The Secret to Becoming a Meditator

Applecrest in NH
The Secret to Becoming a Meditator

There is something I’ve done spontaneously—and for a long time, unconsciously—since I started meditating.  My Teacher, Sally Kempton, described it as the secret of practice. What’s the secret? I associate my meditation practice with pleasure.

When we start to meditate, we might be keenly aware of what’s unpleasant: My mind is too busy and my hips (or hamstrings) are tight. For the former, know that you are not alone; I’ve never met anyone who did not think their mind was too busy. For the latter, try sitting in a chair if a cross-legged posture isn’t accessible to you.

Here are a few tips for newcomers on cultivating pleasure around your meditation practice.

Your attitude is important as you embark on this inner journey. The central tenet of Yoga is ahimsa, non-harming. It’s important to be kind and gentle with yourself when you sit to meditate. It also helps  to cultivate a sense of non-attachment.

If it’s in your wheelhouse, it’s good to approach meditation with a sense of playfulness.

In the beginning, just generate and indulge positive feelings for having practiced. Allow yourself to actively feel good that you followed through on your intention to sit. Establishing a new habit often involves overcoming internal obstacles such as your own resistance, and external obstacles such as time constraints.

Feel good that you practiced, regardless of what any untamed inner critic may be telling you about how well it went. Simply notice the thoughts that arise. Let them arise and subside in your awareness without engaging them. Use it as an opportunity to cultivate non-attachment, dispassion towards your conditioned thinking.

If you find yourself indulging the “thought train” and a bad feeling, you can “choose the opposite” thought and feeling as is recommended in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. (The Yogis and Buddhists were the first cognitive psychologists.)

Cultivate a post-meditation ritual you enjoy. For me it’s throwing on a pair of jeans and going to one of my neighborhood cafes to sip a latte and journal. I love the quietude of the city and the beauty of the architecture on Broadway, illumined by only the street lights, in those dark early morning hours. When I’m in New Hampshire, my post-meditation quiet time might involve enjoying the beauty of nature, like the apple orchard in the featured photo.

Especially if you like to write, it’s excellent to take a few minutes to record what meditation practice you did and what occurred. Notice any shifts in your awareness before and after meditating.

There was one thought that made it easy for me to commit to a meditation practice and contributed to my contentment after I meditated. I knew, intuitively, that my morning meditation was the single, most important thing I did every day.

In the early days, what’s enjoyable is the victorious feeling of prevailing over obstacles to sit, and the virtuous, content feeling that comes with doing what you know is good for you.

Shortly after I started meditating daily, I noticed what new meditators typically report after just a few weeks of practice. On the day I didn’t sit, my entire day felt off.

Very soon, the gifts of meditation followed—more clarity, more ease and spontaneity, more insights, more awareness of beauty and of the richness of sensory experience, more contentment, and many other things.

One thing that amazed me early in my meditation practice was that I sometimes emerged from meditation with a completely different perspective or a radically different sense of how to handle a situation. When we meditate, we access our deeper wisdom. For me, accessing deep insights and inner wisdom is one of the most pleasurable aspects of meditating.

In time, what draws us back to our meditation mat day after day is, in part, the experiences of inner contentment and bliss we experience while meditating.