We’ve recently been answering questions on the new Dharma Talk podcast. In the last few weeks, a handful of people have asked the same question: How do I find time for practice in my life? It’s a tricky one, as we all have different reasons and ways in which we are busy. Some of us have full-time jobs, while others are students. You may have family or loved ones to care for, or a heavy load of responsibilities at home or in a place of employment. Finding time to practice can seem impossible sometimes.
“Finding” Time to Practice
The first thing that jumps out to me is that out of all the emails we received with some version of this question, every individual asked about finding time to practice. The word “find” is an interesting one. Although it may seem purely semantical, I think it points toward an interesting perspective.
Do we ever “find” time throughout our days? I am speaking from personal experience, but it certainly seems like the answer is no. More often, I find myself wondering where the time went. For most of us, twenty minutes of free time don’t just pop up. Even when I have a client or meeting cancelled, I usually use that time to catch up on other things.
The first step to working with this question/issue is to let go of the idea that we’re just going to find time. If we do, that’s great. We can use that extra free time to meditate. However, extra minutes rarely pop up on the clock for most of us.
My answer to the question about finding time is always the same: create time. Now, obviously you don’t have control over the space-time continuum, and you can’t create extra hours or minutes in a day. If you can, awesome. Send some extra minutes our way.
What we can do is create the time and space in our days to meditate. We’ve written about being mindful in daily life and how to meditate at work, but the truth is that the best thing is often to actually carve out time to sit. It may be a harsh reality for some of us, but we generally benefit most from actually dedicating time to sitting meditation.
There are many ways we can create time, but they all come down to one simple idea: we need to prioritize our practice. When a teacher first told me this, I found myself growing defensive. I do prioritize practice, I just don’t have the time! I don’t mean to say that I know your individual case, or that we are all the same. However, I do think this is the most solid suggestion I have ever heard in regards to creating time for practice.
We can make meditation a priority the same way we make priorities out of brushing our teeth, going to work, showering, eating, etc. Build it into your day as a necessary piece of the puzzle. If you’re like me, you may benefit from actually putting it in your schedule, calendar, or planner. This can help you set the intention, see it in writing, and be reminded of your practice.
Another useful way to prioritize meditation and create the time is by making a part of your routine. We all have routines and habits. Maybe you wake up, drink some water, brush your teeth, and shower. Can you fit meditation in or around this routine for a few minutes? Instead, try waking up, drinking your water, meditating for ten minutes, brushing your teeth, and showering. By putting it in your routine, it becomes a part of the day, rather than a break from.
Do What You Can
The last thing I share often is to start where you are and do what you can. If you can create five minutes during your day to practice, great! You don’t need to create 45 minutes, twice a day. If setting aside 20 or 30 minutes feels undoable in this moment, you probably won’t actually take the time to sit.
On the other hand, five minutes seems much more approachable. In those moments where we may end up talking ourselves out of meditating, it’s much easier to quiet that thinking mind and sit down for five minutes than it is for thirty. Listen to your experience, and do what you can. Find something that feels helpful, healthy, and sustainable.
Maybe you’ll move on to longer periods, or maybe you will find that five minutes a day is just what you need to return to yourself and your experience. I personally find longer sitting period to be most beneficial, but I only have my mind and body to work with. You know yours, and as you sit you will grow to know it even more deeply.