If you start with samatha meditation on buddho, or any other meditation object, it may well be that after a short time you notice that it is quite difficult to keep up the practice. There are so many other things that demand attention, it’s so tempting to do something else.
Here are seven practical tips to help you give yourself a daily meditation.
1. Meditate Every Day
If you are a student and you go to school for one day, then not for seven days, then again for one etc., in no time you will have no idea what the lessons are about. The same applies to meditation.
It’s very important to keep the flywheel in motion through daily meditation, otherwise you’re always trying to connect with the previous session instead of slowly developing your mind.
And once you skip a session it becomes easier to do it again the next time.
Try to develop the attitude to sit down daily and recognize the reasons not to do this as the excuses they usually are.
Don’t fool yourself.
If you don’t feel like it, just sit down anyway. If you feel like you don’t have time, then that is probably nonsense, you probably have a few minutes to spare, so just sit down.
Don’t fall into the trap of “today for once only I will skip a session”.
We humans benefit a lot from routine. When meditation has become a habit, it helps us get through the ups and downs of the process.
If daily meditation has become as normal as brushing your teeth, then you are on the right track. It doesn’t have to be special, spectacular, relaxing or anything at all.
Just sit down and try, no matter what the result. Just sit down every day.
2. Same Place, Same Time
It can help if you have a fixed place and a more or less fixed time to meditate.
A fixed place can be anything, whether it’s a cushion in the corner of the room or a separate building.
The important thing is that it is a place that you completely connect with meditation. As soon as you go there you know that you are going to give yourself a present. When you sit down it is the umpteenth time that you patiently meditate in that place, with your own qualities and limitations.
In this way you take a first step in the preparation for the meditation.
Of course it is fine if you meditate at a different time every day, but experience shows that a relatively fixed time helps to create a routine.
It is of course great if your personal circumstances allow you to meditate twice a day, in the morning and evening, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t make that work.
Lastly, celebrate the moment when you have been able to give the meditation a permanent place in your busy life, it is of immense benefit for your own well-being.
3. Do Not Look at the Clock
When you sit down, you can decide how long you want (or can) sit. If you have been meditating for some time, have no appointments and a lot of time to spare, you can choose not to set an alarm clock and follow the natural energy of your mind.
In the beginning, however, it is useful to choose a time, for example 15 or 20 minutes.
Don’t aim too high in the beginning.
It is better to start slowly and to extend the sessions when it feels right, than to immediately want too much and then to burn up and quit.
Set an alarm clock, make sure (consciously) that the time is running, put the alarm clock away and don’t look at it anymore.
It may very well be that five minutes feels like half an hour, just as half an hour can feel like five minutes. So don’t look at the clock. From the moment you look at your alarm clock your mind will only be busy with the time that remains and you might as well stop.
If you notice that you have a tendency to look at the alarm clock, that thoughts such as “well, those 20 minutes should be gone by now anyway” arise, then the exercise is to let this go and return to your meditation object. Over and over again.
Don’t pay attention to it, because then you will only amplify it. As you go through this process again and again, it will slowly but surely become easier to let go of time.
In that sense it is no different than letting go of other things. Just return to the meditation object, no matter what is bubbling up inside your mind.
4. Prepare your Mind
You walked up to your pillow, picked a time and set the alarm. Nice first steps in the preparation for the practice.
For some people, however, it helps to take some more distance from their daily worries.
It is then a good habit to bow down five times before you start. You bow before the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, your parents and your teachers. The gratitude you feel towards them can help you realize how precious this moment is.
If you like, you can light a candle or some incense, and you could to chant some Buddhist verses.
Then close your eyes and give some mettā (loving-kindness) to yourself and all beings, so your heart will soften and the strong feeling of “I” will diminish somewhat. Open your eyes and look at a Buddha statue if you have one.
The Buddha has already walked the way, now you are going to take steps on the same path.
Give your mind as it were to the Buddha. Then you can begin the meditation with a soft and focused heart.
5. Patience, Patience
Of course you’re very special.
The Buddha needed countless lives to develop the morality, concentration and wisdom necessary to achieve enlightenment.
The meditation masters of the past had to meditate in seclusion in the jungle for years in order to take steps.
But you, of course, can do it in a month.
Don’t get it wrong, it’s very special that you were born human.
