Common questions about meditation

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Q: Why meditate?

A: What appeals to you?

Q: How should I meditate?

A: Observing the breath is a good start. Look for “Meditation basics” in my previous article.

Where you go after that, depends on your why. Try both guided and unguided meditation. Pick a method that makes sense and you enjoy doing. Otherwise it won’t stick long. For a bunch of high quality free resources, look for “The best things in life are free” in my previous article.

Q: Do I need a formal meditation practice? Isn’t it enough to be mindful or focused during daily activities?

A: I strongly recommend informal meditation during daily life. I also strongly recommend a formal daily session, because :

  • It’s a more reliable habit.
  • You make it clear to yourself that meditation is a priority.
  • There is far less distraction.
  • It can be a big contrast with informal meditation, which is insightful.
  • Even if your formal session is only 2 minutes, it’s a good foundation to build upon.

Combine formal and informal meditation. Give it time. It won’t disappoint you.

Q: When is the best time to meditate?

A: Whenever there is little or no distraction.

The usual recommendations are to meditate first thing in the morning (good start to the day), not to do it after lunch (the brain gets less blood supply), to pick the same time and place every day (habit formation 101) … That’s all great advice, but only if it works for you.

Because of my particular job and family life, every day looks different. Some days I work at our home office, other days I work in Bruges. Some days my wife takes the kids to school, other days I do … I have tried getting up even earlier than I already do, but that habit didn’t stick too well.

Arriving home is the most reliable trigger for me. I meditate right after. For you it might be an entirely different trigger.

Q: Where should I meditate?

A: Wherever there is little or no distraction.

Our home office is my sanctuary, but I also meditate in the bedroom, on the train, in the garden, in a field, on the bank of a river …

Q: For how long should I meditate?

A: However long you feel like. The only bad meditation is the one you didn’t do.

There’s also much to be said for increasing your formal meditation time. But do it gradually. Over the years I went from 10 to 30 to 60 minutes a day. Relaxation has deepened. I have learned a great deal about mind and body. My perspective on life has dramatically changed … Just try it for yourself and let me know how it goes.

Q: Should I close my eyes?

A: Do what helps you focus.

If you get too sleepy with eyes shut, leave them open or half closed. If you get too distracted with eyes open, close them. This need can change in the course of longer sits.

I used to be unable to meditate with eyes closed. I would drift off to La La Land right away. This slowly improved and nowadays it’s no longer a problem.

Q: How should I sit to meditate?

A: Check this Posture Pedia by Stephanie Nash.

As mentioned before I like the Burmese posture and seiza (see my YouTube at 6:45 and 35:08). When I use a chair, I often get sleepy, unless I don’t lean against the back.

Q: What if I lose motivation? What if I don’t find the time anymore?

A: Go back to basics. Pick a new trigger. Sit for shorter times again. Choose a different technique.

Q: Why does my favorite technique no longer work?

A: No worries!

Maybe you used to get very peaceful and focussed during meditation, but now you seem to have lost this skill?

Something might have changed in your life that brings new challenges, with a busy mind as a result. Nothing personal. This too shall pass.

Maybe relaxation is no longer the main reason to meditate and it’s time for insight practice, self-inquiry or contemplation?

You simply lost interest in the technique? Or it has run its course? That’s okay, but don’t just hop from one method to another. Stick to one at a time for at least a month.

Q: I have many doubts.

A: That’s great! Stay curious. Trust yourself. Go with the flow.

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10 thoughts on “Common questions about meditation

  1. It’s as you say in one tip, what if I have lost my motivation? It feels like I am resisting what I know is helpful simply because meditation is starting to become more normal ( if that makes sense ). And like your other post on why people don’t meditate — it is what it is sometimes yes? I went for a time where I prioritized meditation over many things in my morning routine and now I feel like it’s slipping. I’m not sure if I should try back to basics as you suggest… I have gone from the guided meditation to unguided and that feels better to me now. Thoughts?

    1. Do you find you’re skipping formal practice? I’ve experienced different periods: curiosity, great doubt, boredom, weeks in a row of not being able to focus at all, effortless equanimity, involuntary movements, deep surrender … It all came and went. I think it’s key to see that everything is temporary and stay open to what happens. Keep at it daily even if it sucks for a while. Does this make sense? 🙂

      1. I’m not skipping practicing but have changed quite a few times from Headspace to just a silent breath awareness practice. What you are saying makes complete sense… But do you think I should return to the guided one or is going to a more simple practice when struggling ok? I really like what you said about it being temporary and to stay open – this will be a big help I think- thanks so much for taking the time to ask :)) I appreciate your advice!

      2. If I struggle with a technique, I bear through with it for the rest of the month and then switch to something that sparks my interest. If you find that you’ve been struggling, putting in too much effort … it’s time to ease up. Meditation can be totally effortless, not aimed at a particular outcome. Pick something your mind likes to focus on. This can be the breath, but also sounds, music … Something that makes you feel at ease, but still requires focus. Watching Game of Thrones meditatively is quite challenging, where listening to instrumental music is easier to come back to if the mind has wandered. If I were you I’d try unguided meditation for a month. 😉

      3. This is great advice thanks so much. I’ve been using calm.com with just the sound of rain for the past few days and I’m doing “better” with that. Really appreciate you taking the time Omni ~*~ Kim

      1. I have been struggling lately with the guided Headspace program. I have almost been meditating with this program a year now. It may be time to try something new? When I resist I do an unguided meditation. I have been enjoying your advice here :))

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