Please help me find a meditation practice that works for me
September 11, 2018 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I've figured out a few "yes"es and "no"s, and I'm hoping MeFi can help me put the clues together to choose the right meditation practice


1. I can't stand body scans of any type (where you focus on different parts of your body, whether it's to tense and relax them or just to be aware of them)
2. I hate "think about nothing", "empty your mind", etc.

For a while I believed these two things meant meditation was not for me, because they featured prominently in every meditation material I came across. However, I've started to reconsider based on the following.

1. When I was a child, my father had a meditation book that involved things like imagining a rose unfurling, or watching a candle. From what I remember I was able to do these fine (I have not been able to find the book at my parent's house).
2. I once tried meditating because I was very stressed, and sort of naturally fell into an image of myself sitting in the ocean with waves coming over me but not pulling me away, and I was able to stay with this image for several minutes and it helped me a lot.
3. I found a self-compassion practice online, which consisted of saying:
a. this is hard
b. we all struggle
c. what do i need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?
and I successfully sort of repeated it to myself in a mantra-like fashion in a way that felt very reminiscent of a meditative state to me

as a result, I've come to the conclusion that I probably can meditate if I try a different strategy from the most dominant mainstream option. I would love suggestions of materials that would work for me based on what I've described.

My goals for meditating are:

1. Undoing some of the attention span damage a lifetime of internet has done to me-- I want to be able to be fully present and enjoy the current moment, especially with my family, without twitching to check my phone every two seconds (I am separately pursuing this goal by limiting phone usage, but I'm hoping meditation will help from a different direction)
2. Becoming a bit less trigger-reactive to negative events, accepting them with more equanimity
3. Not sure if possible, but if meditation could help me achieve a more compassionate, generous state of mind towards other people, I would definitely want to pursue that as a goal

I'd really like something I could do for, say, fifteen minutes a day.

one final note:

I find audio meditations super, duper annoying and I've yet to find an exception. What seems to really work for me (thus far) is something written down, that I can read through at my own pace quietly. An audio meditation that has a transcript would probably work just fine.

If there's an audio meditation that sounds perfect for me, but that has no transcript, share it anyway and I'll type it up for myself...
posted by Cozybee to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Your first two goals make me think you might be interested in noting practice, where you sit and try to notice all the thoughts and sensations that go by in your mind and body. Some descriptions of it make it sound like a fancy kind of emptying your mind — giving the false impression that you'll spend most of the time thinking nothing, and once or twice a minute you'll note a thought drifting lazily by. But my experience is that it's nothing like that: what I found in noting practice was that my mind is incredibly quick, with multiple thoughts and sensations going by every second, and I have to stay sharply focused and present to keep up.

One of the things it's supposed to help with is sort of debugging your own reactions to things — the idea being that if you have a sharp enough awareness of your own thoughts, you can see the reactions happen in real time, and learn things about why they happen. It's also supposed to be good for concentration, and in some traditions it's used as a kind of foundation for other kinds of meditation: "If you want to do XYZ meditation, you'll need to get good at concentrating first, and you do that using noting practice."
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:41 PM on September 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

Have you tried walking meditation?
posted by jrobin276 at 1:43 PM on September 11, 2018

I would recommend Headspace if not for your note about audio meditations - I can't find any transcriptions anywhere but I think it ticks a lot of your boxes.

- concrete meditation routine with options for 10, 15 or 20 minute daily meditations
- no "now empty your mind and become one with the universe" type stuff
- emphasis on compassion and acceptance towards the self and the mind
- simple visualizations focused on nature like sitting in a ray of warm sunlight

There is a book by the Headspace founder which presumably describes a similar approach towards meditation, but I haven't read it so can't vouch for it personally.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recommend this a lot on AskMe, but given your third example you might like it - Kristin Neff's work on self-compassion includes meditations. They are audio, but the one I've done - the Self Compassion/Loving Kindness 20 minute one on that page - includes a repetitive section a little like your example - something like "May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I be kind to myself. May I accept myself as I am." So you could maybe try the whole thing the first time and then just extract that chant if it felt the most useful to you.

It then moves on to "May we all be safe. May we all be peaceful. May we all be kind to ourselves. May we accept ourselves as we are," which I guess is the heart of extending compassion to others (and, more generally, loving kindness will be a useful search phrase if you're looking for more of this kind of thing).
posted by penguin pie at 2:01 PM on September 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think you will really enjoy "Guided Visualization scripts." There are tons and tons all over the internet - here is a big list I found on just one site. Note that some of these scripts do start with some kind of body scan that you may want to skip or substitute with deep breaths (like maybe 4-square breathing or 4-7-8 breathing) and/or a mantra - just something that you do the same every session as a trigger.
posted by muddgirl at 2:18 PM on September 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two ideas immediately popped into mind. First, lovingkindness meditation sounds like a great fit based on your description of the self-compassion practice as well as your meditation goals. I would look at Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg for an introduction and practice suggestions.

