I’m not usually one to make New Year’s resolutions but one thing I really wanted to maintain this year is a daily meditation practice. In the past, I have managed four months or so of daily practice at a time but then excuses arise to skip the practice. The odd missed day leads to a few more and then, just like any discipline in life, the longer it is left, the harder it becomes to re-establish the routine. Then, rather than my daily meditation being a dedicated time for just that, it gets tagged onto the end of my asana practice, but this way it feels rushed and not particularly structured.
One obstacle to setting a regular practice was finding something that worked for me. Should I use a mantra? Should I focus on my breath? Should I try a different technique if my mind keeps wandering? I decided a couple of years ago that I needed guidance so I signed up for an 8 week Mindfulness Meditation course at Evolution. I did do the practice most days during that time and for a while after. But then it just fizzled out again. I think spring arrived and I got distracted by other things, thinking I didn’t have time to fit it into my day without worrying about everything else I had to do. This is exactly why I should have stuck with it!
So two years later I am inspired to start an earnest practice again.
I am using the guided Mindfulness meditation cd that I was given on the course which includes the Buddhist techniques of the body scan and mindfulness of breathing, plus a practice based on visualisation. I enjoy the lunchtime drop-in sessions at the Brighton Buddhist Centre most weeks and am regularly ‘checking-in’ with a friend of mine who also wants to maintain a daily practice.
I have changed the way I view my practice. I no longer have a ‘goal’ in mind – an idea of what I should or shouldn’t be experiencing – I think this was a mistake and surely a common one for meditators. I have let go of my critical, perfectionist side which used to love telling me that if my mind seemed constantly disobedient during a session then I was doing something wrong or simply failing. I now get it! The whole process of mindfulness is not to stop thinking – for this is what minds do, we can’t stop that – it’s the process of noticing / waking up to the fact that the mind has drifted away from its awareness of the present moment.
So whether I have a peaceful practice where my thoughts are infrequent or distant, or whether I seem to wander after every second breath, I have let go of the need to assess any given practice as good or bad. Mindfulness can teach us this in daily life and as such, it becomes a way of life rather than limited to the time we spend sitting in our practice. We can begin to let go of our conditioning; the filters that cloud our actual experience of life. For example, if it is grey and raining outside, I simply acknowledge that it is grey and raining rather than being taken away by my thoughts which would have gone something a little like this: ‘I’m feeling miserable because I wished I was living in a hot country for the winter. When will the sunshine come out again?’ Sure, I’d love to be in India for the winter but I accept that I am not and I no longer feel unhappy about it. Judgements about myself or my experiences in life will still come along, but I know that they are not permanent and I can witness them with kindness. Thoughts and feelings are impermanent and have less power over me than before.
All we truly have in life is here and now. We are not living and breathing in the past or the future. Through mindfulness we can understand that we are not our thoughts or feelings, our true identity is not a collection of past experiences and ‘labels’ that we place on ourselves. Life becomes a more joyful , less stressful experience and we become kinder towards ourselves and others.
As a yoga teacher I knew all of this through my studies and have enjoyed the glimpses of a peaceful way of being through my yoga practice and those times when I did meditate regularly. But to really experience the mindful way of being, on and off my meditation cushion, I now know that daily practice is the key.
Meditation is a journey, one without end. I hope I may have inspired you to start your journey. I would like to thank my teachers past and present who have introduced me to meditation and mindfulness, and those people in my life who have inspired me to pick up the path where I last left it.
I will keep you up to date with my journey along with resources and tips for your practice, so do check my future blog posts.