Ever since I can remember, I had a hard time dealing with emotions. Even in my late teens, I remember getting into arguments with my parents and not being able to hold back the tears. Emotions would flood my body and release through my eyes.
I would ask myself “Why do I feel this way? How can I feel better?” My late Uncle, who was into eastern philosophy used to always tell me that I had too much fire. Something about this rang true. It’s not that having fire was bad but my inability to manage it often lead to suffering. Only years later did I realize how out of control my mind was.
As challenging as these inner struggles have been they are what motivated me to try meditation. I didn’t know much about meditation other than you did it by sitting still and quiet. And that was exactly what I did. I can’t remember these experiences now but I am sure they were frustrating as I never stuck to meditation. Eventually, I stumbled onto a meditation app called Headspace. The app offered a free 10 minute guided meditation session for 10 days. I did the first day and have since never looked back.
For the last 5 years meditation has become a daily practice for me. I have tried all types of meditations. From guided meditations on various apps to breath counting, silent mediation, mantra TM Meditation, and many more. I am no meditation master, far from it but I have learned a lot over the last 5 years. If you are just getting started with meditation some of this information can be helpful. So with the knowledge of hindsight here is everything I wish I knew when I started meditating.
The best meditation tips for beginners
1. Meditation is not about controlling your thoughts, it’s about watching them.
One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that it involves controlling your thoughts. Here is a quick experiment that will help you realize how foolish this is. Try not to think. How did that go for you?
If there is anything that meditation reveals is that your mind has a mind of its own. Thoughts arise and pass on their own accord. Meditation is the practice of noticing thoughts and sensations come and go. With enough training, your mind starts to calm down, not because you are controlling it but because you are creating favorable conditions for peace.
2. Meditation works in subtle and often unconscious ways.
When we start meditating we have all these grandiose ideas of the progress we are going to make. But over time we realize that there are little fireworks or ecstatic states. We can begin to get critical; judging our meditation, and thinking we aren’t doing it right. Because progress is slow we can meditate for years and believe that nothing is happening, not realizing that our practice is transforming us.
We may have yet to access deep states but that doesn’t mean that our current practice isn’t bearing any fruit. A lot of what happens in meditation is subtle and often unconscious to us. The act of setting an intention to meditate and allocating the time to do so puts a powerful process in motion.
3. Meditation doesn’t always make you feel better, sometimes it makes you feel worse.
A lot of us start meditating to experience more happiness, peace, and well being in our daily lives. But, we may find a surprise when our practice elicits unpleasant mental states. Meditation is about increasing awareness, and this includes awareness of negative habitual patterns. Meditation brings forth what hides in our unconscious minds; stuff we rather not face.
As our realization deepens we may experience periods of profound sadness and depression. This phase is known as the dark night of the soul, which can last anywhere from a couple of days to several years. Over time meditation will decrease suffering but temporarily it can make it worse.
4. How you live outside of meditation affects your meditation practice.
When we begin meditating we can see meditation as an escape from the world. But we soon realize that we can’t escape our lives or our minds. The way we live from day to day affects how our meditation sessions unfold. If our lives are full of agitation and stress then it is likely that the same will arise during meditation. The goal of meditation is to illuminate the ways you are creating stress in your life. Recognizing these patterns allows you to release them and to live more peacefully.
5. There are maps for seeing where you are in your progress.
When I started meditating I had no idea that there was a meditative path with progressive stages. It turns out that many meditative/contemplative traditions have maps that show a practitioner where they are on the path. While these maps can differ they also have many consistencies. It’s important to make the personal experience a priority; to avoid confusing the map for the territory. With that said, most practitioners agree that having an approximate map is better than having no map.
6. Having a community and a teacher can speed up your progress.
Although I’m not part of a physical meditation community, I have joined an online meditation forum called Dharamoverground. There I can connect with and learn from other meditators. That is also where I got a recommendation for my current meditation teacher. While you can make progress without a community or a teacher having both can help with your progress.
Meditation is about watching your thoughts not controlling them.
Because it often works in subtle and unconscious ways we can be unaware of how it is transforming us.
For all the benefits of meditation, we rarely hear that it can make us feel worse before it makes us feel better.
How we live outside our meditation practice affects the quality of our sessions and the speed of our progress.
There are maps that can help us identify where we are on the meditative path.
Although meditation is a solo practice we don’t have to walk the path alone.
Becoming a part of a community and finding a meditation teacher can help us on our journey.