Meet Adam, a YA from San Francisco. Like many of us in our 20s and 30s, Adam spends a lot of time traveling and has developed many tips for how to keep up a passage meditation practice while on the road.
Meditation is hard enough at home and under ideal conditions – so how do we expect ourselves to keep it up when we're on the road and off our normal schedule?
I started as a very socially anxious person. So camping recently with a group of non-meditators in Yosemite, I felt familiar pangs: What will they think of me? Will I miss important group time? Will waiting for my meditation be an inconvenience for the group? In the past these worries would have had me quivering. But meditation has given me armor against such enemies, strengthening me to "come out of my cocoon" as a fellow YA said beautifully on the YA eSatsang recently. Camping that weekend, I remembered Easwaran’s refrain:
“Put meditation first.… Nothing important will ever suffer by this”
I woke before the group and enjoyed beautiful sunrise meditations. Early in the day I told my friends about my plan for evening meditation, and when the time came I meditated while others lounged and recovered from a hike. “Wow,” I thought, “as usual, Easwaran was right!” I felt refreshed, and my friends ranged from neutral to inspired.
My actions to make that weekend’s practice go smoothly sound simple, but for me they’ve been the result of years of slow progress. Making meditation work on the road – like most of the challenges of growing our eight-point practice – has been all about (1) the BIG stuff: building habits through repetition, and (2) the little stuff: ironing out lots of details.
The BIG stuff: building habits through repetition
1. Be proactive about informing others
For me, the social aspect has been the hardest part of making meditating work when I'm off my usual schedule. For years I felt embarrassed to be seen meditating. I was embarrassed to tell people that I would be meditating – friends, coworkers, new acquaintances, just about anybody. I thought it sounded weird. And worse, I was anxious I'd somehow disappoint them by stepping out for 30 minutes or changing plans that would affect other people.
I found the key to overcoming this anxiety is simple: be honest and direct about telling people that I meditate. Now I plan and communicate ahead of time so it’s not a surprise when I step out. Not only does this help reduce my anxiety, but people respond positively when I tell them. Just letting folks know beforehand makes all the difference.
2. Just do it! But how?
- Wake up early. Whether on the road or at home, wake 35 minutes before you'd otherwise need to start your day. If you can make this a “given” in your own mind – meaning you know you'll always do it, no matter the circumstances – you'll never miss a day of meditation, whether you had to catch a flight to a different time zone, or were simply out later than you'd like celebrating a friend's birthday. But waking early is hard at first and takes practice! If we do what we can on our part – being determined, patient, and forgiving with ourselves – sleep habits will gradually change.
- No meditation, no breakfast. Strike this bargain with yourself and you won’t forget to meditate, Easwaran advises. I apply a similar bargain to evening meditation: don't go to sleep ‘till it's done. First thing in the morning and early evening may be better for meditation, but can be hard to achieve when traveling. Much better late than never! When my mind starts to chatter about not getting enough sleep, I remind myself that being tired will motivate me to go to bed early tomorrow. And I'm comforted by Easwaran's calm replies about missing sleep: e.g., “instead of getting anxious about how much sleep you're missing or how you will feel in the morning, repeat the mantram.”
The little stuff: Below are ideas for a few of the many details involved in making meditation work away from home.
Places to mediate:
- A parked car can be an excellent meditation room on the road. The front seats tend to be highly adjustable, and with doors shut you get decent sound protection. I bring a jacket and hat in case it's cold. :-)
- Hotel rooms, airplanes, libraries, and churches/temples are also excellent spots.
- If in a hotel room or friend’s home, find your meditation spot soon after arriving to eliminate last-minute stress. Even when traveling, keep your meditation spot special by using it for nothing else.
- I travel with a jacket or sweater to roll up and put behind my lower back. With that, I can transform most any chair into an excellent meditation spot. It keeps my lower back supported while leaving my upper back free and upright, which helps me stay alert.
- Consider traveling with earplugs or sound-reduction earmuffs.
Timing (how to know when 30 minutes have passed):
- It's useful to get familiar with how to turn on a few features of your phone: (a) airplane mode, (b) alerts silent (e.g., "Do not disturb" mode on iPhone and "Silent Mode" on Android), and (c) vibrate timer on. That way, you can set a vibrating meditation alarm when quiet is needed or earplugs are in, and you won't be disturbed by calls or alerts.
Finally, please remember that travel can also be a special opportunity. Away from the demands of our usual time and place, travel can be reconceptualized as a spiritual retreat. Flying to Los Angeles for work today, I remembered a video where Easwaran described repeating his mantram throughout an entire short flight. Inspired, I dedicated my flight to my parents and set in memorizing a new passage. What joy to discover I had my own temple in the clouds! And the Self seemed so clear in the face of each neighbor and in the mountains and even cities below.
I'm learning to be patient and proud of myself for my efforts and for wanting to meditate even under tough circumstances. I know that together, our little efforts are building a spiritual renaissance!
What are your tips for how to make meditation work when you're on the road or time is tight? Feel free to share using the comment button below – it'd be fantastic to hear from you!