Tag Archives: meditation

Getting Started with Meditation

There are hundreds of styles of meditation and most of them are valuable. What’s important is to pick a style and stay with it for long enough to settle into it (a couple of weeks) before trying to evaluate it. One of the reasons I point out that there are multiple styles is that two sets of basic instructions may contradict each other if they come from different traditions – this doesn’t mean one is wrong, there are simply several approaches that work.

To pick a style, find something where you can connect to the instructions or the instructor or the community around the practice. As long as you don’t dislike it, it will probably do to begin. If the style or instructor is renowned, but you don’t like it or connect with them, find something else.

To evaluate a practice of meditation, you ought to find after practicing for a while that your emotional reactivity in general is dropping, you are finding yourself becoming more open hearted towards others and that your ability to remain aware of and responsive to the present moment is increasing. Various other exotic effects, visions and capacities may appear or disappear with different practices but if reactivity, open-heartedness and presentness are not progressing, then find something else.

Any of these three may drop for short periods – you may in particular have periods where you get more reactive – but in general over time, this is the trajectory to look for. If after practicing a certain method for a while (months or years) and you feel you’re stagnating, it might be time to pick a different teacher or practice.

I say all this because practice, any practice, done consistently is better than faffing around with half a dozen different practices done intermittently. To benefit from meditation you need to find how to practice daily; the most effective approach is usually to eventually practice morning and evening.

Ideally, find a time in your day at which you can reliably practice. Usually this is an “elbow time” when you are moving from one phase of the day to the next – after waking, but before starting work; after finishing work, but before travelling home; after arriving at your home train station, but before walking to your house etc.

Some people find it helpful to have a regular place – a spot in the house with a cushion or a certain park under a certain tree. 

To establish a regular practice, work first on establishing these regularities, before worrying too much about how long or how intense your practice might be. Five minutes done every day at a stable time for two weeks will set your regularity much better than an hour done randomly. As your regularity stabilises, you can extend the time to ten minutes, then twenty.

For some of us, regularity is a massive struggle. I am one of these people. It may be best, at the beginning, to simply meditate opportunistically – at the train station, in a park on the way to a meeting – but frequently. In my experience, if you keep this up, you will start to become enticed by the effects of meditation and annoyed at your lack of progress, so that you are organically drawn to begin a more consistent and regular practice.

So, then, what to actually practice? This is actually the easiest bit. I would advise searching for “basic meditation” on a search engine or on YouTube and then applying what I’ve written to picking one to get started on .

You can read instructions:

You can watch videos:

You can listen to audio guides:

Learning to meditate and practicing regularly is a key skill in your ongoing life journey. It aids your personal development, assists your capacity to be present and open to others, provides a stable basis for the difficult work of inner healing and enables the broad quest to be more vividly You. 

Get your bum on a cushion!

Vale S. N. Goenka 1924-2013

I totally missed that Goenka died last year. I’d say it’s a loss, but he was such an outstanding example of someone who set up a spiritual organisation designed to outlast himself, I doubt the whole operation barely hiccuped. But I will voice some sadness at his passing.

Goenka’s network of Vipassana centres with their characteristic ten-day retreats are a vast, global meditation training machine which may well still exist in a century or more. His recorded voice echoes in hundreds of locations at this very moment advising meditators to notice the reactions in their bodies, arising and passing in each moment, with equanimity.

Those retreats, amongst people in my world, have become the de facto gateway between “I’m trying to meditate” and “I’m serious about meditation”. They are also one of the major, popular influences broadening a perspective of Buddhist meditation beyond just “mindfulness”. Millions of people have been introduced to serious meditation through his work, many of them going on to practice, study and then initiate their own schools or meditation centres all over the world. His influence is incalculable.

So… Satya Narayan Goenka, on behalf of a world who may never of heard your name, but which has definitely felt your influence in countless ways – Thank you.

Obituaries:

An older interview with SN in Shambhala Sun

A Little Office

For those interested in daily prayer and for whom the Divine Office is a bit too full on, here’s a little office that can be said once a day or morning and evening, as you wish.

Opening

Stand or kneel. Say the Name slowly.

In the name of the +Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

With devotion.

Open my lips O Lord : and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

O God make speed to save me : O Lord make haste to help me.

Psalmody

Chant the psalm for this office. If you don’t use a psalter, just start at Psalm 1 and read the next one at each subsequent prayertime. Just chant in a monotone, if you are worried about your singing, but chant.

Do your best to keep your mind harnessed to the words of the chant, returning your attention to the chant when it drifts.

Once you’ve chanted the psalm, you may move into Lectio Divina based on the text or simply move on to the reading.

Reading

Using either the lectionary reading for the day or a reading you choose – perhaps by simply working your way through a Gospel or other book of your choice – read the text aloud.

Optionally, move through the phases of Lectio Divina – lectio, ruminatio, oratio and contemplatio.

Contemplation

The preceding phases help to quiet the mind and settle the subtle body, which makes this an ideal moment for:

  • Shamatha meditation
  • Hesychastic prayer
  • Centering prayer

Prayer

From your heart, pray as you will. You may choose to:

  • intercede for those in need of prayer;
  • offer gratitude for blessings you have experienced;
  • offer praise to the Divine for the ongoing sacrament of life
  • reflect on the ways you have not lived up to your aspirations and pray for release from the debts you’ve incurred.

If there are several prayer times in the day – consider focusing on a particular kind of prayer every day at that time.

Closing

Slowly, treasuring the meaning of each phrase, with devotion.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy Name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory
Forever, Amen.

Lord, bless me and bring me to wholeness, compassion and understanding.
Amen