One of the questions we are most consistently asked is if we have any meditation tips, either for beginners or in general. We are also asked a few questions quite a bit which are covered below in the meditation tips. Personally, I have found that when beginning to investigate a meditation practice, it can be overwhelming or confusing. There are many traditions, teachings, teachers, and ideas about what meditation should look like. These meditation tips come from our experience with Buddhist meditation, and we recognize that there are many other forms of meditation.
This is perhaps a bit obvious, but I find it to be one of the most useful tips we can offer. In Buddhism, there are many practices outside of sitting meditation and sitting is absolutely not the whole path. However, if we wish to investigate meditation, it is extremely helpful to sit regularly. As we sit consistently in meditation, we begin to build an understanding of the mind. I frequently tell my students that it is better to sit ten minutes a day than it is to sit 30 minutes twice a week. Although longer meditations can help us dive deeper and build concentration, it is more useful to cultivate the qualities consistently every day. If you are just starting a meditation practice, I recommend setting an intention of ten minutes a day. This is much more doable for newcomers than 30 minutes a day, and we are less likely to put it off. We all have ten minutes to spare!
Start with the Body
Again, this is a meditation tip that seems rather obvious, but it is worth repeating. When you begin a meditation practice, it can be very helpful to start in the body. The body is always with us, and we can cultivate a ton of wisdom through investigation of the body. This is reflected in one of the most common meditation tips: focus on the breath. The breath is just one part of the body, and we didn’t want to limit this suggestion to the breath. We can tune into the breath to build concentration and cultivate mindfulness, be we also have qutie a bit of other experiences going on in the body at any given time. When you sit in meditation, tune into the physical body sitting where it is. I like to bring awareness to the points of contact, or where I can actually feel the body touching something. This may include the butt on which you are sitting, the feet on the ground, or maybe the hands touching your knees or the arms of a chair. When we bring awareness to the body, we are arriving in the present-time experience. This is the nature of a body scan meditation; we tune into what is present in the body simply to cultivate the ability to focus on and be present with whatever is happening.
No, this isn’t a typo. We did not leave out the word “don’t.” In our experience, the idea that we should not be thinking is probably the biggest misunderstanding about Buddhist meditation. Whenever somebody asks for meditation tips, I always tell them to allow the mind to think. We are also frequently asked what a student can do about the thinking mind, and often told by students that they can’t meditate because they can’t quiet the mind. Meditation does not require you to completely quiet the mind and rid it of all thoughts! If you could do that already, you probably wouldn’t need meditation! Allow the mind to think; it’s natural. The body feels, the eyes see, and the mind thinks. Don’t resist the thinking mind. In mindfulness meditation, an overactive mind may be a hindrance, but this still doesn’t mean we should stop thinking. The Buddha taught his followers to observe the hindrances, bringing wisdom to them, but no avoiding or pushing them away. When the mind starts thinking, notice that it is thinking, and don’t hold on to the thoughts at they arise. This takes practice to find the Middle Way, but we can indeed notice that we are thinking and not buy into the thoughts.
Go with the Flow
I was going to title this one “Don’t Resist,” but “go with the flow” has a gentler sound to it. One of the many ways in which we create our own suffering is by resisting what is happening. This is a great example of aversion, one of the Three Poisons in Buddhism. Many of these meditation tips are inter-related, as you can see this one ties into the tip about thinking. We are not to resist the thinking mind, but we also don’t benefit from resisting anything in our experience. If you are trying to focus on the breath but an itch keeps arising in the leg, allow it to arise. See the itch, feel it, and return to the breath. We can even stay with the breath and not look at the itch. The point here is that our attitude toward our experience should be one of gentleness and ease. We can never control perfectly what happens in our experience. This also goes for external stimulus. Sometimes we try to sit in a quiet space, only to hear a car alarm going off. Make it a part of your practice. It is only “in the way” of your practice because of your response.
