If you’ve ever tried to meditate and given up because your mind won’t be quiet, I have good news for you. You’re doing it right! Sit back down and close your eyes.
Or, maybe skim through this quick guide first.
Meditation is simple. The reason we think we’re bad at it is because our minds are complicated. We’ve gone our entire lives allowing our minds to act one way. It’s no surprise that when we ask it to be quiet, for once, it can’t.
So go easy on yourself. Your mind has been thinking for as long as you’ve been living. Getting quiet will take some time. That’s why they call it a meditation practice.
Here’s the good news: your practice doesn’t have to be overly complicated. You only need to follow three steps to do it, and you already have everything you need.
The funny thing is that the simplicity of this practice can make things feel complicated when you’re in the midst of it. You may have thoughts like:
- Nothing’s happening
- This is incredibly boring
- I don’t see the point in this
- Oh my god how long was I lost in that thought
- Oh I forgot to pay the water bill I should do that before I forget again
- I just wasted this entire session thinking about something I said yesterday
- I want to get up
And the list can go on for as long as you can meditate. People often take these thoughts as a sign that they’re not doing it right. But here’s a secret:
Noticing mental chatter is not a problem at all. It’s an indication that you’ve returned to the present moment. You’re meditating right now!
All that time before this moment, when you were lost in a thought? Yeah, you weren’t present then. You were lost in your thinking mind. Get used to it because it’s going to happen a lot. But now you’re present. Now you know what’s happening. And that’s all meditation is: being aware of whatever is happening.
There are really only three things you need to know in order to meditate correctly.
How To Meditate In 3 Easy Steps
- Find a place to sit or stand and close your eyes.
Your house doesn’t have to be quiet for you to do this. You may think that if only your kids weren’t screaming, then you’d be able to meditate without distractions or annoyances. But that’s not true.
Try meditating in silence. You’ll find just as many distractions and annoyances there.
So choose a place. You don’t need to look like a yogi; you can sit in a chair or stand in your bathroom to do this. You just want to make sure you’re comfortable enough to stay in that position for the amount of time you want to meditate, but not so comfortable that you’ll fall asleep.
- Feel your body. What does the ground feel like beneath your feet or your seat? What do your legs feel like? Chest? Hands? Face? Notice any physical sensations.
Some find that following the breath is easier. This works too. The breath is a great point of awareness, so if you like this better, just watch your breath move in and out. Don’t change it. If you find yourself needing to control it, open your awareness back up to the entire body.
This is your only task for your meditation session. Watch the breath. Or feel the body.
- When the mind wanders, (and it will), simply notice what’s happened and bring your awareness back to the body (or the breath).
When you realize that you’ve been lost in thought, just note to yourself, thinking is happening, and return to your chosen point of awareness. You’re going to do this over and over again, because your mind is going to wander over and over again.
You don’t need to beat yourself up (oh my god I did it again?!?! I suck at this!). All you need to do is note, oh, this is thinking. And continue to feel into your body or breath.
And that’s all you need to do.
There are so many ways to meditate, and this particular way of doing it is great because you can do it anywhere, anytime.
Why Meditating Feels Hard
Don’t believe all the hype. Meditation isn’t supposed to be blissful. Meditation is about being able to experience all of what’s happening, not just the good.
And if you sit down expecting good feelings only, boy are you going to get discouraged quickly. Meditation isn’t a quick way to feel better. It’s a tool for developing awareness. When we sit down to practice watching what’s going on, good and bad, we get better at recognizing experiences for what they are. And when we recognize them, we have a choice of how to react. And that’s when happiness, peace, or a sense of calm comes in.
But when we actually commit to meditating for a length of time (20 minutes or more) any of the following can happen:
- We get bored.
- We have physically painful experiences.
- We experience painful emotions that we don’t want.
- We get tired.
- We get restless and want to open our eyes or shift positions.
- We start to think that this is a waste of our time.
All these experiences are just that. Experiences. They’re more things to notice. And actually, these more challenging experiences are opportunities to grow in our practice.
But they can be really discouraging. They can be uncomfortable enough to make us give up.
How To Bounce Back When You Get Discouraged
Nobody’s meditation practice is perfect. We abandon ourselves in little ways all the time. Remember this: just as you can return to awareness when you notice the mind has wandered, you can also return to your meditation cushion when you decide you want it back.
You won’t be perfect on the cushion and you won’t be perfect off it either. Accepting this truth will keep you going.
Another essential tool for a meditator is other people. In Buddhism it’s called sangha, and it means a community of others who also practice, or a fellowship. There are many ways to connect to the sangha.
- Find a local meditation group. Google “meditation + your city.” Remember that there are many different schools of meditation so you’ll want to find one that’s right for you.
- Read books about meditation.
- Listen to podcasts or “dharma talks” online to hear teachers talk about their practice and offer useful advice.
- Read blogs about mindfulness and meditation and participate in the conversations happening in the comments.
A Word For The Perfectionist
Meditation is challenging for the perfectionist because you don’t get good at it right away. It can feel like you’re not getting results because your mind isn’t getting quieter. If this is you, you’re looking for results in the wrong place.
Focus less on what’s happening during your meditation and just get your butt to the cushion, chair, closet, drivers seat, wherever. Trust that this is good for you.
Look for results in the life that happens off the cushion. Pay attention to what happens on days that you meditate, and what happens when you miss a day. A small amount of meditation can have a big impact on our lives, and if you need gratification, this is where you’ll find it.
So let yourself off the hook, go into your meditation session expecting to “fail” and over time you’ll find that what you thought were failures are actually little victories, meant to be celebrated along the way.