Resources for newcomers to meditation01 April 2013
I was asked by a friend recently what resources I would recommend for someone new to meditation, so here we are.
Firstly, it’s always worth quoting Suzuki Roshi on the preciousness of a beginner’s mind;
So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, “I know what Zen is,” or “I have attained enlightenment.” This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen, you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.
##Face to face
When starting out I think it’s best to talk to real poeple, face to face. In Bristol, where I live, there are lots of Buddhist groups, I’ve not been to them all, but other than the Sokka Gakkai (Read this for a flavour of the criticisms), I’ve not heard anything bad. Kamalamani, a local teacher and psychotherapist, has a good list of Bristol groups on her website. Personally, I can recommend the BIMG group.
In the last few years Mindfulnesses courses have been on the rise. These are 8-week courses that teach the basic techniques of a secular form of meditation that is the subject of ongoing academic research into the reduction and prevention of certain mental health issues such as stress and depression. Here is a maintained list of academic papers involving Mindfulness. I am a huge supporter of this approach, it’s bonafide meditation (based on vipassana), stripped of its religious baggage and backed up by empirical evidence. I can recommend the courses led by Simon Barnes in Bristol and Phillipa Vick in Bath.
In fact, leading on from Mindfulness, I would also recommend this approach as the best place to start in terms of reading material. Mindfulness In Plain English is frequently acclaimed and is free to download. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the pioneer of Mindfulness and his book Full Catastrophe Living is somewhat the bible of Mindfulness practice. My personal favourite intro to meditation is Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Beliefs. I would also recommend anything by Jack Kornfield, especially, A Path with Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.
The Internet is packed with endless amounts of meditation resources, blogs, podcasts, articles, videos, online retreats, you name it. A great place to start is Buddhist Geeks, for me it’s a living community of like-minded people genuinely engaging with their practice through the medium of the Internet. They prove that it’s completely possible to engage with real-life meditators over Twitter, Facebook, via Skype or Google Hangouts. If you’re at all interested in the emerging culture of the Internet and Social Media, then Buddhist Geeks is the place to go.
Another essential online resource to mention are dharma talks. ‘Dharma’ is a Pali word that basically means ‘teachings’, so dharma talks are talks, given by teachers, most often as part of real world classes or retreats on a particular aspect of Buddhism and meditation. The best place to start is Audio Dharma, they have literally thousands of talks, you’ll never listen to them all! One of the great features of Audio Dharma is their Series Collections, where many talks go together to make a longer course or deeper exploration. So of particular note for beginners would be Gil Fronsdal’s Introduction to Meditation. I should also plug a resource I helped create, Dharma Search, that attempts to aggregate all the talks from across the Internet.
I’d also like to mention the meditation subreddit over at reddit.com, the community there can be very helpful to beginners and if you have questions you’ll always get answers within hours if not minutes.
Yes, smartphones are absolutely valid tools to augment your practice, from meditation timers, to guided meditations and concentration training. A classic is Insight Meditation Timer, mainly it offers a countdown timer, but with a lovely selection of bells to start and end your sitting. But its most interesting feature is its map of other currently meditating people around the world, it’s a subtle, but nevertheless touching, connection to living, breathing practitioners. Buddhify offers a series of bite-sized, 10 minute guided meditations tailored for different situations, for example when you’re on your commute. The Headspace app (Headspace is also a great web resource in its own right) offers something similar, but in more of a course format, again, perfectly suited for beginners. Rewire App is slightly different in that it actually helps train your ability to concentrate in meditation, by giving you some very simply tasks to measure your feedback response. I’ve not used it myself, but I’ve heard it can be a useful aid alongside regular meditation practice.
##Tom’s wisdom So this is just my own personal starting point, do remember there are many other ways of being introduced. It’s important to find something that resonates. I’m less interested in religious practices, like bowing and chanting, but that’s not to say they’re not helpful, they can even be essential to a complete practice. I’ll leave you with a short post I wrote a couple of years ago on The Point Of Meditation and a video of me guiding a short 20 minute meditation;
Happy meditating :)