Knowledge about how to meditate is in high demand. You can buy it online, but that’s not a good idea. So, let’s google together and look at the results. And, after the rant, I will tell you how I would teach meditation today – it’s a very different approach.
I started meditation back in the eighties. For, I think at least seven years I taught meditation in real life, with real people with real sitting down and real shutting up.
Years later I designed an audio course for meditation. Basically a podcast with 100 episodes in which I talked about everything around the topic that seemed important to me. This podcast called „Impetus“ proved to be quite successful and I got much feedback for that. It’s in German, by the way.
What I want to say is: I am not against using modern media. And why not use modern forms of communication to teach meditation? A website, for example. It’s perfectly sound to do that.
Though there are other ways to achieve information about meditation, too. You can use an app, you can find DIY-meditation videos on YouTube, you can listen to audio books about meditation or buy an old-fashioned real book, if you prefer. And there’s still the oldest way: You visit a place where real life human beings meditate. They will be happy to introduce you to this technique.
But, I perfectly understand this comes with two problems: First, you have to interact with strangers and trust them, which is a huge inhibition threshold not only for socially anxious people.
And, secondly, you have to pick a certain flavor of meditation. How could a newbie choose between Vipassana, Zen, Christian contemplation, chakra meditation, transcendental meditation or popular schools like mindfulness or loving kindness meditation? It’s a market out there and there are barkers shouting at you! But the differences are really hard to tell.
Because of this multitude of options, most beginners begin with … a simple Google search!
That’s fine. I would do exactly that, if I would begin today.
Let’s do that, too. Let’s have a look at the results, if we search „How Do I Start to Meditate?“ I used a newly installed browser with no search history and no connections to any social networks or profiles. But your results still may differ.
Okay … The first website on my Google results starts with following sentence:
„Meditation is an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body.“
One sentence in and I disapprove already. I understand the intention behind this sentence, but the analogy is misleading. Fitness can be measured. In fact, most fitness afficionados are obsessed with the quantification of their achievements. „How much do you bench press?“
Meditation can’t be measured. „How long can you hold your posture?“
One or two paragraphs later we can read:
„It’s extremely difficult for a beginner to sit for hours and think of nothing or have an “empty mind.” We have some tools such as a beginner meditation DVD or a brain-sensing headband to help you through this process when you are starting out.“
Okay. I’m out. See why I think it’s important that spirituality comes without a price tag? Because it is used to sell you something! First they create a problem: „Beginners have to meditate for hours!“ No teacher I ever met – even the bad ones – would demand that! That simply does not happen!
And a brain-sensing-headband? Who needs that? To measure my brain activity? That’s misleading! A good meditation can be the opposite of strong theta waves. I witnessed breakthroughs in meditation that exactly looked like a panic attack. This is fake spirituality right at the first entry of the search results! Please, don’t buy a brain-sensing headband!
Let’s give number two a chance.
This page is about learning meditation to get more productive. It says so right on top and in a softened JPG with mossy stones in the background. Ach, meditation and stones: Postmodern kitsch!
Then everything beneficial about meditation is presented in a short bullet list. If you start meditation – that’s the promise here – you will not only get more productive, but calmer, too. The circuitry in your brain will be rewired, you will need less sleep, you will age slower, your concentration improves as does your intelligence and it says – I’m not kidding! – that your mind will be defragmented!
Holy mackerel, Batman! My mind is fragmented? Is my mind just like a hard drive? Do I need to reformat my brain sometimes, too? Or do I have to update my operating system? Wouldn’t that be nice? Maybe it comes with a mind virus scanner!
What is the use of all this promises? Next thing on the homepage is an introduction into meditation which is quite ordinary. The only thing a little fishy is an affiliate link to a meditation timer app. One which, and I quote: „ It’s dead-simple, and displays a simple page of stats after you finish.“
Two things: Don’t use statistics for meditation. Just do not. That’s the best way to get nothing from meditation but endless boredom.
And don’t start with these promises. Don’t expect this things to happen to you. Ever. Everyone who stuck to meditation for some years will laugh about this fake stuff. „Defragment your mind!“
I promise you: Meditation will take all your expectations and write them in its little notebook. And then, if you really pick up the practice, it will take one expectation after the other and destroy it. The more you expect something, the more suffering you will have to endure.
