Leave it to me to do a blog on meditation after my most stressful time of the year. And I think that is what most of us do. We procrastinate and find every excuse in the book to avoid lifestyle changes which can actually be pivotal choices in our lives. Why is that? Why do we avoid the things that matter the most? I know what my own classic excesses are.
"I’m too busy."
"It’s too hard."
"Things are comfortable as they are."
Sound familiar? I firmly believe that a person needs to explore their excuses on a daily basis and learn to "call their own bullshit".
So why haven’t I started my own daily meditation practice. Meet bullshit excuse #1—I’m too busy. Oh and don't think I haven't used bullshit excuse #2 or #3 to avoid meditation either. I’m the queen of bullshit excuses. That’s why I am writing this blog. I know I need to call my own bullshit on this one.
And that’s why I've brought in back up.
I’m really honored to team up with Sue MacClain for this week’s blog. Sue is a yoga instructor and meditation practitioner who provides instruction in mindfulness practices. Although she has been practicing meditation on and off for 20 years, it wasn’t until 6 years ago that she fully committed to a path of meditation and started practicing with a community and studying with a teacher.
Sue and I have been acquaintances for about 5 years now. We knew each other, but didn't really know each other. I’ve taken a few of her yoga classes and have always meant to sit in on one of her free monthly mindfulness meditation sessions, (at Mystic Yoga Shala in Mystic, Connecticut), but always used one of my handy excuses instead. I ran into Sue a few months ago at a baby shower and I decided to ask her to collaborate on a meditation blog. We sat down for an hour one morning before work at a local coffee shop to map it out. A few weeks later I attended her free monthly meditation session where she explained what mindfulness meditation was and guided the group through two 10-minute meditation sessions. Her take on meditation is so simple and realistic—I’m so happy I can share her with you.
First, what is mindfulness meditation? Shamatha (Sanskrit for "peaceful abiding"), or mindfulness meditation, is the Buddhist practice of controlling and calming the mind. This is most commonly done by paying attention to the breath and by observing the different thoughts that enter the mind, recognizing them, moving past them, and then refocusing on the breath.
That sure sounds simple and like something that we could all benefit from. I find that the hardest part of meditation is actually making the time to do it.
So here are Sue’s 5 simple and thoughtful steps on how to overcome our obstacles and excuses and commit to a daily mediation practice.
1 - DROP EXPECTATIONS
Starting (and committing to) a meditation practice can be difficult. We generally come to the realization that we would either like to, or need to, practice some daily mindfulness—and with that come our “expectations” of what we hope to, or think we will, achieve. The first step to sticking with a practice is to come at it with an open mind and open heart. By staying open to what the outcome may look and feel like, we can begin to relax with ourselves just as we are.
Meditation allows us to experience reality—here and now. It cultivates loving kindness and compassion, with ourselves and with others. Understanding that meditation is not just about “feeling good” is an important first step. Otherwise, we will surely set ourselves up for failure. We will assume we are always “doing it wrong”—by feeling that our mind never stops, or experiencing psychological and physical pain. Meditation takes us just as we are and helps us develop a simple and direct relationship with ourselves.
2 - BE REALISTIC AND FLEXIBLE
Being realistic about what we can commit to will help us to be successful. Start out small and give yourself the time and space to adjust when necessary. Begin with just 5 or 10 minutes a day and choose a time of the day that works into your daily routine. The more we are able to see mindfulness practice as part of our everyday lives, the easier it will be to stick with it—kind of like brushing your teeth—a cleansing of heart and mind.
3 - SELECT YOUR SPACE
Choose a comfortable place where you can sit with minimal disruption. It need not be fancy or elaborate—but it should help to remind you of your purpose. Let yourself enjoy creating this space by arranging a few meaningful objects or things that inspire you and allow you to feel at ease.
4 - STICK WITH ONE SET OF INSTRUCTIONS
Whatever meditation practice you choose—allow yourself enough time to settle in with it. Commit to the basic instruction and keep bringing yourself back. It can be tempting to jump from technique to technique especially when we feel we are “not getting it right”. We are conditioned to avoid our own “suffering”. We fill and busy our lives by living outside of the present moment— all to evade the simple act of being with ourselves and reality just as it is. To the best of your ability, set an intention to commit to a technique that speaks to you for at least 90 days.
5 - FIND SUPPORT
It can be extremely helpful to align yourself with a meditation community. Finding such a group will help you to stay committed and give you an opportunity to discuss your experiences and overcome challenges. Alternatively, choose a friend who is also committed to practice and support each other. Knowing that someone else is making an effort can often be comforting and help to strengthen our own commitment.
So now I am out of excuses...and you are too. Let's begin together.