Many of us in the northern hemisphere are heading off for our summer holidays about now. It’s a time of excitement and anticipation. The rest and relaxation you have been longing for is finally here. It’s been a busy time getting everything in place so you can go away and maybe your meditation routine has slipped a bit in all the rush.
Do you have the idea that while you are on holiday, with all that free time, you can catch up and fit in lots of extra meditation sessions? Sadly, things rarely turn out that way. All the new impressions, the lack of your usual routine and with so many fun things to try out it’s hard to find the time.
However, if you are relaxed about it, it is possible to establish a good meditation routine for your holiday. You just need to be flexible and open to trying some new things.
Take time to just relax and unwind
Here is a shocking statistic I came across recently. Brits take an average of 46 hours and 42 minutes to feel relaxed on holiday, according to a survey of 2,000 people from travel experts Tots to Travel A lot of this must be to do with our ‘always on’ culture. It can be hard to adjust to have lots of free time with no deadlines and demands
So, first of all, give yourself some time to simply unwind, arrive where you are and enjoy the space. Relax.
Don’t set unrealistic goals
It’s very easy to compensate for the lack of a work routine by starting your holiday with a long to-do list for your meditation practice. Maybe you have brought s bunch of books you want to read up on meditation. Or you have decided to do so much meditation every day come what may. With all that free time, it should be easy right?
The trouble is with this kind of goal-setting there is a big chance you will finish up your holiday feeling disappointed that you didn’t accomplish enough. You are really just taking your everyday work attitude to getting things done and applying it to your meditation practice while on holiday.
Instead, try to set small, attainable goals for your meditation and then keep to them. It will be nourishing and encouraging to build on when you get home.
Use any odd moment for your meditation routine
Because you are on holiday and everything is fresh and new, don’t feel you can only meditate sitting on your cushion.Whenever you have a couple of quiet moments, do a short session of meditation. Perhaps you are on the beach looking at the ocean—take a moment to sit. Pause before taking your first sip of your drink, or bite of your ice-cream. If you have the intention it is possible to meditate anytime, anywhere.
Just sit upright, connect with your breathing and then maintain awareness of your breath for a few moments. If you do that several times in a day, you are collecting quite a lot of meditation time. You are also building a new habit which will enable you to be more flexible with your meditation routine when you return home.
Be present for new things
Anyone who practices meditation knows that being present and mindful of where you are and what you are doing is of fundamental importance. Generally being on holiday means experiencing lots of new things. Notice all these new things. Try to be mindful of what is happening in your day. As you see something for the first time, take a moment to really experience it. Don’t just hurry on to the next thing but let yourself be present with it.
Maybe you visit a museum, an historic building, or a local market. Let yourself be there, without thinking about what comes next, or what you might do this evening. Notice the sky above your head, and the people around you. You can use all of your senses to be mindful—so notice the smells, the different languages being spoken and the touch of the ground beneath your feet.
Bring to mind how all the person that you meet during the day want to be happy and to live good lives. They may have different lifestyles to you, but you have this fundamental point in common. Even though we all want happiness, we know that life can be very tricky and challenging things can happen. It’s inevitable that some of the people you meet will be dealing with these challenges right now. Thinking like this can touch our hearts and allow us to empathize with them. Notice how you are drawn to some people but pull away from others. Then remember that we are all in the same boat in terms of dealing with the challenges of life.
Practice gratitude as part of your meditation routine
With all the fun, opportunities and experiences of being on holiday there is plenty of reason to be grateful for being there. Research is showing that actively practicing gratitudehas all kinds of benefits for the person doing it! Generally, people who take time to reflect on what they are grateful for are happier, feel more alive, sleep better and experience more positive emotions.
So, as you go through your day take time to pause and look at what is happening for you. Remember that each experience is a unique moment in your life.
Something that I enjoy doing is reviewing with my partner what we have found special during our day. Maybe over dinner, or before going to bed you can make a cozy time to share with your family and friends.
The chances are that you will spend long stretches of your vacation in nature. That gives you plenty of opportunity for short meditation sessions.