It’s even more extraordinary that you’ve decided to start meditating. It is fine to ponder on that now and then and cherish that thought.
Just don’t think the job is completed that way.
A Western businessman’s approach of “if I’ve meditated for a year, I must have achieved this and this result” just doesn’t work with meditation.
Above all, meditation is a personal process.
You can’t compare yourself with others, you can’t go fast or faster.
You can only patiently make an effort every day, without desire, and let the rest come as it comes.
Maybe your process is steady. Maybe with ups and downs. Maybe you arrive at a boring plateau for a long time. Maybe you see beautiful lights or feel very pleasant and refreshed. Attache no value to it, it all passes.
It doesn’t matter how it goes.
The trick is to keep going, no matter what. Just try again every day, very patiently, with kindness towards yourself.
6. Investigate your intention
The reason, or intention, with which you start meditating affects the energy you have to spend in the long run. If you don’t manage to sit down every day, it might help to take a look at this.
It often happens that people decide to begin with meditation when they are not doing well, for example when they experience a lot of stress or friction in their life.
They start enthusiastically, but as soon as they start to feel better they stop. That’s not so strange, because the goal seems to have been achieved.
However, the mind is not yet firm at all, not yet balanced. As such, changes in the circumstances will cause stress to simply arise again.
In fact, you are constantly running to catch up.
If the intention shifts to, for example, the intention to develop a rock-solid mind that is independent of circumstances, or to subject the mind to thorough investigation in order to really see where the friction occurs, then that energy is different than if it comes from the intention to relax a bit more.
During the meditation process, the awareness that the mind can be developed to a far higher degree than you thought possible at the onset can grow for a very long time, because there is much more depth to be discovered than you think.
If you can truly feel this, it can be a lasting source of inspiration and energy.
7. Go to Your Teacher
Maybe you think you can go through the meditation process without a teacher.
Maybe this works for you. However, you might also quit in no time because you think you can’t do it, or you think you’ve accomplished something you haven’t.
Our mind tends very quickly to comparisons and arrogance.
Pride essentially means that you have an opinion of yourself, usually in comparison with others, and that you judge. Judging the meditation process, however, is difficult because you always look through the glasses of your own limitations.
Maybe you dwell in a relaxed atmosphere and judge yourself as enlightened, maybe you go through hard times and judge yourself as worthless. Chances are that both judgements are far of the mark.
The concentration process is simply too subtle and you can experience things that are outside your normal framework.
Guidance doesn’t mean hsving a weekly conversation or something like that, but getting support or a push in the right direction when needed. Not via the internet or the annual visit of a foreign guru, but through personal contact, by seeing how things are going for you specifically.
In this time of teachers who are guilty of sexual abuse or other kinds of misbehaviour, who talk a lot but say little, some scepticism is easy to understand.
A simple guideline is not to look (or judge) a teacher on apparent wisdom, but to look for morality and then for concentration.
Beautiful words and a beautiful smile can be enchanting but are easy to give, a monk’s robe without accompanying behaviour is nothing more than an undeserved garment. Similarly, an oriental descent with a mysterious look is no guarantee at all.
If words like ‘crazy-wisdom‘ fall, get out, because this red flag is a licence for a teacher to do what he wants and absolutely not in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha.
Look at the teacher, if he or she behaves consistently morally, then you can have a little more confidence.
If a teacher behaves morally, look at the practice of concentration meditation (samatha). If the teacher easily has deep, long-lasting concentration (samādhi), then you can be even more confident because samādhi has morality (sila) as a prerequisite.
A teacher who can guide you from personal experience during the meditation process, in the development of samādhi (concentration), such a teacher is worthy of trust.
But in the end, you are the captain and are always at the helm.
If you have faith, practice the system, see if it works for you, see if you are developing samādhi or at least clearly moving in that direction. If so, you know from your own experience that the system and the teacher are good for you. Apparent wisdom is irrelevant.
If you want to know more about meditation take a look at our text Meditation for Beginners.
If you want to read more about the mental qualities that support daily meditation then consider reading our text Developing the Discipline To Meditate Every Day.
If you are interested in the mental aspect that work in unison during your meditation practice then Saddhā, Viriya, Sati, Samādhi, Paññā, Khanti and Mettā might be a good next text for you.
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You yourselves must strive, the Buddhas only point the wayBuddha, Dhp 276