Second, watching a candle is a very common technique for what Buddhism calls kasina practice. The practice routine essentially looks like the following sequence: look at the candle and focus on the redness for a few minutes, then close your eyes and keep your attention on the red "afterimage." When you can no longer see the mental image, open your eyes and look at the candle again. Over time, as your ability to concentrate improves, you'll be able to sustain the mental image longer and longer. Eventually you can extend the mental red image to your entire (mental) field of perception.

Unfortunately, I don't know of any beginner books on kasina practice - my exposure to that practice is primarily through classic Buddhist texts like the Visuddhimagga, and that's a pretty dense read. If anyone else in this thread has suggestions on basic kasina practice resources, please chime in!
posted by philosophygeek at 2:22 PM on September 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would suggest downloading the free book Meditation in Plain English. It's a terrific introduction to meditation, and pretty funny in places as well as very down to earth and practical.
Basically you can use an object of focus like a mantra, or you can focus on being aware, of the state of being aware. The mindfulness book is Plan B, focusing on awareness.
You can get a lot of benefits simply sitting and saying a mantra or other forms of focus. I find awareness meditation, usually initiated by simply following the breath while sitting, is a the basis of a long term habit that builds on itself. Awareness meditation is my go-to daily, plus I've started adding in mantra meditation in the evenings. Good luck.
posted by diode at 3:29 PM on September 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I use the Insight Timer app, and there are lots of free audio meditations you can try. Sharon Salzberg's Lovingkindness Meditation might be up your alley, but there are thousands and they're reasonably searchable.
posted by momus_window at 3:29 PM on September 11, 2018

Best answer: A client of mine was in your shoes, so to speak. He felt that he "needed" to do meditation, but really didn't like most types of meditation. I recommended Stoic Lectio Divina. He loved it, in that it provided him with the calm and single-mindedness that meditation provides without anything woo or spiritual.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 3:54 PM on September 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is neither the thing that you seem to be most looking for nor the thing you dislike, but you might read Focusing. You do have to pay attention to your bodily sensations, but it's not a body scan like you mention. It's been too long since I read the book to give a good description, but you might just add it to the mix of things to consider.
posted by salvia at 4:04 PM on September 11, 2018

Best answer: My practice is to be present. For example, to really look at what I’m seeing requires me to slowly go through all the objects in my visual field looking at shadow and color and texture. Inevitably I end up picking something up in which case there is shape and a different kind of texture. All that matters is that I am fully present and experiencing what I am experiencing.

Sometimes I walk in which case I do my best to be present for that. "Walking, I know I am walking" is my mantra.

All of this is to help me develop the skill of being present, a state of mind that shortcuts all sorts of judgmental sttitudes as well as calming racing thoughts when I’m anxious. I try to sit twenty minutes in the morning and I can really notice the difference when I do.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:13 PM on September 11, 2018

Best answer: You might like "object of beauty" meditation (sounds akin to the kasina practice mentioned above) - there's no reason you can't use a something in front of you like a flower or photo, but you can also picture in your mind whatever is most beautiful to you in the present moment, and just bring it to mind and gently return your attention to it when you notice that your attention has wandered off. If a rose unfurling is an image you like go with that it's whatever appeals to you.

I like metta practice (noted above as lovingkindness practice) and find it calming before doing any other meditation. It will most directly help with being more compassionate and generous.
posted by lafemma at 4:59 PM on September 11, 2018

I get the sense that Transcendental Meditation is often looked at as plain-vanilla, lacking the cachet of Buddhism and lacking a mandatory co-extensive philosophy. But it is a powerful technique, despite its notoriety and ubiquity. It's easy to do, does not involve any outside aids, and it does deliver the three results you're looking for.
posted by bricoleur at 5:31 PM on September 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I learned a meditation technique called "choiceless awareness" in a MBSR class that fits your criteria. When I google that term, I get lots of philosophical stuff that doesn't match what I remember learning along with a bunch of guided meditations that I didn't listen to since you want to avoid that kind of instruction (but if you do look into it, I bet Tara Brach's is good).

Here's what I remember doing: You imagine your thoughts like objects in a river. As one thought floats by, you pay attention to it while it's right there floating in front of you, and then let you let it go as it floats down the river and out of view. When another thought floats by, you do the same. Instead of the body or your breath, you are focusing on the thoughts that arise in your mind without chasing or clinging onto them.
posted by 10ch at 7:05 PM on September 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’ve used Headspace and many of the meditations involve body scans, FYI. Mainly the beginner ones. When you get farther into the series, the meditation has you visualize filling your body with light, which may or may not seem similar to a body scan. I personally like Headspace a lot, but if you find body scans annoying, it may not be the app for you.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:55 PM on September 11, 2018

Best answer: For me, the point of meditation has always been the process and the actual doing of the process, rather than the specific object I've chosen to pay attention to.

The process is simple to describe but difficult to perform. Expect difficulty. In particular, difficulty is not an indication that you're doing it wrong.

The process I use is as follows:

1. Decide on a duration for this session, and arrange to be physically located in a place that I can reasonably expect will be free of external physical threats for that length of time.

2. Decide on a point of focus for this session. The subtle sensations around my nostrils as breath enters and leaves my body works for me. If unfurling roses or candles or building detailed images about oceans or mantras or counting up by sevens work for you, use one of those.

