Meditation 101


A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires, and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  No one is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security. 

Albert Einstein

 

This page is here to help give direction to anyone interested in starting a meditation practice. To meditate, you need two things: information, and motivation. I intend to provide both.

Supplies:

bench with emma

 

Learning to meditate without using a meditation bench would be like learning to play guitar without using guitar strings. − me

A meditation bench lets anyone sit straight, in comfort. It’s basically a kneeling posture, with your butt on a board.

Below are some article about cross-legged postures. If you can sit like that, with your back perfectly straight and with zero strain in your legs, then great! You have your sitting posture. I can’t even come close. However, after only a month of daily bench-sitting, I was able to sit very straight and very relaxed for half an hour. It’s definitely the way to go in my opinion for non-contortionists. Bonus feature: Most benches fold up and will fit easily into suitcases, and even backpacks. I recommend you buy at meditationbench.com.

Get a zabuton. It’s a square cushion, about 3-feet by 3-feet, and a couple inches think. You put your bench right on the cushion, and everything is oh so comfy. Which is all you’re after. Comfort, so you will want to stay there a while.

The zabuton also creates a defined space around you, and that feels good, like a fort.

A zabuton is not “something to get later, after I get started.” You need it now, in order to get started. Buy the bench, buy the zabuton. They are surprisingly expensive at about $70 each. Tough beans. Buy them both now. You can fold the zabuton in half with the bench collapsed inside, and tuck them away when not in use. And if you get a practice going and then stop, you’ll always have your supplies at the ready for when you get the whim to start again.

 

Me on meditation bench with trees and flowers

Reading

One thing I suggest when reading these articles, or any of the books, or anything at the website link below, or the stuff I write about meditation, is that when you come upon words or phrases that flip your bullshit switch, just move on along, until you find some words that resonate with you and make sense.

Here are two good articles on how to meditate that are part of my coaching materials.

How to Meditate — by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

This three page article starts with some general info about meditation, and then goes into very specific instructions as to what to do.

Meditation article by the Zen Mountain Monastery

This six page article contains layers of awesomeness. The main reason I am including it here is that at the beginning it goes into details about the various sitting positions — with pictures.

Anatomical information about lotus position, and about how to not hurt yourself:

http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/978

http://alanlittle.org/weblog/Lotus.html

Some words from the Dalai Lama:

If you call yourself a person of science, or an agnostic, or an atheist, and you’re wondering just where buddhistic teaching fits in, this one-page article could come as quite an eye-opener:

The Dalai Lama on science

An article from TIME MAGAZINE about meditation:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1147167,00.html

Books:

These are the books I have read, roughly in order of frequency and influence. At first I swallowed books whole. Could not get enough. Now what I do is keep one of them on my bedside table, and every night I read a few pages before I go to sleep. It doesn’t really matter which book I read, or which section. It’s not like I am “reading” them. It’s more like I am “reading from” them.

The Miracle of Mindfulness – by Thich Nhat Hahn

Wherever You Go, There You Are – by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Awakening the Buddha Within – by Lama Surya Das

The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching – by Thich Nhat Hahn

Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing – by Thich Nhat Hahn

Full Catastrophe Living – by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – by Shunryu Suzuki

Training the Mind – by Chogyam Trungpa

The Power of Now – by Eckhart Tolle

A New Earth – by Eckhart Tolle

The Three Pillars of Zen – by Philip Kapleau

Zen in the Art of Archery – by Eugen Herrigel

A Thousand Names for Joy – by Byron Katie

That Which You Are Seeking is Causing You to Seek – by Cheri Huber

The Essential Gandhi – by Mahatma Gandhi

The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz

How to Practice – by The Dalai Lama

Yoga Resources

Whenever I hear the same thing from totally different sources, it weighs more. Here’s a case of that: I’ve been told, from several sources, that the main purpose of doing yoga is to train your body and mind to be able to sit still in formal sitting meditation. Well, there are plenty of other reasons to do yoga, and the benefits are many and huge. But this one idea — that yoga is itself a meditation, and that it is also a training for the mind and body to be able to hold still during sitting meditation — is a perspective I found very appealing and useful early on, and still do.

