Best advice for a beginner?

A T M, modified 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 2:22 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 2:20 PM

Best advice for a beginner?

Posts: 7 Join Date: 7/25/10 Recent Posts
What would you advise a beginner to do (besides find a teacher) if interested in meditation, especially for concentration meditation? How would you explain the process/practice to one without knowledge of fancy terminology and in-the-know jargon?
Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 3:21 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 3:16 PM

RE: Best advice for a beginner?

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi A T M,

Who is that beginner?

Anyway, a few tips, no jargon:

Start small, like, 5 minutes per sit, once a day. Use a timer. Increase to 10 minutes after a few days or weeks, and continue to increase at a pace that's comfortable. Building a routine is the goal here, but realize it's a lifelong thing, and almost everyone starts over and over again. Maybe research tips about routine-building. Don't worry too much about it, though. Just do it.


If you like, you can do some relaxation exercise beforehand. Research the term "progressive muscle relaxation" for one good way to do this. It's completely optional, however.

Sit on a chair, place your hands on your thighs or in your lap, don't lean back if there's a backrest. Don't obsess about fancy postures. Or, recline in bed or on a sofa - unless this makes you sleepy.

Close your eyes if you like (unless you're using one of the visual objects described below, obviously). Don't squeeze them shut. Don't obsess about whether the eyes are open or closed.

Adopt a light and fun, relaxed attitude - think of something pleasant like leaning back into a relaxing bubble bath or whatever it is you like to relax into. This is something new and interesting.

What to do during those 5 minutes:

Choose something to concentrate on. Experiment, but don't jump around too quickly, give yourself some time, several sits, to learn about it before trying someting else. Here are a few suggestions:

Pick a word - any word - and mentally repeat it. Try to "hear" it. Don't strain.

Or, cut out a saucer-sized disc from a breakfast cereal cardboard box, and stick it up on a wall so the grey side is visible. Gaze at it comfortably. Don't strain. Don't stare down demons.

Or, light a candle and gaze at that.

Or, feel how the breath enters and exits the nostrils, or how it touches the upper lip, or how it feels in the back of the throat, or how the abdomen feels while breathing. Keep feeling how the spot you chose feels, don't follow the breath around. Don't force the breath - iiiiin, oooout -, don't strain. Don't imitate a steam engine.

Other tips

If you notice that your mind wandered, go back to whatever your "concentration object" is. Don't obsess about "not losing it". If you have to go back ten times in five minutes, so be it. If you have to go back 100 times, so be it.

Don't try to keep all these tips in mind all the time! Use what's useful. Experiment.

See what happens and discuss the results. Learn the jargon as you go along and connect it to your experience.

Dark Night Yogi, modified 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 4:43 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 4:43 PM

RE: Best advice for a beginner?

Posts: 138 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
Meditation time for me and for most people in the mornings, when the mind is fresh. Some people do it best when they first wake up. I usually have a snack and coffee first. Or sometimes, I can meditate very well after working out/exercising. I can also meditate very well before sleeping. It also seems to raise the quality of sleep I get. So, having a schedule that works with your daily life is also important.

Having awareness exercises in some activities throughout the day may also help. Getting into the groove and being aware of washing dishes. Being aware of brushing teeth, not trying to rush it, but being calm. I use bathroom taking a crap time to do a lot of sitting. Although this is sort of cheating if you include this as actual formal 'sitting'..

Something I did in Jan.1 2009 (w/c regrettably I failed to do this year) was resolve to meditate everyday.. doesn't matter how long, as long as I don't miss a day. And its the best thing I did. Well, today its August 1. You could make a resolution or sort of 30-day Trial Money back guarantee offer with yourself! Meditate at least 5 minutes a day. The rule is you have to stop whatever you're doing, and actually sit. just 5 minutes minimum. You can have a checkboard or piece of paper with the dates that you cross out if you sit.
A T M, modified 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 5:09 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 5:09 PM

RE: Best advice for a beginner?

Posts: 7 Join Date: 7/25/10 Recent Posts
I very much feel like a beginner and I have a bud with an interest as well. I think I had a bit of information overload and did not know where to go with it. Thanks for keeping it simple and giving me the meat and potatoes on how to start. Solid advice. I like the resolution idea too.
Thanks man.

A T M, modified 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 5:10 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/31/10 5:10 PM

RE: Best advice for a beginner?

Posts: 7 Join Date: 7/25/10 Recent Posts
Same to you Dark Night. Thank you.
S Pro, modified 12 Years ago at 8/10/10 1:14 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 8/10/10 1:14 AM

RE: Best advice for a beginner?

Posts: 86 Join Date: 2/7/10 Recent Posts
I myself started to meditate without a teacher. I just sat down and tried it. That was very simple, didn´t have any (or at least not alot) instructions how to do it.

I kind of concentrated - not planning to do so - on the mind itself. That worked since I felt effects of changed vision, more energy, more equanimity. 20 min a session.

