19 Nov How do I Start Meditating
I've been a regular meditator for the past 7 years. I was first exposed to the idea of meditation in college, and I had tried to establish a practice multiple times, but had not made discernible progress in the 15 years since I realized it would be a good practice to start. I tried guided meditations and would fall asleep (I sometimes still do!). I did yoga occasionally, but had a hard time with slow movement. I couldn't manage to do more than a few consecutive days of some kind of meditative practice. I thought having a daily practice was hopeless for me, but still thought about it and would occasionally try and fail yet again.
In 2013, I decided to go to a 7-day meditation retreat, and started going to the local Zen center in preparation. Before the retreat, I was going to sitting practice a couple of times a week and generally feeling like I was able to do it with a group, but I still didn’t have a daily practice for myself. Then the retreat happened, and the first couple of days were awful. It was a mostly silent retreat – no socializing or casual talking – and the monkeys in my head had been joined by a circus menagerie, driving me crazy! I persevered and by the end of the week, I was experiencing breakthroughs, and an incredible peace with myself, had developed.
I headed home, and could immediately tell something had shifted. Everything seemed too loud, especially the television. I had a lot of clarity and internal peace. I wanted to meditate, and I started sitting on my own every morning. I have continued meditating daily since then. I do occasionally miss a day or even two because of circumstances, but it isn’t something I can live without for very long. Meditation has changed my life, because it helps me to hear my intuition and to know where my center is and how to access it.
So, what changed? It's not like I hadn't appreciated the value of meditation prior to the retreat, or that this was a significantly different transformational experience from several other retreats I had been on. My life wasn't different when I got home. I had all of the commitments I had previously been engaged in. I was just suddenly able and interested in sitting in meditation for 30 minutes after I woke in the morning.
My theory is that I reached a threshold which happened to coincide with the retreat. It provided a rich experience that definitely increased the speed at which my habit changed, though I believe I would have changed this habit eventually without the retreat. One way I think of habits is like a balance scale (you know, like the scales of justice). On one side of the scale is the old habit, with the weight of years of repetition holding it down. On the other side is the new habit, which doesn't have much weight in it.
I had tried and tried and tried, and even though it felt like I was failing, each attempt put a little more weight on the meditating habit side. When I started to prepare for the retreat, I was adding more to the new habit side. Then, at the retreat, I was in an environment that completely supported my new habit and it got me over the hump to easily continue meditating when I got home. And once the new habit was established, that was the heavier side of the balance scale and it was easier to do it than not to.
Now, the habit of not meditating still comes up every once in a while, but I know and trust my years of experience that I will go back to the habit. I deeply value the clarity and peace of mind that come with regular meditation. Even if I can’t get in a full sitting period, the ability to take a minute to breathe in and out; connect with the infinite within and without; and know that I always have access to the answers I need is invaluable.
This is available to anyone who keeps showing up. Start small, keep trying, and learn what works for you and build on it. Look for and celebrate the small successes! Eventually the new habit will fall into place.