3. Set a timer.

4. Sit.

5. Turn my attention to this session's point of focus.

6. As soon as I become aware that my attention has been diverted from this session's point of focus, note the fact of that diversion without ascribing significance to its specific content, then gently return to step 5.

7. When the timer goes off, stretch and stand.

The guts of the technique, for me, is the interplay between steps 5 and 6. The main thing I've always sought from meditation is gaining skill at separating the fact of distraction from the content of the distraction; and like any skill, this is one that can only be made better by exercising it as opposed to contemplating it.

Sometimes, especially early on, the internal distractions that make step 6 necessary can be very strong and very lurid and, for some people, deeply distressing. I think that's what leads people to conclude that meditation is not for them: it's just too scary.

But this is the point of the physical security check in step 1. If you're physically secure, and you're just sitting, and you're not actually experiencing heart failure or stroke, then the only way stuff that comes up between steps 5 and 6 can actually do you damage is if you react to it without skill; and the damage concerned can't possibly be any worse than it would be when the same shit comes up outside meditation sessions, which it inevitably will. It's not the meditation that's hurting you, it's the accumulation of unhelpful habits that you're presumably considering meditation as a possible way to help mitigate.

I like to think of learning to meditate as being a bit like learning to drive. When you're learning to drive and sixteen different kinds of missing skill all make themselves apparent at the same time and the car just did something weird again and the panic starts to rise, the right thing for the instructor to do is just calmly get you to pull over to the side of the road and stop the engine and take a few moments to breathe and settle down and get yourself together before even thinking about trying to make further progress. Because giving up is clearly not going to help you learn, but neither is running the learning experience itself like some kind of terrifying roller coaster ride.

As a meditator, you are both the driving student and the instructor in this scenario. So be gentle with yourself, exercise kindness and patience when confronted with your present lack of skill, and you'll do fine.
posted by flabdablet at 12:08 AM on September 12, 2018 [16 favorites]

Instead of the body or your breath, you are focusing on the thoughts that arise in your mind without chasing or clinging onto them.

I do a similar thing, the meditation program I used when I was starting (Headspace) was good at giving you a few good techniques (including body scans which I also hate so I mostly skipped those) including

- noting (noting a thought without getting caught up in the thought, learning to leave it alone)
- paying attention to your breathing (sometimes good if what I need is to CALM DOWN or unhook from what i was stuck in)
- letting the time pass without getting overly anticipatory or overly caught up in "doing it wrong"

Worth it to go in for a free trial. So for me, once I learned "the basics" I either do one specific "rededication to goodness" meditation (six minutes, also on Insight Timer which I like a lot as an app and this particular meditation resonates with me) or I have a timed music thing and I just get good at lying there, letting thoughts flow in and out and letting the time pass without me trying to wrassle it into anything. I can't really do the sitting poses well so I do it lying down, usually in the am or pm. In short, I learned to get a little more "meta" in my mindfulness but a little less "meta" in my constant overthinking of things.

And one thing people say all the time is "it's a practice" so it's not like at the end of it your pulse is lower and you are like "OK it works" but over time you notice that just being able to make space for meditating can help you learn to make space for other things, notice when your emotions are interfering with deliberate actions, that sort of thing. Insight timer also has a lot of self-compassion meditations. I get super fidgety trying to find one I can deal with (am picky) but once I've found one I can listen to it 100 times, so might be worth poking around. Sometimes just listening to birds or waterfalls when I'm stuck in the throes of winter can be good.
posted by jessamyn at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just because you mentioned that you'd got on well with natural visualisations like the flower and the sea - I just remembered that this Jon Kabat Zinn CD has one mindfulness meditation based around a mountain visualisation, and another based around a lake visualisation.

I think bit of googling might well turn them up on YouTube, though I guess it's always nice to put money the maker's way and buy it if you decide you like it.
posted by penguin pie at 3:31 PM on September 13, 2018

Do the free trial of Headspace. It'll get you started on mindfulness meditation that can be summed up as:

1) Sit quietly and focus on the sensations of your breath.
2) Notice that your mind has wandered (optional, laugh or smile at silly monkey mind)
3) Return your focus to the breath
4) Repeats steps 2 and 3 until finished

If you opt for the full Headspace subscription there are some visualizations, but not many. There's no woo-woo cosmic energy or any of that. He does do a body scan at the beginning of every meditation but it's about 30 seconds and I often gloss over it and just watch my breath.

Once you've got the basics the Insight Timer has some lovely bells. I typically set one to go off every minute or two during a 10/20/30 minute session. That might seem excessive but I don't find the bells distracting, you can actually shift your focus to the sound for as long as it lasts, and if I've wandered off in the thought the bell brings back every time.

With the guided meditation I often find that I'll ignore his body scans, etc but that his voice will bring me back if I've wandered.

Also recommend trying 10% Happier's free course, there was useful stuff there as well.

Welcome aboard.
posted by Awfki at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2018

Response by poster: for anyone following this question: using some of the answers in this thread as a starting point, I've been having some luck googling "meditation transcripts"
posted by Cozybee at 12:24 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

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