The Three Pillars of Meditation

Just like there are three pillars of self-discipline, there are three pillars of meditation: Habit, Technique, and Transformation. You need to practice meditation as a daily habit, with the optimal technique, and apply the skills from meditation to transform your daily life.

With these three pillars, your meditation practice will be pleasant and effective. It will flourish and give you optimal benefits. If even one pillar is missing, then the benefits will be limited.

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Habit

Meditation is not like physical exercise, where two or three times a week can keep you fit. We need to meditate as a daily habit—just like eating, sleeping, showering, and brushing our teeth. 

Why? Because we are exposed to stress—externally and internally—on a daily basis. Impulses distract us. Negative thoughts and stories spin in our heads on a daily basis. Anxiety doesn’t go on vacation.  

If you meditate once a week, you will experience some benefits—maybe feeling more present, calm, centered, clear, and focused. But it won’t last, and it won’t really transform you.

If you want to boil some water, you leave your kettle on the heat for five minutes, so the water boils. If you leave it on for two minutes, turn off the heat, and come back the following week to turn the heat on for more two minutes… You may do that for all the weeks of your life, but the water will never boil.

IN a way, meditation is like that. It’s essential to practice it every day, whether you feel like it or not—even if for only five or ten minutes. This builds continuity in your practice, and it will grow. A daily habit is what makes the difference between having a practice that feels good when you do it and one that will actually transform you and your daily life. 

Mindful Self-Discipline gives you all the tools you need to build the daily habit of meditation. Here is a quick overview:

  1. Set your habit—choose the time, place, and tools for your practice
  2. Set a reminder—it could be an alarm, calendar, or an object
  3. Start small—three to five minutes a day
  4. Follow Never Zero—no excuses
  5. Grow gradually—add one minute per week
  6. Renew your commitment—re-affirm your intention after each session
  7. Be patient—keep your expectations low and don’t over-evaluate
  8. Remain non-judgmental—no self-criticism, shame, or blame 
  9. Enjoy the process—make meditation its own reward
  10. Be prepared—know the obstacles and excuses you may meet (contingency plan)

Technique

Right technique means the style that is most optimal for you, at this moment in your life. Meditation is a vast and flexible practice, with a great variety of methods from different traditions, developed over more than 3,000 years.

There is no “one size fits all” in meditation, any more than there is one sport or one diet for everyone. Imagine if everyone learned just basketball or running, or if everyone was given the same type of food, regardless of preferences, health conditions, and allergies!

The popular styles of watching your breath and repeating a mantra are both great techniques—but they don’t work for everyone. Each style of meditation has a different focus, process, and benefits.

Some techniques…

  • make you feel passive, while others energize you
  • make you feel centered, while others make you feel detached
  • lift your energy (good for depression), while others ground your energy (good for anxiety)
  • are more suited to improve work performance and concentration; others may be better for exploring the spiritual side of meditation
  •  are easier for people who are more visual by nature, while others are better for people who are predominantly auditory or kinesthetic

Discovering the optimal technique for you matters a lot. While most meditation techniques share a great number of common benefits, there is still a big difference between practicing a technique that works for you and practicing a technique that is optimal for you.

Do your research. Ideally, seek guided meditations and perhaps mentoring from a teacher knowledgeable in different styles. Experiment with different techniques and philosophies, and see what resonates with you the most. Find the style that address your specific needs and goals with meditation.

Transformation

Your daily life is an extension of your meditation, and your meditation is the foundation of your daily life. Transformation means applying the meditation skills, integrating them into your all-day awareness so the benefits multiply.

It is true that if you practice meditation daily, with the right technique for you, that over time some things will automatically begin to change. The way you see the world, the way you see yourself, how you react to people around you—all will change. But this process can be greatly accelerated if you do it on purpose. And this is what the third pillar is about: applying the insights and qualities that you experience in meditation to the rest of your life. It’s taking meditation beyond the cushion. 

These skills from meditation can transform you:

  • Pausing
  • Self-awareness
  • Focus
  • Willpower
  • Calming down 
  • Zooming out
  • Letting go of unhelpful thoughts
  • Managing emotional states
  • Self-acceptance

Which of these will help you most? How can you integrate it into daily life? Remember it constantly, and make use of it. That requires self-discipline.

This whole book is an unfolding of the transformation pillar of meditation, bringing together all these skills into daily exercises to live better, transform yourself, and achieve your goals—that’s why I call it Mindful Self-Discipline.

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