We already mentioned watching the ocean. Considering how the waves rise and fall across the surface of the ocean is a good reminder of how thoughts and emotions rise in our minds.
Looking into the sky helps to bring to mind the unlimited scope and potential of our natural mind. Noticing how the clouds come and go across the sky is just how our thoughts move across our mind if we don’t grasp hold of them.
When you are in place of natural beauty, let the awe and grandeur of what you are seeing bring space into your mind.
Bringing your meditation routine together on holiday
If you can keep your meditation practice at the centre of your attention you can still manage to keep up a strong routine on holiday. By being flexible and allowing yourself to do some different kinds of meditation you will find that there is plenty of time available. Having this kind of ease and flexibility is also a good investment for your meditation routine when you get home. It will help to build the confidence in your practice that will make it reliable.
How to Make Time for Meditation in a Busy Life
If you are interested in developing your meditation practice to really be integrated into your everyday life you might like to try this online course. You can read about it here
Meditation is quite easy to learn and it’s not hard to practice. What can be hard is to make it part of your life. Do you find that there is a lot of stuff that gets in the wayof your meditation?
We are not used to meditating
There is a lot of talk about how mindfulness and meditation are so popular these days. It’s true that things have certainly changed from when I was a child. Nowadays everyone knows what meditation is, or thinks they do. We hear of various famous people who are said to practice meditation. It’s easy to find books, articles, apps and lots of courses on meditation.
This is all great, but it does not change the fact that we are not used to it.
For those of us living in the west, it’s really only in the last fifty or so years that meditation has been available to us. It’s a new addition for most people. It is only beginning to be accepted in certain areas of society—it’s certainly not something that everyone does. You don’t walk down the street and see billboards urging you to meditate. TV shows are not full of people meditating.
When I was a child there was even less talk of meditation. I would have loved to have had lessons in school. My life could have been quite different. Now meditation is beginning to be taught in schools. This is a wonderful development. Our education system is so focused on getting across all the right information. It’s a shame that learning how to work with our minds is just down to us.
Those of us who are meditators support each other through our communities but we are not mainstream. We are still working out how to make meditation part of our lives.
It is not always comfortable to sit with your mind
One result of not being used to meditation is that we can feel some resistance to it. Although we have heard of all the benefitsand we want to try it ourselves, it is not always comfortable. Sitting quietly with your mind is not always easy to do. Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia led a piece of research into how people react when they are asked to sit quietly without anything to occupy them. People reported feeling uncomfortable. Shockingly, in some cases people went for the option of giving themselves electric shocksjust to have something to do.
Part of our unfamiliarity with meditation means that we are not always sure if we want the benefits that it brings. We want inner peace but secretly worry that it might be boring. When we don’t feel like meditating it can even feel like we don’t really want to let go of our old habits. We like what we are familiar with—even if it causes us problems. Often in workshops I have had long interactions with people who are convinced that their stress is just ‘how things are’ and that there is nothing they can do to change things.
When you have been meditating for a while, your confidence grows in the feeling of stability that it brings. You stop looking for answers and begin to accept the quietening down of the mind as a way of it returning to its natural state.
There never seems to be enough time
On a more practical level, thinking that there is not enough time certainly gets in the way of your meditation. Most people live busy lives juggling work, family and trying to have some fun. We might want to meditate but we don’t know how to fit it in. Trying to do it in the morning means we have to get up too early. When we come home in the evening, we are too tired. Forget trying to do it during the day because things are happening much too fast.
At the risk of being repetitive, a lot of this comes down to not being used to meditation. If you look carefully, there are actually lots of timesfor short meditations during the day. It helps if we can just be quite natural about it. Taking a moment to watch your breath while standing in a queue is like a tiny meditation session. There can be many times like that—stopping at traffic lights, waiting for the bus, when you go to the loo.
You can also use all the ordinary, routine activities that you do every day as mindfulness exercises. Try cleaning your teeth mindfully or taking a shower. When you cook dinner, notice each of your actions and stay present with them. Try not to let your mind wander to what you have to do next.
All these small moments help us to get used to meditation. They make room for meditation in our life and help to make it a habit.
