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Getting in the meditation mindset

The hardest part of meditation can be getting on the cushion. But with practice, even starting can become less of a challenge.

For about 15 years, my spiritual practice was distance running. The repetitive sound of my feet landing on the earth, paired with the sensation of deep breathing, instilled a feeling of close connection to the world around me. Running was a solitary activity, a time to get reacquainted with myself and observe my body and mind. Trail running in particular required a heightened vigilance: the forest paths I ran were rough and rocky, so I needed to place my full attention on where my feet fell. When my mind wandered, I could always rely on a raised tree root or a mud-streaked slope to bring me back to my body.

What I struggled with most on tiring days wasn’t the heat, the grueling hills, or the blisters on my heels. The hardest part of each run was starting to lace up my running shoes and walking out the door.

Before I set out for a run, I experienced a severe case of inertia. I often stalled by checking my email, staring out the window, or taking on busy tasks like rearranging my refrigerator magnets. This tendency lured me into a confusing mental dialogue fraught with anxiety and questions. If I want to go running, why am I dreading it so much?

As I deepened my meditation practice, the reasons behind my procrastination became much clearer. Sometimes, my run felt effortless. My legs carried my body without any trouble, and my breath remained fluid and uncompromised. But there was always the potential of suffering. I could get an unforgivable cramp, pull a muscle, or roll an ankle. I never knew if my experience was going to feel blissful and energizing or painful and wracked with fatigue. That uncertainty at the start of my practice was sometimes so scary that it was immobilizing.

These days, I don’t run as much as I used to. But I do maintain a daily meditation practice and often face the same challenge of starting. This kind of hesitation before taking my seat isn’t all that unusual. Many people believe meditation is something they want to try but feel hesitant. 

When we face the uncertainty of what may arise when we commit to looking deeper into ourselves, it’s easy to understand why we may prefer to reorganize our eating utensils or scrub the grout between the tiles on the kitchen floor. Meditation teaches us that we have the ability to notice our choices, laugh a bit, and then maybe decide to investigate why we act in particular ways.

The practice of meditation also inherently teaches us how to start—so much so, in fact, that starting our practice can become less of a challenge. We experience the first step of starting by taking our seat and moving deeper into the body through conscious breath work or mantra recitation. After that, every time thoughts, emotions, or sensations in the body lead us astray, we practice starting again by honoring our decision to return to the breath. Every time we come back, it is a fresh start, or a new beginning.

Lauren Krauze is a writer and teacher living in New York City.