Today I read through many pages online with tips for meditators who are just beginning, and I copied some the lists from them: Zenhabits.org, Buddhaimonia.com, and Psychology Today. I have a different take on some of these points, so I’ve removed their descriptions and I’ll add my comments beside each one. Hope you find it useful!
1) Make it a Formal Practice. This one I disagree with a lot. There is no real need to meditate with anyone, under anyone, or to join any group in which to learn about meditation. There are many good books on the subject and now you can go to YouTube and see videos too. I’m partial also to my book – probably the easiest source of learning the bare basics – “Meditation for Beginners” you can find here.
2) Start with the Breath. I wouldn’t start with the breath. I recommend that people start with sitting and learning to sit and be still. Learning to get used to sitting and doing nothing but being aware of things as they pop up in the mind – emotions, touch sensations, hot/cold, pains in the body, etc. Only after the body and mind have calmed a bit can you get to breath. Concentration on the breath requires a calmness that doesn’t come immediately. If you start with the breath, you might quickly become disappointed.
3) Stretch First. You can… I mean, it doesn’t hurt, much except for the fact that it is adding something to all you really need to do, which is sit quietly. Try to stick with the absolute basics and don’t add anything extra. To me, stretching is extra. If you plan on sitting in an uncomfortable lotus or half-lotus position, then stretching will help. Thing is, do you need to sit in an uncomfortable lotus position? No… lol.
4) Meditate with Purpose. I disagree. Before you sit to meditate, you have a purpose – completing twenty minutes or so of meditation. As you sit and actually meditate, you can have the guideline of sitting to relax and then beginning to focus on the breath. I wouldn’t call it a purpose. The purpose is meditation itself. Don’t add anything to that. It’s more ‘extra’. Click HERE for minimalistic meditation at our other site.
5) Notice Frustration Creeping Up on You. Yes, this one is good – try to become aware of when you are becoming anxious, frustrated at not progressing, and any other mind state. Watching how the mind works is a part of meditation that will teach you more about yourself.
6) Experiment. Yes, absolutely. Sit on a straight-backed chair and rest your feet on the ground, your hands in your lap. Change your hands. Change to a reclining office chair to meditate. Sit on the floor against a wall or a couch. Try walking meditation. There is no one way to sit. Don’t try to sit like monks on a hard floor with ramrod straight back. There really is no point unless you’re trying to impress the abbot or your monk friends.
7) Feel Your Body Parts. Yes, this is good when you are first sitting down. Feel each part of the body, and relax it. Usually I start with the feet and move toward the head. You could even tense each body part first, then feel it relax completely, and move to the next. This is a great way to calm the body. The mind will also slowly calm down as you move through this exercise.
8) Choose a Specific Room in Your Home to Meditate. I agree and disagree. I usually meditated in one of the extra bedrooms on the carpeted floor. It was rather quiet and the temperature was nice. But, it didn’t really matter where I did it because I didn’t attach any special meaning to anywhere I meditated. Meaning, I could sit in the garage, on the floor, on top of the jacuzzi, in my car, on the grass in the backyard, in my living room or just about anywhere. Don’t have any magical thinking about the spot you choose, just sit and do it.
9) Read a Book (or two) on Meditation. I have two books published for Meditation for Beginners. You can get them here. My books are focused on a bare-bones approach without religion to fuzzy up the whole process. In my view, meditation need not have anything to do with religion or magical thinking of any kind. It’s just a physical act of sitting, and a mental act of focus and letting go of distractions. That leads to the most blissful states, and incredibly meaningful life changing realizations.
10) Commit for the Long Haul. Meditation is a Life-long Practice. Hmm, that sounds scary. It need not be a lifelong process at all. If done the way I suggest in the books, and here at my website, I think meditation can be a short-term focus and life-changing event. Sure you can use it anytime you choose – and it helps to re-center you, to re-balance you. But, if you go into meditation thinking it takes lifelong effort – you’ll be quickly dissuaded because at first it is so boring and frustrating! Read my first book. Commit for the short-term, a month, two months. See if you notice any meaningful changes. Feel free to ask me questions as you need to. Some will be answered in this Meditation Tips section, others can be asked anytime by chat, video, or voice – here.