There is so much stuff going on in our minds
Traditional Buddhist teachings on meditation the mind is likened to a wild elephantthat needs to be tamed. Although we might not like to think of our minds being like a wild elephant, we do know that for much of the time we don’t seem to have so much control over where our minds go, or how they behave. In fact, if we are honest, we know that there really is nothing that our mind cannot think about, or how far out it can get.
All this noise in the mind can get in the way of your meditation. It’s not that we don’t want to meditate but our minds are so busy that it can over rule our intention to meditate. That’s why it is important to do regular short sessions. It helps our mind get more used to quietening down.
It’s easy to get discouraged
We hear so much good stuff about meditation that it can be disappointing when we do not see an immediate difference in our experience. Society is geared towards the quick and the instant result. We can see from how we surf the internet how impatient we can get when things don’t open fast enough.
Once we start meditation, we want to get it right. We want to be experts. It is easy to get frustrated at how much our mind wanders.
The thing is that there is no such thing as a bad meditation. Every time we meditate we are managing to create new neural pathwaysin our brain that will help us to make mediation a habit. Research is showing that changes can be found in the brain after practicing meditation for just eight weeks. We can learn to be patient with our wandering mind. Each time it strays from the method, we just notice and bring it back. That’s how meditation happens.
What to do when things get in the way of your meditation?
Having an enormous sense of humour about the whole thing really helps. Meditation is important but we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously. We also don’t need to give ourselves a bad time about it all.
I remember so clearly the moment when it really dawned on me that it was my choice to meditate. Yes, my meditation teacher was encouraging me, but no-one was forcing me to do anything that I did not want to do. I had adopted an attitude towards meditation like taking a nasty medicine because it was supposed to be good for me. Suddenly it hit me that if I truly realised the benefits of meditation, then it would seem natural to want to try and make space for it. It was such a relief! I could drop all my attitude and just get down to trying to find a way to fit it in.
Now I see meditation much more like cleaning my teeth. It’s something that I do several times a day. It helps my dental hygiene and I understand that it’s necessary and important. Just like I don’t want to go out with my mouth smelling bad, I want to work with my mind. If I don’t want my mind to run away with me and go wild, I need to meditate. There’s nothing to struggle about any more.
TIME TO MEDITATE
A 60-page e-book packed full of practical tips and guidance on how to make meditation part of your life
How do you end your meditation session? Do you find that it’s very easy to hear your timer go off for the time you’ve allowed and then just get up and carry on? It’s a shame to do that though, because you are missing out on a great chance to mix meditation with life.
Here is are some simple steps that I work with that help me to take my meditation forward into my day.
1. What is your purpose in meditating?
Remind yourself why you try to meditateregularly. Most people that I work with came to meditation because they wanted more peace and clarity in their lives. Sometimes there is an element of wanting to work with yourself in order to be more useful for other people. I started meditation because it was important to me to try and make some sense of how the world works and to know my own mind.
Being able to define your purpose for meditating is a good way to inspire yourself to keep doing it—especially if it gets hard. Reminding yourself of that purpose as you end your meditation session is a good way to appreciate the effort you have made. You seal the benefit of the session and can count on it to get you back to your meditation seat for the next session.
2. Don’t switch off your meditation
If you are busy, with a long to-do list, you can end up shrugging off your meditation in your rush to get back to doing what needs to be done. After all the effort you have made to do your meditation, that’s a real pity.
Maybe you have been focusing on your breathduring your meditation. As you end your meditation and get back into activity, keep that focus for a few minutes. You can be aware of your breathing along with engaging in an activity. As you sit at your keyboard, you can check your breathing. As you walk to a meeting, you can be aware of your breath.
Try to gently maintain the atmosphere of your meditation session.
3. With your next action, emphasize mindfulness
While we are meditating, we are being present and mindful of where we are and what we are doing. A good way to maintain the atmosphere of your meditation is to focus on being mindfulas you move into activity.
As you get up from your seat, notice how you move your body, fold up your shawl, or pick up your timer. Move slowly and pay attention to what you are doing. Instead of letting your mind race ahead to what you are going to do next, keep your focus on what you are doing in that very moment.
