Everyday Practice: A Memoir on Meditation

For much of the time I’ve been working at Gaiam TV, I’ve been hoping we would create a more robust collection for meditation. I feel there is great benefit in taking the opportunity to pause during our daily routine, even if only for a moment. So, I am very pleased that Gaiam TV is now developing a new meditation space.

Create a Daily Practice for Best Results

As our meditation guide Mark Williams notes in his introductions to the Here and Now Beginner’s Guide to Meditation, we call it meditation practice because the activity bears repeating. Practice involves persistence. If you only meditate once in your life, it is probably better than never meditating. But really it is best to create a daily practice. In that repetition we may eventually find moments where we cut through our daily noise and connect with the present moment. For me, these moments of grace have always been a great source of wonder.

Start Somewhere

So, to create a practice, you must first get started. In what is perhaps his most famous quote, the Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu wrote

a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

So, by all means, just get started. Don’t make things complicated for yourself. To begin, using the Here and Now guide, you will be sitting near a computer, or some similar device. But eventually, you will want to find your own place and time for meditation. Along those lines, perhaps you will find some value in my recounting some of the advice and instruction I received when I was getting started, along with some of my own explorations.

Styles of Meditation

First I must note that there are many styles of meditation. I would certainly not suggest that any one style is better than any other. Eventually, if you stick with it, you will find the style that works best with your own nature and your own search. (That you are even considering meditating suggests that there is some part of you that seeks.)

Modern Zazen

My practice can perhaps be described as a modified zazen, which is the style of Zen Buddhism. It is an inwardly directed, quieting approach that is directed toward stillness, a single-pointedness of mind. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) I tell you this just so you may understand some of the instructions I was given and some of the decisions I made.

If your practice is very different, then you may wish to modify or dismiss some of what follows. But it can’t hurt to pay attention – in the end, the practices don’t vary as much as it may seem. For example, we have a wonderful article, How to Prepare a Meditation Space, by one of our yoga instructors, Rina Jakubowicz, and her style may prove much more appealing to you. There are certainly some differences (such as an altar and inspirational toys), but there is also much in common.

Find a Place to Sit

In choosing a place to sit, for most styles of meditation, and certainly for zazen, you will want a quiet place where you can be undisturbed. A meditation teacher once told me that if I were to sit regularly in the same place, over time that place would be transformed. (My personal radar is not sensitive enough to tell you if that’s true, but I have no reason to believe it isn’t.)

Tips for Sitting

  1. Wear loose clothing - nothing restricting your body’s flow. If you’re wearing pants, you may wish to loosen your belt and even unbutton your pants.
  2. Sit with your spine straight.
  3. Sit toward the front of the chair, if you're using one.

Choose a Time

You also must choose a time for your meditation. I was advised to sit in the morning, to start the day. If you cannot sit in the morning, pick another time. Don’t use it as an excuse to quit! Anyway, if you do sit in the morning, when? Right out of bed? Before or after a shower? Coffee? Breakfast? The news? I had no idea it would make a difference, but in fact the answers came to me as I practiced.

I found if I went right from sleeping to sitting, I fell back asleep. But if I had a cup of coffee, my body buzzed too much for any chance at stillness. (And in those days I smoked cigarettes, which made it even worse.) As for the news, well, these days especially, it seems to be presented in a way meant to make you upset. I would want to sit before anything made me spend much in the way of emotional energy. So I learned to wake up, jump in the shower, and then sit before coffee, newspaper, etc. Since I was often the first one awake, it also helped me to sit undisturbed.

If you cannot or don’t wish to sit in the morning, but prefer later in the day, keep these same considerations. You don’t want to be too tired or too agitated. A certain amount of alertness makes it possible to focus.

Stay Motivated with a Reward

A final note on practice: my teacher wanted us to sit every day, and any day that you didn’t meditate, you were not allowed to treat yourself to your favorite shirt. So, I hope you will find a practice that works for you, that you will wear your favorite shirt and help make our planet a better place.

Explore an Everyday Practice for Yourself

How can meditation help you? Find out by exploring what you'll receive when you join the Here & Now: Beginner's Guide to Meditation.

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