What should we do when starting meditation? Different traditions answer that question differently. In Buddhist mindfulness, you start meditation by focusing your attention on the sensation of breathing. The Buddha himself gave instruction on this breath meditation in the Anapanasatti Sutra.
According to this Sutra, or discourse by the Buddha, there are steps along the path of mindfulness. The way to start, however, is to be aware of the breath−or more precisely−the sensation of the body breathing. Meditation Practice could start in many ways, but we are already in the habit of relating to our body (and happily, we are breathing). So the breath is a natural and familiar focus for gathering the mind.
In the sutra, even before the Buddha gives instructions on how to meditate, he gives advice on preparing to practice. In other words, even when we’re doing meditation at home, there are steps as we begin.
Starting Meditation for the First Time
Perhaps reflecting a simpler era, the Buddha gives simple instructions on how to start meditation for the first time. These are pretty simple: find a secluded or empty spot, sit down, cross your legs, sit up straight, and gather the mind.
Of course, the world of the Buddha (2500 years ago in India) and today’s world are different. For the first time meditator, the sutra doesn’t address what to do with your smart phone or your noisy roommates. But the simplicity of the Buddha’s instructions says something: what you need is a place and time. Anyone can start a meditation practice.
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Meditation at Home
At the end of his book on mindfulness — Turning the Mind into an Ally — Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the leader of the Shambhala Community, has an Appendix called “Preparing to Meditate.” This is one of the best summaries I have read about how to make meditation practice a natural and consistent part of daily life.
According to Sakyong Mipham, the best way to do meditation at home is in short sessions, for example 10 – 20 minutes each. The key is consistency over time. With consistency your short sessions will begin to develop some depth. To help relax into the practice, he suggests a meditation timer.
In your meditation space at home should be comfortable, quiet, and clean. You should feel invited to sit down. Echoing the advice from the Buddha given over 2500 years ago, the Sakyong adds, “uplifted, safe, spacious and private.” And yes, while he doesn’t actually recommend Samadhi Cushions per se, the Sakyong does recommend “investing in a proper meditation cushion.”
There are more recommendations for starting meditation in the appendix just mentioned. Perhaps we can address these in another blog post. There is a key instruction, however, that supersedes all the others: gentleness. “Without gentleness,” the Sakyong writes, “meditation will become just another way in which we are trying to measure up against a hopeless ideal.”
Starting Meditation: Just Do It
Regardless of the meditation tradition, we need a way to begin. And according to the Buddha, we also need to prepare to begin. There’s a catch, however. As Sakyong Mipham points out at the end of his chapter on how to begin, if we wait for the ideal situation before starting meditation practice, it will never happen. “At some point you just have to sit down and do it.”
Read More Articles on Starting Meditation:
- Meditation Space: A House?
- Ten Ways to Support Your Meditation Practice
- A Time for Healing (Meditation)