Meditation books
April 1, 2007 2:44 PM   Subscribe

What's the best book on meditation?

I'm a beginner to meditation. I've tried it before, for no longer than 5 consecutive days of 15 minute sessions. I'm curious about transcedental meditation, yoga, the physio-psychology of meditation, and so on. Pretty much I want to "get it" when it comes to meditation.

I saw this list of books, and the top one looks promising.

In particular, I'd like to meditate to help reduce general anxiety.
posted by philosophistry to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In terms of just getting started, and grasping the basic idea, Wherever You Go, There You Are. It's well written and easy to follow.

It's a guide, though, not an academic overview of differing styles and their aims/histories. Were you looking for a more academic book?
posted by occhiblu at 2:47 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: occhiblu.. that book looks promising.

knowing the mechanics of meditation is more a means for me to more effectively execute meditative practices. So something sort of academic, would be helpful as well.
posted by philosophistry at 2:51 PM on April 1, 2007

Best answer: Mindfulness in Plain English is mentioned in every one of these threads. I'm a little ways into it and it seems very good so far.
posted by Inkoate at 2:59 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Occhiblu's suggestion is a good one. I also like Seeking the Heart of Wisdom and Buddhism Without Beliefs – these are both based on Buddhist ideas, without being too "religious" in tone, and give some background on reasons to meditate and thoughts on why it works.
posted by zadcat at 3:07 PM on April 1, 2007

At some point, maybe not now, you should read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Its more focused on zazen as the principal method of Zen buddism, & not so much meditation for reducing anxiety, although that is a side effect. Its kind of strangely written, but its one of those books you can read a chapter every week & spend the rest of that week thinking about it.
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:20 PM on April 1, 2007

Don't worry too much about "getting it" when it comes to meditation. Worry about doing it "right" is one of the inherent stumbling blocks. Key are patience and persistence even when you feel there is no progress. Just begin.

I learned TM back in the '70s (when it only cost 60.00). No way I'd pay what they charge now. There's no book that teaches TM AFAIK. Nowadays I use breath as a focus for meditation. A simple book is Sitting.

A more extensive set of essays on various forms of Buddhist meditation is Breath Sweeps Mind
posted by DarkForest at 3:41 PM on April 1, 2007

I've reccomended Mindfulness in Plain English in all sorts of threads, and when a thread comes up where it's exquisitely on topic, I'm beat to the point!

It's a great book.
posted by phrontist at 3:43 PM on April 1, 2007

Buddhism Without Beliefs is good too.
posted by phrontist at 3:44 PM on April 1, 2007

The Posture of Meditation will help if you have questions about the mechanics involved (and it's a rather slim volume, as well).
posted by metabrilliant at 5:20 PM on April 1, 2007

Ram Dass' Journey of Awakening: A Meditator's Guidebook is excellent
posted by horsemuth at 5:40 PM on April 1, 2007

Roshi P. Kapleau's "Three Pillars of Zen" rocks! It is written by an American who has mostly studied under Japanese Zen monks. It is written almost like a documentary, he follows a dozen or so Americans through the process of joining and living in Zen monasteries for the first time. He has a lengthy section on meditation (zazen): how to do it, problems you will encounter, etc. We even get to sit in (via the book) on actual Q&A sessions with students and the monks in which students bring up all the questions and problems they are having with the meditation process (my legs hurt, my mind keeps wandering, it's too hard, etc.). In other words, it is a very practical book, dealing with the real issues beginners have with meditation.
posted by JPowers at 6:06 PM on April 1, 2007

The Miracle of Mindfulness.

The Posture of Meditation is a bit advanced.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:07 PM on April 1, 2007

Best answer: Buddhanet has a number of texts on meditation from various traditions, including ones aimed at beginners. They also have downloadable talks and some other resources too if you poke about the site.
posted by Abiezer at 6:41 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's a link to their meditation ebooks too. Quirky categorisation they have there.
posted by Abiezer at 6:43 PM on April 1, 2007

You might also want to check out the current issue of Tricycle magazine. There's instructions for a 4-week "commit to sit" meditation program. It might be a bit demanding for a beginner. If you try it you should feel free to take it at your own pace.
posted by DarkForest at 6:49 PM on April 1, 2007

"Pretty much I want to "get it" when it comes to meditation."

Dude, this will make no sense, but "trying" to "get it" is 100% exactly what you don't want to do. You'll understand that after a long struggle.

The books will explain this, but understand that being confused and frustrated about the process IS the process -- you have to go through that. Going through that is the most important part. Everyone struggles with it. If you don't, mediation is worthless. Us silly westerns have this impression that mediation should be immediately calming. This is simply not true -- so untrue it is laughable.
posted by JPowers at 7:07 PM on April 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

Us silly westerns have this impression that mediation should be immediately calming. This is simply not true -- so untrue it is laughable.

This sounds a bit overly-discouraging to my ears. You can pretty easily experience a calming and quieting of the mind, if only temporarily and unpredictably, in a few sessions. But big expectations, or any expectations at all, can be counter-productive. Just be patient and let it unfold of its own accord.
posted by DarkForest at 7:25 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think books about meditation can tend towards intellectualizing it instead of teaching you the practice. If you want to learn about meditation, I suggest developing a relationship with a teacher-figure. Perhaps attending a local Buddhist temple or taking a mindfulness (sometimes referred to as "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction" MBSR) course.
posted by 10ch at 7:34 PM on April 1, 2007

I like How To Meditate by Lawrence LeShan.
posted by kdar at 7:52 PM on April 1, 2007

Response by poster: Is there a particular kind of meditation that works best for reducing anxiety? Transcedental? Qigong? or does just standard breath-monitoring work?
posted by philosophistry at 9:28 PM on April 1, 2007

Best answer: Mindfulness meditation will reduce anxiety. It can be done by 'breath monitoring', but it can also be done a million other ways (if not an infinite number of other ways). Just try to be in the moment, that is the key to mindfulness.

