Whether you’re new to meditation or have been practicing for years, it’s almost certain that you’ll need to get back on track someday. There could be 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. 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 should forgive ourselves, learn our lessons, and move forward. We shouldn’t spend too much time evaluating what went wrong but instead 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 on Track
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’s good 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.
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 re-establish 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 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: make your meditations longer 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 sit for a quiet moment of meditation.
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.