For something so apparently innocuous, meditation can be intimidating. People worry that they aren’t doing it right, that they aren’t sitting right, or concentrating enough, or breathing properly, or using the right mantra. Perhaps they’re not doing it the same as someone else they know, or perhaps their meditation session doesn’t go the way they think it should.
In some ways, it’s not surprising that many of us feel this way. For starters, meditation itself is challenging. It’s really hard for us to learn to just be, not trying to do anything and not getting preoccupied with distractions or our "to do" list. Our modern minds aren’t used to it, and when we come to meditation expecting it to be easy and relaxing, this can be a real shock. It’s easier to convince ourselves that we’re “doing it wrong.”
The other reason meditation can feel overwhelming has to do with the sheer volume of advice about it. There are as many meditation techniques as there are meditation teachers, probably more. The Internet, spiritual texts and classes are full of different suggestions on how to meditate. Some of them are straightforward and some are incredibly complex. Even knowing where to start can seem hard. So let’s keep it simple. (Read more in How Do I Start Meditating.)
#1 Rule: Just Meditate
Do it often and do it regularly because the benefits of meditation come from the practice. They come from the act, not the theory and not the learning. Meditation is experiential. You can’t do it by thinking about it. You have to actually do it. (Read about Trusting the Practice of Meditation.)
Try Different Techniques
The way in which you meditate matters less than you might think. Maybe you try out a different meditation technique every day for a month, or maybe you just practice some simple mindfulness, watching your breath as it flows naturally in and out. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever you do, you will be learning. You will be exercising those muscles of focus, concentration and mental discipline. Over time, you will learn to observe all the things that come up for you when you try to meditate.
This is where the learning is. This is where the magic happens. In the act of simply trying to meditate, you gain a powerful insight into the nature of your mind. You learn about the transient, chaotic and uncontrolled character of your thoughts. And you realize that you are not those thoughts.
By learning to take a step back from your thoughts, and to more closely identify with your witness consciousness that lies beyond them, you gain perspective and objectivity. This has benefits that extend far beyond the time you are meditating for.
Keep at It
None of this happens instantly, or easily. The important thing is to remember the number one rule (to just do it). The power of meditation is in the practice.
Of course, your mind is unlikely to make this easy for you. Your mind, and your ego, will want to avoid it. It will come up with other things you should be doing, trying to convince you that you don’t have time, or even that you’re not worthy of the time to sit still and be quiet. You are, though, and the more you meditate, the more you’ll find that making meditation a priority has an almost magical way of creating more time, not using it up. Your focus will be sharper and you’ll find that you’re able to be more efficient with your time during the day.
Let Go of Judgment
As much as you can, let go of judgment or worry about how your meditation sessions go. Notice that those too are just thoughts, just more ways in which your mind is creating distractions. The trick is to keep going despite of, and even because of, those worries. The fact that you are noticing them is proof that your meditation practice is already working. As you progress in your practice of meditation, you’ll learn that they are things you can choose to simply acknowledge and not engage with further. (Learn more in Don't Judge Your Meditation.)
Like with many things in life that require practice, there are no easy shortcuts to meditation. Sometimes it is hard, often it’s boring and, even more frequently, you simply won’t want to do it. Just remember the number one simple rule and, in time, you will feel the benefits.