AFAIK transcendental and qigong are not exactly aimed at reducing anxiety. Yoga (which is very popular now) is a form of mindfulness meditation, and lots of people find that they are very relaxed and recharged afterwards.
posted by philomathoholic at 9:06 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Meditation can help you reduce or get some control over anxiety producing thoughts and keep you from 'catastrophizing' the situation. Staying in the present moment can help you deal with the situation as it really is, rather than how you might imagine it is.

You might also try loving kindness meditation, as shown here for example.

Another possibility, not really meditation, and you may already know this, but repeated visualization of handling the feared situation successfully is supposed to help. This is like a kind of mental exposure therapy.
posted by DarkForest at 4:20 AM on April 2, 2007

I second Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. It's perhaps more "why" than "how," but context can be useful when you're trying to change the way your brain works. (If you're curious about the pitfalls of trying to change the way your brain works, one place to look would be Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.)
posted by tsmo at 9:08 AM on April 2, 2007

If you're interested in Transcendental Meditation, you might want to take a look at David Lynch's book, Catching the Big Fish, which I posted about before on the blue. TM is fundamentally different from other kinds of mindfulness meditation. It's also proprietary and very expensive. There is, however, a bargain alternative that you can download for 25 bucks. I've been doing this "generic TM" for half a year now and the results have been spectacular; it's everything Lynch promises. I highly recommend giving NSR a try.
posted by muckster at 1:07 PM on April 3, 2007

I'm a fan of the Soto zen style of meditation (shikantaza - "just sitting") which is outlined well in Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen.

There's also a good multi-part set of audio files by Gil Fronsdal that are an introduction to mindfulness meditation. He comes from a zen background but is now a Vipassana teacher, so he has an interesting perspective.
posted by laze at 2:12 PM on April 3, 2007

For what looks like (I haven't read it) an interesting book to learn about many types of meditation, take a look at this:
The Experience of Meditation: Experts Introduce the Major Traditions (Paperback) by Jonathan Shear (Editor)

I've been practicing Transcendental Meditation for 34 years. It worked the very first time, and it still takes me deep into the Self, into the Transcendental realm of Pure Consciousness. Although there are interesting books about it, it cannot be learned from a book. Only personal instruction. Yes, there is a standardized course fee, and yes it is steeper these days (expensive compared to free, but not expensive compared to lots of other things people do).

Maharishi, the founder of TM, has two major books. The Science of Being and Art of Living is good for those considering learning the practice. His other major book, his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, makes more sense to those who have learned the practice.

Some things I like about TM: it is easy, profound, natural; it is not philosophy, belief system, or attitude; you do it twice a day and forget about it, and the result carries into activity; it is well-suited to life in the busy world; since it is amenable to scientific research, there is a lot of research on it, so you don't have to go by the enthusiasm or charisma of practitioners and teachers (; there is an ongoing organization with branches in all major cities so you can pop in for followup refresher instruction; there is even an accredited university (
posted by MetaRon at 3:04 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

The most effective way for me to practice meditation is through different day-to-day actions that I find easy to perform. I believe one of the greatest barriers to successful meditation is that most people are in a hurry to meditate, which is an oxymoron in itself. Our society is accustomed to "medicating", not "meditating" through problems, whether it is coffee or valium, the effect is the same: immediate satisfaction.
Some examples of my personal meditation include making myself a meal, tending my plants, walking the 1/4 mile to get my mail, and getting ready for bed with about a two-minute stretch routine each night, and waking with the same. One not so common path of peace I have discovered is through crochet. Through a simple repetitive action, with each loop formed supporting the next, something of usefulness (or beauty if you know what you're doing) can be produced. It took awhile for me to feel comfortable doing needlework in public, but once I got over that anxiety I found that it relaxed me even more.
I do practice "classical meditation" from time to time. That is how I developed this system for myself: when I began noticing analogous sensations occasionally between meditation and simple tasks. I am constantly refining and seeking better ways of accomplishing peace for myself. Instead of trying to add meditation to my life I try to seek out where it already exists and access it more clearly.
posted by gothchef at 6:09 AM on April 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

I can't remember the titles I've read but I really like Jack Kornfield. His books come with a CD that you use for guided meditation. Of course the goal is to progress to meditating on your own but I really liked this approach as a beginner.

In the book/CD package I had, there were 8 or so, 10/15 minute meditations with Jack helping you along the way. He would gently remind you to come back to the breath, tell you how it's OK and perfectly natural for the mind to wander, etc.

After each session, the next track on the CD's were a short discussion of some of the questions beginners have. For example:

I'm supposed to be still and mindful but my nose/foot/ear itches, what do I do?

There's a fire station/busy road/dog right outside my window, how can I get the peace I need?

Here's a link to Amazon with his titles.
posted by MelPrice at 8:51 AM on April 5, 2007

If anyone is interested, I make personalized meditation CD's for people. You can email me with what you want on it - do you want stress reduction, healing, manifesting prosperity, and the setting, do you want it on the beach, lying in a hammock, on a mountaintop, or what? Just give me an idea. It doesn't cost anything. But because they are free, I probably have a few people waiting for theirs because I do them as I get to them, so be patient.

There is no one way of meditation that is "the right way." It depends upon what you want to accomplish through your meditation. Do you just want to lower our blood pressure, or do you want to gain more awareness of your own personal issues that need work, or do you want to gain insight into a problem that you are looking for a solution for, or are you desiring to contact your spirit guides, angels, ascended masters, etc.? It all depends on what you want.
posted by unhindered at 4:10 PM on April 7, 2007

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