People often come to my meditation courses because they want to learn how to slow down their crazy busy lives.

So you start sitting for 10, 20, or maybe even 30 minutes a day. But after some weeks of this, you still feel like things are crazy busy and all over the place. So your meditation isn’t working, you say to me.

Here’s my first thought. I’m wondering if you’re thinking of meditation as something you can drop into your life for say, 30 minutes a day, and have it counterbalance the other 15 or so hours that your mind is on full tilt. (I’m assuming you spend 8 or so hours sleeping or resting). Certainly, meditating 30 minutes a day is better than not doing it at all. But looking at it from a common sense perspective, is it reasonable to expect a 30 minute sit to cancel out the effect of 15 hours of frenetic activity?

Hmmmm…. so how do we slow down? Obviously we can’t quit and go live in monasteries.

I think a shift of perspective is in order here. There’s a much bigger context that we need to take into account.

Meditation isn’t like an anti-anxiety pill that will slow things down just by dropping it in. It’s really more a way to begin training ourselves to BE a different way. The point isn’t just to relax and recharge – and then go right back to what we were doing before. We practice BEING more calm and measured in the laboratory environment of a sitting practice so we can learn to BE that same way in the rest our lives when we’re NOT meditating. Even in the midst of a frenetic day. We’re training ourselves to stop feeding that busy energy into our body and mind, so that over time, a measured steadiness flows out of us naturally. All the time. Not just when we’re on the cushion.

And it’s not the 30 minutes of sitting alone that does the trick. It’s the thread of mindfulness that we carry throughout our day that brings the sanity back into our lives.

But that’s HARD, you say. Yes, it is. But it’s doable.

Here’s one tool to help you get started. This simple acronym — STOP — reminds us to be mindful during the day. It stands for

  • Stop: Mentally step back from whatever you’re doing, even for a second or two.
  • Take a breath: Literally, bring your attention back to your breath.
  • Observe: Take stock of what’s happening right now, especially in your body and mind.
  • Proceed: Resume ONLY after you’ve really paused to assess where you are.

This doesn’t take any extra time out of your day. It’s not something additional you have to do. It’s a simple but powerful way to insert a sliver of mindfulness in your day. It’s also a way of taking what you’re practicing on your cushion out into your life.

We need both a formal sitting practice AND an informal mindfulness practice. The analogy is like learning to play an instrument. The formal practice helps us to gain our “chops” in a quiet, comfortable place at home. But then we also need to practice how to perform on stage, in riskier situations and with other people in the mix. To be a true musician, and a true mindfulness practitioner, both are absolutely essential.

At first, you might feel lucky to remember to STOP only once a day, and maybe only just before you go to bed. That’s OK. That’s a good start. Do it whenever you remember. Over time, it’ll come more often and more easily. Give it time.

Yes, it’s a slow process to train ourselves this way. It’s not a quick fix. But it’s a way to create change at the core of our being. And isn’t that really what we’re after?