11) Listen to Instructional Tapes and CDs. I prefer books because you can take notes one time and be done with it. I think when people listen to audio or watch videos over and over they get attached to the teacher, or to the media itself. They start to think that continually watching new things is essential for their meditation practice progress. It isn’t. What you need is to start with the essentials, get it down, and move forward on your own without more books, audiobooks, videos, or teaching. There is precious little to really KNOW about meditation in order to ‘get it.’ Once you have the basics down, you can move right through the jhanas basically on auto-pilot without knowing how to get there. It’s already in your head, and it’s already ready to go – you just need to prepare your mind.
12) Generate Moments of Awareness During the Day. Sure – find periods of time during the day to be mindful. It’s a good practice and helps with your meditation, in my belief.
13) Make Sure You Will not Be Disturbed. This is fairly crucial, but also just about impossible to make happen consistently. Take it for granted, you’ll be disturbed. You’ll hear dogs bark, planes pass overhead, horns beeping, birds chattering, and all sorts of other distractions. You will be disturbed, but the key is to not spend any more time noticing it than necessary to just note it and let it go. It’s not important to your practice, it’s a distraction, so just let it go and get back to relaxing body and mind, and then concentrating on the breath.
14) Notice Small Adjustments. For this one, the author was speaking about small movements of the body as being important. This is true for some adjustments. You could adjust the position of your ankle on the hard floor just slightly and remove the pain entirely. You can shift your back to a little straighter position, and you will sit more easily – with more comfort, allowing more relaxation of the muscles, and your mind to take place.
One of the big changes I notice is when I find myself looking down too sharply at the floor in front of me, close to my feet if sitting in a half-lotus position or just cross-legged. When I straighten my neck and look outward in front of me more (eyes still closed) I notice a level of relaxation, of ease, that wasn’t there before. Sometimes it opens up the mind a bit more. It’s hard to explain, but maybe you’ll experience it.
Do experiment with small adjustments that help you sit more comfortably.
15) Use a Candle. I’d say use one stick of incense instead. Couple reasons. The incense provides a very small, unwavering point of light to look at – to focus on while trying to get the mind to calm down. The candle flickers and is too bright. Also the incense has a scent which you can follow into your nose. Another good object of meditation when just starting out and when you want to have a new way to look at the breath. Finally, the incense stick goes out after 10 minutes or so – and then you just close your eyes and continue meditating. The candle stays lit for hours and can be distracting. Just my take on it…
16) Do NOT Stress. I don’t know. That’s like saying, “Do not eat!” Seems a bit silly. Stress is part of life, and it will be part of the very simple act of meditation. We stress over so many things – especially not being able to do something we want to do. Meditation is indeed like “taming the puppy,” as some have called it. You can’t make a puppy do what you want immediately, but over time it comes in line. Your mind too – will stress sometimes at first – maybe even when you’re well into a fruitful practice, and you can’t get into jhana again – you may stress. The stress will hold you back from getting there again. You have to let it go – like everything else!
17) Do It Together. There’s no point in meditating with anyone else. It isn’t a social activity. There is more pressure, more self-consciousness when meditating with others around – any person, any group. Just meditate in private.
18) Be Grateful. This is fluff, there’s nobody to be grateful to really. It does make us feel good to be grateful about something or to someone – but, don’t confuse it with meditation. It’s a nice thing to do in life if you want. Don’t make it a necessity.
19) You Can Meditate Anywhere. Yes, sounds good.
20) You Don’t Need to Close Your Eyes. True. For a while anyway. There are a couple phases of meditation. The first is calming the body and mind down. During this time you can keep your eyes open and focus on the burning orange of an incense stick, or a point on the floor or wall. As your mind calms, it is better to close your eyes so you have no external input at all. It helps the mind to be able to focus on the tickle of the breath at the nose better.
21) Start Simple. Absolutely. Don’t get caught up in trying to focus on the breath right away. You might not do that for a week or so. Initially just sit and watch the body and mind – what happens. What thoughts pop up? What fears? What anxiety? What aches and pains? What voices do you hear? What are thoughts – visual? Auditory?
22) Find What Works Best For You. Yes, for sure. As I said earlier, there are no real rules – just guidelines. Stick to the basics and experiment a bit to see what works for you. You might be someone who, in their first session can sit and focus on the breath at the nose with few distractions. If so, do it – why not? Other sessions you might have trouble. No problem, sit and let the body and mind calm slowly before you start to concentrate on the breath.
23) It Usually Takes Practice (but not always). I don’t know anyone that sat and went into jhana in a week or a month. It probably has happened with someone, but it isn’t an often occurring experience. Look at meditation as a process… at least a few months process… a year. Look at it as an ever-evolving process in which changes are taking place even though you don’t see or feel anything. Trust me, changes are taking place. All the sudden you’ll find one day that you’re at first jhana and you can’t believe it. Changes happen with time. Just be consistent with sitting twenty minutes or so a day and see your life change before your very eyes.