Sit with Peers
Sitting in meditation with others is an important part of the Buddhist practice. Of course, not everyone has easy access to a community to sit with, but we can do our best. There are many online meetings if you don’t have a local sitting group. Engaging with other people on the path can help us learn, and give us the opportunity to share our experience with others. When I was new to meditation, I sat several times a week at the local meditation center. At home, I had a hard time sitting for thirty minutes straight. I would give up after 10 minutes or so. Because of ego, I never wanted to be the one to get up and walk out during the meditation. Although this isn’t the best reason to sit in a group (to feed the ego), it did help me learn to sit and engage with the sangha. Even if you connect with just one other person, having a companion to speak with about your practice can work wonders.
Listen to Guided Meditations
When offering meditation tips, it would be negligent not to suggest listening to guided meditations. Of course, One Mind Dharma has our own guided meditations, but we aren’t just plugging ours! There are many great meditations on Audio Dharma, Dharma Seed, YouTube, Against the Stream, and more. Guided meditations are a great way to get into the practice and figure out what a meditation practice looks like. With the instruction of a teacher, you can develop an understanding of a specific practice. Furthermore, the guidance often helps people to concentrate, as many teachers will remind you to come back to the practice with the mind wanders. We don’t always stay on track when meditating in silence; sitting with a guided meditation can help us remember why we are sitting. I also mention this in our meditation tips because I have found that many of us don’t know exactly what we are doing when we begin meditating. A guided track can clarify the methods of practice.
Try Different Practices
There are many different practices within each tradition. Often, people think of meditation and think of a pure concentration practice: focusing on the breath, and bringing the mind back when it wanders. There are numerous ways to practice mindfulness, different heart practices, and unique methods for building concentration. Investigate different teachings, different teachers, and different techniques. Guided meditations are helpful with this. Don’t get stuck on one practice not working for you; find a way to practice that feels right for you. Specifically, I recommend working with both heart practices and insight practices. Try keeping a well-rounded practice, working different “spiritual muscles” with each sit.
Impermanence is one of the Three Marks of Existence. The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to investigate these three characteristics. For this reason, it is important to bring awareness to it. Impermanence may simply be understood as the fact that nothing stays the same over time. You can begin to notice this with simple things like the breath. The breath comes in, it comes out, and it is always changing. Notice the fluidity. I have found that as I tune in to the impermanence of phenomena, I gain interest. When we begin to see that things change, we don’t become as easily bored with meditation practice. This is why I offer this as one of our meditation tips! Tuning into impermanence can really help us bring curiosity to the practice. When you have an itch, a pain in the knee, a thought, an emotion, or hear a sound, notice how it is changing. Notice the coming and the going of the experience. See what happens!
Keep a Journal
I think we have offered this one before when talking about meditation tips, and I know we have mentioned it a couple times on our podcast. Elizabeth got me into this, as her teacher recommended it to her years ago. Keeping a journal is a wonderful practice itself. After your meditation, take a brief moment to write about it. You may want to stick to a simple format if organization is helpful to you. How did your sit feel? How long did you sit for? Were you restless? Anxious? Sleepy? When we keep a journal, it helps us with a few things. First, it serves as a different way to practice mindfulness. When we reflect on our recent sit, we can clarify our experience a bit. Second, we can go back and look at our different experiences and see what is going on with us. I have found that I often have periods of sleepiness when I am not sleeping enough! Or, I find that I have a lot of physical pain when I am stressed. Who knows what may pop up for you!
Our final of these meditation tips is to not judge your practice based on one sit. When we sit in meditation, there are many factors at play: what we ate that day, our work, our personal lives, the amount of sleep we got the night(s) before, etc. Steer clear of blame and praise when you can. If you could be perfectly mindful and concentrated and compassionate, wouldn’t you be? Stop taking all the credit! You’re doing the best you can, and the effort put forth to be sitting is beautiful. Sometimes our sits are concentrated and peaceful. Sometimes they’re uncomfortable and difficult. Keep at it, and watch for the judging mind that comes up, trying to pick apart our practice and perfect it.
If you have another tip you find helpful, let us know below. We encourage you to elaborate, so that others may really benefit from your suggestion!