… Strategies for Successful Meditation

By Megan Mook

Cultivating a successful meditation practice has less to do with actual meditation, and more to do with building a firm but kind-hearted foundation. Much like taking a test, if you stay up all night and skip breakfast, you’re unlikely to do well even if you’re a great test-taker.

Meditation is no different. And, like anything in life, a few simple pointers can reduce stress and make the process more enjoyable.

Although there are numerous meditation techniques, the guidelines are much the same. One of the most common is monitoring the breath. Other practices, such as Metta, include sending wishes of kindness and wellbeing to others. Both techniques reduce stress, increase focus, and create a sense of interconnection.

The techniques often build on themselves, but regardless of where you start, these age-old practices are designed to help move us in the direction of our best selves. The process can be daunting but these strategies can help.

Helpful Hints

Rethink your definition of meditation.

Meditation isn’t about “not thinking;” it’s about cultivating a healthy perspective on our thoughts. During meditation we’re learning to tame and enhance our minds, not stifle and silence them.

Get physical.

Be as healthy as you can by considering what you eat and getting plenty of exercise with adequate recovery time. Research from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School suggests that a consistent sleep schedule significantly increases overall energy, which means when your alarm goes off you’re rested enough to get up and meditate.

Be Nice.

The bottom line is, if you behave in ways that hurt others by lying, stealing or manipulating, for example, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to sit quietly with yourself. Furthermore, you’ll find it difficult to concentrate. If you’re serious about meditating, be kind.

Stop being so busy.

This is our biggest task in the 21st century; ironically, this advice comes from The Stages of Meditation, a text that dates back to 750 A.D. Modern life is busy, but we don’t need to make ourselves even busier. Here are some helpful guidelines:

-Get clear about your goals, and let your decisions reflect them. If your goal is being less busy, narrow your commitments down to the essentials.

-Stop multitasking. “Do one thing at a time – mindfully,” is a classic meditation instruction, yet in this age of social media and email, it can seem like an impossible challenge. The solution? Stop fooling yourself; multitasking makes you feel like you’re getting more done, but in truth you’re being less productive. Try checking emails, social media and texts only during designated times of the day.

The above advicehealth_01 lays the foundation for a solid meditation practice. Still, there’s one more piece dealing with the deeper aspects of our humanity: learning to be patient and kind with ourselves.

Tibetan Buddhist lama Dr. Lozang Jamspal underscores this importance by asking, “Without patience, how can one ever meditate well?” Be patient with yourself as you learn to meditate.

Treat yourself like a child who’s trying to learn something exciting and unfamiliar. Expect to get off track – it’s a part of learning, not a sign of failure. Imagine a child learning to ride a bike. You can get frustrated when she falls off or you can pick up her bike, dust off her knees, and give her a loving push. It will take practice for her to learn to be steady, but if she feels loved and supported, she won’t avoid the challenge – and she might even enjoy it along the way.

For the past 15 years, Megan Mook has immersed herself in the study of Buddhist philosophy and meditation, living and studying in monastic communities in the Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan traditions. She holds a master’s degree in Buddhist Studies and teaches meditation and yoga in New York City.

This story was first published in the summer 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.