Without straining or getting tense about it see how long you can maintain this level of mindfulness.
4. Give yourself time
It’s worth adding a few extra minutes to any meditation session to allow yourself time to settle into it and then to come out of it with presence. If you are up against the clock, then it is very hard to end your meditation in a way that helps you to take it into activity.
Remember that we are trying to make meditation a habit. Think of all the things you have learnt to do in your life—they all need lots of practice and regular repetition. If you have learned a second language, or ridden a bike, or play a musical instrument then you know how determined you need to be to make progress.
Meditation is no different in that respect. It needs proper time and attention. It can’t be rushed. It’s much better to do regular short sessions, with proper set up and a good way of finishing than to try and blitz through by trying for a long sit and then making yourself late for the next thing you need to do.
5. The importance of mixing meditation with life
For most of us it is only possible to spend short periods of time meditating. Even if we manage to meditate for an hour—and it takes time to build up to that—there are still 23 non-meditation hours left in the day. So mixing meditation with life is an important part of learning to meditate.
The truth is that once we gain some confidence with meditation it is possible to meditate just about anywhere. Once we are clear on our method and relaxed about being able to do it, then it’s just a case of finding moments throughout the day where we can take a short space for meditation.
Here are a couple of things you can try
My most simple technique is to take an activity that I do a lot—like washing my hands—and then try to be fully present each time I do the activity. So, if I am not present, I am usually thinking about what I need to do next as I wash my hands. I go on to automatic pilot and just get it over with. If I am trying to wash my hand mindfully, then I go a little bit slower. I notice how I turn on the tap, the temperature of the water, and the feeling of it flowing over my hands. Applying the soap gives me a chance to observe the bubbles and enjoy the scent. There is time to notice the texture of the towel and the roughness of it rubbing against my skin. The whole experience only takes one or two minutes, but it brings me right into the present moment and cuts the overlapping flow of my thoughts and concerns.
Standing in line at the supermarket check-out, waiting for the tram, or walking from one meeting to another all give opportunities for a short meditation. Even if it is only one or two minutes, the effect of stopping, coming home to yourself and watching your breath will help to settle you into the habit of meditation. Normally we would just let our minds wander and go over things that are pre-occupying us. This way, we can refresh our mood and increase our awareness.
How you end your meditation may seem to be quite a small, practical point in the whole project of trying to make room for meditation in your life. The thing is that it can also be a way of increasing the impact that meditation has and making it easier to bring to mind during the day.
At last you’ve made it to your meditation seat! What a relief to actually get down to it. You sit in the correct posture, you go through your settling routine,and then begin with your method. All seems well—for about 10 seconds and then all kinds of things you never expected start to happen.
Let’s take a look at what some of those might be.
Your thoughts are out of control
There is no problem to have thoughts going through your mind during a meditation session. The thing is not to follow after them. Just let them come and fade away. Our habit is when a thought comes, we pay attention to it, and get into it. We follow it through to see where it is going. This is what we are aiming to change in meditation. It’s not about stopping our thoughts but about changing our habit in relation to them.
There is nothing like sitting down to meditate to make you realise how busy your mind is. People often tell me that they are not very good at meditation because they can’t stop their thoughts. First of all, it is a misconception to think that meditation is about stopping thoughts. It is not. It is a way of seeing thoughts for what they are and developing a different relationship with them.
A helpful image is of the sky and the clouds. Our minds are like the sky—spacious, vast, sparkling. Our thoughts and emotions are like clouds—sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes dark and looming. Whichever they are, they don’t stay and moreover, they do not stain the sky. When they pass away the sky is still as spacious and limitless as before.
It is because our minds have this sky-like quality that we notice when we get distracted. The more we notice our thoughts, the better we get at working with them. If we let thoughts come and go without grasping at them, then we can use the thoughts themselves as a way of waking up our awareness.
So, we could imagine sitting on our meditation seat and a thought comes into our mind, Oh I need to buy vegetables. We can just notice the thought—we can even label it ‘thinking’, or ‘thought’ if it helps. Then we place our attention back on the method. That way, each time a thought, or feeling carries our attention away, we use it to strengthen our meditation by bringing our attention back.
