I want to start a meditation practice, but I don’t know where to begin. When I’ve tried it in the past, my mind just won’t quiet down. I feel like I’m doing it wrong. Any advice?
I want to start by quelling your concerns about having a wandering mind. The mind will continue to produce thoughts; that’s the job of the mind. The great lesson you learn in meditation is not to stop the thoughts altogether, but to observe the thoughts as they arise and then let them fall away, without getting caught up in the story you’re telling yourself. I had a meditation teacher once lecture about how we actually don’t have that many new thoughts. If you really become aware of the looping thoughts that enter your mind, it’s a lot of the same just playing on repeat. My best advice is to get curious. And also to be kind to yourself. Outside of those two things, it’s just breathing & observing, observing & breathing. Meditation is actually quite simple. That’s the hard part. We want to overcomplicate it so we feel like there’s a problem to solve. The mind/ego loves to problem-solve. Most of us have had a lifetime of putting the mind to work in this way.
When you sit to meditate you can let all of that go. Worries, concerns, & to-do lists will be there, but you can choose to let them play on the big screen OR to let them play faintly in the background, outside of your present awareness. At first you will feel like you’re doing it all wrong, and you might get frustrated. Over time you will learn there isn’t a wrong way. The quality of your meditation practice is different day-to-day; it ebbs & flows just like our lives do. Meditating is a way of being with whatever is true for you in that moment—“good” or “bad” or “exhilarating” or “unpleasant.”
Here are the five hindrances to meditation according to Buddhist philosophy:
- Craving—desperate grasping for something that is pleasant (ex. The thought: “What am I going to eat for dinner later?”/”There’s an incredible feeling coming over me right now, and I don’t know what it is, but I need more of it!”)
- Aversion—moving away from something that is unpleasant (ex. Pain in the body)
- Restlessness—cannot settle into your seat; constant wiggling, moving, scratching (often a restless mind equals a restless body)
- Sleepiness—cannot keep your eyes open (for this reason, it’s often encouraged to meditate sitting upright, either on a cushion on the floor or in a chair with a supportive back)
- Doubt—feeling like you’re not getting anything out of the practice/it’s not working for you
I share these very common hindrances so that when you experience them you’ll know it’s completely normal. Work with whatever it is; it’s meant to be part of your meditation that day.
I usually recommend that beginners start out with some kind of guided meditation that resonates with them. InsightTimer is a fabulous, free app with thousands of guided meditations. That’s a great place to start. Some of the teachers I love are: Mary Maddux, Tara Brach, Melissa Ambrosini, & Glenn Harold.
1GiantMind is another free app that’s wonderful for beginners. You start with a twelve-day program and each day focuses on a different aspect of the practice.
As stated above, it’s helpful to sit upright, either on a cushion (or something supportive) on the floor or in a chair with back support. Use whatever cushions, pillows, or blankets help you to feel most comfortable.
Though not necessary at the beginning, it’s often nice to create a sacred space for yourself. This can simply be an open corner where you collect things that are meaningful for you—maybe candles, pictures, crystals, and/or items that represent your faith. It’s helpful to have this space where you can anchor & focus solely on meditating, as well as incorporating any other practice you enjoy, like praying or setting intentions.
It’s lovely to meditate at the very beginning of your day before the concerns of the day take over. This puts you in a great headspace to be your most kind, compassionate, & productive self throughout the day. If the AM isn’t doable though, fit it in when you can! The benefits of a regular meditation practice are many, and you can find that info just about anywhere nowadays. Just trust me—it’s a true game-changer! Please let me know how I can support your blossoming meditation practice! Namaste beautiful.
Lots of Love,