getting started with meditation
February 4, 2005 7:09 AM   Subscribe

Meditation: I'm considering learning some form of meditation, for specific purposes. Where should I begin? [more inside]
posted by gd779 to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Seem to be off to a good start.
posted by Gyan at 7:10 AM on February 4, 2005

Response by poster: I want to learn meditation:

A) as an antidote to, and release from, rationality (or, more precisely, my tendency towards rationalism). So, from what little I know, koans or logic puzzles that reveal the limitations of reason might be a useful element of the ideal practice.

B) for stress relief, relaxation, and particularly as an antidote to fear

C) to improve my perception, clarity of mind, and sense of wellbeing when I’m not meditating

And D) to relax before sleeping to keep myself from grinding my teeth, pursuant to this suggestion.

So, how should I begin? Is achieving these disparate goals even possible through meditation? If so, then which practice would you suggest? Is
buying a book sufficient, or should I join a class/find a mentor? Can you recommend any reading material on the subject? Etc.

(My limited google-fu was making it hard to sort the copious noise from the signal. I was hoping for a more personalized recommendation from this community, because I trust you all.)

Thanks in advance.
posted by gd779 at 7:11 AM on February 4, 2005

I began meditating about a year ago for similar reasons, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I took a class at a local yoga studio (where I live, they are everywhere) on "Mindfulness", which, at the time, sounded like a generic term to me. I learned that it in fact is a specific practice developed and taught by the Vietnamese priest Thich Nhat Hanh. So - some resources for you:

The Miracle of Mindfulness, subtitled "an introduction to the practice of mindfulness meditation", by the man himself. I've read parts of it, found it very illuminating. Also Beginning Mindfulness, a good introduction with specific excercises and a meditation schedule, in case you want/need that kind of structure. Finally, this book was published by my teacher while I was taking his course. He was an excellent teacher, and although I haven't read the book (and haven't really had any contact with him since the course ended), I'd still like to recommend it.

In addition to these resources, I attended a "sangha" (or meditation group) on a couple of occasions. It was a great experience, wonderful to be part of a group, and if I were more organized and less lazy, I'd attend more frequently.

Hope this helps...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:02 AM on February 4, 2005

Find a quiet place. Get into a relaxing position. Sitting is good, but lying down is okay too. Relax. Breath at an even pace. Empty your mind. Don't fight away thoughts that come along, but don't dwell on them too much either. Concentrate on your breathing. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Eyes open/eyes closed -- up to you.

Buying book or subscribing to techniques misses the point in my opinion. Try the basics and find what works for you. It's a very individual thing.
posted by nthdegx at 8:07 AM on February 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

While nthdegx is right and it's very personal, sometimes it's hard without guidance. Personally, I've quite liked things I've read by Thich Nhat Hanh, especially one called Peace is Every Step. He talks about making just breathing or sitting or walking a meditation. I tried it a little and really enjoyed the process of doing it, though I didn't do it dedicatedly enough for it to make a difference in my life.
There's also a video called A Guide to Walking Meditation that might be nice if you have the proper time and location to make a habit out of that sort of thing.
posted by librarina at 9:04 AM on February 4, 2005

There is, in fact, a Meditation for Dummies book. I just got it out of the library out of curiosity last week, and I've looked through it but not read it yet (except for the introduction). I don't meditate yet myself, so I am no kind of expert, but it seems to make sense, be reasonably generic, encourage further and different study. In short, it seems like the perfect kind of introduction and I am looking forward to trying what it says and seening how interested I am. The author is a former Editor for Yoga Journal, for whatever that's worth.
posted by OmieWise at 11:07 AM on February 4, 2005

You might consider taking yoga classes. The nice thing is that it "forces" you to do it, and there is a teacher to guide you. I do a form of yoga called Iyengar, which mainly involves taking a geometric pose and holding it to open up breathing; breathing exercises are a central part of good form. Meditation is a bit different, but I'd say that mental and physical relaxation comes from this form of yoga through the techniques involved. I don't subscribe to the nihilistic elements of its philosophy, but my mind is refreshed and relaxed afterwards. I have a feeling of calm that lasts me a good 2-3 days after the session.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:48 AM on February 4, 2005

While nthdegx is right and it's very personal, sometimes it's hard without guidance.

