I was a monk for 12 years, so I know a little bit about meditation.
Here are five things I learned while living in a monastery and meditating every day:
1. Don’t meditate every day.
Yup. You simply don’t have to dedicate that much time to the practice; the key is just being consistent. The monks I trained with developed a simple methodology: meditate before work, relax on the weekend. That means you should strive to develop a consistent meditation practice at least Monday through Thursday and take Friday through Sunday off. Use those off days to catch up on sleep, make your lover breakfast, and try to not have FOMO.
Why does this work? The alternative—meditating hardcore everyday or die—is obviously the path of burnout, high expectations that can’t be met, and then frustration. We don’t want that. We need small victories, one after another. So the key is to start small, but keep your small and simple practice for several months before thinking about doing more.
2. Stop meditating for so damn long.
You don’t need to meditate every day, and you sure as hell don’t need to meditate for hours on end. When you try to attack your mind’s job—which is to think, collect data, and think again—and attain ultimate peace, it’s like you are pushing back against a cow’s head…have you ever tried that? It isn’t easy. The cow pushes back even harder in stubbornness and spite, and your mind will do the same. Your mind does not want to settle and grow quiet while you contemplate on peace and love; it wants to think, because it’s good at it.
The trick here is to slowly pursue and seduce your mind into relaxing, then it has no idea what you’re trying to do. When you go to war, you don’t want your enemy to know you’re attacking.
3. Focus your attention on the preparation for meditation, not meditation.
When we soothe our nervous system, muscles, and joints with yoga, and calm the body with breathing, we are preparing to meditate. Focusing your short weekly sessions, maybe 20 minutes, on preparation, is going to make your actual meditation so easy. I want you to prepare for meditation for 19 minutes and only try meditating for 60 seconds. An actual period of pure focus, concentration, and awareness for 60 seconds is good; try to master that and move on in one-minute increments.
The monks I lived with would sit and prepare for meditation for almost an hour and then enter meditation for only 20 minutes. When you are so well-prepared, the short amount of time in pure meditation is not wasted and can become quite blissful.
4. Try to be a better person.
I know that sounds, well, obvious. But you would be surprised to learn that most people think meditation and outer life are two different things. They’re not. You are going to have the most success in your meditation practice when your outer nature—your character, attitude, and demeanor—are harmonious and tuned like a musical instrument.
One of the major drawbacks to meditation is that it reveals who we are to ourselves. The path of meditation is one of looking, or looking within, to be specific. We are saying to ourselves, “Look, I’m going to see what’s in there now, so be gentle,” and then we begin sitting, breathing, and waiting. What happens eventually is the revealing part—we start to see what is in our mind—and that can be some scary sh*t.
Don’t be afraid. Once we learn about the contents of our mind, we can then begin to deconstruct them, find out what happened, and pack it all back in a nice and neat way—just like the mind likes it to be. All those unresolved experiences—that time you lied about everything, for example—will begin to slowly be righted and dealt with, and peace everlasting will be yours.
This is a long process, so…
5. Try to be patient.
Meditation is hard. Resolving the past is hard. Breaking into the vault of your mind and unleashing the dragon of chaos so you can then slay it is a battle most will never undertake—so be patient.
Try a teacher or coach if you just can’t swing it. Follow a community, get feedback, and work on yourself from today onward. Make each day clean and tidy like your desk or kitchen counter. Wipe up after each conversation to make sure no crumbs of resentment were left behind. Call your mom, apologize to your sister, and kiss your spouse.
Each sweet connection in your life made a little sweeter will make your meditation dreams come true.