As nice as the thought is, we can’t all head off to a meditation retreat on a beautiful California beach or in a quiet pine forest. And when we’re in the thick of raising kids, working full time (whether for ourselves or someone else), maintaining a romantic relationship, and trying to keep up something that resembles a social life, a daily meditation practice can initially feel like yet another task for the to-do list we already don’t want to do.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are several things you can do to create a practice of meditation for real life.
Start with just a few minutes a day
The problem I most commonly see is people who think they need to dive in with an hour or more of meditation a day. You can start to see the benefits of meditation in as little as 5–10 minutes per day.
Start with just 5 minutes. If it feels good, move up to 10. You can even work your way up to 20, if you have that much time. But don’t try to force yourself to sit for 30 minutes, an hour or more just because you think that’s the way it’s “supposed” to be done. Meditation is for you, and what works for you is what will give you the benefits, even if it’s not anything like what someone else would do.
Find your perfect time of day
Personally, I prefer to meditate first thing in the morning. It centers me for the day ahead. It also ensures that I don’t end up skipping my practice because I get too busy. It’s for that reason that I also recommend that my students at least try it.
But it might not be the right time for you. Your perfect meditation time might be your lunch break so you can release pent up stress and tension before you get back to work. Or it might be at night before bed so you can relax and drift off into peaceful sleep.
If meditating at one time of day didn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean that meditation isn’t right for you. It might just mean you need to try a few different times until you figure out what works best for you. You might even find that it varies depending on the day. You might prefer to meditate first thing on the weekends and after work during the week, for example.
Break it up
Many people, upon starting to feel the benefits of meditation, like to practice more than once per day. A practice in the morning to start the day and another before bed to wind down, for example, is fairly common.
But you don’t have to implement multiple lengthy sessions to try this. You can simply break up your existing session into 2–4 smaller ones. If, for example, you like to meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and want to try multiple sessions, break that 20 minutes into two 10-minute sessions, or four 5-minute ones.
The time you spend is not as important as the quality. If you get the same feeling from several short sessions as you do from one longer one, and it feels right to you, then go for it.
State of mind, not posture
There’s a lot of focus for beginners on “am I doing this right?” They question the way they’re sitting, their posture, their breathing, how they feel, what’s happening in their mind, and so much more. Many end up creating a lot more stress for themselves by trying to determine if they’re doing it right.
But the way you sit, breathe, think, or anything else isn’t what matters in meditation. Your state of mind does. How you feel when you’re done matters. If you feel better when you’ve finished meditating, then whether it was perfect by so-called technical standards is irrelevant. You feel better, so you did it right for you. Period. End of discussion.
Stop stressing yourself out with concerns over whether it’s right. Instead of asking “am I doing this right?” ask yourself, “Do I feel better now that I’ve meditated?”
What gets you in that meditative flow?
As I’ve said in previous posts about meditating, it’s not about stopping your thoughts. That’s impossible. Instead, it’s about being able to let those thoughts pass by without judging them, attaching emotion to them, or clinging to them.
If you think of your thoughts as a river with you standing in the middle, meditation is about you swimming to the shore and standing on solid ground as the thought river continues to rush on. You can still see the river moving, but instead of drowning in the current, you’re unaffected. You don’t try to reach out and grab the water with your bare hands. You don’t judge the river for flowing and you aren’t angry or guilty or annoyed, either. The river (your thoughts) is doing what it must do, and you are able to stand by and let it happen without being overwhelmed by it.
So what else puts you in that meditative flow? Do you find that you get that same effect, that same feeling, from reading a book? Creating a painting or a sculpture? Cooking a meal? Baking cookies or a cake? Taking a walk? Riding a bike? Fishing? Knitting?
These things can be a form of meditation too. Sitting with your eyes closed to meditate might not feel quite right to you, but you love to fish or knit or go kayaking or go for long drives with no destination. Those can be your meditation instead (though do make sure you stay alert when driving!).
Create your own meditation for real life
Don’t get caught up in what technically counts as meditation, or focus too much on how much time you spend meditating. Instead, focus on creating a practice that works for you, with your life.
Meditation for real life is the practice that fits into your life and gives you the same benefits. If that looks like staring blankly at a wall while breastfeeding your newborn or sitting on a boat in the middle of a lake trying to catch bass, then that’s your meditation for real life.
And if you still want to figure out how to fit traditional meditation into your real life, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help. As a meditation teacher, I can help you come up with a plan and some simple meditations that can fit into your schedule.