Meditation is a bit different, but I'd say that mental and physical relaxation comes from this form of yoga through the techniques involved.

I second these statements.

I've been meditating for about 15-20 years, and can tell you that it's difficult to learn without a little guidance. Once you get the hang of it, your practice tends to develop on it's own, but getting some initial instruction is key.

I'd recommend the book "Meditate", which is wonderful primer for a beginner and an easy read.

I also think that a basic yoga class is a great idea; it's a wonderful form of meditation and gives you the added bonus of physical toning.

Incidentally, over the years, I've had friends ask me your very same question, and I've complied a page-long set of suggestions. If you're interested, I'd be more than happy to email you a copy. specklet at hotmail dot com.
posted by Specklet at 12:42 PM on February 4, 2005

Here is a good book that's freely available online: Mindfulness in Plain English
posted by mcguirk at 2:58 PM on February 4, 2005

Although there doesn't seem to be a Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center in your area, they do have some 3-minute meditations online, which can be quite useful for beginners. If I'm mistaken & there is a center near you, I recommend their free meditation courses.
posted by obloquy at 4:00 PM on February 4, 2005

I second Mindfulness in Plain English. I found out about it from an AskMe on Buddhism, and it is an incredible book.
posted by phrontist at 6:06 PM on February 4, 2005

For me, meditation alone is not enough to achieve the goals you stated. Any of these components is beneficial alone, but most effective is a complete practice (listed in the order commonly practiced) including:
- physical stretching/conditioning (perhaps hatha yoga),
- pranayams (controling energy, often through the breath)
- and meditation.

Above all, the most important thing is to do your practice consistently every day. Don't be discouraged if you don't notice results - noticing subtle changes in oneself is difficult. The effects build over time. The times when you are sick, stressed, incredibly busy - these are when you need your practice the most, but your logical mind will try to trick you into skipping.

Learning meditation and sustaining motivation are easiest in a group environment with a qualified teacher. My favorite is Isha Yoga. Sadhguru is amazing in his ability to communicate logically about subjective topics. For me, this is the most powerful practice out of several I have tried.

If you prefer to teach yourself, this website (warning, geocities) is very comprehensive about many topics and the author will answer emailed questions.
posted by one at 6:49 PM on February 4, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I'll start looking considering your recommendations.
posted by gd779 at 11:15 PM on February 4, 2005

Another super big giant strong vote for Mindfullness in Plain English, by Bhante G.

He was ordained a buddhist monk at the age of 12 for chrissakes.
posted by Espoo2 at 1:41 AM on February 5, 2005

You might be interested in zen. Koans come from the zen tradition. Although the school of zen I'm most familiar with, Soto, tends to focus more on meditation rather than using koans.

Anyway, I highly recommend Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. It's collection of lectures to an American audience by a Japanese priest who helped found the San Francisco Zen Center. It's a good introduction to zen and also teaches the basic meditation practice of zazen.
posted by kongg at 8:54 AM on February 5, 2005

Response by poster: Great, thanks all!
posted by gd779 at 11:26 AM on February 5, 2005

The simplest book, to learn basic technique, is called "the Relaxation Response." That may be all you need, and I am sure you can pick the book up used pretty cheap.

If you get into meditation, try sitting with some people. It's a nice thing to do. I like to meditate in zendos, but note that zennists can be a little um... well... militaristic about sitting. If that turns you off, just find a group that does meditation in a way you like.

Particularly good is to meditate outdoors at sundown, sunup, or at night....

Best wishes.
posted by lustra at 12:02 PM on February 17, 2005

If you can spare 10 days, you could do a retreat with these folks.
posted by homunculus at 9:21 AM on February 23, 2005

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