(With a debt of gratitude to Leigh Brasington, who suggested them. Feel free to modify and alter to suit yourself and your practice – I know I already have.)
1. GRATITUDE. spend a few moments generating gratitude. For all that we have to be grateful for – health, life, resources, the teachings and our access to them, opportunity to practice – we all have things we can be grateful for, and it’s good to begin meditating with a grateful heart.
2. MOTIVATION. Spend some time getting in touch with your motivation to practice. Why are you doing this? To see deeply into the true nature of reality? To be present to each moment? To awaken to your own true nature as boundless love? To develop kindness and friendship towards yourself, just as you are? To life, just as it is? To know life at it’s essence? To achieve liberation for the benefit of all beings? Conscious contact with a Higher Power? Ease, peace, calm? Whatever works best for you, that can serve as a reminder, should the going get rough, or the practice stale.
3. DETERMINATION. Spend a moment rousing some resolve, some energy, some determination. To stay awake, to stay present.
4. METTA. Include, at the outset, some time offering yourself some loving-kindness, some friendliness, some unconditional love; setting an intention to be kind to yourself regardless of what arises during your practice. If you like, you can also offer this kindness and wishing well to other beings, or all beings, as well.
5. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.” This comes from Thich Nhat Hanh and is a good transition to the sit. It points our attention to the breath. Spending the initial period of a sit giving attention to the breath is a good way to calm the mind, and generate concentration. Concentration gives rise to happiness.
Remember: comparisons are odious. Don’t compare this sit to any other, or even any moment in this sit to any other moment. Or you to a projected or imagined “real” meditator. We are not trying to “achieve” anything, or put preference on one mind-state over another. Sure, concentration feels great, but sometimes we can’t concentrate. If the mind is distracted, just note, “distraction” and keep going. “Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon will be the inclination of their mind,” says the Buddha. When we blame ourselves for what arises during our sitting period, we just reinforce the habit of self-blame and condemnation. Just be present to the truth of the moment with kindness, and keep going. Have fun!