Thoughts on getting started

Setting aside time for meditation is hard, at first. The first obstacle is not being clear about what to do, or why you should do it. But even once you understand, you’re probably going to have trouble getting yourself to do it. It’s a little like exercise that way. The how’s and why’s of exercise are often simple. You can learn how quickly, and the why is obvious: it is very good for you. But even knowing this, you’re going to have some resistance before and during the exercise, especially if you don’t have experience with it. You kind of have to trick yourself, at first, that even you feel bad, or your mind is telling you to quit, that it will get better if you keep going. You can push yourself like this because of the hard evidence that it is good for you, and the knowledge that the resistance is normal. You keep pushing until experientially it becomes as good for you as you already knew it was.

I think the parallels with meditation and physical exercise go quite far. The untrained mind is distracted and messy. And so it makes sense that, even before you sit down to do it, there’s a lot of resistance. It's only once you start to see the benefits, and form the habits, that, much like with exercise, you’ll feel resistance in the opposite direction when you stop doing it. You’ll want to do the practice.

I think meditation does differ from exercise in that even though there’s lots of evidence that it’s good for you, it often goes against what society is conditioning you to value. So this can become an added obstacle to the practice. It can be hard in the modern world to take even ten minutes to sit down and work on yourself. Meditation doesn’t have a good image in this regard. I can tell you the benefits of meditation until the sun goes down, but if our Couch Buddha goes against your self image, then I am going to fail at convincing you to do it (even though he’s actually floating above the couch… you noticed right?).

So how do we get over these hurdles for meditation? Well, a community helps, for sure. I hope that this community can help you. And there are other strategies. You can make a commitment to yourself that today you will spend 5 minutes meditating on your breathing. And then once you’ve done that, you can do it for 6 minutes. Then you can try for 10 minutes. Much like physical exercise: if you build up gradually, then it’s much easier.

How do we get over the ‘sitting down/self image’ bias? Well, you don’t even have to sit down, at first. Whilst you practice during your everyday activities. You can concentrate on the feeling of your legs moving as you're walking, or you get put your attention into your external senses. You could try to notice colours, or shadows, or listen to the sound of traffic or nature when you're out in the world. If you're doing the dishes, you can notice feeling of the dishcloth and water on your hands and the way plates reflect the light. The way your hands effortlessly know what to do. There are endless possibilities during the day. Doing these things is intrinsically pleasant too: it feels good not to get lost in thought. As long as you’re concentrating the whole time, you’re getting the benefits, however small. And once you start to see the benefits, and the resistance has melted away, then you will want to continue.

My advice to you here is simple. Try to establish a habit every day to sit down and meditate, starting with just a few minutes a sit. And when you are going about your day, concentrate on whatever it is that you are doing, when you are doing it. Take your attention away from unconscious planning/memory/fantasy, and put it all into the task at hand. Do this repeatedly, whenever you get distracted. If you keep doing that, you should be able to make a habit of it.

Good luck, and happy meditating!

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