For this week’s blog, I’ll pivot to some retail, street-level tactics in getting a meditation practice going. As a core aspect of the no-nonsense, practical mission of PM, I think that minimizing the out-of-the-gate stumbling blocks to routine-building in learning to meditate is essential to success, just as with obstacles to sticking with a nutrition plan or exercise regimen.
For both meditation newbies and grizzled veterans (are there ungrizzled ones?) I think that there are three main potholes that can intrude on a smooth beginning to any individual practice session. While the basic instructions of meditating are by nature pretty spare — “just watch, until you inevitably lose the watching, then go back to watching” — some routine and structure right at the outset can set us up to reduce frustration, distraction and early exit.
At the risk of legal trouble with a certain brewing company, I call it HWG, which is shorthand for Here… We… Go. Chapter 5 of PM provides more detail, as does episode #8 of the “A Practically Mindful Moment” Podcast, which provides a guided practice using these tactics. (This is called cross-platform promotion, I’m told.)
Anyone can sit down, set the timer, and then ….. uh oh. Three common troubles:
Trouble #1: not really settle into place, time, and meditative “landscape.”
Trouble #2: feel a bit lonely and lost, especially if meditating solo.
Trouble #3: really not set any basic intention for this current session, which could be as basic as breath observation or can be a more complex sequence of planned targets for observation.
Any of these can be setups for failure. So while not getting too directive, I’ve found that a quick 3-step routine helps start every meditation sitting with a familiar set of reminders, each of which attends to these three common complications of starting practice: beginning without being settled in place, feeling lonely and disconnected, and working without some basic intention. I take an intentional, deliberate belly breath with each (belly breathing covered in Podcast #2), creating some calm. The three prompts can be said out loud, thought about quietly, mimed, whatever works. (Maybe not semaphore, unless at sea, then go for it, me matey. Argh, that’s prrrrractical.)*
H is for “Here”: With the first breath, we settle into looking at our experience as an open field. There’s a lot more in the book on tuning in to the physical, emotional, thinky, and awareness parts of our experience in every moment. “Here” roots us in the present place and moment, an “I’m right here, right now” settling.
W is for “We”: With the second breath, note that even sitting by ourselves, we are not alone. It’s a good bet somewhere on the planet, somebody is even practicing formally, just like you are — a global network of folks in parallel observation. Pulling back to a bigger picture, all of us are in our own ways working on reducing our suffering and find fulfillment. Imagine that as you quietly register “we.” Not alone; welcome, fellow mindful-nauts, wherever you are.
G is for “Go”: With a third big ol’ breath, set a specific intention and plan for the session. For beginners, that’s usually watching the in and out of the breath. Later on, as our practices develop, at least in PM’s sequences it’s… still working with the breath first to shake the rust off. We may then intend to move to observing other phenomena: whole or other physical targets or whole body sense, emotional tone, thought, attention, and even back to a meta perch of observing the whole landscape, of “anything that arises.” We don’t have to be beholden to that opening “go” intention, but it’s good to have one to start off with.
So H… W… G. Then ….get meditating. Let go of the belly breathing, and instead let the breath settle to its own state, without controlling it. We’re in observation mode now.
One other practical use for HWG is worth mentioning. We may remember that “losing attention is inevitable” part? When lost in the weeds, whether via a trip to monkey-mind island or into a zoned-out tunnel, when that sweet recognition of “got lost” pops, you can use “HWG” to resettle and restart. It’s a familiar, comforting kind of a home base, in that way.
There you go; I hope that helps.
Take care, and keep up the staying safe bit for yourselves and others. GCS
*Apologies to seagoing readers for any cultural appropriation of piratical memes.