Why and How to Meditate

The benefits of meditation are referred to in Tibetan as "ehipassiko"
— literally, "come-and-see-ish," or, more colloquially, "you'd have to be here now." In other words, try it and see if you like it.

There are a number of medical studies on the benefits of meditation for health and well-being. (For references, see my longer essay, focused on the issues of work, stress and distraction, at I've found meditation to be almost immediately useful for anxiety and panic attacks, and in general the practice has left me with a sense of being able to handle whatever comes in life, within reason.

However, it's not always easy to learn; people often feel like they're not "getting it" and give up. Sometimes they come back to it later, as I did. At any rate, it's never too late to learn, and it's better to sew your parachute before you need it.

Here is a short list of suggestions about learning to meditate:

  1. Sit in an upright posture, not too stiff but not overly relaxed.

  2. Begin by focusing on your breath.

  3. Really pay attention to it, every detail, as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world. Yes, it's always the same thing over and over, breathing in, breathing out, and yet each breath is unique. Paying attention to your breath is a good way to learn to pay attention to your life — otherwise, you might miss it!

  4. If you keep getting distracted and having to remind yourself to follow your breath, this is not a sign that you're doing it wrong — this is the practice. This is the essence of the practice. There's no need to beat yourself up. You'll keep getting lost, over and over, and each time you'll gently, patiently return to your breathing. It's always there. This is good practice for learning forgiveness and persistence.

  5. It can be difficult to make time to meditate regularly, to give it a chance to become a habit. Finding a meditation group can be very helpful. Taking a course such as the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes taught in many hospitals and medical centers is an excellent way to make meditation part of your daily life. You might also want to look for a Meetup group, etc., in your local area.

  6. Guided meditation recordings can also be helpful. A few that I like are:

  7. Once you get comfortable with breathing meditation, you can experiment with other forms, such as focusing on your body sensations (body scan meditation), sounds (listening meditation), the present moment (choiceless awareness), lovingkindness, everyday life, etc.


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