24) Soft Focus, Not Hard. When you’re attempting to focus on the breath, the focus is easy. You don’t berate yourself if you cannot hold focus for more than a second or two. You don’t get upset over it. You just try again without the frustration, anxiety, or anything extra. Nothing about your inability to focus needs to be thought about or dwelled upon – just quickly refocus.
Once you can focus and you’re able to watch four or five breaths entirely, you can lock in and focus ‘hard’ and entirely on the breath. This switches into a new gear and things get ‘serious’ in a way. This hard focus leads to advanced states.
25) Don’t Worry Whether You’re Doing It Right or Not. You should pretty much know if you’re doing it right or not, so worrying about it means you don’t know. If you don’t know, read one or both of my books. Start with the 22-day course. Then, if you still don’t know – you can ask me a question at the link above.
26) Don’t Worry About Your Hands. Personally, my hands can really only be very comfortable resting in my lap, palms up. My right hand is usually cupping my left hand lightly. Palms are slightly open, and thumbs are not touching. However, small variations are OK for me too. You may experiment with your hands to see what is best for you. Ideally you can use the resting hands and your arms as a slight support as you sit – if sitting on the floor, or somewhere other than in a chair.
27) Posture is Important. It is and it isn’t. Your back should be relatively straight. If you’re sitting on the floor cross-legged, or in any lotus position, your back should be really straight to balance you out and allow your muscles to relax. If you’re in a chair – your back will be straight anyway. If you’re reclining on a chair, your back is straight, but leaning back and there is no problem – your neck and back will be pretty straight.
There is no need to sit on the floor like new monks at a Buddhist temple. Sometimes I almost laugh out loud at some of the ridiculously straight and uncomfortable postures I see monks adopt here in Thailand!
28) Don’t Sit and Meditate on a Full Stomach. I did this all the time because I usually meditated after dinner. I didn’t eat much, so my stomach wasn’t uncomfortable. I was more concerned with the excess saliva in my mouth after eating – especially something sweet – or bread. Suck a used wet tea bag for a few seconds, it’s bitter enough to dry your mouth out and might help.
29) Half-smile. This is great as the final relaxation technique where you feel pretty calm, almost totally relaxed, and yet something is still missing. A little half-smile – though it’s only in your mind, helps to relax you totally and can facilitate jhana states coming more easily. I’ve used this a number of times and highly recommend it. You could also physically smile a bit – same thing.
30) When Questions arise, Stay Focused. When anything arises as you’re trying to keep your attention on the breath at the nose, just watch it arise and return to focusing on the breath. This is the game for a while – for months maybe. 🙂
31) Count Breaths. This is a focusing technique to use when you’re able to focus for a breath or two at a time. Count them, not with big numbers flashing in your head or anything, but just be aware that you completed one breath, another, another. If your focus waivers, go back to one again and try to complete one breath in total awareness, and so on.
At some point the counting drops off as you get to eight to ten breaths or so and you have rock solid concentration on the breath. You may hold this for dozens or hundreds of breaths if you care to. Or, stop looking at the breath and see what appears for you to concentrate on instead – some see balls of light or other objects. Some feel objects. I used to feel a tingling in my hands – and I focused on that. This led to jhana.
32) Set a Timer. If you need to stop at a certain time, yes, set a meditation timer to let you know when you have to go. Otherwise, just go until you feel like you want to get up.
33) Don’t Sit Longer Than You Can. Sounds reasonable! Really there’s no reason to sit for six hours. Not even two hours or an hour if it doesn’t feel good. Work up to it if you want, but know this – I usually sat 20 minutes at a time. Thirty minutes many times… One hour on occasion and more than that very, very rarely.
34) Start Sitting for 5 Minutes. I would say to start sitting for fifteen or twenty minutes. No matter really, just get started!
35) Have a Meditation Space. I don’t think this is necessarily uhm, necessary. lol. If you find a place that’s comfortable, great, just go back there. If you find eight places you are comfortable in then rotate around as it makes sense. No matter really. Don’t make things matter to your practice that don’t matter at all. What matters is having at least one place you can sit and meditate with some regularity. The place, whether you are sitting on top of a Buddhist mountain shrine in Krabi, Thailand with me, or you’re in a cave in Western Ohio, or on your basement floor, makes no difference at all. It’s probably much better on your basement floor.
