When I first started my own meditation practice, I felt absolutely, completely, and utterly…
Perhaps it would have been better starting a meditation practice before the advent of the Internet. However, nowadays? There’s literally mountains of text, audio, and video content you could go through on the topic of meditation.
And yet, oddly enough, I’ve found that it’s difficult to find quality information on how to get started the right way. Sure, there are a ton of “How to Meditate” guides on the internet, but I’m not talking about that.
The thing with meditation is, there are a lot of different things that come up along the way, especially in the beginning, and these ‘how-to’ guides generally only give basic advice on how to basically do the practice.
That’s the easy part.
So, I’ve put together a few tips that I wish I would have had when I first started meditating. If you’re looking to jump into this life-changing daily practice, here’s a little guidance on how to get the most from it right from the beginning, and avoid some critical mistakes that beginners tend to make.
Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It’s like the ultimate rest. It’s better than the best sleep you’ve ever had. It’s a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh.
– Hugh Jackman
Below are five of my best tips for starting off right in your meditation practice. The list of things that can come up when meditating is longer than you would believe, but this should help you surmount the most common.
1. You can meditate anywhere
Meditation isn’t just about sitting in a crazy difficult folded leg position (the full-lotus) with your eyes closed. You can meditate anywhere, anytime of day, and in multiple positions with multiple forms of meditation.
Do adopt a formal, set time to meditate in the morning or at night before you retire for bed, however, know that you can also add in little two-three minute sessions as you go about your day while sitting in your office chair, standing in an elevator, or waiting at a stop light.
By adding little moments of practice like this to your day you’ll greatly help your formal meditation practice develop.
2. Soft concentration, not hard
While meditating, it should feel as though you have a soft yet constant focus on your object of meditation (which is usually your breath) and of anything else that comes into your field of awareness, rather than a hard focus that makes you strain your eyeballs and gives you a headache.
Simply relax a bit and remind yourself that you’re not forcing your awareness, or focus, on any one point too heavily. Your object of meditation works more like an anchor, helping you stay in the present moment rather than a laser target that’s concentrating your focus.
This is one of the most important points to remember and something a lot of people get wrong in the beginning.
3. Your meditation practice is about being nonjudgmental, thoughts themselves are not
Don’t get confused, while the awareness you develop through meditation practice itself is nonjudgmental — that is, while being mindful you’re simply observing without purposely thinking anything specific and judging any of the thoughts or feelings you experience — it doesn’t mean that no judgmental thoughts will arise while being mindful.
Your awareness and mental activity are two totally separate things. You observe this mental activity – your thoughts and feelings – nonjudgmentally (at least you do your best to try to), but the mental activity itself sprouting from you while meditating encompasses all of you, and that includes thoughts that have to do with your beliefs and opinions. These are obviously not always nonjudgmental.
If you notice a thought like this pop up during your meditation, don’t think you’re doing it wrong. As long as you’re acknowledging the thought itself non-judgmentally with your awareness, you’re right on track.
The point is, in a way, to make no purposeful effort to think or enter your mind. But your thoughts are their own master, and they’ll continue to bubble up whether you try to think about something or not. You’re not the bubbles, you’re the observer of the bubbles rising up. Remember that and you’ll do fine. Your ‘effort’ is to attempt to concentrate on the breath and to observe non-judgmentally when a thought, feeling, or sensation pulls you away, nothing more.
4. Don’t take your thoughts, well… personally
Having said that, your thoughts are not the “you” you imagine them to be. This might be difficult to understand now, but for now, know simply that your thoughts are their very own monster. As I just mentioned, without even trying, thoughts will pop up while meditating. And these thoughts can sometimes be uncomfortable.
Begin noticing that these thoughts are not you, so you should in no way judge yourself for what thoughts arise. Not just while you’re being mindful, but ever. This is easier said than done, obviously, but still an effort you should make.
Thoughts arise as a combination of our life experiences, the effect they have on us, our interpretation of the whole thing, and general imagination, which when broken down we see is hardly the “us” we imagine when thinking of ourselves.
Don’t take your thoughts personally, know that they’ll pop up no matter what you do and involve a lot more than just “you” and then you’ll be able to begin distancing yourself from them. If you can learn to do this, which meditation will naturally do, you’ll experience a great sense of relief.
5. You can’t win (or lose) at meditation
Most of us are so productivity-obsessed and goal-oriented that when we begin to practice meditation of any kind, we tend to apply these same ideas to our meditation practice. This isn’t in any way your fault, it’s just something that’s been ingrained in most of us since we were little (it certainly was in me).
But this can only damage your practice and lead you to take less from it than you could, ironically. You can’t win at meditation, plain and simple. It isn’t a game, and there are no shortcuts. No matter how hard you try, aside from dedicating yourself to a daily practice and striving to be mindful during each moment in your everyday life, you have to let your practice develop on your own.
You’ll only discourage yourself and quit if you try to apply this same productivity mindset to meditation because it just doesn’t work that way. Stop trying to win at meditation and rest simply feeling the peace of the present moment.
But the cool thing is, you also can’t lose at meditation either. With meditation, provided you’re doing it right, you don’t have to worry about how well you think your session went. Whether you were more distracted than normal or certain negative thoughts arose, this is all a normal part of the process. No matter what’s going on, and whether you think you’re doing well or not, you’re just fine. Throw out ideas of productivity, efficiency, right and wrong, and just sit.
From realizing a deep sense of wisdom to finding joy in the little things, meditation is one of the most worthwhile daily habits you can adopt. Use these simple tips to get started the right way in your meditation practice.