Meditation is something we should learn to practice, not just in formal meditation, but all the time. But, for our formal, sitting meditation practice, preparation is most important. Is there not a saying, “Well begun is half done?” We often don’t begin well. We don’t take care of the cause that disturbs the mind. And we want our little meditation time to calm everything, quickly. No. At the same time, there are certain methods to prepare you for meditation. At least when you go to sit for meditation, temporarily keep all the worldly problems locked out. Keep a separate room if you can, or at least a separate corner that is curtained off. Keep that place free from worldly problems. Charge that area with only meditative thoughts. And before you go there, as a way of leaving day to day problems outside, change your dress and have a bath.

Even when you go to sleep, you don’t go with your softball hat. You have sleeping clothes and when you want to play tennis you have a tennis outfit. For everything there is a dress; likewise, for meditation there should be a dress. Use it only for meditation. Because even your clothing can carry your worldly vibrations. It should be something loose and clean. Even the seat should be clean or place a clean towel on a slightly raised platform. Have an altar. The moment you sit down, your thought forms should be automatically changed. Let there be nothing worldly in this place, nothing to remind you of family or business problems. That’s why you decorate the place with statues, pictures of saints or sages, and burn some incense—so you can be in sense!  If the area is not soundproof, use earplugs. Some of these little preparations will help you a lot to calm the mind, focus the mind on what you are doing. You cannot simply run home from your business, take off your shoes, and go sit down and meditate.

And then there is another important process in meditation called sankalpa. That means, when you go and sit, you don’t just sit and begin to repeat your prayer or mantra. You can pray, Please make sure I have no problems, no impediments in this practice. Protect me from that. And then you can think of the person or people who introduced you to or taught you to meditate. Be thankful. Then, when you sit, make a sankalpa, which is a strong intention such as: I’m sitting now to meditate, so mind, listen carefully. I don’t want you to create any problem at all. I know the moment I sit you will give me a pain in my hip or ankle or thigh. Tell me now, and I’ll make any adjustments, but not a word from you after I begin. If you complain after I begin, I won’t listen to you until I’m finished with my meditation. This kind of dynamic strong determination should be there. And that alone will carry you a long way in your meditation.

Before you begin to meditate you can  clean and decorate everything. Your mind will be involved in that. If you have a picture or statue of a deity, perform a simple service. Offer a few flower petals and then say some prayers. As you repeat these, keep the meaning in mind so that you are not just repeating without thinking of the meaning. Let your prayer be meaningful for you. Then, after the prayer, the mind becomes more indrawn. Finally, you can chant a variety of names of the divine. Only after that do you pick up your mantra and repeat it alone.

So you are slowly bringing the mind to the mantra after allowing it to quiet down through your preparations. You are gently and slowly narrowing the mind down. Then stay there. Even while repeating the mantra, if the mind becomes disturbed begin repeating it loud. Then, at the end of the mantra repetition, you can appeal to God, however you conceive of something greater than yourself—These are my problems. Please, with your help, let me remove these problems from my life. Help me. I need your help.

Let that appeal be for your benefit and also the benefit of others; not for material things, but for your peace of mind and others’ peace of mind. Then pray for world peace and repeat some shanti (peace) slokas such as: “May the entire universe be filled with peace and joy, love and light.” Then, sit quietly doing nothing for a little while. Don’t jump up immediately. Let the whole thing sink into your system. Then slowly—as if you are waking up from a deep sleep—slowly get up, move a little, stretch your legs. Get up, bow down, and walk out. If you can do it regularly, you can reap tremendous benefit in life. Much of our physical and mental problems would be gone. People still don’t know the greatness and importance of meditation. Nothing is impossible to achieve with proper meditation.

We run for every little thing. We never miss other things, but for meditation there are all kinds of excuses. And that’s how the mind tricks you. In meditation you want to be the boss, the mind wants to be your boss, so it creates all sorts of problems. They are all very reasonable excuses: Oh, don’t you know, you worked till midnight. How can you get up now? You need more sleep. Oh yes, the mind will bring all kinds of real excuses, but don’t give in. Ascertain that you are the boss. That’s the most important part as you begin to cultivate self-mastery.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda