How To Improve Your Meditation Practice With These 4 Habits
Habits of highly effective meditators
I still remember the times I used to struggle with meditation. I would wonder perhaps the temperature isn’t right, or there’s something wrong with the cushion I’m sitting on.
Sometimes, the mood wasn’t quite right, and other times I had important stuff to do you know. Or so I used to think.
I could never fathom how people could meditate more than fifteen minutes at a time. “What the hell do they do sitting without doing anything?” I used to think.
And as you may have guessed this is not the only doubt I had regarding meditation. Like any other person who’s just starting out, I had serious apprehensions about the whole process.
Fast-forward a year, here I am, meditating every day for 90 minutes to 2 hours. As I look back on my experience, here are some habits that have helped me deepen my practice and stick to it.
These are also habits of fellow meditators in my community that has helped them be on the path for forty years!
They Carry Their Mindfulness Throughout the Day
Great meditators know that mediation is more than just sitting on a cushion for a certain amount of time during the day.
It’s a lifestyle. Meditation, in other words, is not just about the practice, but with it comes a whole philosophy of life.
For instance, here are some things I do (and some I don’t) in order to carry the awareness and joy that I experience in meditation throughout the day:
- I avoid listening to music (apart from chants) or watching TV. At the most, I do it for 30 mins a day, usually on the weekends.
- I use tons of software to block distracting websites on my laptop. Plus, I have removed every possible notification and distraction from my mobile device. (You can read more about how I did that here)
- I have hourly alarms that remind me to be more mindful, take a quick minute to center myself, or do a couple of stretches to be alert throughout the day
- I keep photos of my masters and inspirational figures to help me be in that state for long
- I often play ‘Aum’ in the background while working. It has uplifting vibrations and doesn’t disturb my work in any form
I can go on and on with these little practices. But the point is this — when you get into meditation, you have to make an effort to let it enter your life.
You cannot hope to get fit just by eating a carrot in the morning and then eating junk food for the rest of the time. Similarly, meditation and mindfulness are skills. You need to train them throughout the day.
Being good at meditation comes with the realization that it can happen anywhere — in a meeting, conversations, cleaning the floor, walking, standing in the queue, etc.
There are other wonderful aspects of different philosophies that many people like to follow. For instance, there are the Five Precepts of Buddhism or those that I look up to — the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali.
These include simple things like non-violence, truthfulness, cleanliness, etc. On the face of it, they seem pretty normal, but they are more nuanced for that. I explore them in a bit more detail here.
These principles also guide my life and daily decisions from what I wear, eat, and how I talk with people. In that sense, I live and breathe this stuff. It isn’t only about morning practices, it’s about a complete lifestyle change.
They Don’t Trust Their Mind
Effective meditators know that at any given point in time, their willpower can fail them. As my experience has taught me many times, willpower is scarce and usually doesn’t keep its promises.
For instance, I’m writing this post using an app blocker software (CT Writer) because I don’t trust my mind to be focused for a long time.
Similarly, when it comes to meditation I have strong systems in place. The moment I wake up, I stretch, have a cup of coffee with my journal, and immediately sit down to meditate. I also do this around 5:30 every morning when I have zero distractions.
If I think I can do it later in the day, it often never happens.
You see, the soul loves to meditate, but the ego gets in between. The ego convinces you that there are better things to do with your time. That you have a lot of work left or you can just chill on the couch watching Netflix.
If you give your mind and ego a choice, they’ll never meditate. This is where you have to mind-over-matter the hell out of it.
You have to play tricks on the mind. For instance, if you’re really struggling to meditate, just meditate for 5 minutes. Okay, 2 minutes! But do it.
Because the fact of the matter is, the more you meditate, the more you’d want to meditate.
If you’ve ever read the Bhagavad Gita, it beautifully describes this battle between the soul and the ego. Krishna and Arjuna, representing the higher spiritual qualities have to fight with their relatives, Kauravas, the downward egoic qualities in human nature.
