Some days ago a young man asked me to tell him how to get started with meditation. Now there is so much content on this out there on the Internet that there are a million ways to get started, and that’s the problem. Which one to choose? This post will tell you what I think are the correct ways to get started and some reading and watching material to get you on your way, curated by yours truly.
Most of the material around meditation assumes that you already believe in God. This makes a lot of this material a little cringeworthy to an atheist who is looking for some secular meditation for increased productivity and general mental wellbeing. This is a perfectly fine position to take, though if you aren’t facing an existential crisis or being overwhelmed with trauma, it makes the surrender into the power of the cosmos that much less meaningful. In any case, if you’re an atheist or as some like to call it in their shallow understanding of the word – agnostic – then the best book I know of on the subject is The Mindful Geek
The tagline of the book is Mindfulness Meditation for Secular Skeptics, and Michael Taft does a great job of talking about meditation without talking about God. I found the meditations and the guided meditations in this book to be extremely eye-opening. I was surprised to know that there is a rich interior landscape of sensations, and that this landscape shifts with thoughts and emotions and that it was possible to pay attention to these sensations and even start to enjoy them even when they were unpleasant. I got a lot of techniques for coping with emotions from this book.
The Mindful Geek is a how-to manual by design, and it therefore falls short in the inspiration department. To balance out the cut-and-dry nature of this book, I suggest a book that is pure vibe - The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.
In fact all of Michael’s books are amazing and you should read them all, but start with this one.
Now after reading these two you have spent some time in the company of people who meditate a lot and slowly that vibe is seeping into you.
But simply reading will not cut it. You must sit. And this is where a lot of meditators completely miss the point. It really doesn’t matter what meditation technique you follow. The main thing is to do it every day. Without fail. For 90 days at least.
I remember my first attempts at meditation. I could not sit still even for three minutes. Every single worry of mine would come crashing to the front of my mind and overwhelmed with this urgency I would bounce from the session. This is of course absurd. There is nothing in our ordinary world that cannot wait 20 minutes, especially if you clear the time for it. That same 20 minutes spent doomscrolling Twitter somehow doesn’t register. But sit down on the mat for a few seconds and boom, everything explodes. This is of course absurd. You’re a puppet to forces you’re not even aware of it seems. Meditation is about cutting those strings. Where the mind makes us dance like a puppet master, we take our control back from it.
And notice how we talked about “our mind”? We spend most of our time being our minds, not having a mind. And yet we have no problem with the concept that the mind belongs to us. And what is this thing that the mind belongs to? This is the question we pose when we meditate. As Ramana Maharishi asked – Who am I?
Everyone has their own style of approaching this question. There are those who seek to gather as much knowledge about the process and then undertake a careful and disciplined study of the problem, with lots of concepts and nuances and so on. Why you just have to idly peruse some Buddhist websites and you will see the number of concepts and the various arguments as to their interpretation. I’m not like that. I’m more firmly in the empericist camp. Sit, see what happens and then try and figure out if there’s a concept that’s needed. So naturally there is a school of thought that says the same thing, since the ancients had seen and heard everything already.
Just fucking sit. Set a timer, close your eyes, and just sit.
Try and sit still.
Try and sit still for longer than you did last week.
Now stop trying and just sit.
Just sit and let the thoughts come. Don’t focus on your breath or try not to think. Think. Soon thoughts will bore you and you will notice that there’s a thinker, separate from the thoughts.
Say hello to this thinker. Watch your thoughts pass by. Or get lost in them. It doesn’t matter.
Tomorrow sit a little longer.
After 30 days of sitting every day, set a time and sit every day at that time.
After 60 days, wake up early and sit first thing in the morning.
In 90 days, try and sit still with your eyes closed for two hours at least once.
Sit for longer than you think you can sit. And just sit.
The mind, like turbid water left alone, will settle of its own accord. You don’t need to do anything.
Later you will ask simple questions like ‘Do I walk, or does walking happen?’. Trust me, it will make sense.
So young man, don’t just do something, sit there!
There are tonnes of videos on the web. The only one’s worth watching and listening to are by Baba Ram Dass. Everything else can be safely ignored. Here’s one
But don’t get lost in this shit. You don’t know it yet, but you already know everything, just like you know how to walk or to breathe or to digest your food. Watching videos is not sitting. Sitting is sitting. Just sit.
After you’re done 90 days, we can talk more. Until then good luck and Godspeed!