This is the first in a series on what I have found to be good practices for both starting and maintaining a meditation practice. I have a lengthy set of instructions elsewhere so in this series, I offer more specific details. This way I can make them shorter and focused.
These ideas are a culmination of my over 30 years of practice and they apply both to those new to meditation and to experienced practitioners who are struggling. For new people, setting these in place at the beginning will make it easier to stay with the practice by reducing the frustrations encountered by so many. For the more experienced, I hope these will help alleviate some of the difficulties you may be facing.
Here is my first suggestion. Only sit for 3 minutes.
Finding your posture, breathing, concentration etc. are all part of the practice. But I see a lot of instructions advocating 20 minutes as a minimum practice time. This is not necessary and is discouraging for those starting out. It can be a huge issue for those who’ve been practicing for a while yet still find sitting for 20 or more minutes too difficult. The problem is that when faced with that frustration over and over it becomes discouraging. This in turn often leads to skipping sessions or feeling bad about one’s seeming inability to sit.
Start with 3 minutes. If you sit longer that is fine. In fact, longer sessions will start to happen naturally as the mind and body slowly settle down. But there’s no need to pressure yourself to sit for 20 or so minutes. In fact, I found over the years that this pressure to match some sort of standard was itself a barrier to quality practice. So allowing (that is a key word) the mind and body to become quiet on their own is more conducive to real inner peace than forcing yourself to sitting for longer.
So start at 3 minutes. If you feel the urge to sit longer, by all means do so. But once the pressure to meet a standard some book tells you is “correct”, that is the time to stop. If you want to push yourself a bit to see how long you can sit, that is ok too. It’s the artificial goal that is said to define a “good” meditation that I would ignore.
Then come back the next day, same time, same place, and do it again…for around 3 minutes.