Here is a list to get you started and help you follow through:
1. Be gentle with yourself
First things first: being kind and gentle to yourself is key. Whether you are coming to meditation just to enhance relaxation or to reach enlightenment, it all starts with giving yourself a break and allowing your thoughts to just "be." This is a really tough one for us to understand if we are always striving to improve. There's no need to play wack-a-mole with your thoughts. Just follow the breath and have a sense of humor.
2. Set realistic goals
I recommend that you don't start off trying to meditate for 30 minutes every day. It is probably better to meditate for some small amount of time every day than to save it all up and just meditate for a long time on the weekend. Meditation will literally change the way your brain is wired, making you more gentle, more mindful, and more aware, among other things. But in order for this process to kick in, you need to meditate consistently.
I've heard lots of teachers recommend 10 minutes a day. If that sounds impossible, try 5 minutes a day. Eventually, this will become comfortable and you will want to ramp it up to 10 minutes later on. Whatever amount of time you choose, make sure to always stick to your commitment for that day. Don't get up as soon as you feel distracted. Also, keep your actions and commitments in sync by not sitting longer than what you committed to.
I like to meditate in the morning, right after I take a shower. My mind is relatively clear at that point. Other people prefer to meditate in the evening or at lunch. It doesn't really matter when you do it. Just pick a time that works for you and stick with it!
Email, internet, video games and television are discipline destroyers for me. I highly recommend avoiding those things around the time when you plan to meditate.
Again, be gentle with yourself. Set a goal that you can achieve. Then progress along the path at a pace that makes sense for you. Once you get into the habit of meditating, it will be like brushing your teeth and you'll start to see the benefits.
3. Pick a spot that attracts you
Take a look around your home and consider which spot attracts you. Good lighting makes a difference. A sense of cleanliness, discipline, harmony and well being also help. Maybe the sunlight hits a corner of your living room at just the time when you want to meditate, and that attracts you, or maybe you have a room that you keep very clean. Whatever spot you choose, make sure it is a spot where you like to hang out.
4. Get something to sit on
If you don't own a meditation cushion, no problem.
|Zafu and zabuton|
|Gomden and zabuton|
If you feel inspired to buy a meditation cushion, you can try a zafu, which is super easy to find online. Gomdens are much more firm and will get you up higher. Gomdens are used at Shambhala Centers and can be found at Samadhi Cushions online. You can also use a kneeling bench, which is common in some Zen centers.
Here are some other places where you can get cushions online:
Yoga Super Store
5. Use something to keep time
If you have an iphone or Android phone, there are lots of timers available, and lots of timers specifically for meditation. Most of them have pleasant sounding chimes. Some of them have loads of other features, but all you really need is a timer. I've tried several apps and my favorite meditation timer app by far is called Insight Timer. It is well worth the $2 if you meditate regularly. It even lets you see other people who are meditating at the same time!
Once you've established your meditation practice, it is important to keep the momentum going by maintaining your inspiration. We'll talk about how to do that in the next post.
For more information about meditation, its benefits and how to do it, check out this link from Shambhala, which is just one of many great resources in the West for people to get training in meditation techniques.