Whether you’re new to meditation or have been practicing for years, it’s almost certain that someday you’ll need to get back into meditation again. Everyone has lapses in their practice. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes life gets in the way of even our most treasured activities. It’s difficult to continue a normal routine when we travel. Life-changing events happen, like having a baby, changing jobs, or dealing with natural disasters.
Since the original publication of this article, we’ve all been affected by the pandemic. Major events make it even more important to persist with our practices. But everyone agrees that it’s much harder during those times.
Another reason why our meditation practice might slacken is that it wasn’t established in the first place. It hasn’t yet become a habit.
This post addresses how we can reestablish—or begin—our meditation practice. You’ll learn how to strengthen your practice, even during the kinds of challenges mentioned above. If you’re a beginner, it’s good to be aware of the pitfalls along the path. You should know how to recognize, avoid, or recover from hurdles if necessary.
Past is Past
One of the most helpful nuggets of wisdom I’ve received from my Guru is to not dwell upon my failings. His exact words to me were, “Forget it. Past is past,” meaning there’s nothing we can do to change the past. We should learn from our mistakes and take responsibility for our actions. Then we can forgive ourselves and move forward. We shouldn’t spend too much time evaluating what went wrong. Instead, we can put our energy into making it right—and avoid repeating our mistakes.
We all experience bumps along the road to meeting our goals. We lapse in our exercise routines and fall off our diets. Or we might buy some trinket with the cash that was reserved for our retirement savings. But in all cases we can realign with our goals.
It doesn’t help to beat yourself up for your failures. Some people think that guilt is a great motivator, but on the spiritual path it’s an obstacle. Guilt slows you down because it aims your energy in the wrong direction. Guilt causes sadness and depression, which in turn make it more difficult to renew our practice.
Getting Back Into Meditation
Sometimes reestablishing a meditation practice is as easy as pressing the restart button on your computer. We recognize that our practice has dwindled, renew our commitment, and then immediately start up again. But often it’s not that simple. The reduction of our practice might have happened over time, almost invisibly. Other activities or habits might have filled the time previously intended for meditation. We need to reestablish the habit.
My first recommendation for returning and beginning meditators is this: Ask yourself, “What value do I expect to receive from putting in the time and effort to meditate? Why do I want to do this?” To answer these questions, it helps to review the benefits of meditation. There are so many excellent physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. Increase your motivation by remembering why you developed an interest in meditation. Make sure that it’s something you truly value. And then, armed with renewed desire—that greatest motivator of all—make a plan to get back into meditation.
Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that there are two ways to get back on track. The first is to dive right in and completely immerse yourself in a full-blown spiritual life. The second is to approach your return to practice in baby steps. I’m a big fan of the second approach. The first, total immersion, carries some risks. The main risk is the inherent nature of the mind to resist change. Attempting to break all your old habits at once can backfire, and recovering from this failure is more difficult.
You’ll have a better chance of success if you restart your meditation practice slowly. Commit to every single day, and increase the length of your practice bit by bit. Then you’ll replace old habits gradually and with less resistance.
Baby Steps for Establishing Your Meditation Practice
Here are some simple steps that you can take to reestablish or begin your meditation practice:
Set Your Schedule:
Plan to meditate during the least distracted time of your day. You might already have another important activity planned for that time. Try meditating before that task, even if just for five or ten minutes. You’ll discover that if you meditate first, you’ll do everything else better. Your tasks will be handled with more clarity, energy, intelligence, and enjoyment.
Review the Benefits of Meditation:
As mentioned earlier, you should understand your motivation. How do you expect to benefit from your practice? Write those benefits on a piece of paper and place it near your meditation chair. Review frequently.
Identify Your Obstacles:
Do you have a challenging and unpredictable schedule? Work around it. Look for little windows of opportunity. Remember—where there’s a will, there’s a way. Do you have physical distractions, like pain, in your meditation posture? Try different types of chairs or lie on your bed or a carpeted floor. Do you fall asleep as soon as you sit for meditation? Get enough sleep during the night and meditate during the day when you’re most awake. Sleeping is a common occurrence for new or returning meditators. It will pass.
Be Accountable to Someone:
Find yourself a meditation buddy, someone to report to every day. This could be another meditator, spouse, or a friend who cares about you and your personal goals. This should also be a person who will be a little tough—someone unlikely to accept excuses.
