Many people believe mindfulness meditation is the master skill. What they mean is it a skill that helps you with anything else you may wish to do in life.
I'm not the best person to write this guide, but I am available.
There are a wide range of approaches to meditation. I'll just go through the ones that I have some experience with.
How to learn
- Use guided meditations at first
- Read books a bit but mostly practice
Read on for specific recommendations.
The "raw data" of experience
You don't have to pretend to believe anything you don't.
If you have an allergy to any language about "spiritual" things, go through the introductory course in Sam Harris's Waking Up app. It isn't made up of lectures, but guided meditations. 10 minutes per day. It's only available through his app.
I especially recommend this course if you have a self-image of being a very rational person.
Sam Harris is a neuroscience PhD and does not seem at all like the type who would be meditating. He has been called one of "The Four Horsemen of Atheism". He is anti-religion.
He wants to show you the "raw data" of experience. He's only going to teach you to notice what it is like to be conscious. Eventually you will come to realize how unaware you have been. We mostly walk around in a trance.
Opening to woo-woo
To give yourself a chance at getting value from some of the more religious roots of all this, I recommend The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. It is a series of interviews. It will help you see value in what otherwise might seem like a bunch of fairy tales that the religious people around you believe. It helps you adopt a more mature view of the value of spiritual traditions. The series was originally a TV series, but it's available as audio and as a book. I have listened to it several times.
If you want to get even deeper into the argument for why things that "don't make sense" may still be extremely useful, I recommend all of the books in Nassim Taleb's Incerto series. It's thousands of pages long – and a lot of people find him irritating – but the books makes a good case for being open to the idea that the things that have worked for humans for many thousands of years may have worked for some reason you don't understand and might still work today for reasons you don't understand. Personally I found these books to be non-irritating and some of the most entertaining books I've ever read.
“If you haven't wept deeply, you haven't begun to meditate.” – Ajahn Chah
There are very deep psychological truths in the Buddhist traditions. If you can let go of the need for it to "make sense" and for every story to be based on falsifiable claims that have subsequently been verified as true by peer reviewed science, you may find this very useful.
In the stories and techniques, there are ways to deal with the psychological challenges that we face as humans.
I ended up having much more deep experiences meditating when I went down this path.
I recommend Tara Brach's book Radical Acceptance and Jack Kornfield's book A Path With Heart. And I recommend their guided meditations, which I'll go over below.
After a short time with these materials, I ended up having a handful of the most profound experiences of my life. I wasn't looking for profound experiences. All I was looking for is some help with ordinary psychological problems that stood in my way of better appreciating my time here.
It helps to have some background in what the meditation techniques are all about, the method to the madness. That's what the books are good for. But, the meditations are the main thing. You actually need to do it to get it. It's a bit like riding a bicycle in that way. I previously read Radical Acceptance years ago and it didn't do much for me until I re-read it, this time actually doing the exercises.
With both Tara's and Jack's books, you don't have to read the whole thing. Reading the first half of each of those books will give you a really good feel for the ideas behind the practice. Then you can continue reading later, whenever you want.
You might find that your darkest times are when you have the most opportunity for transformative experiences.
Guided meditation recommendations
If you don't know where to start, start with these. Just choose one according to the length of time you want to spend.
Saying "Yes" To Life
I use this one almost every day.
Energy and Source
Return to your creative, alive self.
A Practice of RAIN
Use this for any difficult situation you are anticipating. This is part healing and part training to learn to deal with challenging situations.
Use this one when you suspect you are feeling afraid.
Meeting Anger with Awareness
This one has lead to one of the most profound experiences of my life.
A Meditation on Grief
This also has lead to several profound experiences for me and has totally changed my relationship with deep disappointments and suffering in life.
What Matters to your Heart?
Use this to find your direction in life.
Teachers to try
This is a summary of what I’ve written above with a few new names thrown in as well:
Tara Brach - She has a podcast and free guided meditations. Her book, Radical Acceptance, is the one I recommend most if you want to do some reading on Buddhist psychology.
Jack Kornfield - He has several books, free guided meditations and probably a lot of other stuff. A good book to start with, and the only one I’ve read, is A Path with Heart.
Ram Dass - Try just finding videos of his lectures or try his memoir Being Ram Dass. Ram Dass goes a long way off the beaten intellectual path and into “spiritual” weirdness.
Sam Harris - He teaches through the Waking Up app. There are guided meditations and interviews with related thinkers. He also has a book called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
“If you don’t have 10 minutes to meditate then you need to meditate for an hour.”
If you are feeling rushed, that's a sign you need to do even more. By doing this work you will end up being more productive when you actually get to your to-do list. On the other hand, if rushing through life is working for you, then pardon the interruption.
To give this all a try, join our a meditaiton group in our catalog. We meditate daily on our own time and report back to the group what we did and what we learned. It's great camaraderie and is essential for keeping me at it. It would be great to have you in the group.