Pema Chödrön Explains How to Begin Your Meditation Practice

You don’t need to change a thing in order to start your meditation practice

Man sitting in meditation

There are very few things you need in order to begin a meditation practice. In fact, all you need is you. Sometimes people think they need to sign up for a retreat or buy tons of meditation-room supplies. But you can begin anywhere, in any room, at any time of the day. You simply begin.

To Begin Your Meditation Practice, Start Where You Are

You might feel that you are the single most stressed-out person on Planet Earth; you might be hopelessly in love; you might have six children and a full-time job; you might be going through a depression or a dark night of the soul. Wherever you are, you can begin there. You don’t need to change a thing in order to start a meditation practice.

When you decide to become a regular practitioner of meditation, it’s wise to settle on a schedule ahead of time. The fruits of meditation are manifold, and you really begin to see them and feel them when you practise regularly. So first and foremost, choose a schedule that is realistic for you—and then keep it. For example, decide what time of the day you are going to practise. Perhaps it works best for you to practise in the early morning, before you have breakfast and get ready for work. Perhaps it works best for you to practise after your kids are in bed at night. Decide when you are going to get into a regular habit of meditation—and commit.

Next, Consider How Long You Will Practice

How long will you sit for? You can sit for 20 minutes or two hours; this is up to you. But set yourself up for success. When you commit to a meditation practice, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you will easily feel defeated. For beginning meditators, I suggest starting with 20 minutes. Then, after a month or several months of practice, you can lengthen your time by another 20 minutes. If you are a seasoned meditator or if you are returning to a meditation practice, you might commit to an hour a day.

Perhaps you have an hour for your meditation practice, but sitting for more than 20 minutes feels daunting to you. If this is the case, I suggest sitting for 20 minutes, then perhaps taking 10 minutes to slowly walk in a quiet, contemplative fashion, or to practise slow yoga, or to simply stretch, re-energize yourself and give yourself a break through movement. Shifting your focus to something body oriented might help you to sit again for another 20 minutes.

Ideally, the Environment for Meditation Is As Simple As Possible

It is simple in the sense that it does not require a great deal of setup. As you will discover, meditation is about letting the world in and awakening to your life, which means you can even meditate on a bus! But for the purposes of creating a regular practice, find a space in your home that feels sacred or relaxing for you. You might decide to create a little altar, a display of reminders that you feel supports your practice. You might want to place a picture of a teacher whom you connect with on your altar, or a candle, or perhaps some incense.

Meditation is about letting the world in and awakening to your life, which means you can even meditate on a bus! — Pema Chödrön

Then Consider Your Meditation “Seat”

You want to sit in a way that allows you to feel lifted—and this can be done on a cushion or a chair. Some choose to use what is called a gomden, which is a hard, square seat that lifts you up so your knees are below your sacrum. You can also use a zafu, a circular cushion, which is a bit softer and lower. Find the cushion or seat that works for you. If you have a bad back or a lot of knee pain, you can sit in a chair.

Lastly, Find a Timer

This can be a wristwatch, an alarm clock, or anything you can set that will alert you when the time you decided on is up. In meditation halls and on retreats, a gong [or bell] is often used, which is an extraordinarily gorgeous and peaceful sound.

You might practice alone, or you might decide to begin a meditation practice with a partner or a group. If you are a beginning meditator, I often recommend practising with one or more people, because this will provide you with a great deal of support. You’ll find that if you go at it alone, it is much more difficult to keep the schedule. The time-honored way of doing meditation is very often to practise alone, and in that case the commitment and devotion to a schedule can be more difficult, but I’ve found it gets easier as time passes.

Begin Your Meditation Practice With Just 10 Minutes Day

Once a college student who came to me asking for instruction on how to meditate said that he experienced a lot of anxiety. He also had ADD [attention deficit disorder]. This young student was longing for relief from all the stress in his life. He was also concerned about how he was going to integrate meditation into his busy life, with all his studies and obligations. I suggested that he meditate just 10 minutes a day first thing in the morning, before even getting out of bed. I told him he could sit up in bed or on the side of the bed, cross-legged or legs extended, however he felt comfortable.

He came back after one week and said that this had really been helpful. He said that one morning he woke up really early, around 2.30am, and he was having a panic attack because he had so much to do. His instinct was to jump out of bed and get to it, work on his huge list of to-dos. And then he remembered his commitment to start his day with 10 minutes of meditation. So at 2.30 in the morning, he sat up and entered his meditation practice. In that experience, he said everything slowed down, and he was able to look at his wild, intense mind and his energized body.

By being present with himself for those 10 minutes, he had clarity about how to mindfully work through his list and see what needed to be done and in what order. The meditation allowed him to settle down and organize what he needed to do with clarity. It occurred to him that many of the things he felt he had to do actually didn’t need to be done that particular day—and this settledness allowed him to return to sleep and feel much more refreshed when he awoke again at a more reasonable hour.

Related » Tools to facilitate meditation

So perhaps you only have 10 minutes that you can commit to meditation. Just 10 minutes can help you come to your senses or slow down enough that your natural intelligence, or what I call basic goodness—the part of you that knows what the right action at any given time might be—can click in.

Excerpted with permission from How To Meditate by Pema Chödrön; published by Jaico Publishing House

This excerpt first appeared in the March 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine.

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