If you have ever made a serious effort to try and “learn” to meditate, you quickly realize that the information about it is overwhelming. Do this, not that, use a mantra or don’t, keep your eyes open, no, closed. Indian, Japanese, Chinese; sitting, walking, lying down..wut?? So, I wanted to share a little about my experience as a regular person who does not have access to her own lama or rinpoche.
Obviously, the best way to learn the practice of meditation is to have a teacher; a trained person who can stay with you through the process of perfecting your practice. But sadly, at this time in American history, it’s just not an option for most of us. This means, we are basically on our own, and this is what makes people feel unnerved. They often say “but I am not sure I am doing it right”. I think the message is, there is not really a way to meditate “wrong”, at least not to a point.
In my case, being totally isolated and not knowing one other soul who meditated (or even wanted to try) it was pretty debilitating just trying to find out where to start. One search on Amazon for “meditation” and I was ready to pretty much call it a day. “But I just want to meditate”, I would grumble under my breathe. “What is all the yammering about”? Well, the yammering stems from the fact, like almost anything, there are what I call “authentic” books about meditation, and the “out to make a buck” kind. The trick is to sift through the nearly endless barrage books and eliminate the ones that are “bad energy”.
I soon discovered that it really helps to have at least a basic overview of Buddhism. This is kind of like asking to have an overview of being human, but still, there are historians and experts out there who do know a thing or two. In my case, I decided on one of the Great Courses Audio Books. This is like a college class that provides the background knowledge one needs to even have half a clue about what is going on.
From here, you can decide what “Buddhism” you feel drawn to. In my case, because I like a challenge and lots of discipline, I decided on Tibetan Buddhism. And of course, my spiritual hero k.d. lang follows this kind of Buddhism. But you may decide that you prefer Buddhism as it obtains in India or Japan. Once I had a specific “search term” I could pop into Google, it helped to narrow down the sea of “advice” about meditating.
For me, I need structure. I have to follow a strict routine, do things exactly the same way every time and never fail to do something I have committed to. I also need to be guided; at least right now. To do this, I found two audio courses that did the trick. Your Breathing Body (Vol. 1 and 2) and Mahamudra For the Modern World. The author Reginald Ray is a powerful spiritual guide. Do not be surprised to find yourself in tears just listening to his instructions.
Now, as far as meditating “right” or “wrong”, I want to encourage you to get that dialogue out of your head. Yes, of course there are best practices, but what is amazing, is that your own body will lead you almost 80% down the right path. Just the simplest consistent effort on your part will release what is an astonishing “innate” knowledge about what to do. In my case, I was very distracted and at first, sitting for 5 minutes was all I could do. Seriously. But I “sat” for 5 minutes consistently and listened to Reggie Ray. After about two weeks, I could no longer sit for JUST 5 minutes. It had to be more.
Truly, if there are any rules about meditation, that rule is consistency. But even here, we all miss days. Don’t worry about that. Just sit as much as you possibly can, even if you think it is not useful or that you are so distracted it is a waste. Your soul and body will appreciate the effort and they both will capitalize on the teeniest window of opportunity you give them.
I have never had any formal instruction that is personalized (like a lama). I am totally alone in this. But I have realized that’s the point! Even with a teacher, you are totally alone in your journey. Thus, try to enjoy the solitude and you will find that you are indeed not alone at all!
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