2. You get sleepy
It’s very natural to get sleepy. Generally, we are so busy and doing all kinds of things all the time. We actually take so little time to rest and just simply be. In meditation we get to sit and relax, so it is not so surprising that drowsiness sometimes overcomes us.
One thing you can try is to raise your gaze. I always recommend meditating with your eyes open. If you feel sleepy, just look up a little. Keep your gaze soft and not too highly focused.
Just stay with your meditation method and if you fall asleep, just wake up again and continue. The thing is not to get anxious or frustrated about it. Just feel that you had a couple of moments of deep rest. If it continues for several weeks – make sure to do your session in the morning, rather than in the evening when you are more tired.
3. You are bored
This can get us in two ways. Firstly, the fear of being bored can stop us getting to the meditation seat at all. We like to stay entertained and engaged and the thought of sitting quietly by oneself can seem daunting. In fact, there is even research that shows that people will even give themselves electric shocks rather than sit alone in silence. College students were asked to sit for 15 minutes alone in a plain room, with nothing to entertain them. Most people reported feeling uncomfortable and distracted. In a follow up experiment, 67% of the men and 24% of the women opted to give themselves electric shocks.
In meditation we do not have anything outside of ourselves to entertainus, and sometimes this can feel confronting. We might feel some excitement at beginning with meditation, but we quickly become used to the method and then we can feel restless and bored. It’s not unusual to have stretches of memories, and things that worry you come up. Then we notice we are lost in thoughts and remember to come back to the method and try to settle.
The more we do this, the more we do settle. Then we may begin to find our stories slightly boring and not as compelling we previously thought. This is the beginning of the process of coming to know ourselves fully through meditation.
4. You are uncomfortable
People often complain of back pain, knee pain, stiffness and pins and needles. We are not used to sitting still in a particular posture, so it is inevitable that some discomfort will arise. The thing is not to worry about and not to pay it too much attention.
If you feel slightly uncomfortable, then shift your posture slightly. If you feel very uncomfortable, stand up and stretch. Whatever you do to ease your discomfort, do it as part of your meditation—with mindfulness and awareness. Just pay attention to the discomfort lightly without reacting to it and making it into a big deal.
A traditional example
Often meditation teachers compare the early stages of learning to meditate as being like a waterfall. All our thoughts and emotions come crashing in with lots of noise and fuss. If we stay with it, this begins to settle, and the meditation becomes more like a mountain stream—active and bubbly but less chaotic. Eventually our meditation can become like a broad river flowing towards the sea—calm and serene.
This example goes to show that this is all natural, recognisable and simply part of learning to meditate.
What to take forward from all this
Getting used to meditation is so important for us. Most people do not have a habit of sitting still and being with their minds. It’s no wonder that all kinds of stuff come up. We just need to relax—it’s all fine. My meditation teacher always used to say to us that there is no such thing as a bad meditation. It’s all just meditation.
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TIME TO MEDITATE
A 60-page e-book packed full of practical tips and guidance on how to make meditation part of your life
A meditation method is really just an activity we can give our restless mind when we want it to settle. The meditation teacher Mingyur Rinpochecalls this restless mind, our monkey mindand he advises giving our monkey a job to do. That’s how we try to tame it and get it working for us, rather than against us. The job we give our monkey mind is to pay attention to an object that we use as a support for our meditation. In actual fact, we can use pretty much anything as a support for meditation but when we are starting out, it helps to keep it simple.
In this post we will look at two excellent meditation methods that can work for beginners.
Using the breath as a meditation method
This is a very accessible method of meditation. Here are the guidelines.
Our breath is always with us – we breathe all day long.
We can do this meditation anywhere and at anytime
Because it is so accessible, we can do very short moments of this meditation throughout the day
The only disadvantage that I know of is for people who might be asthmatic or have any kind of problem with their breathing. Putting attention on to the breath can be uncomfortable.
Using a candle as a meditation method
This is another easy-to-do method. Here are the guidelines.