Start a Meditation Log:
This type of journal is a temporary tool. Many people find it useful to track their daily meditation time and length until their practice becomes established. It might also help you identify issues that interfere with your practice. Here’s a simple form to use as a meditation log. Use the Notes area to record problems or successes that occur during your practice. These notes might help you realize how you can improve your practice. Perhaps the time you’ve chosen isn’t right for you—or maybe it’s an especially ideal time. For example, the notes might show you that every Sunday morning your meditation session feels more peaceful and less distracted by neighborhood noises. Your action: allow for longer meditation sessions on Sundays.
Get Started Now—And Never Give Up
Life is a gift, but it’s not an infinite gift. Our karma determines how much time we have left. The clock of life is ticking away right now. Should we squander our precious time for anything unworthy? Every day that passes without meditation is lost. We can’t make up that time.
The worst thing you can do is to give up, stop trying. This is true for a meditation practice as well as any worthwhile activity. The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is true for all goals. If your practice has lapsed—or never started—resolve now to never let another day pass without meditating. Even if you lose control of your time, you’ll still retire at the end of each day. Then you have one last opportunity to get back into meditation, even if only for a few minutes.
Meditation must become a habit. Once established, a habit takes little effort to continue. Your practice will feel as essential and easy as your daily breakfast.
Everyone experiences lapses, but there are many success stories, too. Do you have helpful advice for how you succeeded in establishing your practice? Please share with readers in the comment section below.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.
Bottom line it’s your everyday mental habits that control your life. You can see what your mind is on and where your efforts are placed. What do I want to improve in my meditation practice? I’d like to meditate at regular times. Repetition daily at the same time would instill an inner clock in me and in time naturally eliminate that problem. You’ve offered some valuable solutions to keep on the path – never give up!
Thank you Svāmī Chityānanda
Thank you, Sue. Your comment is similar to my reply to Tony’s comment. I see that we are all keeping good company with one another! Namaste.
Habit is an interesting word. Once you identify your interest, habit force must surely push you forward. There can be habits supporting one general habit. Swami Muktananda lists five important habits: “Purity, contentment, austerity, study and surrender.”
Thank you for your comment, Tony. You make an interesting point — that smaller habits combine to make bigger habits. It’s good for us to remember that every little action we take is important because it affects the whole of our lives. We also need to remember that thoughts are mental actions. Saints say, “As one thinks, so he becomes.” So, the habits of our thoughts are really important to our spiritual progress. Namaste.
Very good tonic for me. I thank you Svami Chityānanda.
You’re most welcome, John. I’m always happy to hear when the article is useful in some way. Namaste.
Hi, Svami Chityananda. Thank you for this post.
I find a big difference between the way my mind works with meditation and without.
Humans tend to make machines that mimic their strengths and weaknesses. If we run a computer for weeks and only put it to sleep at night, it begins to bog down. What used to take seconds can take minutes or be simply impossible for the machine.
When a computer has ‘too much on its mind,’ its digital mind—open apps, cached memory, etc—it needs to be rebooted. After a reboot, it runs like new, purged off all the useless data it was holding onto. Meditation is that reboot for me.
Great analogy, Rob, and I’m sure one that we can all relate to. Thank you. SCS
At my age, I can narrow down the benefit to One, the sole purpose of our being, which is to become one with the Truth. Through Right meditation.
Thank you, Tosh. You show a wealth of wisdom that takes most of us a lifetime to achieve. Namaste.
Dear Svāmi Chityānanda Sarasvati,
Thank you for this much needed article. You have provided some great tips to help assist with daily meditations. I am still sort of struggling with getting my evening meditation in and I do notice when I do sit down to meditate that I fall asleep — but if I do it first thing it feels like I actually meditated.
Practicing and never giving up especially if it something you really want to master is the key. Your suggestion to ask yourself what benefits do I wish to attain for this practice could be quite inspiring.
Thank you for your divine wisdom.
Thank you for your comment, Nakisa. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve benefited from the post. Falling asleep during an evening meditation is quite common. We’re tired then, and that’s what the body wants to do. One of the things I do if I want to be sure I stay awake for an evening meditation is to take a nap in the afternoon. Even 20 minutes after you get home from work makes a big difference. Also, I know someone who sneaks away during his lunch hour to nap so his evenings are more energetic.
Sometimes, when I just can’t stay awake for an evening meditation, I partially give in. I crawl into bed, lie on my back in corpse pose, and say my mantra. Then, at least, I feel that I’m not abandoning my practice, and my mind is where I want it at the end of the day. I hope this helps. Namaste.
