10 Thoughts to Help You Build a Mindfulness Routine

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.
-- William Blake

After having finished an 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course last November, I am still in touch with some of the fellow participants — and that’s how I know that ALL of us struggle to keep up the daily one-hour (! yes, ONE-hour) regime of body scans, breathing observations, or mindfulness meditations that our course so gently pushed us to adhere to. Admittedly, we send each other slightly panicked messages about how our lives are gradually taking over again. About how we only manage to sit every once in a while. How we have so many obligations and certain things that just can’t be neglected forever. We all really, REALLY want to. We WANT to be centered and calm and focused and we want that clarity in our heads and bodies, that stillness, that warmth! Every day! But somehow it’s not quite the same without a weekly three-hour session featuring a proper mindfulness teacher who was ALL these things and, on top of it, radiated such charm that he revolutionized our concept of time (we woefully refer to our lives now as the post-Wolfgang phase). I myself addressed the question of how to establish a regular mindfulness routine in my post, “Meditation: Sticking to a Routine?” and got a few helpful pointers.

Meanwhile, I figured out that — of course! — the psychological and physical benefits of regular, 20 to 30-minute meditations are endless, as more and more scientific evidence indicates. And — of course — what we ultimately want is to rely on the safe ground of a daily routine, which is why it is called “routine” in the first place. But to begin with, it helps to NOT beat yourself up if you DON’T have that routine yet.

Here are some of the thoughts I find helpful to keep a (currently still irregular, but existing) meditation practice embedded in my life — and perhaps, if you find yourself at a similar point, they may help you hanging on to what you’ve got going. Feel free to let me know about your own thoughts and additional points — I’d love to add them to the list!

10 Thoughts to Help You Build a Mindfulness Routine

Don’t see meditation as an exercise.
See it as a way to bring more calm and genuine joy into your life. This little post talks about how retreating into silence is not actually a passive withdrawal; it’s an active step towards making room for subtleties that always exist but that we do not tend to notice because everything else is so much louder.

Re-examine your goal.
No one will ever “master” mindfulness. It’s not a discipline in which you get points; it’s a way to live your life more fully, and there’s just you in the race. If what you want from a mindfulness practice is for yourself to be more fully present, then don’t waste time over perfecting a “mindfulness routine” or fretting over missed opportunities to be more aware. Which leads me to my next point.

Every new day is a new opportunity.
One post of mine talks about how This world is always a new world. When trying to establish a routine, it actually does not matter whether you managed to meditate yesterday or even the past few weeks. Beating yourself up over not having done the exercises regularly will only demotivate you further. Focus instead on doing something good for yourself in the moment you are, which is today.

Think small: Take Five.
If you can’t fit half an hour into your schedule, vow to give yourself five minutes. Nobody can blame you for taking five! Sometimes, actively disengaging from the busy buzzing around you can seem like a huge effort in itself, and if you tell yourself that it’s just for five (or ten) minutes, it might help you overcome the initial hurdle.

It takes time.
Building a routine is exactly that: it is the building of a routine. It’s a process. It will most likely take months before meditation will be a natural part of your everyday life. There is almost nothing you can do about this fact so you could as well embrace it.

Experience the beauty of stillness and your heart will do the rest.
Another response to my question of how to build a routine was that, if you keep experiencing the mysterious beauty of stillness, you will naturally start to crave it more and more. This has started to happen to me on especially busy days; I may not stick to a crazy routine, but these days I approach stressful situations completely differently.

See your progress.
Let me repeat the last sentence: “I may not stick to a crazy routine, but these days I approach stressful situations completely differently.” It’s a small step! BUT just today, before a job interview, I was able to notice and then observe my nervousness fully. I was then able to embrace myself in it; to accept my tension instead of wishing it away. After five minutes of being friendly and attentive to all the heart-beating and blood-pumping and heat-waving in my cheeks and my chest and my hands, I was in a whole different place. It is these moments that show me that I have come far and that make me just a tiny bit proud.

Shake it up.
It doesn’t always have to be formal exercises. The joys of life are infinite and tiny and marvelous (the translucent skin of a slice of orange, or the weight of a pear, or the microcosm of flower dust). There are great books that help to creatively incorporate mindfulness into your daily life; I personally love Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant. Part of our course’s homework was to do one everyday activity mindfully — and be that smearing a piece of bread with peanut butter! That too can be done with gusto, with childlike wonder, and renewed interest (hence, William Blake’s grain of sand). The important thing is that, whatever you do, it helps you bring yourself back into your body and the current moment.

Accept that distraction is programmed.
Again: no one will ever “master” mindfulness. You will never be “present” 100% of the time, because that is not how we humans are wired. Some days we are more distracted and fluttery than others — that, too, is simply what life is like. Mindfulness isn’t here to eliminate these givens, it’s here to help us go through them. Because they’ll be there anyways.

Celebrate Presence.
Because you will be distracted about 89% of your day, and because that is for all of us non-Gandhis a given, celebrate the moments you do turn up. To remind you of my teacher’s words: Don’t waste time scolding yourselves over past moments; instead, every time you do show up for the present, pop that mental bottle of champagne!

And with that I am taking a deep breath, noticing that an hour has flown by, but hey — I am back! Let’s have that glass of bubbly wonder!