Any time you actually sit down to practice meditation, you’re doing it successfully! But because meditation is an inner process, there’s lots of room for misunderstanding, which can go on for years if left unchecked. Many people practice meditation on their own, informed only by what they’ve read or heard. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a teacher you trust, that teacher will still rely on your input to support you in finding greater insight.
The hope is to make your time on the cushion as efficient as possible, so I created this general list of tips to help you optimize and accelerate your practice. It’s based on what's been shared with me by my teachers, as well as what I’ve gained from my own experience.
Here are some suggestions to help your practice help you:
1. Develop clarity about what you’re doing and why.
Some practices, like Rinzai Zen, plunge you into a state of confusion and ask you to work with it meditatively. Other practices, like mindfulness, can make practicing as crisp and clear as a recipe. All practices are useful. Whichever you’re drawn to, do your best to understand the nature of that practice and each time you sit down, relate to practicing the way you would time at the gym. Don’t meander. Use proper form. Do the work.
2. Find a practice that resonates.
Different traditions like to bicker over which is the best for enlightening you and why. That’s just silly. Only you can know your path. Listen to your instincts, find a practice you’ll want to stick with and be motivated to do and find an effective support system. If you’re not making progress, assess the situation and adjust. Avoid being dogmatic about it and do your best to trust yourself.
3. Make time for intensive practice.
A healthy practice involves a combination of daily sitting and periods of more intensive formal practice, like weekend or week-long retreats. Intensive practice shows you your true potential and can be life changing, but it needs to be supported in the long term with a daily or weekly routine.
4. Practice in action.
Bridge the gap between your practice and your life. While formal practice will naturally seep into the rest of your life over time, for faster results, you can also use strategies to intentionally integrate practice into the activities of your life.
5. Try strong determination sitting.
My teacher, Shinzen Young, recommends this as a fast track to his students seeking quicker results. The idea is to sit without moving for extended periods of time. You can start small and slowly build up your stamina. Not easy, but powerful!
6. Teach others.
Want to know how clearly you understand the meditation practice you’re doing? Try explaining it to someone else and helping them do it. This will immediately point up your areas of confusion. It will also introduce someone to a practice you've found deeply rewarding. Teaching nourishes our own practice in untold ways.
7. Get feedback.
The best way to know whether you’re making progress is through those closest to you. When I went on my first retreat, my dad was afraid I had gotten into a cult. Once he saw the effects of practice, he started encouraging me to go. If your practice is off track, the people who love you will make that clear. Likewise, if your relationships are off track, meditation can make that clear.
8. Sit, sit, sit.
My Zen teacher’s favorite comment to his students: “More Zazen.” Bottom line, at this point in history, lots of sitting practice is still the best solution discovered to ease our suffering. Just make sure the sitting is informed. See tip #1.
9. Practice with a group.
Group practice can accelerate the process of learning and spiritual growth. You can ride on the group energy and collective act of consciousness raising.
10. Become self-sufficient.
As long as you imagine your liberation is dependent on any relationship, you're a slave to that relationship. Free yourself.