind myself of why I do this. Meditation makes a big difference with my depression; it sharpens my focus when I work; it makes it easier to tolerate small annoyances; it makes it easier to sit still; it makes me feel more connected with my body; it alleviates stress. I meditate for a reason — and if I’m having a “short-term thinking” moment where I don’t feel like doing it right that minute, it helps to remember that. It helps to remind myself that I have never, ever, ever finished a meditation session and thought, “Well, that was a bad idea. What a waste of time.” I always feel better when I meditate — and not just in the long-term and medium-term, with depression and body-connection and whatnot. It helps in the short term. If I feel lousy, and I spend 20 minutes meditating, then 20 minutes later I feel better.
I also cut myself a little slack. If I really and truly don’t have time for a twenty-minute session, I do it for fifteen minutes, or ten, or five. Doing even a very short session every day makes it more of a daily habit. I do have to be very careful with this one, though — I could easily see it leading to the practice slipping, and eventually fading into the “interesting enthusiasms I once took up and then let slide” category. You’ll have to decide for yourself if “I’m just going to do it for five minutes today” once in a while would reinforce the habit for you, or would be the first step on the slippery slope to falling out of it.
Finally — and very importantly, maybe even most importantly — I find ways to do the practice in lots of small ways, ways that don’t interrupt my busy everyday life, ways that are actually part of my life and that enhance it.
Here’s what I mean. I do a “formal” (for lack of a better word) meditation session — in which I set aside at least twenty minutes to sit or lie quietly and focus my awareness on my breath or my body or my emotions or the silence in the room — once a day, about five days a week. I do an “informal” (for lack of a better word) mindfulness session — in which I stop in the middle of whatever I’m doing to really experience it and be fully conscious of it — several times a day, every day. And these practices reinforce each other. The “formal” sessions make the “informal” moments easier, and make them flow more naturally into my life — and the “informal” moments of mindfulness remind me of why the “formal” sessions of extended meditation are valuable. Doing both makes it easier to… well, to keep doing both. So I do.
So that’s what helps me stick with it. If you’re a regular meditator — what helps you?
Secular Meditation: What’s the Point?
Secular Meditation: Flexible Discipline, Or, On Creating a Regular Practice in an Irregular Life
Secular Meditation: How It Helps With My Depression