If you start to meditate to get more productive and really commit to it, you will get less productive. Guaranteed. If you really sit down and shut up, you will have to give up all this fake stuff, one by one. And then, if you stick to meditation, one day you may sit there and you will expect nothing.
That’s when the not fake stuff begins to happen.
Shall we try more Google search results? Maybe we can recognize a pattern her.
Number three: Look! That’s the Headspace homepage! Do you know Headspace? It maybe the most successful meditation app of the world. When it was brandnew, in 2009, I downloaded it immediately. I was curious. Andy Puddicombe did a great job in his guided meditations,I thought. Pleasant voice and nice animations. But the app relies on guided meditations, which I am not really a fan of… But – maybe it helps those who need it?
Andy said, still available at the Wayback Machine, presenting his company Headspace:
„I want to make meditation accessible, relevant and beneficial to as many people as possible!“
Well. I understand, Andy. Good thing! But maybe, just maybe, 13 dollars a month may be a counter productive strategy to follow this plan? To reach as many people as possible? Really? What about students? Cab drivers? People packing at Amazon or working at a register in a supermarket? Do you mean them, too?
Okay, you can just take the free trial for two weeks, but then…
You’d better have a good job, if you want to benefit from meditation. You better live in a rich country, if you really want to meditate. It’s a strange coincidence that the free trial last for two weeks.
Because the average employee – not the poor workers – the average person in Madagascar needs two weeks to actually earn 13 dollars.
Okay, that’s too polemic, you are right. But, you see what I mean? Why spirituality has to be without a price tag? Headspace makes 50 million Dollars a year. Andy is not a monk anymore, even if this part of his past is showcased a lot on the web page: He is now one of the founders of Headspace Incorporated.
Let’s get to the next candidate. Maybe we can find one website that does not try to sell you spirituality for dollars. Let’s see …
Google search result number four: That’s the homepage of Mindworks. Let’s have a look at the page. It begins with, quote: „Five pointers to get you started.“ Fine.
First: „Keep your expectations in check“
Well, that’s a good thing. That’s what I told you five minutes ago. So, well done so far. Let’s scroll further…
There’s a picture of a young woman smiling at us and making this Namaste hand gesture. It’s an ad. A huge banner for meditation courses, right here at Mindworks. Well, let’s click on that banner!
Okay: They have 15 different courses here. Meditation fundamentals, Improving Relationships, Working with Stress, Working with Emotions, Happiness or Addiction and Forgiveness and then pure meditation courses. You can climb up their spiritual ladder from ladder rung one to nine.
But we are beginners. So what does „Meditation Fundamentals“ cost? Oh, look, they have a bargain! A special intro offer! „Meditation Fundamental“ only costs 25 Dollars instead of 35!
But, here … it says, this course is free for members. Free sounds good. Click! Here they say: „Become a Mindworks Member and access this course along with a host of other benefits.“ Host with benefits. Okay…
So, what does a membership cost? Okay. It’s 25 Dollars a month. Well, thats twice as expensive as Headspace. These benefits must be something! What are they?Well:
„Access to Mindworks Members Facebook Group and community“.
Oh, no! Thank you! I’d prefer to pay for NOT being on Facebook, sorry.
„Free subscription to Mindworks App and all its features“ – I thought this was the basic deal and not a benefit? That’s confusing!
„Follow the Mindworks Journey for deep and enduring transformation through mindfulness and awareness meditation“. Okay, Mindworks journey. Their journey. Fine. (clears throat ) What about my journey? I have to pay to follow their journey? Well, their journey better be with lightsabers and hobbits and without heroes breaking into song! Because, if the hero suddenly starts to sing – I’m out!
Let’s see for other benefits. Here:
„Support Mindworks non-profit activity and help us offer genuine meditation to the world“.
To the world? Even to Madagascar? If your company is non-profit, then what about this 25-dollar-a-month-thing? You see: That’s fake, too.
But, do you hear, how relaxed and calm I am? Thirty years of meditation and I do not get angry at marketing professionals hiding behind meditation to separate you from your money. That’s not exaggerated. The CEO of Headspace is a marketing professional. And this really is a problem.
You know, the thing is: Your meditation is yours. It belongs to you. No one can sell meditation to you.
It’s a perfectly natural thing to do. It’s a natural part of being alive. You sometimes already meditate without being aware of it. This is why all this sounds like bag-playing to me.
But I’ll dive into that in another episode.
For now, I will tell you how to start meditation without this fake stuff. And I will tell you for free!
