Meditation for Beginners

Meditation has been super popular lately, so a lot of people want to try it.

If you’re interested in learning how to meditate, you may find a class or meditation center useful, because nothing beats one on one instruction in a face to face setting. Failing that, look for a Buddhist center near you, or other alternative spirituality center that offers meditation. Many beginners find that guided meditation is very useful and an easy way to get into a habit of meditating.

Settle in for a story about a friend of a friend who made a common mistake when trying to start meditating.

Once upon a time, I had a friend who wanted to really jump-start their meditation practice. They thought the best thing to do would be to sign up for a two week long meditation retreat. A two week long ~silent~ meditation retreat, in which they would only be allowed to speak aloud for 30 minutes over dinner each night, spending the entire rest of the two weeks utterly silent in constant meditation.

Can you see the mistake?

When you’re starting out in creating a meditation practice and habit, it’s best to start small and limited in scope. While it can be tempting to go big, it’s easiest for you if you, well, don’t. It takes 28 days to create a new habit, and it’s best if you repeat your new habitual behavior daily or even two or three times a day. Keep your practice simple, short, and as easy to actually follow through on as possible, to increase your odds of successfully creating your meditation practice.

Meditation for beginners simplified:

an acrylic painting of the swirling mind; abstract in jewel tones featuring an Ohm and buddhist imagery, by Jennifer Evans
the Mind swirls endlessly

There is no need for you to run out and buy special equipment to meditate with, or to build an elaborate ritual around your practice (unless that helps you remember to practice, of course.) You can meditate sitting in a chair, or on the floor, whichever is more comfortable for you. If you choose to sit on the floor, you may wish to grab a couple pillows to tuck under your seat to help with your posture and spinal alignment. The only equipment I really recommend, other than the pillow, is a timer.

Sit, with your hips canted back, spine in neutral posture, with your shoulders back and relaxed. You can put your hands in your lap, on your knees, or sit with your hands folded into mudras if you’d like, just don’t cross your arms over your chest or clench your hands into fists. You can sit lotus, half lotus, crossed legs, legs stretched before you, as long as it’s comfortable. Set your timer for no more than one minute starting out! Remember I said short and simple? I meant it! One minute spent in silent sitting meditation is fantastic for your stress and mindfulness, but it will be harder than you think it is. The mind resists sitting in non-thinking meditation, and you’ll discover that as soon as you settle in, a thousand thoughts will arise in yourself.

As thoughts arise, acknowledge them, but don’t follow them!

Thoughts don’t have to lead to an endless chain of thinking. You can allow a thought to arise, see that it exists, and then let it go. Continually return yourself to your un-thinking silent sitting state, without self judgment or emotional reaction. This is the hard part of meditation! Start with that one minute of sitting without thought, and slowly learn to quiet the mind and tame the self.

Every day sit in meditation in the morning, and at night before bed. Try not to meditate actually in bed, because it’s very easy to accidentally train yourself to sit for meditation and wind up taking a nap. Keep up your one minute long meditation for a week, then add 30 seconds each week afterward. Build up slowly to longer meditation sessions, and avoid frustrating yourself with too-long sessions in the beginning.

Tame the mind, and hone the ability of the self to focus.

If you want to learn energy work, trance, visualization, or other esoteric practices, it’s important to learn to meditate. Start your practice off on the right foot, and set yourself up for success. Slow, small, simple and consistent are your watchwords. If you want to read more, try Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki; I highly recommend Zen Mind to those interested in learning to sit meditation.

Let me know if you try meditation!


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