I’m Too Busy to Meditate

I’m Too Busy to Meditate April 21, 2021

Today I want to address the question, “What if I’m too busy to meditate?”

This is one of a few things that people often say in a casual way when they find out that I meditate. I want to be very clear, this is something that comes up in a general conversation, not usually a teaching context. People find out I’m a meditator, people find out I teach meditation, and they say either some version of, “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. They think they can’t do it but other people can.

I find that question very weird, but the one I find weirder is some version of, “I wish I had the time, I’m so busy. I just try to pay attention to my day-to-day life. I want to meditate but I have such an active life I can’t do it.”

With that in mind, I’ll put on my meditation teacher hat, and I’ll answer the question: how do you make time to meditate on a busy schedule?

Really, that’s a better question, and the answer is, you have to make time. You have time for what you make time for. If someone says they don’t have time to meditate, I don’t really believe them.

I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve fallen off the cushion a lot of times. I’m a normal person like you, and I know I should meditate every day, and I want to meditate everyday, but I don’t do it. There was a time when I did and then I stopped for a while, and then I started again. Sometimes I do well at meditating every day, and other times I don’t. 

The truth is, it’s really easy to not meditate. We have ten million distractions all around us all the time. If you think the problem is that you don’t have time, you’re wrong. You don’t have to dedicate an hour every day to practice, or even half an hour. Even simply sitting for ten minutes a day, or even five minutes, can bring great benefit. If that’s too hard, try 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 for a long time.

Yes, it helps a lot to go to meditation group, like the one I have Monday nights, but obviously it’s harder to make time for a meditation group, because you have to have time to get there, you have time to get home, you have to go somewhere. So maybe that’s harder, and maybe I believe some people don’t have time to go to a meditation group, but you have time to meditate at home. It’s just hard.

When I first started practicing mediation, many years ago, I would just meditate when I felt like it. I would just meditate when it would occur to me. When the idea came to me to do it, then I would do it. That of course led to not doing it very often.

The thing is this: meditation is like anything else we’re trying to get better at. Anything that’s for our well being. It’s just like going to the gym or practicing playing an instrument, or whatever. You don’t get it right away and you don’t get better unless you practice over and over with regularity.

The important thing is routine.

What works for a lot of people is, you either put it into your morning routine, or your evening routine. Morning routine is get up, go to the bathroom, take a shower, meditate, eat breakfast, go to work. Evening routine, whatever you do before bed. That’s what you can do as well.

The other thing you can do is of course find a friend to meditate with. Make a plan, just like how going to the gym is easier with a workout buddy, meditation is easier when you aren’t doing it alone. So if you don’t have an ability to get to a meditation group, the number one thing is ask someone else in your house to do it with you, and if they won’t, find someone outside of your house to get together and meditate.

This is a fact that some people might live in rural areas and be very far away from anyone to meditate with, but the overwhelming majority of people reading this now live 30 minutes or less from a Buddhist temple or meditation center. They’re everywhere. Whatever centers are around you, there may be something you don’t like about them, and that can be something we may have to set aside. It doesn’t matter if the place around you isn’t exactly what you want, the point is there’s a place to go sit.

If you don’t have the tremendous strength of resolve that it takes to meditate by yourself in your own house, then go somewhere where people are meditating, because there’s a very strong chance that wherever you live, somewhere around people are meditating.

There’s advantages to both sides, of course. Meditating by yourself, you can set aside the time that’s best for you and you can do it then, but a lot of people just won’t do that. Just won’t. You try to set aside time for yourself to do it by yourself in your house, but then you sit down to do it and you start thinking of all the things you could be doing to clean your house. Or all the fun things you could be doing.

That’s why going to a meditation center is helpful to a lot of people. The downside to that is you have to leave your house, you have to set aside travel time to get there and back, and you have to be around people and maybe you don’t want to socialize.

The truth is though, in a lot of places you can just go in and sneak out. You don’t have to socialize, but if you want to socialize you can.

I think there is something with most of our minds that going out and doing it makes it more meaningful to us. It’s the same thing with yoga. You can do a lot of yoga at home but people like to go out to a yoga studio or a gym or whatever and do it.

Again, there’s a lot of working out you could do at home without equipment, but people like to go somewhere. It can be the same with meditation.

The truth is if I’m meditating by myself at home and I sneak a peek at my phone, nobody knows. If I meditate in a group and sneak a peek at my phone, that’s embarrassing, right?

There’s one other option besides meditating at home and going to a center where they do meditation, and that seems more daunting, and that’s just starting a group of your own. You don’t need to rent a place, you can do it in your living room or in a park or something. You just have to have one friend who’s dedicated to doing it with you and then create events on meet up or Facebook or whatever, and just try to get people to come. Or put out fliers or whatever.

That’s what I did, I started my own meditation group. I’m renting a space because when I tried to do it in my living room it didn’t really work out. I had an outdoor space that was free, but it got cold. So I’m renting a place, and it’s pretty cheap. Donations don’t quite cover it but they almost do. You could rent a space, too. A yoga studio or an event center, whatever is around you. Your living room is always an option; if no one comes, you just sit by yourself. Actually, just the potential of people coming will hold you accountable, too.

That’s about it for today, I just wanted to talk about what we can do if we’re too busy to meditate. You just have to find the tools to help yourself. Whether that be a group or creating a group of your own, or if you’re one of the lucky people that just has a really easy time, all you have to do is set that routine and make yourself do it. You have that power.

Daniel is an American Buddhist Teacher based in Kansas City. In his day job he’s a union labor activist. Daniel was given teaching authority by the International Chan Buddhism Institute and gives talks at the One Mind Zen Hermitage.

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