Since my last blog about doing a silent retreat, lots of people have asked me how to start meditating. It’s something I haven’t written about before because there is so much information out there. But it seems that all the information can be confusing – where do you start?
Here is my attempt to set out some of the best ways to get into it.
First of all, everyone is different (of course!) and different approaches work for different people at different times. I’ve tried to set out some of the options and make recommendations. So read on for the description that best describes you…
You can’t sit still
If you hate sitting still, you might find being motionless for 10 minutes pretty unpleasant. Even if you can do it, you won’t enjoy it, and it is very hard to create a habit doing something you don’t enjoy. So if this is you, perhaps try a yoga meditation, a moving meditation, or a walking meditation. There are some free guided meditations provided by Bangor University (plus many more meditations which do involve sitting still).
You want an evidence-based approach
One of the things that has really revolutionised meditation has been the development of structured courses that have been studied and evaluated. The two famous ones are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the USA) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (developed by Mark Williams in the UK). Both have a good evidence-base behind them. You can find people who teach them throughout the UK and USA, or you can get books which take you through the courses (MBSR here and MBCT here).
You want a more spiritual approach
I started meditating with a more spiritual approach. Most religions have a tradition of meditation, even if it isn’t a current mainstream practice. I started meditating with organisations influenced by Buddhist practices. For me, the advantage of these approaches is that I feel like they tap into a deeper reservoir of help and support. I would recommend Tara Brach as an excellent teacher in the Buddhist tradition. Her talks and meditations are free online. One of the things I particularly like is her focus on self-compassion and kindness.
You want a free online course
Here is one! I haven’t tried it, but a trusted friend and mindfulness teacher recommended it. If you do it let me know how it goes!
You want something that works for an office environment
There are now a lot of organisations providing mindfulness in a work context. The advantage of these is that they are sensitive to the work situation and the fact you don’t want to be talking about your deepest darkest issues in a room full of colleagues. The one I have worked with (and I think they are excellent) is Mindfulness At Work.
You want to meditate while out and about
So this is a bit of a cheat – it’s not really meditation. But it is very cool, and makes you look at the world in a different way. It is Street Wisdom, a non-for-profit which encourages people to walk around the streets and look at things in a different way. I did one a few months ago. You go to the leader who gives you an instruction, like “Observe patterns” and you go off for 15 minutes only looking at patterns. Then you come back and get a different instruction, like “Slow right down” and you see how odd it is to walk slowly round the streets (and how the police look at you with interest – subversive!). Some people in our group had really amazing experiences, which you can read about on the website. Anyway, there are plenty upcoming in the UK but fewer abroad. You can set one up yourself by downloading the instructions from the website.
So there you have it. Some recommendations. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to keep it simple on purpose. The key thing is to start, and if possible, to find someone to do it with you – a buddy who can support you and keep you accountable. Agree a plan and try to stick to it. But don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. Just like with exercise, some meditation is a lot better than none. So even 5 minutes will make a difference, especially if you keep doing it most days.