This is a useful alternative for people with any kind of breathing sensitivity
Having a lighted candle makes a very pleasant atmosphere and helps us focus.
The method is not portable – you need to do it in one place.
You need to prepare your session with a candle, a lighter and so on.
Some people find the flame itself hard to focus on.
Which method should you use?
If you are beginning with meditation, my advice would be to try both methods but to do this in a systematic way.
Only use one method in each session
Try one method for a few days and make a note of how it works for you.
After the few days are up, try the other method and keeps notes again.
Choose the method you feel worked best for you during the experimental period.
Another idea would be to use the candle method when you are at home and doing your formal session. Use the breath method throughout the day for short moments of meditation on the bus, waiting in queues, before a meeting and so on.
Things you might find useful when you do a meditation session
It’s best to keep things as simple and uncluttered as possible. However, from a practical point of view there are things that help a session to feel stable and welcoming.
Here are a few pointers:
set your timer before your session so you can relax and not keep checking
turn off any devices that might buzz, or bleep during your session
perhaps have a cup of tea, or glass of water at hand to drink
often people like to have a shawl to wrap around their shoulders or put across their knees
I once saw a very funny comedy sketch about someone setting up their meditation session. They arrived with a huge bag of stuff and spent ages laying it all out. The audience were in fits. By the time they were ready and finally sitting down, their timer went off and it was time to finish! So do be comfortable but don’t go overboard.
TIME TO MEDITATE
A 60-page e-book packed full of practical tips and guidance on how to make meditation part of your life
I have been coaching Tom in meditation for a while now. Recently he had the idea to try to increase the time he meditates each day. In order to get a feel of what it means to meditate for longer periods, he designed this one-day intensive for himself. It skillfully plots a series of meditations to keep the meditator engaged, while achieving the goal for the day.
What was your purpose in doing this one-day meditation intensive?
The purpose was to consolidate my meditation practice and kickstart a greater depth and regularity in my daily practice, without committing to the schedule of a traditional retreat. I wanted to create space where meditation could be the main purpose and focus of a day rather than something squeezed into one’s timetable between myriad other daily commitments.
Did you have a goal for the day?
I aimed to do 4 hours of meditation in the day. That compares to my usual daily target of 30 minutes. Upon Maureen’s suggestion I also wanted to retain the unquantifiable quality of meditation; something of the specialness that gives it a place in religious practice. This I saw as a way to inspire better practice giving better tangible results.
Can you describe the schedule you adopted?
I started off by being pretty uninspired by the simplistic idea of a day retreat that came to mind shutting myself off from the world in a quiet place and sitting for long periods. I chose to schedule the day as a series of meditations in different places in London. Looking for places where I could sit undisturbed for up to an hour, some of the most suitable I found were London’s many churches, especially in winter when outdoor venues were ruled out.
Whilst travelling to the venues I would meditate on public transport (which unsurprisingly constitutes quite a large part of my regular daily meditation whilst commuting), or walking meditations, which is a technique Maureen and I had been working on. Once at the venues I planned different types of meditation, depending on the circumstances, for example a meditation using the ambient noises as the object (rather than seeing them as a distraction).
What worked well and what was less useful?
Meditatively using public transport, outside of rush hour, is an entirely different experience! Partly because of removing the goal-directed mindset of rushing to your destination, and partly because of the greater awareness engendered by a walking meditation, it brought a very different level of interaction with one’s environment whilst travelling.
I also found it very useful having an app called Insight Timerto record the time spent meditating and various other stats useful when reviewing the day’s efforts.
What did you learn from doing this? Did you achieve your goal?
I didn’t achieve the goal of 4 hours meditation during the day, but I did achieve my purpose of the day’s intensive meditation. I learnt however that an intensive day’s meditation is not an aim in itself but a way to build on and progress towards the benefits of a regular daily meditation habit.
Would you do it again?
Yes, without hesitation.
Tom Price is Head of Tea for JING Tea, a London-based premium tea company, which Maureen has been working with over several years on transforming stress at work and one-to-one meditation guidance.
Here are some guidelines for a meditation on sound, as Tom mentioned.