Sharon Salzberg has been a student of meditation since 1971 and leading meditation retreats worldwide since 1974.
Sharon Salzberg is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts.
Try It for Yourself : I often ask meditation students, “If there was a simple, safe activity you could do for twenty minutes a day and it would really help a friend, would you do it?” So far, everyone has said, “Of course.” But to take that same twenty minutes a day to do something like meditation that might really help us seems somehow wrong –- selfish, self-absorbed, a waste of time when there is so much else to do. But helping ourselves is helping our friends, and helping the world. We need to contact our inner resources and wherewithal to keep taking care of others
Make It Real -- Establish a Daily Practice: Meditation isn’t only for certain talented or lucky or already serene people. You don’t have to be an ace at sitting still. You don’t have to wait until the tangles in your life untangle and the stress evaporates. You don’t need complicated study or preparatory work before you begin, or a quieter street, or a different career. You can start right now. See what works for you, to help you make it real. Experiment with timing, place, and routine to see what most helps you to actually do it.
Don't Take on Too Much at First
: Meditation doesn’t have to demand a huge chunk of your time every day. You can aim for twenty minute sessions, though if you’d prefer you can start with five minutes and work your way up. Establishing a regular practice whatever the length of the session, is more important than striving to devote hours to it every day. Check out www.sharonsalzberg.com/realhappiness/blog
for descriptions of a diverse group of people -- firefighters, police officers, writers, teachers -- as they explore bringing meditation into their lives in just this way.
Connect to Your Breath: The feeling of your breath going in and out is an object of attention that is natural, readily available, and portable. You can pay attention to one breath at a time, and when it wanders gently bring your attention back to the breath. This simple exercise gives you a way to get centered, present. And if you are getting anxious or impatient or bored somewhere -- all those times you can’t draw a hot bath or run around the block to get calm and clear –- you can connect to your breath.
You Don't Have to Join a Religion or a Cult to Find Your Own Spirituality: You can meditate and still practice your own religion or no religion at all. I know many busy, effective, amazing people who don’t meditate, but they all seem to describe a refuge of some sort, where they can regroup and gain perspective -– periods of silence, going out in nature, breaking routine and having an adventure. Meditation serves as an inner adventure, a means to reconnect to ourselves and what we care about. It doesn’t need to be tied to a belief system at all.
You Can Begin to See Unexamined Assumptions: Assumptions we make about who we are and the way the world works –- what we deserve, how much we can handle, where happiness is to be found, what our greatest source of strength is -– all influence how we pay attention and what we pay attention to. In our everyday life we see variations on, “Tomorrow will be exactly like today,” “If I only try hard enough I could control him/her/it/them,” all the time. As we bring awareness to these assumptions, we can dissolve them if they are harmful or limiting. The world gets bigger!
Begin Again: If your self-discipline or dedication seems to weaken, remember that this is natural and you don’t need to berate yourself for it. In small ways and large, we find that no path is just straight up. We lose sight of our goals and need to begin again, or make a mistake and need to begin again. That’s not a sign of failure –- that is a path to real change. Seek inspiration in the form that works for you -- read poetry or prose, find a community of people who share your values, see if you can help someone else. And remember we are always beginning again.
Be Kind to Yourself: Spending time paying careful attention to your thoughts, feelings, body and actions (positive and negative) and understanding them opens the door to loving yourself genuinely for who you are, with all your beauty and imperfections. If your mind tends towards recounting your faults, mistakes and problems, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else, consciously look for the good in yourself. This isn’t done to deny your difficulties or problems but as a way to broaden your outlook so it’s more truthful and balanced. And looking for the good in ourselves helps remind us we can try that with others.
Use Ordinary Moments: Throughout the day, take a moment periodically to stop your headlong rush and torrent of doing to simply be. You can access mindfulness at any moment, without anyone knowing you are doing it. Rest your attention on your breath, or feel your feet against the ground, or listen to the flow of sounds around you, or know what you are feeling -– in a meeting, during a telephone conversation, walking the dog, feeding a baby. You’ll be more aware of and sensitive to all that is happening around you as well as within you.
Reach for Real, True Happiness: Once you look beneath distractions and conditioned reactions, you’ll have a clearer view of your deepest, most enduring dreams, goals and values. And you can cultivate the qualities like wisdom, trust and kindness that take those aspirations and help to make them real. It may seem like those qualities are missing from your make-up, but actually they are usually just obscured by stress and agitation. As you access these positive qualities more easily and frequently, as your values and your life get closer, you become happier.
Exercise the Letting Go Muscle: Imagine reclaiming all the energy that could be available to you but isn’t because of our tendency to scatter it through endlessly regretting the past, worrying about the future, judging ourselves, blaming others, and a wide range of distracting activities! This is what you can do through developing the power of awareness: see impulses, old habits of thought, painful tendencies quickly, not after you’ve already acted them out, but as they begin, and let go. If you exercise the letting go muscle in meditation you can do it with gentleness and kindness.
Think About Others: Each day you can take the time to hold others in your heart and wish them well. This meditation might include someone who has helped you, someone you know who is hurting, someone you know who is experiencing joy and success, or even someone you are about to meet with some trepidation. The bottom line is that all of us want to be happy, even if we can’t always figure out how. Taking just a few minutes each day to reflect in this way is a powerful path to transformation.