“Just Start Over”: The Secret to Sticking to Your Mindfulness Practice and Other Tips

With the turn of the seasons and the change in the air, September is a month when we might naturally assess where we are at and what we’d like to renew in our lives. Some of us might be thinking of what we can do to regain balance after the break and set ourselves up for the final half of the year. It may also be a time when we think about our mindfulness practice, and how we can pull it back into focus.

Different flavours of distraction and discouragement may have drawn us away us from our practice. We may struggle with challenging emotions that come into our awareness, and the alive, felt-sense of our body. Our enthusiasm may wax and wane. But we can rest assured that it's all a part of the learning process. The practice of meditation is a journey of turning towards ourselves, of cultivating self-knowledge. Naturally, we are going to run into challenges and obstacles that can knock us off our intended path. The human experience is, after all, highly complex -- as is the relationship we have with our self.

We know from nature that to grow anything, we must nurture it -- give it attention, patience and importantly care. There are many small, simple steps we can take to support our practice in its tentative stages or to get it off the ground again. A lovely motto to remember is Sharon Salzberg’s “Just start over”. Instead of getting caught up in the stories and judgements we have about our practice, we can use the core values of mindfulness -- acceptance, non-judgement and compassion -- and simply begin again, over and over, until we have integrated the practice into our being.

We asked around for other useful ideas on nurturing practice, and here’s what we found:

Seek community. The role of community and groups in sustaining mindfulness practice is so valuable and can be easily underestimated. For anyone who is struggling with their practice, joining a group or getting together with like-minded friends is a good place to start in order to establish a rhythm.

Enrol on further practice. The 8-week course is just the beginning of our journey with mindfulness. We can also look to enrol on further practice -- such as a retreat or other courses. Retreats help to cement our learning and bring new insights, which in turn, can support our motivation for practice. Attending other graduate courses, such as the Mindful Self-Compassion Course, can also add a new dimension to our practice.

Explore online resources. If you haven’t already, check out online resources, which can provide support in the form of free talks and guided meditations. There are many experienced teachers, from different backgrounds -- be it neuroscientific or Buddhist -- all sharing their offerings online. Find the ones whose meditations you really love to practice with.

Start with small commitments. If all of these ideas seem overwhelming, we can simply start small. Mindfulness is a tool that works to the extent we use it, and knowing that what we practice grows stronger can be really encouraging to keep our personal practice going. We can remind ourselves when things get difficult that even small amounts of practice -- 5 minute bursts, for example -- are better than no practice at all.

We may find that we understand mindfulness conceptually, but are under-prepared for the experiential challenges. However, we can rest assured that obstacles are to be expected and are actually essential to our practice -- serving to strengthen it and make us better equipped to deal with future challenges.

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