Do you want to meditate, but don't know where to start? You’re not alone. The prospect of beginning to meditate can be daunting. For me, finding the right time and technique for meditation were obstacles that I had to work to overcome. Even though I was super-motivated, it was still hard to know where to begin.
The good news is I'm now enjoying a fulfilling meditation practice and, from my experience, I've developed the following six simple steps that will help you avoid the frustration and begin your practice with peace and confidence.
#1 Be Clear About Your Purpose
Be very clear about why you want to start meditating and what you hope to gain from it. For many people, their motive is to reduce stress levels or find a greater sense of calm, and there is plenty of evidence out there that meditation will help with that. However, be aware that this is not in fact the main purpose of meditation; and sometimes, especially at the beginning, it is not the effect either.
Sitting with your “monkey mind” as it jumps around and tries to distract you can be hard and frustrating work. So, it’s worth knowing that the real purpose of meditation is to help you to understand the nature of your mind. In meditation, you begin to recognize the transient, random nature of your thoughts and to realize that you are not your thoughts. You step back to being the observer of them -- a much stiller, deeper, witness-like consciousness. In time, this will allow you to become master of your mind, rather than being at its mercy. And that’s the ultimate reason to meditate. (Learn even more in 4 Methods to Mastering Your 'Monkey Mind.')
#2 Set an Intention
Setting an intention to meditate has to do with the frequency and time of day you wish to meditate. Regularity of practice is key here and, ideally, this means meditating daily. But be realistic. There’s little point promising yourself that you’ll get up an hour early to meditate before breakfast if you know you already struggle to get out of bed, and that part of your day is chaotic and prone to interruption. This is setting yourself up for failure and it’s highly likely you’ll become discouraged and give up. Start small, carving out a dedicated 10 or even five minutes per day to start with and allow it to build up, maybe by trying one longer session each week.
#3 Choose a Technique
There are as many meditation techniques out there as there are types of yoga. Good places to start can be vipassana meditation, where you focus the attention on the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils; or japa meditation where you repeat a mantra, such as Om Mani Padme Hum, silently or out loud. Be aware that whichever technique you choose, it’s likely you’ll experience some mental resistance to it. Noticing this is all part of the process of understanding the mind, so be prepared to stick with it. Of course, it may be that the technique you’ve chosen really doesn’t suit you and you need to try something different. Try to find the balance between being open to experimenting and giving your technique a chance. (Read about The Meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum.)
Before you begin your meditation, read up about this type of meditation, find out how others go about it and, if possible, speak to those who have tried it themselves. This can help you to feel more prepared to actually sit and meditate. That said, be open to the fact that meditation is an experiential process and will be different for everyone: approach it with an attitude of openness and curiosity.
#4 Be Accountable to Your Practice
There are various ways you can do this. For some, the best way to start is by attending regular group meditation sessions where you can be inspired and supported by the discipline of those around you. (Here are The Benefits of Group Meditation.) If you’re going it alone, consider having a “meditation buddy” to check in with or keep a visual record of the days you have meditated on by checking off days on a calendar or chart. There are also apps you can get for your smartphone, such as Insight Timer, which track and record your meditation sessions.
#5 Keep a Journal
A lot of thoughts, ideas and memories will arise during meditation and it’s really useful to give yourself a chance outside of meditation to reflect on those by keeping a meditation journal. Even just taking the time to make a few bullet point notes at the end of each meditation session about your experience can be valuable. Many people have some of their most creative, interesting ideas during meditation. Knowing you will take time afterward to write them down can help you to not become entangled in the thoughts during the meditation time. It is also a great record to look back on of your meditation journey.
#6 Be Kind to Yourself on This Journey
This is the final but most important step. Meditation is not easy. If it was, everyone would do it. So, approach every part of your meditation journey with kindness. Yes, be disciplined in the face of your mental resistance to meditation, but don’t beat yourself up when your mind wanders; instead, congratulate yourself for noticing and return gently to your focus. If you miss a day of meditating, acknowledge it without making excuses or judging yourself and express gratitude to yourself for having the motivation for returning to the practice the next day. (Learn more about how to do this in Don't Judge Your Meditation.) Know that even when you think it’s doing no good at all, you are still learning and growing.
Meditation is the most amazing journey to understanding all of the major life questions: Who are you? Who will you become? By following these six simple steps, you will enjoy the process of getting to know what it really means to be you.