I subscribe to the “just do it” school of meditation. While I’m still trying to figure out whether I actually need to get up so early, my body is already heading downstairs.
I open the door to my back room and set out my mat and cushion. I stretch my weary body to wake it up and I take my seat.
Someone said to me this week that I should write something about what helps us to meditate. Specifically, she felt it important that I remind people that finding a quiet time and place makes it easier to be mindful.
My friend is a meditator with many mindful miles on the clock so I always listen to what she has to say on the subject.
Being a morning person myself means that I can usually count on getting to my cushion before the house comes to life.
The sound of footsteps, the clatter of dishes, water being boiled, cutlery crashing to the floor, breakfast TV, all make it hard, if not impossible, to settle into silence.
Your time of day
I realise that not everyone is a morning person. You have to be smart and consider what time of the day works for you.
A time in the day when there is some chance of things being quiet and when you can count on a reasonable level of alertness.
You don’t need to have to be in a fully soundproofed room – something that is on my personal Lotto list – but choose a place where you don’t have to listen to talking or TV or the boom of someone’s music system.
Some sounds just suck the mind right in and kill any hope you have of concentrating.
Where you meditate is also worth thinking about. In theory we can be mindful anywhere (and anytime). But to strengthen our capacity to be mindful, we need to practise.
And to settle into practice it helps if you have a place where you know you won’t be disturbed.
Find yourself a quiet place, a secluded place, somewhere you can be alone.
You’re not looking for some idyllic space, just somewhere you feel comfortable; somewhere you don’t have to worry about someone walking in on you and making a funny face when they see you sitting there mindfully.
What about candles or incense, statues or pictures?
None of this is essential to practice, but symbols are important and they can help to draw us into the silence we need for meditation.
Any of these things can help to create an atmosphere conducive to meditation. Some people make a small “shrine” on their windowsill, or on top of the bedroom drawer, where they can arrange all of the above.
An object can define a place where you sit everyday.
A spot in your room that is reserved for meditation and nothing else. Very soon we come to associate this spot with the quietness and calm, and you can move quickly into these states of mind whenever you sit in that space.
It’s good to try several spots and experiment with how it feels to meditate in that place.
In time, you can settle on one where you feel most at ease and comfortable.
Question of time
When you decide on what works for you in terms of a time and place to meditate, the "For how long?" question inevitably follows.
The first thing that I would say about this is that regular consistent practice is more important than the time you spend at any one sitting.
So decide what is a manageable time for you, add three minutes to it, and make that your daily discipline. And then allow the duration of your sitting meditation to expand at its own pace.
I sit for 30 minutes, in the early morning, in a small room at the back of the house. Every now and then, when I get up late or have to make an early meeting, I have to cut it short.
Part of everyday life
My practice is becoming a natural part of my everyday life.
And after three months, I find that I enjoy it and I look forward to it. As the year unfolds, my practice may get longer. But it doesn’t have to.
Tony Bates is founding director of Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health