I taught meditation for quite a time. When I began to teach, back in 1999, I simply copied the way I learned it myself. Which was a copy of the way that my teachers were taught, back when buddhist meditation arrived in Europe. Which was a copy of the way meditation was taught to laymen in Japan.
I thought about teaching a lot since I quit. Because I would approach it differently today.
In my experience only about five percent of beginners tend to stay with the practice for years and years. Often the most enthusiastic students are the first ones to give up.
In my opinion meditation is harder to learn now than ever before, if we exclude times of war. Or starvation. Or pestilence. Which is a summary of human history so far … Okay, maybe there have been harder times to learn meditation, many harder times, too – but it still is quite hard!
Nowadays most of us have a little computer with them, their smartphone; distraction was never easier to get. And there’s your real computer or console or notebook and there is radio and music in every shop and millions of podcasts, television or streaming or cinema. On top of that over 3000 additional advertising messages are yelled at everyone of us on any given day on average. Yelled at you by an industry that has hundreds of years of experience to manipulate you subconsciously.
You see? War back, pestilence forth: It is hard today, too!
It’s really incredibly hard for some to just sit down for fifteen minutes and do … nothing.
I experienced people almost suffering from bodily pain trying that.
But that’s exactly what meditation is. Sitting down, doing nothing. Today that’s the hard part of it.
Forget about balancing the correct way to sit. Forget breathing techniques or mantras.
And forget about all the methods you used to learn anything so far. There are no grades an no tests.
In meditation there is no right or wrong.
It really is about sitting down, doing nothing, I am not kidding.
But doing nothing needs real commitment!
The main reason so many beginners quit is: They are not able to make room for meditation in their life. They are to busy! There is so much work to do, commuting, there are social media to follow, you need to stay in shape, there’s the problem of eating Instagram worthy and – remember the advertising? – there’s shopping to do, too. And let’s not forget to mention all the shows you have to binge watch on Netflix!
Busy, busy, busy!
So. If I would teach again, I would try another approach. If I would teach you today, I’d say:
First find a daily slot in your busy schedule. Daily. As in every given day.
All the people I know that kept meditating for years do that the same way, no exception: They do it the first thing in the morning! That’s by far the best way to do it. Set your alarm earlier every day, if you need to.
The alarm rings, you stand up – don’t snooze – you get up, go to the bathroom and then you sit down and do nothing for fifteen minutes. That’s the hard part, like I said.
It’s not important HOW you sit, as far as you don’t lie down in bed again.
And doing nothing means: No music or TV in the background. No smartphone. You may set up an alarm on your phone, but you have to put it into flight mode. Do not drink anything. No coffee or tea in this fifteen minutes. No eating, too.
You may stare out of the window, but you don’t move. Even your head. Don’t look around.
These are the rules. Your mind may do what it wants to do!
Watch it! With a high probability your thoughts will race now that you are doing nothing. Your brain craves the dopamin of clicking on new shiny things in your Tweeter stream. Your ears want to hear something else than the noise of the street or your neighbors showering. Your eyes search for things that move! Your eyes love things that move. That’s why films are called movies.
If you are not willing to do this, then you will never stick with meditating. You can quit your search completely. There will be teachers who will take your money regardless, but you will quit, sooner or later.
But: If you are trying this little experiment for 21 days, three weeks, it will change into a habit. Your brain stops craving for rewards, your ears will embrace the silence and your eyes will rest.
After at least 21 successive mornings of sitting down and doing nothing, you will start to meditate yourself sooner or later, without someone teaching you anything.
Because, like thinking, meditation is a natural state of mind.
That’s all. That’s my introduction to meditation. That’s the hardest part. Meditation is not about the right breathing, about sitting correctly, and it’s not about mindfulness. Or, it’s about mindfulness in the same degree as it is about brushing your teeth.
The hardest part of beginning to meditate is to create a new habit. To train yourself to meditate.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it. The frameworks of the different traditions are there with because they work. For thousand of years mankind developed techniques for meditating. It’s a treasure trove full of knowledge!
You will learn eventually, that’s there is a damn good reason to sit upright while meditating. The whole meditation posture is there for a good reason! But, that’s not the hard part.
If you are able to sit down for fifteen minutes and do nothing every morning for 21 days, you managed the hardest part of meditating in a modern world already.
We’ll talk about posture and breathing and all the other stuff then! Okay?