Saturday, December 6, 2014

I Need Help! I Can’t Meditate! 10 Simple Tips for Your Meditation Practice

I Need Help! I Can’t Meditate!
10 Simple Tips for Your Meditation Practice

So, you say you want to meditate? You hear all of the good things about it and then you sit down and …… ugh.

I had the same experience. Most of the struggle came from me trying to make it more complicated than it is and failing to cultivate the steady, patient practice that allows for the benefits to grow.

Metaphor: My house feels like my home because I live here. It does not feel like my home because I bought it. Buying the house is not sufficient. I eat, pray, and love here. Over and over again, hour after hour. I live here. It is the time and practice I have spent that creates the feeling of home. My house is my home because I live here.  

The same is true for your meditation practice. You can make mala beads, buy a timer, and get a fancy meditation pillow (those things are all fun). Still, meditation won’t feel like home until you live there- until you spend time there- lots of time.

One day- after many, many sessions- and it will be subtle- your meditation practice will start to feel like home- safe, calming, a respite- a secure base- all due to your practice. Your practice will become your home because you live there.

Here are your tips for meditation practice:

  • One: Start small. Begin with 2 minutes and stay there until you crave more. DO NOT ADD because you have a goal or feel like your practice is not good enough because it is not more. WAIT- WAIT until you crave more. Then, add a few minutes. Maybe you meditate for 5 minutes, for 5 months, for 5 years- perfect. Small, accomplishable steps are the recipe for sustainability. 

  • Two: Go slow. Add to your practice slowly. This one is a close neighbor to “start small.” It is worthy of its own mention due to its importance. I often see people begin on the path with such velocity that they crash and burn. I get excited too. This stuff is wonderful. And- we need to think about a careful integration of these awesome practices into our lives and- once again- sustainability. Leave yourself wanting more and energized by your practice (not overwhelmed by unsustainable goals).

  • Three: Get an app. The Insight Timer is my favorite- go here to download. A meditation app lets you time your practice, provides gentle bells at 1 minute intervals (if you choose), has recordings of many guided meditations, and a community of meditators to support you. They also offer charts and graphs so you can track you progress. An app can be a huge support tool.

  • Four: Find a geographic space. Find a space in your home that you can set up for meditation. It should be quiet, cultivate a sense of calmness, and be easily accessible for you- yet- private for you. When my children were very little- the hot tub was the only place I could get 10 minutes of alone time (as it turned out, it is not a bad place to meditate). So, find your spot.

  • Five: Find a temporal space. Find a space in your schedule. Lock it into your routine. One of the biggest roadblocks to a regular meditation practice is finding the time in your daily routine. Carve out the time. I recommend a Plan A and a Plan B. This way, each day you have two times that it could actually happen.

  • Six: Don’t decide- do. Make meditation part of your routine. Do not ask yourself, “Should I meditate today?” Rather, ask yourself, “When is the best time for me to meditate?” Asking the “Should I….” question sets the stage for skipping. You will save substantial volitional energy just simply doing it.

  • Seven: Focus on an object. Once you are sitting and your timer is on, find an object for your focus. It could be your breath. Breath is a wonderful starting place (and continuing place). You can choose a mantra- a saying (or word) that you repeat over and over to align your thoughts and attention (see here You can light a candle. You can use a guided meditation. The object gives your mind an anchor that you can keep coming back to.

  • Eight: Witness and shepherd. This is it- the big reason we meditate- to be the witness. Being the witness allows you distance, space between what happens- (a) your external stimuli (e.g., events, people, and triggers), (b) your internal stimuli (e.g., thoughts, feelings, and physiological experiences) and (c) your reactions to them. You simply watch where your mind goes. Then, without judgment shepherd it back to your object of focus (e.g., the breath, the mantra, the candle, etc..). You notice that you keep thinking about work- interesting- then back to breath. You notice you keep thinking about grocery shopping- interesting- then back to your mantra. You notice that you keep going back to memories- interesting- then back to the candle. That is all. Witness and shepherd. It is a practice- no goals- no right- no wrong- just a practice. You are creating space- room to cultivate you.
  • Nine: Impermanence, not-suffering, and not-self. As you witness and shepherd- you will notice these things.

Cook-Cottone, The Yoga Bag

Impermanence. Everything is impermanent. You, me, our thoughts, our feelings, events, passions, drama, all of it- impermanent- and that is okay. In fact, the steadiness that we bring to witnessing impermanence is incredibly grounding and empowering. We sit like a pebble at the bottom of a riverbed and watch the water and debris go by- nestled in and steady.

Not- suffering. You will notice that life is inevitably painful and that there is, often, no way to avoid the pain. You will also notice that suffering is optional. I think it is in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that they say that “There is no problem a drink won’t make worse” ( This saying get’s to the core of not-suffering- yes- life can be very hard and painful- still- our reactions to the hard parts of life can either make things more manageable or more painful. We have a choice about whether or not we will add suffering to the inevitable pain.

Suffering comes from judgment, attachment, and avoidance. As you meditate you will notice the tendency to judge things as pleasant and unpleasant, as good or bad. Then (because you are a human being) you will want to avoid or attach to them. These are the seeds of suffering. Like in the AA saying- the problem is there- trying to avoiding it by drinking is what makes it worse. As we meditate we notice the labels (good/bad, pleasant/unpleasant), our reactions to them (the drive to attach/avoid), and we simply sit- witnessing, learning to really see and know ourselves, and shepherding.

Not-self. All the stuff that goes on in your brain and your emotional self are not necessarily you. You are the self you choose to cultivate. If bitter thoughts arise- does that make you a bitter person to your core? Or do you notice the bitter thoughts and choose how you’d like to respond? Your noticing and choosing is your character- not what arises. It is not you. The stuff that arises comes from everywhere- the media, your parents, the things some kid who was struggling in 5th grade yelled at you- they are not you. You choose you. Your meditation practice gives you time to see what comes up, to notice, and practice letting it be. You begin to know- in a felt sense- that you get to choose what is- you- and what will not be you.

  • Ten: Be perfectly, imperfect. Do the nine things above and then YOU WILL FAIL. Yep- 100% guaranteed- something will happen- something will get in your way- you will forget, mess up, lose your intention, or any of 100 million other things that get us off track.

You will fail 100% guaranteed. AND……


Yep- be gloriously imperfect and re-start. Each re-start will be a bit stronger, a bit wiser- and a bit more powerful. Each re-start will stand on the shoulders of all of your other tries- taller and bigger.

So- get started today. Do it! I am excited for your journey, your failures, your re-starts, and the wonderful changes you will see as your practice becomes your home- your secure base.


Catherine Cook-Cottone

The Yoga Bag

No comments: