10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Meditation

Just as with any other activity that brings value to your life, you can maximize your meditation experience by following a few simple guidelines. Here are ten of the most important:

  • Do it consistently — day after day. Like running, playing tennis, or lifting weights, meditation requires regular practice if you want to build the appropriate muscles and skills — in this case, the muscle of present-moment awareness and the skill of coming back to what’s happening right now, again and again.

  • Be kind, gentle, and patient with yourself. You wouldn’t push or hurry a child who was learning to ride a bicycle, would you? Well, you’ve spent a lifetime multitasking and focusing on the past and future, and you’re not going to find it easy to come to rest in the simplicity of the present. Apply the same kindness and patience to your meditation as you would to the learning process of your own child.

  • Drop your perfectionism and self-judgment. Notice the tendency to compare your meditations to some standard you think you’re supposed to live up to, and your ongoing judgments that you’re not doing it right. Then set them aside and just do your best. In any case, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate, just your way.

  • Let go of striving to get somewhere or achieve something. Paradoxically, the more you struggle to achieve some special state — flow, happiness, mindfulness, equanimity — the farther you stray from your own natural awareness and peace of mind. Striving just perpetuates more striving — and besides, there’s no place to go but right here.

  • Trust in the process. When you get the gist and have your basic questions answered, have confidence that the method you’re practicing will work its magic without any extra effort on your part. Many thousands of people have practiced this form of meditation before you and benefited — and so will you.

  • Cultivate beginner’s mind. In the Zen tradition, they say that the open, curious, receptive mind of the neophyte meditator is actually the same mind the Zen master discovers when he stumbles upon enlightenment. Stay open and don’t jump to conclusions or claim to be an expert, and beginner’s mind will carry you wherever you need to go.

  • Eat and drink moderately. This tip may seem like the odd one out in this list, but overeating and drinking — especially of junk foods, sugary drinks, and alcohol — will make you sleepy and sluggish and definitely interfere with your meditation. Whatever you eat, wait at least an hour after a meal before trying to meditate.

  • Emphasize being rather than doing. Again, meditation frustrates our usual tendency to want to get something done. But that’s the whole point — to introduce yourself to a new way of being. Go easy on the technique, don’t get obsessed with following it to the letter, and let yourself come to rest in the present.

  • Regard your meditation as quality time with yourself. You probably understand the importance of providing quality time to nurture your relationships with family members and friends, but you may not have discovered the value of providing it for yourself. How often do you get to just be with yourself as you are, without distractions or projects that preoccupy your attention? Meditation is a perfect way to make friends with yourself.

  • Simplify your life as much as possible. Easier said than done, of course, but the less complication, the fewer the problems to preoccupy your mind when you sit. Often, the regular practice of meditation encourages a natural movement toward simplicity, which in turn supports the practice of meditation.