You commit to sit, and then you learn how. The next stage of meditation is sustaining your practice day in and day out. For many of us, this is the hard part. But don’t wait for inspiration to come to you, like a bolt from the blue. Instead, take an active role, tending the sparks of inspiration and coaxing them into the inner fire of tapas or self-discipline. Here are seven ways to keep the flames burning:
1. Establish a routine. Routine has gotten a bad rap: We tend to equate it with dull or boring, instead of viewing it as a supportive structure or a touchstone. Sticking to a daily routine leads to greater efficiency and, when it becomes automatic, it can short-circuit doubts or resistance. Super-charge your routine with intention, and it becomes sadhana or spiritual practice.
2. Introduce fun. Within your routine, leave some room for fun to help keep your practice fresh. Learn something new or experiment with a different technique for focusing the mind. If it’s a particularly beautiful day, take your practice for a walk outdoors. Meet up with a meditation group; some people experience strong feelings of support or resonance when meditating with others.
3. Lower the bar. If you have a hard time meeting your daily practice goal, don’t beat yourself up. Negativity stifles inspiration. Maybe your expectations were unrealistic—try a shorter session and add a few minutes each week. If you miss a goal, start over and see it as a fresh beginning. Balancing effort and non-attachment is one of the key teachings in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
4. Keep a meditation diary. Recording your impressions of your practice will sharpen your skills in self-observation (svadhyaya). You’ll learn where resistance and distractions crop up, and you’ll be able to recognize your progress as you experience longer periods of peace and stillness.
5. Shift from “push” to “pull.” We are a culture of doers, and the desire to “do” often results in striving toward an external goal. If that’s working for you, great. If not, look instead for the pull, the inner yearning that draws you onward toward balance or wholeness.
6. Reward yourself. When you reach another level of practice or understanding, celebrate with something that will help you reinforce or expand on your momentum. A strand of beautiful japa beads can be a daily source of inspiration for mantra meditation. Attending a Vipassana retreat can help you deepen your experience. But the best reward may be the simplest: Adding five minutes more to your meditation practice.
7. Phone OM. According to some yoga teachings, when we chant the three-part AUM, we honor the three aspects of energy represented by the Hindu trinity. At the beginning of an undertaking, there is Brahma (AH), energy that creates or generates. The closing sound (MM) is Shiva, who destroys in order to transform or clear the way for a new beginning. Holding the center (OO) is Vishnu, the sustainer, whose 10 incarnations (which include Krishna and Rama) were in service to humanity. The energy personified by Vishnu is the universal flow that steadily maintains all of existence. Tune into this frequency; it’s already yours.
How do you stay inspired? What keeps you returning to your meditation cushion?