meditation classes?
December 14, 2008 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Should I take a meditation class?

I'm interested in starting a meditation practice, and I'm not sure how to begin. I looked at some old questions and there's a lot of great advice and books and things, but I'm wondering specifically if I should look into meditation classes.

I know there's a Shambhala center near me, so if anyone has any thoughts about them specifically, that would be great! More generally though, what should I look for in a meditation class? Is there anything I should steer away from?

If you don't think meditation classes are the best way to get started, what is?

Thanks everybody
posted by hapticactionnetwork to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Shambhala's definitely well worth going along to. Some centers have one-off Learn To Meditate classes, while at pretty much all of them, I think, you can show up to a public meditation session and identify yourself as a newbie; they'll arrange for someone to give you a 15-20 minute one-to-one instruction before joining the rest of the group. Shambhala is ultra-westernized and friendly without being evangelical or anything; it's just a bunch of your neighbors sitting cross-legged in their socks. The downside, I guess, is that there isn't usually much handholding in terms of ongoing meditation instruction unless you really seek it out. Also, at some centers, the veneration of Chogyam Trungpa feels slightly culty, but only slightly; that kind of thing is probably something that's hard to avoid entirely in Buddhism.

I'd steer away from Transcendental Meditation.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:09 PM on December 14, 2008

Is there anything I should steer away from?

Over-reaching expectations, over-promised results. Find somewhere local rather than spending money on a distant "retreat." Beware the cult of personality.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:10 PM on December 14, 2008

It's just me, but I personally like to steer clear of anything that asks me to believe things which are not believable to me. This, for me, includes anything based on an organized religion, including Hindu or Buddhism.

I'm very into zen meditation, because zen is a philosophy and not a religion per se. They talk about Buddha of course, but it doesn't matter if you believe Buddha was a real person or not. It's all about what the stories can teach you about your life.

My friend is into something, I think it might be Shambala, where they told him not to swear or tell dirty stories anymore. I can't for the life of me imagine what that has to do with focusing on your breath and learning to clear your mind and be in the moment. So I'd steer clear of the weird agendas or places that ask you to subscribe to beliefs beyond the basic one that meditation is a helpful aid for living your life.

But that's just me, it really depends on what your goals are.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:49 PM on December 14, 2008

I'm a pretty hard-nosed skeptic (atheist, cringe at the term "spiritual"), and was wary of Shambhala when I first heard about them. Especially in light of their having been founded by this complex character. All in all though, I can look past it. See what the people at your local center are like, and decide based on that, rather than by their theoretical affiliations.

The buddhist studies group at my school uses the local Shambhala center for sitting meditation. No one in the group would consider themselves a Tibetan buddhist. We occasionally have members of their group come and speak with us or lead meditation, and they've been nothing but pleasant, helpful, and undogmatic. In my experience, nothing will be pushed on you. You will not be hit up for money, though I think it's appropriate to help out with upkeep if you spend a lot of time there. Go for the education in meditation and should anything else come up, feel free to ignore it. I would be suprised if anyone made a big deal of it.

Think of it like going to a catholic school to take math classes. You don't have to believe in transubstantiation to learn something from a priest.

As always in these threads, I recommend this wonderful book and anything by Thich Nhat Hahn.
posted by phrontist at 6:07 PM on December 14, 2008

On further reflection, I'd like to be totally clear and point out that you definitely do not need to go to the center. It may even be distracting. I'm just saying kool-aid is unlikely to be on the menu and it's worth a try.
posted by phrontist at 6:16 PM on December 14, 2008

Yes! You might as well go to the one that's nearest you - if you don't like the center you don't need to keep going there. But starting meditation with an instructor makes it a lot easier, and if you decide you want to pursue Buddhism you'll have tried at least one flavor already.
posted by smartyboots at 6:52 PM on December 14, 2008

I find it a lot easier to meditate in a group, at a set time, rather than by myself when I can just uh, flake out and not bother to do it. So long as you don't pay much money to take one- there's one place in town that charges a ton to meditate and that always makes me roll my eyes hard.

I went to a Shambala center once and it was all right. (I am not a Buddhist.) I can't say I got what was going on for the first 20 minutes or so- they read a lot of chants and I had no idea what we were saying or why or why it went on for such a long time- but then we started the quiet part and all was well. I didn't get myself a teacher though (I was at an open house). If you want to go that route, it's free and like the poster above said, they are reasonable about that so far as I can tell.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:28 PM on December 14, 2008

I never understood these pay-for and overly complex meditation systems. Anyone can pick up Anapanasati quickly. The real challenge is finding to self-discipline to keep up the practice. If you honestly want to meditate you can start right now with very little training (more here). Its easy if you try.

No chants, no incense, no prayers, no money changing hands, no special chairs/cushions/ clothing, nothing to sign, nothing to believe really, etc.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:44 PM on December 14, 2008

Also its worth mentioning that Shambhala derives from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition which is fairly superstitious and very spiritual, at least by western standards. I recommend Anapanasati because it stems more from Theravada, which is an older and (arguably) more fundamental form of Buddhism. Think of the difference between a Catholic service and a Protestant service.

Regardless, the point is that Shambhala, Indian mysticism, TM, etc are extremely traditional but westerners who just want to do meditation and taste a bit of Buddhism might feel more at home with Theravada. Someone of a skeptical bent might be very dismissive of Shambhala or Zen but not realize that there are less dogmatic/weird practices. So if Shambhala doesnt work out for you, there are other choices.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:53 PM on December 14, 2008

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