Here, for all the other meditation newbies like myself, are some of the things I have learned, packaged neatly into 10 humble tips:
- Find a community to practice with. Meditation is a hard discipline. I could not have started without the support from my community, at IMC. I am also discovering the beauty of developing an online community through Twitter. The two complement each other. My online friends are available 24x7. At IMC, I get the full impact from being in the physical presence of teachers and other students.
- Find a teacher that you like. He or she will keep inspiring you as you develop your practice, and guide you when needed. I have chosen to study with Gil Fronsdal. Gil's a wonderful teacher, and fortunately I don't live very far from IMC, where he teaches. With the Internet, and thanks to YouTube, and podcasts, it is possible to have access to great teachers, regardless of your location. Readings are also another way to soak up wisdom from contemporary teachers. I have learned a lot from reading Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein, and Sylvia Boorstein, amongst others.
- Commit to a daily practice, and stick to a set length of time. 30' works for me. I have grown very found of the timer on my iPhone. At first, I was looking for fancy zen timer apps. Now, I just use the regular timer, set to a neutral ring tone. Bells and whistles are extra when it comes to meditation, . . . :) What the timer does, is it keeps me accountable, and it delivers me from the burden of keeping track of time.
- Find a space where you can practice relatively undisturbed. I don't mean complete silence, for that is not how life is, and it is good to make room for outside life during practice. On the other hand, you don't want to be in a place with too many distractions. Being subjected to your roommate arguing with his girlfriend, or banging pots in the kitchen, is not ok. You may need to adjust your practice time for when home is most quiet.
- Find a meditation posture that works for you. I suffer from chronic back pain, so no lotus for me! I am finding sitting in a chair with a straight back works well for me. When I am tired, lying is also good. But everyone's different. This does not mean, indulging every itch and ache, but rather determining what is good vs. bad pain. In my case, it would be foolish to make my back condition worse.
- Start with the breath. And go back to it, after each diversion from the thinking mind. Each time, paying attention to the myriad of ways that the breath can entertain you. What I like about the breath, is I don't have to do anything. It happens, regardless, and independently from the thinking process.
- Take notes. Of your thoughts, and feelings, and sensations in the body. And of the way you apprehend them. Like. Don't like. Indifferent. It's all grist for the mill. It took me a while to get the part about my relationship to the thoughts and feelings. I found that realization to be extremely freeing, and a great source of inner strength. It has taught me to be more interested in the way I deal with my thoughts and feelings, rather than in the content itself. This is what I interpret detachment to means.
- Say no, sometimes. Not all thoughts are good, or timely. And some, can be especially sticky. This is when you need to exert your will, and stand up for your happiness. I tend to be a busy bee, always planning, thinking up new ideas. While not bad, creative ideas have no place during meditation. "Not, now". Same with unwholesome thoughts, that risk taking you down the path of suffering, quick, if you are not careful. I have learned from Blanche Hartman to say "No, not taking that train". You can say the same.
- Turn your attention to the outside. When your attention starts to wane, as it will inevitably, and tiredness sets in, and even the breath does not do it, use outside stimuli as a new resting place for your attention. You can keep plenty busy, noticing the variety of sounds, and rhythms, and the way they play off each other. Birds chirping, cars in the street, children at play, construction workers hammering away, dogs barking . . . all manifestations of the life around you at a given moment.
- Keep it simple. The main thing is to pay attention. If you are psychologically minded as I am, you may be inclined to interpret, and assign meaning to your thoughts, and your feelings. Make connections to past events, and inferences about the future. Fish for insights . . . Don't do that. Instead just be a keen witness of each moment. That's all.
Now, I would love to hear from you. What are some of the ways that have helped your meditation practice?