There once was a time when I had a community of people to practice with on a regular basis. I found support in group meditation practice and guidance from the teachers in that community. When I stumbled, they picked me up. When I faltered in my discipline, they gently coaxed me back onto my cushion. If I doubted my efforts, they reminded me of my progress.
Then, I moved to the other side of the world, and spent many of my days in dilapidated shacks on the outskirts of society. And I found myself practicing on my own.
I think the sign of a truly dedicated practitioner is that self-guided practice is as strong (or possibly stronger) than practice done with the support of a group. Tibetan yogis head off to their caves for decades at a time to experience this isolation. Perhaps there is something to be gained by learning how to develop and maintain a meditation practice on your own.
If you are just starting to meditate, click here for a practical introduction to the practice.
Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to develop and maintain a meditation practice:
1. Schedule it!
When I did my first solitary meditation retreat, a wise guide advised me to write a schedule of practice for each day and to tape the schedule to the wall where I could not avoid seeing it. Something written on a schedule takes on a bit more importance and the mind tends to remember to do it. Even if you miss a session, or a day, if it is noted as a regular feature of your daily schedule, chances are you’ll pay more attention to it.
2. Identify Support.
It’s so helpful to have someone to talk to about meditation practice. It’s even more helpful to have someone to do it with. If possible, find a buddy and sit together on a regular basis. Talk with a guide who can steer you right when you go off course, or better yet, find a teacher you can study with.
3. Keep Learning.
Read books, attend programs with authentic teachers, participate in retreats. Developing a meditation practice is a life-long journey. Maintaining a meditation practice only helps if you are actually doing the practice. Study helps you refine your technique and your awareness. Practice and study are equally important.
4. Forgive Lapses.
Things happen. Sometimes you can’t make it to the cushion or mat, and well, as they say in Bhutan, “What to do?” The only way to move beyond a situation is to accept where you are. If you fight, you’ll only prolong your misery, and the whole point of the meditation practice is to transcend suffering. Let go and allow the process to unfold!