getting started with meditation

I recently got an email from someone asking about how to get started with learning meditation. Which is a very good question, because it certainly wasn’t clear to me, before I got started, how one was supposed to learn this seemingly simple practice. While I’m still a relatively new meditator, these are my thoughts.

The Question:

I just found your blog through a link to your homemade lavendar oil post (which sounds wonderful).  Anyway, I’ve started reading your archives from the beginning and I see references to meditation.  This is a practice I am very interested in but I don’t know how to start.  There are so many types and ways to meditate, at least it seems that way. Would you be willing to send me some pointers on how to learn more about meditation?

. . .

My answer: 

You’re so right! There really are so many different types of meditation. It is, on the surface, such a simple thing, but it’s also one of the most complex practices there is (or at least that’s been my experience). There are tons of ways to start out with meditation. You can get books on it, listen to free guided meditations, or simply try to do it on your own. I first started by doing guided meditations at home by myself. But I don’t think I really established meditation as a practice, or started to understand what it truly means, until I did a sequence of meditation classes for absolute beginners.

If you want to get started at home on your own, here are a few resources: 

    • Fragrant Heart has tons of guided audio meditations available for free. These are still my favorite guided meditations. I started out with the chakra meditation and have done many others since.
    • Chopra Center does a 21-day guided meditation challenge. I’ve never done it, but I have a friend who has done it several times over, and it definitely turned meditation into a regular thing in her life (she had never meditated previously).

    • Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project is a wonderful at-home introduction to meditation.
The thing that made meditation “stick” for me was taking a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy class that was offered through a therapy practice here in NYC. This class was specifically tailored to helping people use meditation to deal with anxiety and depression. However, anyone could benefit from the curriculum, I’m sure. A similar class (very similar; the curricula are nearly the same some weeks) is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. That is also offered in many different cities.

Another approach is to go to a meditation center, of course! I think it’s powerful to meditate with a real-life community, so I highly recommend it. Most cities have some sort of meditation center (or a yoga center that offers meditation classes). If you’re in a large city, there might be a Shambhala Center, which is the first place I’d think of for introductory classes. To begin, it might be helpful to do one of the multiple-week paid classes. But most meditation places also offer introductory talks and meditation sessions (often called “sits”) that are free.

I’d recommend trying different types of meditation to see what you like or what makes sense to you. At that point, you can look into finding a dharma group (meditation community) if that appeals to you. Personally, I meditate with the Community of Mindfulness, which follows the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s lovely to have a community that supports your practice, and the people in the Community of Mindfulness are so unbelievably nice (in my experience).

Last, if you want to read about meditation, some authors I think are fabulous are Tara Brach, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, and Cheri Huber.

Now go forth and meditate! It might take a very long time to establish meditation as a practice, and that’s perfectly alright. It’s a practice that’s worth trying again and again, in different ways, until you discover how to make it work for you.

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