It's 6.30am on a Tuesday morning and the first signs of conscious life appear. You hear the buzz of your alarm clock, or wake to the sounds of loved ones shuffling about, the cat stirring for his morning feed. Not seconds after you've cracked open one eye, your mind starts to glow with the light of a million conscious and unconscious thoughts about the day - what you need to do, how you're feeling, what you should have said yesterday, that thing you're looking forward to, etc ad infinitum.
It takes no time at all for the momentum of the day to take hold, propelling you forward into the future, or reminding you of that anchor you have firmly rooted in a past event.
But you want to meditate. You've committed to learning how to incorporate this practice into your everyday. You want to experience that thing they call "effortless mindfulness". But this and this and this need to get done and...maybe later.
If this sounds anything at all like you then, rest assured, you belong fully to the human family. We human animals have evolved brains that have the capacity for a great many things - among them, imagination. This neocortex that is sometimes referred to as the "higher brain" has given us the advantage of imagination and planning; things other animals don't do.
But this great ability of ours also causes our incredible distraction and detraction, at times, from clarity around what we truly want from our lives, how we want to live, how we wish to be in the world. So we have to learn to cultivate the ability to stay present. Stay rooted in the only moment in which clarity and insight are truly possible, and our ability to actually shape that moment (and our experience of it), and all future moments, exists.
I initially wrote this post for my mindfulness students, but I also wanted to share it more broadly, because it's the list that has helped me, and others, tackle some of the greatest hindrances to a consistent and sustainable meditation practice.
So, here we go. What helps keep us on track?:
1) Remind yourself that you’re here by choice. Whether that means you're attending a class or a course on meditation and mindfulness, or you've picked up a book on the subject, heard a talk, and were inspired to sit your butt on a cushion. Even if someone else talked you into it, there was a motivation in there, somewhere, some part of you that thought, “this might be something for me.” Remember, you don't have to learn about or practice meditation.
2) Remember your why. Take a moment to settle into yourself and ask yourself what is it beyond the "I should do this" that brought you to meditation that could be your intention for practicing. We all know that modern human life creates the conditions for stress. We've all experienced stress. So turn that "I don't want to be stressed" negative into a positive (or two), what DO you want to feel/experience as the result of becoming more mindful? Remember your why.
3) "Choose your battles", as one of my mentors would say. If the things you want to feel/experience are important to you, then can you prioritze those things that are likely to lead you to them? This could include getting more sleep, eating better, exercising more, and your meditation and mindfulness practice. If you've identified an intention for practicing and believe it could hold value for you, then make it a priority.
4) Put it in your calendar! Things with priority should get priority treatment. You'll schedule a doctor's appointment, or a coffee date with a friend, why not schedule your practice. As said, that morning momentum when it takes hold is a powerful intention-amnesiac, and the best intentions get laid to waste in the face of the to-do list. Make your practice #1 on that list. Schedule it. Make it a non-negotiable.
5) Be your own really good parent. This means, work with your resistance the way a good and loving parent would work with their child. You don't want to do it? Check in with yourself as to why. If you're not dealing with a mental health crisis, or a lion chasing you, or a fire blazing in your house, then what's holding you back from your practice? Take yourself lovingly by your own hand, sit your butt down, and ground yourself in your present moment experience. Connect with your body, and investigate what's happening. Just see what's there, with kindness. Get to know your resistance and let it show you the places you don't want to go (but need to go).
6) Don't beat yourself up when you don't get a practice or two (or six or sixteen) in. When you don't catch that ball of momentum before it starts steamrolling your intention to practice. Every time you notice you've forgotten, remember. Remember your why. Check back in with your intention. Schedule it, and start again.
7) Trust in the process - the course (and your continued practice) was developed as a process to take you from one level of understanding to the next. We all have our preferences (I'd rather do jumping jacks instead of meditate today), but this isn't about indulging our preferences as much as it is learning about our present moment experience. If we never allowed ourselves to feel uncomfortable, we'd miss out on all those opportunities to learn from our discomfort, and learn to be with our discomfort. Can you imagine how much more resilient you would become if you could withstand some discomfort, some stretching of your comfort zones, from time to time, rather than always shifting out of discomfort into anything and everything that could (momentarily) take it away?
8) Lastly, but not least importantly, don't forget to bring your sense of humor to the party! We can apply ourselves to this work of looking at our own experience without taking ourselves so seriously in the process. In fact, the more we look, the more we can see how random our thoughts and emotions can be at times, how interesting our triggers. Allow some levity to accompany you on your journey.