Starting a Meditation Practice
So you want to start to meditate? Great!
It’s gonna suck to start – just thought I’d give you a heads up. Turns out there’s a lot of ‘stuff’ up there in your head – and by ‘stuff’ I mean shit.
Memories. Experiences. Song lyrics. Sexual fantasies. Identities. Your grade-school best friend’s phone number…you name it, it’s all stored away up there.
When I sat silent for 10 days at Vipasanna my mind paid me the courtesy of dragging them all out one by one for me.
The Gangster. The Yogi. The Dope-dealer.
(Some of you got that Westside Connection reference.)
All the various roles I’d played were paraded out as fuel for distraction from the task at hand – my practice at concentration.
I was sweating out my habit of drug and alcohol use too. So there was that…
If you want to meditate you need to set yourself up for success, and be prepared to set yourself up to suffer a bit…at least at first.
Every minute of meditation is like a little deposit in the cosmic piggy bank.
One minute is equal to about a penny, and an hour is worth a dollar.
The more you work at it, the fuller the bank becomes till one day you can draw on it at your leisure and infinitely.
Don’t be discouraged if you find your mind’s been overdrawn for a while…
Pick a particular practice that speaks to you and practice your focus for a long time over time. I like anapana – the practice of observing the sensation associated with the ‘breath as it is’, unaltered, unshaped precisely because it is so starkly free of dogma, and so aggressively lays bare the shit stored up there in your noggin.
I have found it to be a uniquely effective focus practice.
If this is too much for you at first you might try a mantra or guided body-based meditation, but just be aware these are often easier because they are simply providing subtle distraction.
Dharna in sanskrit is the sixth limb of yoga and translates as sustained concentration…I call it focus practice. This is what most people are ‘doing’ when they are ‘meditating’. They are not actually in a state of meditation – nearly impossible to describe with words – but are practicing their focus to one day attain and sustain that state.
To be clear, ‘meditation’ is less a verb as it is commonly used in the vernacular of our culture. It is a state…more of a noun, it is more like a lovely place you get to by traveling a great distance…
Pana the Buddha described as the ‘field of wisdom’…that intuitive wisdom that lies inside all of us at all times where all questions exist side by side with their answers…
But the only way I have experienced ‘arriving’ at this field, is through the doing of many, many hours of focus practice.
Pick a time of day you can commit to consistently. For me 4am – before my mind wakes up, or 4pm – when my mind is a little sleepy – seem to be my most effective hours.
Set the setting. A nice chair, space in the house with good light and air, or a corner that has been cultivated deliberately will all help you to control your focus immeasurably.
Pratyahara – sense withdraw is the fifth limb of yoga. Take away the distraction of sight by meditating with your eyes closed, or the distraction of sound by plugging your ears and you will have eliminated a large percentage of the distracting information coming in from the outside world.
Closing off a sense door allows you to practice your focus more effectively. The quieter your meditative space the better, and sit inside – outdoors is lovely…distractingly so.
Longer the better. When you were saving for a Nintendo as a little kid, big deposits – or many, many tiny ones – were what would get you there. You gotta sit for more than 10 minutes – at least if you want real results.
In my experience this took about 3 straight days of 10 hours a day in meditation to simply get past the monkey mind, so don’t think 10 minutes a day for two weeks is going to get you there.
It took another 3 days to get to Dhyana the seventh limb of yoga – the actual state of meditation.
Because of the time it takes to achieve this state, I recommend starting with at least 20 minute sessions at least 5 days a week. Longer the better.
And if shorter is really all you have time for then do that. Even pennies add up…eventually.
The other option is to just rip the band-aid off – sign-up for a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. They’re free/donation based and offered around the world and in just about every language spoken.
Don’t Give Up! You’re going to be really frustrated at your lack of ability to focus. The mind’s going to go nuts. BUT, like a child, it will cry itself out if you just give it enough time.
A minute or two at a time will add up over time. The assistant teacher at Vipassana calls everyone up on day two to confirm that you can hold your focus “for about a minute”…day three it grows to “two” so measure your expectations carefully.
Go for it, and good luck, yogis!
Justin “Jud” Kaliszewski is the best-selling yoga teacher and renowned creator of Outlaw Yoga. Author. Artist. Adventurer. Though his studio is currently closed per state order, you can still take his class NOW at outlawyogaclub.com and www.youtube.com/outlawyoga. Find his writing and art at www.justinkaliszewski.com and his presence all over the internet – for an outlaw, he’s shockingly easy to get ahold of.