A regular meditation practice is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal if we want to modify our attitudes and habits in the direction of abandoning the unwholesome and cultivating the wholesome. Generosity and ethical behavior form an important foundation, but to alter the way our minds work, to see things in a new way, we need a quiet, introspective form of training. Lasting wisdom, and the contentment it can bring, grows stronger as we learn (gradually) how to calm and focus the mind.
Many respected teachers agree that the regularity of a sitting practice is more important than the duration. Sitting five minutes per day for seven days will be more beneficial than sitting once a week for thirty-five minutes.
From the many available “instant meditation instructions”, I’ve chosen the outline below. It was published as a sidebar to an article, “Dropping Distraction”, by Leo Babauta in the Summer 2015 issue of Tricycle. Mr. Babauta has a web site called Zen Habits which is long on forming healthy habits and short on Zen. But I find his instructions on establishing a meditation practice on point, inviting, and appropriately encouraging. The one thing I would add is that when Mr. Babauta says “follow your breath”, I would offer as an alternative: “know the breath with your body”. Paradoxically, we can disengage from our usual way of following or knowing, and experience the breath more through the sensory capabilities of the body than through the overworked mental faculty. These are not really two separate modes, but a subtle matter of emphasis; let the thinking mind relax a little.
If you don’t already have a regular sitting practice, please consider giving the directions below a chance. What have you got to lose?
Meditation is perhaps the most important habit to maintain if you want to change other habits. It’s a pretty simple habit to form, but the doing is everything:
Commit to just two minutes a day.
If you want the habit to stick, start simply. All you’re committing to is two minutes each day. You can go up to five minutes if you’re feeling good about it, and increase it over time – slowly.
Pick a time and a trigger.
Not an exact time of day, but a general time, like right after you wake up or during your lunch hour. The trigger should be something you already do regularly, like drink your first cup of coffee, brush your teeth, have lunch, or arrive at home from work.
Find a quiet spot.
Sometimes early morning at home is best, before others in your house are awake and making noise. Or it could be a spot in a park or on the beach or some other soothing setting. It really doesn’t matter where as long as you can sit without being bothered for a few minutes.
Don’t fuss too much about how you sit, what you wear, what you sit on, and so on. I like to sit on a pillow on the floor with my back leaning against a wall, because I’m very inflexible. Others use a meditation cushion or bench, but my opinion is that any cushion or pillow will do, and some people can sit on a bare floor comfortably. Don’t go out and buy things you don’t already have.
Focus on your breath.
As you breathe in, follow your breath in through your nostrils, then into your throat, then into your lungs and belly. As you breathe out, follow your breath out back into the world. If it helps, count: one breath in, two breath out, three breath in, four breath out. When you get to ten, start over. If you lose track, start over. If you find your mind wandering (and you will), bring it gently back to your breath. Repeat this process for the few minutes of your meditation.
That’s it. Practice for two minutes, every day, after the same trigger each day, and after a month you’ll have a daily meditation practice.