36) Read a Book, or Get Instruction. As I said earlier, just read one book, two books on the same system. Get the basics down and go. Don’t read many books or get too much instruction. I mean, how much can someone instruct you about this very simple process? Not much. Then at some point, and soon, it becomes too much – it becomes extra fluff you don’t need. Just do it… be your own student and teacher. If you want to start with the most minimalistic meditation system I know, try “Meditation Answers.”
37) Don’t Restrict Your Practice to the Meditation Cushion. At least try walking meditation and mirror meditation if you can find one big enough to see yourself in as you sit to meditate with your eyes open. It’s quite an experience.
38) Get a Good Audiobook (or a couple). Or none. When you overdo it with cramming more into your head than you need, confusion results. You will progress much faster by sticking to the very simple game of calming the body and mind, and then learning to focus on the breath, and learning to let go of distractions. That’s the entire thing in a nutshell. That’s everything – there’s nothing more to learn. The rest of what you learn is from the religion, from beliefs, from people that want to share their stories and immerse you in a way of life. Little of it helps with meditation, it just takes you away from it.
39) Try Guided Meditations. I have considered making some of these as videos to give to people, and I still may do it. I really value my own experience which incorporated no guided meditations at all. I think there is real value in just doing it yourself. However, I can also see that some meditation students would benefit from seeing how a session should go – the process of it. So, I may yet create one or two.
40) Let Others Know You’re Serious. This is funny. I mean, why would you let others know you’re serious. Just be serious yourself. Tell yourself you want to make progress in this area, to learn about the body and mind, and just go do it. In fact, don’t tell anyone. Just keep it your secret. So many times people get into meditation as a social outlet, a way to meet good people. That’s fine, but if you want to progress through meditation – just do it yourself and you’ll probably progress much more easily.
41) Reduce Distractions. Right, reduce them as much as possible, and then forget about them as quickly as they arise. You’ll never find an absolutely perfect place to meditate. Well, that’s not true. After you meditate a while and can easily let go of distractions, just about anywhere becomes a perfect place. 😉
42) Meditate with Friends and Family. No, don’t ever do this unless you’re doing it as an experiment to learn from. Meditation is a solo ride. Just do it yourself, not in a group, not with a guru. Talk with friends and family. Spend time with friends and family doing fun stuff. Meditation has nothing to do with other people – it’s you, your body, your mind – that’s it.
43) Sit In the Morning. I almost always sat in the evening because it was convenient and I was very awake. I think if you’re awake in the morning, it’s a great time because your mind hasn’t had much time to become stressed over events of the day.
44) If Your Interest Wanes, Reaffirm Your Practice. I think if you become bored of what you’re doing, that’s completely normal. That’s probably what happens to all of us as we begin. Why? Because we think we’re going to be flying through the heavens in our meditative sessions – and when we realize all that is happening is we’re getting frustrated trying to focus on the breath, it looks like we’ve been under some delusion. Know this – you’ll become bored and won’t understand WHY you’re meditating eventually. It happened to me dozens of times.
It’s good just to sit through those trying times and watch the mind. It wants to be active. It WANTS to throw you something to think about. You’re not playing that game, and it gets frustrated. It want’s to play a different game, a more interesting game. You have to get over these periods of waning interest and keep going. The benefit awaits those that persevere. Look at each session as a game. The game is to focus on the breath over and over and over without getting tired of it – just refocusing again and again. When you do that for twenty minutes, you’ve accomplished something amazing. The hardest game in the world is beating your own mind. Meditation is the process of taming your mind and making it do what you choose to do with it. Win the game… you’ll be a much better person after you do.
45) Discover the Power of Silence. At some point you will experience complete silence. The body isn’t felt. The mind is either focused solidly on the breath or some other object of focus, or the mind is completely empty. In silence something is born… it’s an awareness that is pure… untainted. It’s not something easily described at all. You will have to discover it yourself… and it is well worth discovering…
46) Don’t Jump Up. Not that anyone does, but get up slowly from a sitting session and be mindful for as long as you can. It extends the ‘meditative high’ or ‘meditative awareness’ and it feels good.
47) Have Fun. I don’t know. Sitting is not usually seen as fun, but if you look at it like you are just relaxing your mind and body for a while – at the end of a stressful day, then that can be the reward itself. In a way it’s fun because you are getting somewhere every time you sit. You’re progressing whether you know it or not. It’s fun to think what is ahead.
