Understandably, a bit weird, but you never know when a spark can lead to a fire - perhaps this post will be the spark you need to kindle your curiosity and start a practice.
The benefits of meditation are well documented. I can say from over forty years of experience that meditation can be life-changing and that those “benefits” are 1200% real.
My qualifications are typical of other “so-called” meditation masters. I’ve practiced a lot, done silent retreats, and studied under some excellent teachers. Mastery of meditation is a hard thing to demonstrate since there’s typically an audience of one - and if you’re really good, there’s an audience of no one. :-)
My colleagues here at ArcStone asked me to share a bit - so here it is...
How to start?
You need four things to start.
1. A dedicated space with a comfortable spot to sit.
Before we can do anything in life, we need to set up the space to do it. Fortunately, meditation is very simple - no special clothes or gear required, just a quiet space set up and ready.
By “set up”, I mean dedicated. It has to be there, calling you - with no friction to impede getting into it. By having space, it becomes an extension of your identity, quietly urging, “I am a meditator, I am a meditator…” If you need to alter your space, change the room around, warn your partner that you’re gonna use the living room so don’t bug me for 15 minutes, it ain’t going to work.
Meditation, like any skill, takes space, time and requires practice. This is the hardest part of learning to meditate well, the basic skill of practicing every day. Everything else after is easier than establishing the deceptively simple habit of daily practice.
This leads to a core truth about practice - you will never make consistent gains with any skill, unless you have a space to practice in.
So if you want to learn to meditate - create a space to practice. It is also helpful to have the temporal space and practice at the same time every day as well. The golden time for me is first thing in the morning. The house is quiet and I’m wide awake - you’ll have to experiment and see what works for you.
So number one requirement - you need to dedicate space and time.
2. A timer.
Speaking of time - you need a timer. My teacher lights a stick of incense which burns for around 45 minutes or so. That’s his timer.
I used a Zen Clock for years and have been using my Apple Watch timer or Insight Timer (a mobile app) that has a great timer in it.
Once you start sitting regularly, you will get distracted and fidgety. If you don’t set a timer, you will quit when it starts to get boring or uncomfortable. Which as a beginner, will be immediate. Your mind will start wandering, then you’ll wonder why you’re doing this, and aren’t we a bit peckish? Then you’ll get up and eat some Goldfish. That’s what the timer is for - to keep your butt seated until it dings, just for this bit of dedicated time.
3. Some basic instructions.
The most common meditation instruction by far is to follow the sensations of breathing. The breath is the perfect choice as an object of meditation because it is constantly changing and highly portable. You rarely go anywhere without it. When you attend closely to your breathing, a rich world of sensations opens up and your attention now has an anchor, something to hang onto. Rather than chasing random thoughts and sensations, you have an object to rest your mind on and carry you. Watching your breath steadies your mind and drops you into what is happening right now.
A simple practice, watching your breath. Simple and hard. You will get distracted by something - an itch, a noise, a thought. Then the next task is simple. Catch yourself as soon as you notice the distraction and go back to your breath.
Like a weight lifter pumping iron, you are catching distractions and going back to your breath. Those are the reps - meditation 101. Drop and give me 20 minutes.
Over time a stillness will develop and the time between distractions will lengthen. Like a surfer of the mind, you will catch longer and longer waves of stillness and then… Well shit - this is hard to describe - all kinds of things might happen to you. For me - states of bliss/ecstasy, amazing feelings of poignant clarity, a sense of oneness/unity with the universe, smelling sounds, insights into past trauma and behavioral patterns, visions of various sorts, wonderfully deep peace, spiritual renewal, and a wellspring of strength. Not to mention better cholesterol and blood pressure readings.
4. The right mindset.
My teacher encouraged me to get into the right mindset with some powerful metaphors. I nicknamed them, “the three amigos.”
Patience. Have the patient, disciplined work ethic of a wise and loving father teaching his precocious firstborn the family trade.
Gentleness. Be as gentle and nurturing with yourself as a mother bathing her newborn.
Be Playfully Curious. Cultivate the curious playful humor of a twinkle-eyed crazy-wise grandpappy who relishes life, appreciates humor, and gets the Great Cosmic Giggle.
In essence be patient, gentle, and playfully curious about the whole damned thing.
You are training your mind, it takes time - be nice, be kind to yourself. Like training a puppy. You don’t kick a puppy when training him to sit. You give him treats, you praise his furry little butt. Be at least that nice to yourself and be grateful that you have a safe space to practice and get to know your mind. If I were to add a fourth amigo, it would be to feel thankful for the opportunity to meditate.
Lastly, a bonus fifth piece of advice that’s not needed to start, but can really help you keep going once you do. Find a teacher.
Anne Lamott, my favorite writing teacher wrote, “My mind is a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone.” A teacher can be a mirror, hold you accountable to practice, and keep you from wasting years practicing the wrong things. I’ve assembled some trustworthy resources to explore below if you’re curious for more instruction. I am also happy to chat if I can be of assistance - dcarnes (at) arcstone.com