Happy new year 2015!
Meditation advice can come in many forms. A new calendar year is a great time to review the best practices and select a few for implementation. As a householder in his mid 30s, I witness myself struggling to balance work, family, and spiritual life. As every phase of life brings new demands, our daily meditation habit is at high risk for disruption.
Some of what follows may be good for you, a few points entirely not applicable, and some, outright wrong. But this is advice I am giving myself this year. Please do not take these as a prescription. A buffet of 15 tactics of what hasn’t failed yet, and most likely to work. Consider them carefully in the context of your own challenges. Then pick two or three to experiment this year, and no more than one idea to implement in your meditative practice.
1. Pick a meditation technique and learn all the foundations
Master meditators are adept at sampling different techniques and philosophies. They then tailor their approach to meditation. However, if you are a meditation explorer yet to establish a daily meditation routine, nothing can paralyze the mind more than having to blend different techniques. As a result the body-mind will find it easier to skip meditation time. Picking one technique takes the pre-thinking out – the scary thought “what will I do in my meditation today” will no longer prevent you from sitting down and enjoying your spirit on a daily basis.
2. Make daily meditation a habit
If you’ve reached this point in this article, you are most likely a person who prioritizes meditation and spirituality. However, priority alone is not enough to make meditation into a daily habit. It is hard to create new habits. Even for the busiest of people can find a way to build in a new habit. The illusion of time shortage is powerful, but can be overcome. BJ Fogg, a Stanford expert on habits, helps ordinary folks like you and me create new habits and/or eliminate unwanted ones. My favorite technique is “anchoring”. Find an existing habit, then insert your new action around it. Latch your meditation time with an existing routine. Like right after you brush your teeth, or right before you eat breakfast. The key is to eliminate mental buzz about when to meditate, once and for all.
3. Meditate smarter not longer:
The criteria for a good meditation should be your personal energy levels. The amount of time spent may not matters as much as we think. Focus on the quality of connection and stretches of silence between thoughts. Develop the connection of the individual spirit the universal spirit through the 7th energy center in your crown.
4. Rituals vs. habits:
When I was a meditation greenhorn, I used to feel compelled to do certain things in a certain sequence. That used to increase anxiety after meditation. Thanks to some wise peer mentors in Sahaja Yoga, I could feel safe to figure out what steps are optional and which ones are essential for a proper meditation. Don’t let procedure hold you back.
5. Meditation space:
Our unconscious mind responds to apparently irrational factors, like location. I’ve resolved to select certain areas of my residence and allocate certain activities to them: Computers in the living room only, reading on this sofa, meditation in this nook with an alter. Although these activities, reading, checking email, or meditating, can be done anywhere — but allocating a fixed spot aides the mind to unconsciously slip into the assigned activity mode. This has been crucial with other areas of personal performance like nutrition, sleep, and meditation.
6. Ideas & experimentation:
Faith is the bedrock of good spiritual practice. Faith in one’s own self and the higher power that we seek a connection to. A few minutes of Non-meditation time, on occasion, can be used well to examine faith factors — don’t be shy to “park” a faith concept until you have personally experienced it work favorably. If a factor interferes in your meditation, feel free to discard it. Self experimentation is the tool, enlightened faith, the purpose.
7. Build a team of mentors:
When it comes to finding mentors, peer or senior, don’t wait for perfection. Stop your mind from criticizing imperfection in your fellow meditators, and start capitalizing on their strength. Perfection is often the enemy of good. Discover people’s strengths and make them your mentor in their area of strength. Thus, building a team of mentors. The tool to unlock other’s strength, is honest appreciation and specific praise.
8. Higher purpose
Purpose here is a little different than the existential question, the meaning of life. Purpose here refers to how we place ourselves in a universe we don’t yet understand. Use an ever-evolving purpose to benchmark your meditation progress. Pick a purpose and make it higher than your current level of performance. E.g. Fatherhood is one of my roles, and the associated higher purpose that stems from it: A father to enlightened and responsible citizens. This allows for course correction and staying motivated to meditate deeper.
9. Genuine authority figures
Avoid standard authority figures promoted by the media and supported by sponsors with an agenda. Spiritual wealth comes from neither the super-rich entrepreneur, nor god-like figures who live on other’s donations. Our minds are unconsciously drawn to those who have gained material success. The mind starts heeding spiritual advice from those who haven’t demonstrated spiritual achievements, just financial success. Monitor the sources of your ideas and pass them through this crucial filter: what has he/she got to sell?
10. Enjoy introspections
Day-dreaming is natural. Introspection is not wandering thoughts, but a sharp incisive look. Critical thinking directed to our selves. Reflecting on priority of desires and progress on making them real. Introspection compliments meditation, but it’s not meditation.
11. Conserve personal energy
The Pareto principle applies in most situations — e.g., focus on the 20% of your relationships that give you most of your joy in life. Respect everyone, but invest heavily in that joyful fraction of those you love.
12. Motivate without money
Figure out the use of non-monetary incentives to get others do what you want them to do, that includes your own mind-body, referred to as a third person. Money based motivation doesn’t go far. If you want long lasting benefits, think about rewarding yourself and others in a non-material way. (Caveat: Not paying your bills is not an implied suggestion. Your electricity provider may become highly motivated to leave you in the dark.)
13. Systems and habits, rather than numeric goals:
Scott Adams, creator of the comic, Dilbert makes this outrageous suggestion in his book, that jolted me to a stop: goal-based motivation doesn’t work as well as something else. It started making sense, as he explained the principle in his book, “How to fail at almost everything…”. Goal oriented approaches makes us miserable until the the goal is met: like losing 20 lb, meditating for 30 minutes, or eating no more than 300 calories per meal. Numbers can demoralize and derail more. Adams recommends developing and nourishing a system: e.g. eating healthy and exercising regularly, meditating everyday after the morning shower, or talking to a peer mentor when you are down, before binging on fast food. Systems over goals. We can see our system work or fail every day, introspect on causes and look forward to a better day tomorrow. With a goal, we are a failure each day before we have reached it. We are likely to be miserable more, if we hang our hats on numeric goals.
14. Refer to yourself in third person:
… but, just in your thoughts. (Referring to yourself out loud with your name may lead others to think you have gone off the rails.) Treating ourselves no different than one of the members of “Team Myself” helps to move away from disproportionate self-punishments or self-rewards. Further, it helps the heart drive our actions, rather than the mind.
15. I’ll let you suggest the 15th tactic in the comments section …
You are my peer mentor and I look forward to learning something from you in this new year.
Start meditating with a 7 CD beginner’s Sahaja Yoga Meditation program, available free to listen or download here: www.meditatewith.us