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On paper, meditation seems simple and straightforward: You sit down, close your eyes, and try to find peace with your thoughts. But one of the most valuable lessons I've learned on my own bumpy journey toward mindfulness is that this simplistic notion is a sham, and believing that it's really that easy is actually an obstacle standing in the way of real progress. We're dealing with the inner workings of the mind, after all. It's messy. It's complicated. And without a doubt, it's entirely different for everyone.
But that's not to say that the journeys of others can't be immensely helpful. If "sit and be still" is the bare-bones framework, then it can be extremely intimidating to try to fill that ourselves, especially when we're just getting started and have little context for what might work. By reading the accounts and advice of other people, we gain a little more substance, which we can then mold into our own experience. And what better one-stop-shop for crowdsourcing such helpful tips than Reddit?
After spending some time poking around the /r/Meditation and /r/Mindfulness boards, I've gathered a wealth of helpful hacks and tips that have only made my practice stronger. It's also always nice to know that I'm not alone: No matter what pitfalls or challenges you've faced, chances are it's already been addressed. Better yet is the advice I've come across for struggles I didn't realize I had.
Keep reading to see eight meditation tips from Reddit I've found particularly valuable.
There's no "Right" Way to Meditate
If sitting still feels like utter torture, don't sweat it—any kind of activity that allows you to reflect and be alone with your thoughts qualifies as meditation. Some Redditors swear by mindful coloring, which is growing in popularity everywhere. Many highly encourage staying active. "Meditation and exercise are a fantastic combination," says carsonmcd. "They feed off each other and you'll see improvements in both." "I run primarily because it's easy for me to slip into a meditative state," adds another user.
In short, ponder what makes you feel most at peace, and go from there.
Electronic Devices Aren't Always the Enemy
Sure, our Netflix habits certainly get in the way of mindfulness—but the antidote is the wide variety of apps that make starting a meditation practice easier than ever. Reddit users make it easy to find the most effective options thanks to helpful, detailed reviews. Some of their favorites:
Headspace (free with option for paid subscription): "It was the first guided meditation that I really connected with. I am grateful for it beginning me on the meditation path. You may start out with the free 10 minutes, then see if that is enough for you to do it on your own without the guided aspect, as that will teach you the mindful approach." — granitemouse
Calm (free with option for paid subscription): "Tried a few of the free sessions and found it really worked for me. The female voice was calming and gave me a lot of space to practice on my own. I signed up for a year and have been using the 21 days of calm sessions. I've just completed session three and quite honestly I'm amazed with how much I have gained from it. I feel like I finally understand what mindfulness is all about. It's given me an insight into how to apply my meditative sessions in the real world." — hotchilidamo
Learn to Appreciate Boredom
On the flipside, thanks to our technology-driven culture of instant gratification, having a moment to focus on our thoughts is a growingly scarce phenomenon (because when there's nothing else to do, we're on Snapchat or watching TV). It's because we're conditioned to see boredom as a negative feeling. "For me, that discomfort is usually a lack of purpose, and a fear of the uncertainty and vulnerability that comes from pursuing a deeper purpose, better self-understanding, more loving relationships, etc.," notes iosefarkadyvich. "It is easy and predictable to just be busying my mind with novelty. Go to work, come home, watch stuff on the internet, repeat. It's like a functional addiction."
Instead, consider seeing boredom as an opportunity to address any thoughts or feelings you've possibly been stifling. "It turns out a lot of this keeping busy was preventing me from dealing with some issues from my childhood," iosefarkadyvich continues. "I was actually a bit depressed, and so my old go-to activities had lost some of their allure. Instead of half-heartedly doing them anyway, I started seeking out silence and embracing having nothing to do. My therapist mentioned the term 'boredom tolerance.' What a novel concept."
Spend Time With Kids
As someone who is perpetually nostalgic for the boundless imagination and joie de vivre of childhood, I love this gem of a tip from Reddit user budgetbears, who is a preschool teacher. "I feel my job lends itself to mindfulness because preschool children are completely in the moment," she says. "When I observe them and become engrossed in what they're doing, I'm in the moment with them."
Understand That Meditation is Not Always Silent and Serene
We tend to associate mindfulness with a quiet, smiling peace, but there's real catharsis in experiencing your emotions; in allowing yourself to work through your thoughts by experiencing those urges. "I think it's important to allow yourself to feel the emotions. Go with them," says one Redditor. Just also know that there is a difference in allowing yourself to feel them and letting them rule your thought process. That's why when you start to feel angry or upset about something, for example, it can be helpful to remove yourself from a situation and give yourself a few minutes to work through those feelings alone—that way, you can better understand the underlying issues that might be driving them. (And users tend to concur that it feels more natural to remain calm with practice.)
You're ultimately exercising your mind, and it takes time and practice to reap the benefits. It's easy to get frustrated when you're first getting started—you sit down quietly and expect that your mind will instantly follow. (Spoiler: It doesn't.) Again, it's that culture of instant gratification—we expect to suddenly be enlightened and see the world differently after logging a few 10-minute sessions. Not so, and dwelling on that might be standing in the way of real progress.
"Even though you get better the more you practice, you'll never be perfect, and that's okay," says chris3000. "Just keep practicing. Michael Jordan missed plenty of shots."
I find that it can be tricky to just pull inspiration out of nowhere when left to my own devices at this point in my practice—I need to be in a very specific frame of mind to really draw insight from my own experiences. So I turn to the words of others to help me look at the world differently: Right now, it's the amazing story of Paramahansa Yogananda, the man credited with bringing yoga and meditation to the west in the first half of the 19th century.
But there are countless tomes to consider, and Reddit has plenty of recommendations:
The Power of Now ($10) by Echkart Tolle: "He has a common sense conversational approach in this book explaining present moment awareness that worked for me. What specifically impacted me were his explanations on viewing problems via the lens of past and future. And how past and future thoughts are not reality, merely creations of the mind." — twelve112
The Wisdom of Insecurity ($9) by Alan Watts: "This book changed everything for me. Whenever someone asks what my favorite/most influential book is, this is my automatic answer (and this is coming from a literature major/voracious reader). I can't recommend it enough, and everyone else I know who has read it has had similarly beautiful experiences with it." — purplemoonstone
10% Happier ($9) by Dan Harris: "It draws in novices and skeptics, motivates people who have been practicing for a short time or without much regularity or purpose, and begins to define a near-term path forward on and off the cushion. I don't think I will ever think about myself, consciousness, or meditation the same way again." — repulsive_explosion
Don't Necessarily See Mindfulness as the Goal, but as a "Symptom"
If you're struggling with establishing a meditation practice, you might need to consider re-framing how mindfulness pertains to your life experience. In other words, if you're feeling peaceful and content in other areas of your life, chances are mindfulness will follow as a byproduct. "I want mindfulness to become a symptom of my inner stillness or happiness or what have you, rather than my way of reaching stillness or mindfulness," explains sanchitkhera11.
"I asked myself what are the things that make me feel like I'm straying away from my own still inner self… I started to notice things and people around me, and how they affected me on a daily basis. I realized that a lot of times I take on their stress in hopes of not being judged and find solutions to their problems so that I am considered 'valuable' both as a colleague and a friend. I stopped doing that. I stopped looking at others judging me in that way, and I found this stepping stone journey inside myself to uncover what I've been running from. All my hopes and dreams, all my thoughts, etc. I stopped running from them and really listened.
"Then I could sit and finally breathe. And at that point, for a second—I was instantly in the present moment and mindful."