One of the biggest life improvements I've made in the past few years has been a daily meditation practice. It's changed my life so profoundly, I want to tell you about it in case you’re curious about meditation or have dabbled in it and want to commit but haven’t found the will or discipline to maintain it yet.
It all started in the fall of 2014. Before that I’d attended a couple of 10-day Vipassana retreats and did the occasional sit on my own, but that was about it. I couldn’t seem to carve out 30 minutes a day when there were SO MANY OTHER THINGS to do. (Right??) Oh yeah, and we had a two-year old to contend with too! 😉
I have my husband (Leo) to thank. He was in the midst of changing jobs and decided he wanted to get more grounded spiritually so he could make wise decisions going forward (ever the wise person he is!). He came upon an intro course called “Passage Meditation” and once he finished it he announced he would start getting up 30 minutes earlier every morning to meditate. I laughed in his face! No way was he going to do that with all the parenting chaos we had going on at the time. Well, I sure ate my words! He did do it and not only that, but I couldn’t believe the change in him over the next couple months. He seemed so much more calm and thoughtful… All I could think was “I gotta get me some of that!”
I don’t know if I could have jumped into a daily practice so quickly if I hadn’t had someone modelling for me how to do it and all the benefits of maintaining it. [On that note, I would highly recommend finding someone you can use as a mentor or cheerleader until your own practice is established. It really helps!!]
We both still practice Passage Meditation today because quite frankly it's very simple, highly customizable, and totally suited to modern day times. Here’s the premise - you choose some passages or texts that inspire you and you recite them in your mind. That’s it! The idea here is that although it’s great and profound to focus on your breath, our noisy busy lives make it so hard to slow down enough to actually focus on those things! If we give the mind something simple to hang on to and guide it through we’ll be able to build our focus much more successfully.
What texts to use?
This practice has been around for eons, but was made popular by Eknath Easwaran who wrote a book called “Passage Meditation” and contains all the instructions to get started. What kinds of texts to use? He recommends sacred texts because they’ve stood the test of time (any religious tradition is fine), but if that's not your cup of tea then anything inspiring or motivational will do. It’s important that it resonates with you! I love this because it’s like music. You can create your own little repertoire of passages to learn (I keep mine in a special journal) and it becomes your signature set.
And here’s where it starts to change your life. As you recite these passages in your mind, they gradually sink into your subconscious and as you go about your days, the words will start to come back to you (usually when you're hitting roadblocks in your life) and become like guiding principles in your life.
There's a lot of research now proving that meditation can change your brain, through increased focus and rewiring neural pathways to change your thought patterns. Passage meditation is a very direct and intentional way to do that because you're literally reprogramming your brain with the passages you memorize. If there are specific issues you want to work through you can even choose passages on those themes.
But even more so, maintaining a daily practice has actually cultivated in me a much stronger connection with the Divine and my own spirit, which I realize now was deeply lacking in my life. It's hard to even put into words how much comfort that's brought me over the years... But that's a subject for a whole other blog post!
In the meantime, if you’re curious about meditation and/or want to start a daily practice but feel intimidated, consider picking up Easwaran’s book (I get no kick back, I’m just a fan!).
And here are a few tips I’ve learned that make it easier to keep going once the initial momentum wears off.
1 - Use a timer! (The one on your phone will do fine) It frees up your mind to truly focus on the meditation and forget about how long it’s taking. Some days it will fly by and some days it will drag on eternally, and oddly enough it always ends up being the same duration. 🙂
2 - Be (somewhat) flexible with yourself. If you are really hustling to get out the door one morning, allow yourself to sit for 20 minutes instead of 30. Or even 15. But most days, try to do 30. You will come to love and cherish that time on the cushion. But any minutes are better than no minutes when life starts to go sideways.
3 - Be inspired. Allow the vast repertoire of spiritual traditions to inspire you in choosing your passages! I recite everything from Christian prayers to passages from the Bhagavad Gita to Rumi poems!
4 - Keep a journal. You will no doubt have a lot of insights along the way about different things that come up in your meditations. It’s great to document these so you can look back for reference and/or dig into them further. Prepare yourself for some breakthroughs around old patterns, habits, or thoughts!
5 - Easwaran recommends furthering your practice by doing some spiritual reading before you go to sleep. At first I thought this was a bit of overkill, but after trying it out I can see the value now. If you are meditating in the morning, the spiritual reading at night grounds you before drifting off to sleep. Also, reinforcing those positive messages can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.
I hope these little tips will help you find your way on your own spiritual path!