Are you whole-heartedly contemplating adding the practice of stillness and awareness into your life? If so, let me express how thrilled I am for you. To assist you in this complex and astounding journey into mind, body and soul, here are four questions that generally spring up from my meditation/mindfulness newbies.
1. When I start to meditate, what can I expect?
Do you already have outcomes or plans listed in your head or maybe even on paper about what you are going to achieve via your practice? Maybe you are hoping for more happiness/peace, to ease physical pain, to enhance your memory or to increase your social/emotional skills.
My big advice: Let it go. In reality, all of the items listed above can be achieved plus gobs and gobs more. I can't even begin to describe the monumental blessings that meditation has fostered in my life. But, especially in the beginning, I would invite you to erase any and all probabilities. If you start with a checklist, you are setting yourself up for challenges, for the inability to relax into what is and to then open yourself to the unexpected. Simply put... expect nothing and gain everything.
2. What is the appropriate duration: five minutes, 20 minutes, once a day, twice a day?
Meditation isn't a one-size-fits-all kinda thing. I always recommend that you start somewhat loose. Commit without overcommitting or feeling like to you have to force it.
For the first week I would suggest sitting for 5-10 minutes per day ideally at the same time. Then, build upon your practice as you get more confident (e.g., increase to 15 minutes per day or maintain your practice three days per week). Confidence comes when you realize there are no bad or good meditations. I believe that some level of struggle is part of the process as our thoughts are so commanding and demanding. However, the more you watch what you are struggling against in calm, the more peaceful it will all become. Meditation is an awesome teacher of patience. Patience in yourself, patience in learning how the practice fits into your schedule, patience in possibly changing your schedule, patience in being frustrated, patience even as you find more peace, etc.
Oh, and also, I recommend practicing in the same spot every time. A consistent place gathers good mojo and sets the mental stage for your meditation.
3. How long do I maintain my meditation practice: a month, a year?
When I was teaching in Alabama, a truly endearing student entered class with this exact question. I laughed and said, "Until you're dead."
Meditation and the art of self-awareness are lifelong practices and experiences. This doesn't mean that once you commit you have to do it the rest of your days. But think about this... once you start to open to life in a new connected way, there is almost no way you can turn back to your old, closed, unaware existence. Life becomes so much richer... even the mundane becomes wondrous. It's like going from an old 1950s black & white TV to a high-def 60-inch screen with the most awesome sound system and theater seating to boot. Get my drift?
4. How will I know when I "get it"?
This is also very individualized. Typically in my group classes it takes a minimum of four classes for some sort of ah-ha moment. Now, as you may know, I always recommend group classes because they accelerate the meditation experience. Again, meditation is not about rushing or trying to get somewhere, yet doing work with others in a trusting environment deepens your practice quicker. Just is what it is. And, it sure helps when you also have a teacher who can guide you.
So, back to the question... when people "get it," it means they are able to sit in non-judgment and be aware of whatever is going on in their full experience. They also are open to whatever feelings or sensations arise without blocking them.
Let's round this out. Meditation is a practice. That means you practice. It isn't about getting anywhere but being where you already are. "But where am I?" you may ask. Well, go find out, lil' pioneer! Sit, be, experience. Listen to yourself in ways that you never have before. You'll be surprised by what you find. I have no doubt about that. And that is an expectation I can live with.