I like the plan you suggested of committing to every day, but starting slowly. It reminds me of a Tim Ferriss podcast interview (I forget which episode). He said the best way to get started is to make the first task laughably easy. Want to work out? Commit to doing one push-up. Need to start writing? Commit to opening the writing program and typing one sentence. These are just enough to make it easy to do more after that, and start your momentum.
I also highly recommend “The Power of Habit” to many friends, that was one of the best self-help books I ever read!
Thank you for joining the conversation, Josh. Your friend Tim Ferriss sounds like a wise and thoughtful person. It’s one thing to know what to do…it’s quite another to actually do it! Sometimes you have to develop start-up tricks for yourself. I like the suggestion of making the first task laughably easy. Humor never hurts. Perhaps you could share with the other readers on Quiet Karma what laughably easy first task works for you in your meditation practice?
Thanks, also, for your comment about The Power of Habit. It was recommended to me years ago by another wise-for-his-years man. Namaste.
I haven’t tried it yet, but I shall begin with one minute of meditation to get the ball rolling.
Best wishes for your one minute meditation, Josh. You will soon find the desire to increase it to five, ten, and more minutes. Another suggestion that will help you establish the habit: commit to your practice at the same time every day. You’ll find it easier every day. Let us hear of your progress in a few weeks. Namaste.
It’s so easy to start bad habits, and it requires attention to start good ones. Meditating at the same time every day with someone to report to seems like a great idea.
Thanks for commenting, Tim. It takes a lot of discipline to avoid bad habits. But meditation makes it easier to make and stick with good choices. It looks like you’ve found a formula that works for you, and I appreciate your sharing it. Namaste.
This is a subject close to my heart. In every one of my endeavors, I continually slow down and then resume practice. I guess I’ve just accepted this and in doing so I’ve found peace.
God always sends reminders. For example, a young musician friend is always on me about practicing. He practices four to six hours a day! So, I recently resumed practice and it’s incredible. I feel no guilt and enjoy new musical heights.
Likewise, this post is a reminder to keep up my practice of meditation, and I thank you for that. What spiritual heights can be achieved by regular practice! Feeling bad or guilty is ridiculous and just another form of egotism.
Once again, thank you for the reminder. Quiet Karma is good spiritual company.
Thank you for your candor, Modesto. Everyone has lapses from time to time. It doesn’t matter how many times we fall off the horse, as long as we keep getting back on. … You’re fortunate to have another discipline, music, that teaches you the value of practice. Those lessons will carry over to your spiritual practices. Best wishes for continued success! SCS
To start—or restart—a meditation practice, I think it is important to make it meaningful. As you say, ask yourself why you want to do it. Make sure that it’s something that you truly value. Then you will make time for it one way or another.
I agree, Roxie. I would like to add that many people know it’s beneficial to meditate. They fully expect to start practicing…any day now! And then years pass, and the practice has not yet started. For those who appreciate the value of meditation, but just don’t seem to be able to get started, I recommend having a meditation buddy or taking a class. In other words, keeping good company by associating with other meditators. Namaste.
I like the statement, “as easy as pressing the restart button your computer.” To correlate your computer analogy with disregarding the past, the past is a file I can CTRL-ALT-DELETE. Thank you.
Thank you, Elizabeth. Note that I said “Sometimes reestablishing a meditation practice is as easy as pressing the restart button on your computer.” I probably should have said “Rarely.” When we neglect our practice, it usually takes more than a simple decision to return to it. When you restart your computer, it boots up quickly and works normally. When you reboot your meditation practice, you have work harder than that. It gets easier with practice, and sometimes very quickly, but it still takes concerted effort. The best thing for meditators to do is to never allow a lapse. Then there’s no question of difficulty. Namaste.
Very good guidelines and suggestions. One that motivates me is: “You make appointments with the doctor or with your friends, why cannot you make appointments with yourself to meditate or read scriptures? Do you love them more than yourself?”
Thank you for your comment and suggestion, Richard. Such practical wisdom, and quite to the point! Namaste.
There’s a lot to absorb in this post, Svāmī Chityānanda. From dealing with the past, guilt, dwindling of a good habit, and the making of a plan. All excellent subjects for discussion in their own right. I like how you’re beginning to provide links to previous posts – most helpful. I often think of people I know who may benefit from your posts. This is one where everyone, not least myself, will benefit from reading it multiple times. Thank you ??
Thank you, James. I’m so happy to know that you’ve found the post useful. And I appreciate your sharing it with others. I wish you all the best on your spiritual journey. Namaste.