Don´t theorize too much or get lost in the endless instructions that exist.

Brendan Shanahan, modified 11 Years ago at 11/5/10 4:09 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 11/5/10 4:03 PM

RE: Best advice for a beginner?

Posts: 2 Join Date: 4/29/10 Recent Posts
Find like-minded folks to talk about and share your practice with. It doesn't have to be this lonely thing you do every morning and occasionally turn to the internet for advice.

Having a teacher helps in some ways because it establishes a personal connection which encourages you to continue to practice in moments of weakness or doubt. In my experience, these relationships often turn into great friendships (depending, of course, on the types you run across) and can be very inspiring and helpful.

In addition to finding someone whom you can trust, find some friends. A good place to start is attending lectures at meditation centers. A better place is to go to retreat centers (maybe later on in your practice) where there's an opportunity to talk to retreatents. I'm new to Theravada, which is the prevailing "style" here, so I'm not sure if there are any points during retreats when people can actually sit, drink tea, and talk about whatever if you're doing a vipassana or samatha retreat.

Friendship's not really talked about much in spirituality, mostly because we're a bunch of misanthropic introverts (joke!), and usually when it is it's in an oblique, "community"/"sangha" way. Not so helpful. It's refreshing to go hiking through the mountains to find that perfect spot to sit in the mountainside with an close friend, or to be able to be together all day without ever feeling you have to say a word or entertain someone (one of the big hindrances of many friendships and why, I think, people devoted to liberation tend to avoid them - a waste of time and energy). Friends keep the practice alive and fun.

So, find someone you can talk Buddhism about and share a beer with or play a game of put-put golf with. If you decide to devote more and more of yourself to waking-up, you might find yourself surrounded by bark-wearing ascetics in the mountains of India, or giant spiders in a cave somewhere in Thailand. At some point, everyone's good company, but it's always important to find a middle-way, realistically trying to assess where you're at in terms of interests and devotion, and who you would like to become, and then going from there.

This usually happens in a natural way - when I stopped dropping acid, popping ecstasy, and snorting cat-tranquilizer, strangely (although not really), all those friends that I partied with fell away and I found myself surrounded by new people who shared my new interest in living a genuine life of compassion and wisdom. Being more deliberate about this, though, helps, especially to get away from friends or environments which continue to distract and hurt us. The problem usually is not that we want to leave those situations, but that we so desperately want to be in them, like with all our neuroses.

Here's a nice quote from the Buddha to give some authority to all my pro-friendship rambling:

Ananda, the Buddha’s friend and personal assistant, once said to the Buddha that half the spiritual life consist of kalyana mitrata, spiritual friendship, or friendship with what is lovely. The Buddha replies, ‘Say not so Ananda. Say not so. It is the whole, not the half of the spiritual life.’

Good luck and practice hard!
Ona Kiser, modified 11 Years ago at 11/5/10 6:56 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 11/5/10 6:56 PM

RE: Best advice for a beginner?

Posts: 66 Join Date: 1/18/10 Recent Posts
I still don't know a lot of the jargon. It can be easy to get overly hung up on the reading/studying and not actually practice. I agree with a lot said here, Florian's outline in particular is useful I think.

Experiment, but don't experiment within a given sit, and don't bounce from one thing to another each sit. Pick a practice (breath, candle flame, whatever as others suggested) and just do that for at a minimum several days or even a week. Then maybe try another. It can be an avoidance technique to keep switching methods when it feels difficult to meditate. Ultimately you just have to sit and let it be difficult (or not difficult, as the case may be).

One of the most helpful things for me was something I read about it being better to practice in many short sessions than try to ram yourself through long sessions. I started with just 10 minutes in the morning, 10 more in the late afternoon or early evening. Eventually grew to 15, then 20, then 30. I still rarely do more than 30 minutes in any given session, but I usually do several sessions a day; at a minimum I sit once, usually twice, now and then I may even sit five or six times in a day. It's perfectly effective that way. The more often you sit the faster your progress. You could think of it as teaching yourself skills, in the beginning.

I don't think you need to go to retreats, meditation centers, classes, etc. to get a good start, though they can be useful. I think they are most useful if you are not able to discipline yourself, or if you don't have much past history in being self aware*, or after you start getting into weird territory and need some guidance (you'll know). If you can be disciplined about sitting by yourself at home, you can get a lot done.

*I think there are a lot of practices that can give a person a basis for meditation practice. If you've ever trained for a competitive sport, you will have body awareness more than the average person. If you've done martial arts, dance, or even target shooting, you will understand when you are concentrating, how to balance your level of concentration, awareness of body and energy, etc. that gives an advantage. If you've done some kinds of psychotherapy or other mental training/energy work or that sort of thing, you may have an awareness of thought patterns, feelings, energy in the mind and body, etc. that can be useful. IMHO