48) Find a Community. I’d say, don’t. There are just far too many distractions when you join any organization, group, religion. Too many things that cloud your vision. Meditation is the act of removing all distractions, not adding new ones. A group is a distraction. Try to see it that way. If you don’t care about meditation and progressing, then yes, by all means – join a group to socialize with. That can be fun and surround you with good people. Don’t have any illusions of the group helping your meditative progress.
49) Mindfulness Isn’t About Quieting the Mind. Right, sort of. There is no conscious effort to eliminate outside noise or distractions. Mindfulness, and there are a couple of types, involves being aware of all that is. Just being aware of reality as it’s happening, and not being at odds with any of it. Just going with the flow of reality, so to speak.
50) Meditation Forms are Generally Separated by Position, but there are Various Forms of Meditation for Each Position. No idea what this means, but I’d just say that you can meditate in different positions – sitting, standing, or walking. I’ve even climbed stairs and meditated while running. While moving around and meditating, you probably don’t want to focus on the breath at your nose because the movement will be too distracting. Focus on the movement of your feet instead.
51) Create a Lifestyle and a Daily Practice, Not a Habit. I’d say create a habit. Just something you do daily that helps you feel better and moves you toward a better life. If you want to create a lifestyle – join a religion or some meditation organization.
52) Your Mindfulness is Non-judgmental, Thoughts Themselves are Not. I think mindfulness doesn’t involve judging, right. But, also, not all thoughts involve any judging at all either. Not sure what the person was thinking here, but I definitely don’t see all thoughts as having a judging component.
53) Don’t Take Your Thoughts, Well… Personally. As you start to watch your mind you’ll see that thoughts pop up continually – and they may have nothing to do with you. Meaning, they might not be something you want, you like, you’d ever say. They are just random thoughts that pop up in everyone’s mind – but they are not YOU. Your thoughts are generated by the huge recorder – which is your brain. Your brain stores trillions of things. It combines them in ways that produce thoughts. Some of these thoughts are interesting and you follow them, you think them. Most are nonsense. You’ll see that as you begin meditating in silence.
54) Stop Trying to Win at Meditation. This is a great one. I wholeheartedly agree and disagree on this one. Winning the game is something that you must set your mind on doing. However, you don’t do it during meditation, you do it before. You do it after. During the meditation session you just keep taming the puppy – by refocusing on the breath at the nose after being distracted. If you don’t finally win the game and reach the point where you can focus entirely – 100% on about ten breaths in a row, then you won’t go anywhere in jhana. That level of concentration is necessary – essential – to real progress toward reaching jhana and other states.
55) You Can Just Be, Too. Yeah dude… just be and let it go… lol. Not sure what was meant here either, but maybe they’re alluding to the idea that one need not be DOING all the time. One can just sit quietly and watch the world, watch the body in mindfulness and be that. No need to be something else. No need to crave something else – to want, desire.
56) Start Where You Zone Out. I am completely lost on this one. Better not to zone out at all in my experience. I have been so sleepy that I started to zone out – and in that weird space between sleep and consciousness. That isn’t where you want to be. That isn’t the goal of any meditation. Stay awake, and alert at all times.
57) Look for “Moments of Nourishment.” There are certain points, certain experiences where you just know you’ve seen something cool – and made some progress. Remember these moments – write them down so you can refer to them later when you might be disheartened. There are many, MANY little breakthroughs that can give you a mental energy burst – a positivity burst that can help propel you through your practice. Enjoy these – they’re going to help push you through when you feel like stopping. Remember – there are always more of these ahead – and, they get infinitely better too!
58) Understand the Principles of Meditation. There are few, very few. I think people complicate meditation so much that it becomes this massive puzzle to solve. Really there are very few major points to learn and practice. I hope you read this book because it gives you the basics to follow as simply as I can explain them.
59) Don’t Drink Coffee or Alcohol Before Meditating. This makes some sense, but I have done both. If you drink just a little beer – half a glass, it can help your mind relax a bit. Your focus may not be affected. I used to drink coffee or tea before meditating all the time, and it kept me awake. It probably also produced more thoughts and anxiety than necessary. Experiment with it and see what happens for you.
60) Finally, Don’t Give Up. There is something to be said for persevering through all the little trials and tribulations of a meditation practice and finally reaching some jhana or other mystical experiences. I think it’s possible for each one of you reading this – you just have to commit to not giving up. If you are stuck, let me know – ask me a question to get on the right track again. I’ll bet I can help!