When I first began practising meditation, I felt completely adrift. There didn’t seem to be a clear goal (enlightenment? is that even a thing?), and I didn’t know how to measure my progress, which for an A-type personality is highly distressing. Most of my meditation time was a thought loop of “Am I doing this right?”
This is a valid concern because it is not enough to just practice for 10,000 hours. A skill only improves if you practice deliberately and effectively. What might this look like?
1. Starting regularly
The most powerful sign of effective practice is – wait for it – practising! If you select a method, specify the length of your sitting and then actually sit down and practice… that is success. And as you repeat this over time, that success accumulates.
Be realistic about your life, environment and habits. If you usually sleep at midnight, don’t expect to be up at 4am to meditate. If you take care of a toddler, don’t expect to get an hour of quiet. Accept your life – this is the way things are. Then, start where you are. Develop a routine that fits your life even on the crazy days so that you can practice consistently.
2. Body relaxes
The body knows its mind. So a quietening mind will show up as a quietening body:
- Breath slows, becoming smooth and rhythmic
- Jaw slackens and saliva may pool in the mouth
- Interoception increases – air on the skin, the heart beating, blood pumping, etc.
What are your body’s signs of relaxation? Comment below. Come back to these throughout your practice.
The body can only relax when you feel strong and safe. Maintain good health. Position yourself for maximum comfort. If there is residual discomfort that you can’t fix, give your body the attention that it is asking for – rest your awareness on that sensation, knowing that this is impermanent.
3. Less scolding
With mind-gym, each time you come back to the focal point is one rep. In addition, how you return to attention is important. At first, I felt shocked and irritated – “how can you be wandering again? I just brought you back 10 seconds ago!” Over time, I have developed more acceptance:
- This is just how my mind works. It was trained like this. Now I am retraining it.
- My mind is so busy because it is trying to protect me from pain and make me happy.
- It is like a small child that needs to be taught with both discipline and kindness.
Pema Chödrön teaches that, when you notice your attention wandering, you mentally label it “thinking” and then come back to attention. This is a neutral attitude. It is firm and persistent, without denial or judgment.
It is admirable to want to measure your success in mindfulness. It shows that this matters to you. However mindfulness is more an experience than a destination, and it’s not a competitive sport. Strive for effective practice, while surrendering the outcome.
Yagesh is an actuary and yogini, devoted to building a wellbeing economy. Contact her for personalised lessons or corporate workshops.