Too Busy to Meditate?

Also published The Tattooed Buddha

There are a few things people often say in casual conversation when they find out that I meditate.

I want to be very clear, this is what gets said in general conversation, not in a teaching context.

“That’s so cool. I wish I could calm my mind down, but I can’t,” or some other version of wishing they could do it (because they think it’s easy for me, of course).

I find that question very weird, but there’s one I find weirder, and that one is some version of, “I wish I had the time. I’m so busy. I want to meditate but I have a very active life.” So, with that in mind, I’m going  to put on my meditation coach hat and answer the question:

“How does one make time to meditate in a busy schedule?”

Because that’s the answer. You have time for what you make time for. If someone says they don’t have time to meditate, I do not believe them.

I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve “fallen off the cushion” many times. I’m a normal person like you. I know that I should meditate every day, and I just don’t do it. There was a time when I did, and then I stopped for a while and then I started again.

And then I stopped for a while. Because the truth is, it is really easy to not meditate. We have ten million distractions around us all the time. But, if you don’t think you have time to meditate….you’re wrong.

You don’t have to dedicate an hour to the practice. Or even half an hour. Even simply sitting for five minutes a day can bring enormous benefit. Or, if that’s too hard, even once a week. The point is regularity. “This is when I do it and I always do it” matters a whole lot more than doing it a long time.

When I first started practicing, many years ago, I would just meditate when I felt like it. When the idea came to me to do it, I would do it. That, of course, led to not doing it very often. The thing is this, meditation is like any other thing that we’re trying to get better at. It’s just like going to the gym, or practicing guitar. You don’t just get it right away, and you don’t get better unless you practice over and over and over.

So, the important thing is routine.

So, what worked?

A few things have worked for me—one worked for a while and I’m glad it did, but it didn’t work forever and ended up easy to lose track of. That was putting it into my morning routine. Get up, go to the bathroom, take a shower, shave (this was before I had a beard), meditate, eat breakfast, go.

That was what I started doing many years ago, when I was a young, a college student. Long before the kids and the divorces and the career and the writing. You see, I started meditating before I had ever met another meditator. I didn’t want to do it in a group. I’m pretty introverted and quiet a lot of the time and I didn’t know anyone with this interest. So I quietly practiced on my own. And that worked for a really long time.

After the kids were around, I tried to set up a nighttime one too, shortly before bed. I just remember my son getting out of bed and coming to sit with me. And my daughter bounding after him. Some people think kids can’t meditate. Those people are wrong. That was a different world though. Distractions seem to be more powerful now. I don’t know if the distractions are getting stronger or if I’m getting weaker. But that was in the days before I even had a phone, let alone a magical box that could tell me anything in the universe. We have millions of ways to kill time and I wonder if we’re happier.

I don’t meditate every morning, but sometimes I think I should. I could lie to you and say that I do (you’re not going to fact check this). But I want to be real. I want to see the realest thing I’ve ever written and be even more real. Over the years sitting as part of my morning routine got harder and harder to do. That’s the truth. I don’t know why; I can’t explain it. It just got harder.

Here’s the other thing that works. And you may not be able to do it, depending on where you live: Find a friend.

Just like how going to the gym is easier with a workout buddy, meditation is easier when you aren’t doing it alone. I lead a live online meditation group once a week through Daily Dharma Gathering. Because I lead the group, I have to participate, obviously (I can tell you I’ve learned a lot more from teaching than I ever thought I would) and I go to a Wednesday night meditation group. That’s where the core of my practice is these days—sitting with other people. That is what I recommend, above all other things.

Now, some of you might live in rural areas or something, but an overwhelming majority of the people reading this live 30 minutes or less from a Buddhist temple or meditation center. They’re everywhere. And, look, there are things I really don’t like about Tibetan style Buddhism, but I still practiced in a Tibetan Buddhist temple for years because it was a place to go. I was able to ignore the bowing and chanting and other things that I think are nonsense.

So it doesn’t even matter if the place around you isn’t exactly what you want. The point is there’s a place to go sit. And if there are several around (there probably are) check them all out. Find the one you think is the best for you.

I think there’s something about our minds. Going out and doing it makes it more meaningful to us, or easier to stick with, somehow. There’s a special thing about meditating in a group. If I’m meditating by myself and I sneak a look at my phone or whatever, or stop the meditation early because I feel like it, no one knows. There’s no one to hold me accountable. But if I’m meditating in a group…there’s an element of peer pressure there. Shame is a great motivator. I can’t just check my phone during a meditation if I’m surrounded by people that are meditating. That’s embarrassing.

There’s one other option and that seems a little more daunting— starting a group of your own. You don’t need money to rent a place. You can do it in your living room or in a park or something. And, of course, at least one friend who’s dedicated to doing it with you.

For a while I meditated on my breaks at work too. People gave me the weirdest looks. I’m not sure I can recommend that one.

So, there you have it. If you truly want to meditate, make it part of your daily routine. If you want to stick with it, find a group to meditate with or a place that offers regular sittings.

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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