As Arjuna laments to Krishna, he says that he cannot fight against his own relatives, that is his own downward qualities. Why? Because even though they’re downward, the mind and ego are making false justifications since they don’t want to lose the lower qualities.
The same thing happens in meditation. Make no mistake. It is a battlefield and you have to fight it.
Great meditators understand this. They don’t shy away from this battle. They know that on the other side is eternal victory.
They Don’t Judge Their Practice
Effective meditators know one thing — no one can suck at it. You can’t possibly suck at meditation. The goal of meditation is just to be. Not to do anything else.
That is why we’re human beings, not human doings. And how you can fail at being that which you already are?
The reason people feel they’re not doing well, is they think meditation is about emptying the mind or the cessation of the thoughts.
Yes, one of the goals of meditation is to still the mind. But it takes years to achieve it. It doesn’t mean that you’re less good if you are not able to reach that level. It’s called a meditation ‘practice’ for a reason.
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself — without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.” — Bhagavad Gita
I know it’s tempting to judge yourself but this will only suck the enthusiasm out of you. Instead, if you go in with an attitude of detachment, you’ll find yourself much more satisfied. Detachment is both the prerequisite and the goal of meditation.
During my training, I was specifically told that stilling the mind cannot be done willfully. Everything else in life can be accomplished that way. But the mind cannot be conquered by will.
You have to let go of all attachment to thoughts and distractions. That is how it will finally calm down. Think of Alan Watt’s Backward Law here — “The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience”
So the more you try to quiet the mind, the more noise it will make. The more you chase higher states of consciousness, the more they will seem out of your reach. But when you just be, you can have it all.
They Find Support or a Sangha
This is the most important takeaway that has personally helped me to make meditation into a life-long habit.
It’s a proven fact that to excel at anything in life, you need a coach, a mentor, a guide. Someone who’s further on the path than you.
The first benefit of finding a support group is a sense of community and accountability. Even though meditation is widely accepted nowadays, it’s much less likely for you to stick with it if no one around you does it.
It’s like being the only healthy friend amongst a group of junk-food eaters. You can only go so far.
By having like-minded people around you, you grow naturally in the right direction without much resistance.
Your community can also keep you accountable by checking on your progress and having group meditation sessions.
Secondly, you get to learn proper techniques instead of surfing the web wondering which one is right for you. When I started meditation, I knew nothing but a simple technique to focus on the breath.
Some days I didn’t like doing it so I switched to some other technique that I found on Google. This way, I kept changing methods like clothes.
Due to the lack of proper guidance, I kept setting arbitrary standards and felt like a failure for not meeting them.
This feeling of community or sangha is also one of the three pillars of Buddhism. Traditionally, it meant only a group of monastics. Today, it can mean anything from a global community, a local meetup, or just regular zoom calls.
I found my community in Ananda Sangha. They have worldwide centers in the U.S, Europe, and India. Here’s a list of all their centers around the world.
If that doesn’t work for you, don’t fret. You can attend their online programs just as easily. Or else, find any local meetup or online group to help with your practice.
The investment in finding a group will not only keep you on track but also indicate the seriousness of your practice to yourself.
There are only a couple of things that you need if you want to establish or improve your meditation habit:
- Carry your mindfulness throughout the day. Live and breathe your philosophy. If you follow them correctly, they all will lead you to the common goal of bliss and Enlightenment.
- Trick the mind. Don’t depend on willpower. Prioritize meditation or else you won’t do it.
- Don’t judge your practice. Always go with an attitude of detachment. It’s difficult, but with constant introspection, you can perfect yourself.
- Find a Sangha or a support group. This has been the best thing I’ve done in my entire life.
And that’s it. It isn’t complicated. These are small things that good meditators understand but those that beginners take lightly. Don’t make the same mistakes I made.
Implement these steps in your own life and watch your practice go to the next level.
Joy to you.
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