8 tips for starting to meditate, and books to explore

Several friends have asked me, do I have any tips for starting to meditate? Yes! First, it might be helpful to paint more of how I got into all this. In 2006, I’d witnessed my longtime friend Jeremy’s transition into a calmer, more self-confident, happier state of being, because of his starting to practice yoga and meditation. I’d already been experimenting with yoga, and felt more healthy and relaxed than ever.

I decided in January 2007 to try meditating. I constantly struggled, and given that I often felt tired from my job, I would hit snooze through my scheduled morning meditation sessions. Other times, I would awake on time, but would remember an important task or notice the “new email” Red LED alight on my Blackberry (which served as my timer), and feel compelled to address it. Because of perceived failures like these in the spring of 2007, I gave up for about six months.

Then, with my wife on our honeymoon that fall, I decided to try again. I knew I might have a chance at keeping the new routine, since I wouldn’t feel pressured by worldly obligations. And in the past several months, I’d met a few more friends, who had developed a meditation routine. I remember how calm and centered these friends seemed. I was also becoming more aware, that I could loosen the bonds of fear that my mind could create, around topics like achievement, high performance, planning, and obligation. This new awareness, combined with the inspiration received from friends, made me want to try again. The goal was not to block out thoughts that caused stress or fear. Rather, the goal was to operate from a calmer, more compassionate state, towards anything that would happen during a day. And though it wasn’t an explicit goal, my aim was to develop a calmer state of mind, which would allow me to achieve more towards my goals of helping others, and realizing my full potential, with less stress.

I started by committing to 30 minutes each morning, and have stuck to it daily for about 5 months. It is now part of my waking process, and I never question the need to do it. Yet at the same time, it’s probably one of the largest challenges of my day. With eyes closed, without the visual and thought interactions with the outside world, the meditator sits through one distracted thought after another. The challenge is to stay fully present. Fully compassionate and present, no matter what thought arises. And over time, after working with this daily, one starts to become aware of how you can allow this “presentness” in your daily activities. It’s really there all along, but for me, it was not something I was used to.

And, I’ve heard from wise masters, that you can get to a state of almost laughing at your thoughts, as they come up. I believe the Dalai Lama said, “there’s nothing more amusing than one’s own thoughts!” (paraphrase). I’m still not there yet, and will often have thoughts that seem so serious, such as “ah, I must plan out what I will do for project X”, or “If I were to type this email, I’d start by writing…”.

Anyway, here are the tips and initial resources I found hepful. I’ll update as I come across additional material.

Guidelines for starting:

  • Meditate because the time is right in your life.
    • Don’t start because you think you should, or because someone wants you to. Do it because you feel it is the appropriate next step in your personal evolution.
  • Find a technique that fits you.
    • Some people sit and watch the breath. Some dance. Some practice tai-chi or yoga.
  • Start with a short time period, at the same time every day.
    • I think my starting immediately at 30 minutes was over-doing it, and can turn off most first-timers. Instead, I suggest starting with 10 to 15 minutes, at the same time every day.
  • Stick to your time period
    • It’s okay to check your clock once or twice, but always meditate through the end of the timer. You’ll find this is good training to realize that, no matter what stressful thought enters your mind while meditating, that almost everything can wait a few minutes.
  • If you get trapped in a really bothersome thought, try counting your breath
    • I heard a suggestion today at the SF Zen Center, to try just counting to 3. Inhale-exhale “1”, inhale-exhale “2”, etc… If you get lost, just start at 1 again. If you get to 3, start from 1 again.
  • Give it at least 4 weeks.
    • I tried a “40 day trial”, marking the calendar as I went. I created a calendar on a blank piece of paper, and for each day, instead of checking a box, I sketched something that reminded me of what I saw upon completing the meditation. A sign. An inquisitive bird. Someone talking loudly. This also helped me track myself, while not approaching it like other tasks or projects in life.
  • Remember that meditation is about creating a deep “ocean of calm”, underlying the waves of your everyday thoughts (as Matthieu Ricard has put it).
    • The goal isn’t some super achievement, or even enlightenment. You’ll find, as you explore meditation, that the more goal-oriented you feel in meditating, the more distracted and uncomfortable meditating may feel. The less you try to achieve, the more you simply allow the moment to be, the more you will uncover who you are, buried under all those thoughts.
  • Find a place that feels comfortable.
    • This doesn’t have to be a quiet place. Being around noise and others, can be a great way to see thoughts appearing in your mind, in reaction to those sounds.


Books helpful for learning about meditation

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Texts helpful for brief reflection, following meditation. I found most helpful was to read only a few pages, perhaps rereading at the same sitting, or later in the day, to fully appreciate the teaching.

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Recordings that can be helpful reminders during your day, to return to mindfulness:

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Books I’m reading now: Albert Schweitzer (Out of my Life and Thought), Hazrat Inayat Khan (The Sufi Message, Vol. 9, The Unity of Religious Ideals).

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4 comments

  1. Great post, Andrew. To your reading list, I’d like to add a set of notes on mediation I’ve found particularly helpful, drawn from the writings of Ken Wilber (and he essentially integrates his lessons from many famous gurus throughout history).

    They can be found here:
    http://www.integralworld.net/index.html?meditation.html

    Like

  2. Thanks, Tory!

    Like

  3. They just revamped the site and changed the link for the meditation notes:
    http://www.integralworld.net/meditation.html

    Like

  4. Cool – thanks Tory! I’m looking forward to trying some of these exercises

    Like

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