How to Start a Meditation Practice - DharmaCrafts Blog

How to Start a Meditation Practice - Koun Franz

Decide you’re actually going to do it. If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice, best to start out neutral but determined. By that I mean, first, don’t be dogmatic, going in with the idea that meditating is important, that you have to do it. If you’re just starting out, you don’t know what role it might play in your life, if any. But it also won’t help to go in with no resolve, to just try it once or twice and then decide. Take a scientific approach; treat it as an experiment. 

Set a timeline. The Japanese Zen teacher Kosho Uchiyama (1912–1998) said we should “Sit silently for ten years, then for ten more years, and then for another ten years.” Like him, I’m biased; I think the longer you do this, the more you might get out of it. But don’t listen to me. Set a goal of a month. 

Sit every day. This is a relatively short experiment—you want to be as thorough as you can. Sitting every other day is half the sitting. But more than that, it creates a tension between “on” days and “off” days. If you start out with the idea that on some days you won’t meditate, that makes it easier to negotiate—with yourself—even more days when you don’t meditate. Make it a solid experiment. It’s just a few weeks.

How to Start a Meditation Practice I DharmaCrafts Blog

Sit at the same time every day. I’ve heard this same advice from countless people over the years, and I think it’s solid. But it can be understood in two ways. One is to literally sit at the same time—in my case, I sit every morning at 6:30. My schedule doesn’t change much, so I can be predictable. I like sitting in the morning. It’s a nice way to start the day, a gentle way of easing from sleep to waking life. (I really love sitting in the evenings, too, but things get in the way, and I often fritter away those final hours getting things done instead of sitting still.) 

Many people’s schedules don’t allow for that; we can’t all sit on a cushion at the same time every day, like clockwork. The same advice still applies, though, even if your days vary—in that case, instead of meditating according to the clock, meditate according to the event in your day. In this model, maybe you wake up or go to bed at different times during the week, but you can still sit first thing in the morning, or last thing at night. Maybe it’s “right after the kids go to bed.” Maybe it’s during your lunch break. Whatever it is, stick to it. It’ll make the whole experiment much easier.

Don’t meditate too long. This isn’t about endurance. You might look at the schedule of some practice center and see that they sit in blocks of thirty or forty minutes, or that they sit multiple periods every day, and feel like you have to do the same thing. You don’t. At first, try for ten minutes a day—that’s long enough to get a taste, but not so long that you’ll feel like it will never end. Eventually, you might reach the ten-minute mark and want to go a little longer; when that happens, just reset for fifteen. (Teachers disagree on the upper limit—some people sit for hours at a stretch—but 25–30 minutes seems pretty standard.)

Try sitting with a group. Just a year ago, just for reasons of geography, meditating with others would have been impossible for some people. Today, almost every Buddhist center I know offers meditation online, for free. Find one in your time zone, log in, and give it a try. If you want to make that your routine for the month, that’s a great way to do the experiment; it comes with a lot of built-in support. But if you don’t want to dive in headfirst like that—completely reasonable, since we’re being so scientific—just make a point of trying it once or twice. It could offer a glimpse of where all this is headed.

Don’t make it into anything. In the spirit of science, don’t try to create an outcome. Don’t assume you’ll like it. Don’t assume meditation will feel good, or powerful, or even interesting. More important, don’t try to make it feel good or powerful or interesting, through force of will. If you do, you’ll never find out what it really is. Just follow the instructions. Whether it’s mindfulness meditation, vipassana, shamatha, zazen, tonglen—just follow whatever steps you’ve read about or been told. Pay attention to how you feel, how it feels, but don’t assume it will feel the same tomorrow. 

This isn’t an experiment in the way we might usually use that word—we aren’t testing a particular hypothesis. We’re just asking, “What if I do this one thing every day? What effect will it have on my life, if any? How will it change over time? What is it?” Again, neutral but determined. Grab a cushion or a chair, put on your lab coat (optional), get very still, get very quiet, and observe.

How to Start a Meditation Practice I DharmaCrafs Blog

Author: Koun Franz

Koun Franz is a Montana-born Soto Zen priest who trained, taught, and translated in traditional monasteries in Japan. He is the guiding teacher of Thousand Harbours Zen in Halifax, Nova Scotia; his talks can be found on the their podcast.


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