Eighteen years ago I remember what I was thinking when I started meditation: my mind is all over the place and I’ll never get it to stop. There is good news for us thinkers—I found out that the purpose of meditation does not include stopping our mind. We do gently redirect our minds towards our breath or to one of our five senses, but halting our thoughts may not happen (at least it hasn’t for me). When we start to meditate the thoughts may be like a raging river but over time we can work towards getting them to be more like a babbling brook.
What I want to offer here are nine simple things busy people can do to kick off a meditation practice. Try one or all of these and see where it goes. I promise that you will not be disappointed in your meditation journey and the possible benefits are life changing (e.g. patience, focus, productivity, present moment awareness). But only through moving along this path will we individually discover the fruit that is available from these practices.
1) Perfection is for the Birds: The pictures I have seen of people meditating are deceiving, like the one that accompanies this article. This picture is serene and invokes peace, but the reality is we don’t know what is happening inside the mind of this person. He could be thinking about picking up dry cleaning or attending his kid’s sports practice after work. Don’t let the picture perfect versions of meditation deter you from embarking on this transformative challenge.
2) Same Time and Place Every Day: If we meditate one time we may feel a positive feeling, but one instance is not going to be life changing for 99.99% of us. This is all about building a habit; try a month of meditating at the same time and in the same place every day. This will offer a period where you can see the effects it can have on your life to judge if you want to continue.
3) Start Small: Start by sitting still for three minutes a day with no distractions. As you breathe, pay attention as your belly rises and as your belly falls. When your mind wanders, and it will, gently bring your attention back to your belly. After doing this for a week straight try doing four minutes for another week; try to work your way up to 20 minutes over 18 weeks.
4) Read Meditation Books: Read a book about meditation next time you are on vacation. It’s helpful to read about these practices—it brings about a peace on its own—and we get to see what works best for other people. And this activity will support your practice. There are so many good books, but I recommend you start with The Mindfulness Solutions: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems by Dr. Ronald Siegel.
5) Guided Meditations for the Win: You may want to find a guided meditation. These are my favorite and they are FREE! The Breath Awareness Meditation is a great place to start. You can skip around, but you can also use the page numbers and go up as you gain experience, which is a great way to get the full spectrum of meditation.
6) Walking Meditation: If you are not ready to sit, or want to supplement a sitting practice, consider walking meditation. Start by relaxing both your arms at your side and directing your eyes forward, let your gaze drop a little so you still have a wide enough view to not run into anything (we still want awareness of our surroundings). Take three deep breaths as you stand still, feel your feet touching the ground. Then begin to slowly walk (half of your regular walking pace) in a clockwise circle in your living room or you can do this one in nature, which I personally enjoy. With this method you pay attention to every time you feel the sensation of the bottom of each foot touching the ground.
7) Meditate with Others: I mostly meditate alone, but there was a period in my life where I was meditating with a group regularly. I can tell you it helped me to maintain a practice. The community is also nice. Don’t be afraid to go to a meditation group even if you have no idea what is going on. I have done this on multiple occasions and every time people were more than kind to me.
8) Apps to Get You Sitting: Yes, there are great apps out there that teach meditation. The one that I like the most is Calm, but there is also another very popular one called Headspace. They have various meditations for beginners, which we all are according to the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and they help you to maintain a daily practice. Both of these apps have free trials. Give them a whirl and see which one you like the most..
9) You are Brave: Sitting alone with yourself, with no external distractions, is brave—very brave in fact. There are many people that don’t want to sit alone with themselves. We focus on social media, television, movies—everything is competing for our attention. We need to bring this attention back to ourselves in the present moment. So, please know, if you make this leap you can count yourself as one of the brave ones.
Ryan Nausieda Ph.D. teaches and manages communication at a community college. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife and son, where he drinks good coffee, reads, writes, meditates, and runs.