My wife and I use a yoga app that we love called “All-in Yoga.” I would like it even without the poker reference. And there are many like it. Just find one that leads you quickly to picture of poses that make you think, “I could do that.” And then use the app to learn how to do them.

I have a few videos that I watched a dozen times each when I first started. None of them came recommended to me, and I would not recommend them to anyone. By that I mean, if you were to buy yoga videos that struck your fancy for whatever reason, or videos that someone recommended to you, you would rate to do at least as well as I have done by way of my videos (which is very well). I have been and continue to be taught by books, my app, and Youtube. I have practiced every day at home, or wherever I was, since my first day. Yoga is essential in my meditation practice. I see it the way Jon Kabat-Zinn taught me to: “Yoga is meditation.” I do it for 5 minutes sometimes, sometimes for 30 minutes, and everywhere in between. Sometimes just one or two breaths in a concentrated posture is all I need and all I can do at the time, and doing even that is always better than not doing it, sometimes significantly so.

A Guided Meditation Talk that Jon Kabat-Zinn gave to a roomful of Google employees:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc&feature=related

The first 20 minutes or so is Jon teaching. Then he and the whole class do a mindfulness meditation while Jon guides them through it. Good stuff.

 My books:

Elements of Poker has some meditation stuff in it, but not much, and only at the end. Painless Poker, however, is loaded up with pretty much every thought and suggestion I have had or come across when it comes to how and why to meditate. It’s a book that I would recommend, even if I hadn’t written it.

 A Good Website:

Here is a site I have been to quite a few times:

http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/

At this site you can read a book I recommend called “The Issue at Hand.” You can also just write to them and they will send you a hard copy of the book for free. Also at that site are many fine articles. Here are links to the book and articles:

http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/imc-articles.html

http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/imc-iah.html

Here is an entire website dedicated to mindful eating:

http://www.tcme.org (tcme = “The Center for Mindful Eating”)

Three short writings: two by me, one by John Steinbeck:

 

The Secret to Meditating in the Modern World

By modern world I mean, electronic world, as in, a world where we encounter lots of things that plug in. The secret to meditating in this world is to start every day by being awake for a while before touching or looking at or listening to anything that runs on electricity. (An alarm clock buzzer is okay. The news on the radio isn’t.)

On Sitting

I sit straight and I settle my body and my mind. I settle my body and it settles my mind. I settle my mind and it settles my body. I settle, and next I am less settled than I was the moment before, so I notice this, and I return to more settlement, and that lasts for some amount of time, and then it ends when mental or physical disturbance prevails, but then, in time, because I am sitting still, I notice that I have strayed from the task of becoming more settled than I was the moment before, and I return to it. And that is how it goes when I sit straight and settle.

And how is all this settling accomplished? By the way, the only way, the necessary way, of following the breath. Why would you expect or want there to be more to it than that? To find the answer to that question and all others, breathe.

On Connectedness

Our own interest lay in relationships of animals to animal. If one observes in this relational sense, it seems apparent that species are only commas in a sentence, that each species is at once the point and the base of a pyramid, that all life is relational to the point where an Einsteinian relativity seems to emerge. And then not only the meaning but the feeling about species grows misty. One merges into another, groups melt into ecological groups until the time when what we know as life meets and enters what we think of as non-life: barnacle and rock, rock and earth, earth and tree, tree and rain and air. And the units nestle into the whole and are inseparable from it. Then one can come back to the microscope and the tide pool and the aquarium. But the little animals are found to be changed, no longer set apart and alone. And it is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious, most of the mystical outcrying which is one of the most prized and used and desired reactions of our species, is really the understanding and attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known as unknowable. This is a simple thing to say, but the profound feeling of it made a Jesus, a St. Augustine, a St. Francis, a Roger Bacon, a Charles Darwin, and an Einstein. Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things — plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tidepool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.

John Steinbeck