Now that meditation has escaped from hippie communes and infiltrated the highest levels of government (Rep. Tim Ryan), finance (Ray Dalio), business (Richard Branson), sports (Phil Jackson), entertainment (Jerry Seinfeld), hip-hop (Russell Simmons), and tech (Google Headquarters), more people are searching for meditation than ever before.
The only problem is, figuring out how to start meditating often leaves the beginner feeling confused. I don't blame them; when it comes to getting a solid foundation with meditation, many of the obvious questions you may think to ask will actually lead you down a deeper rabbit hole of confusion.
Below, we’ll take a look at each common question, why it’s misleading, and look at better way to find the information that will lead you to a sustainable meditation practice.
1. What is the correct way to meditate?
People meditate successfully in all kinds of ways. In meditation-land, “correct” is extremely subjective, and you will get a different answer each time you ask someone who practices a different style for tips on the correct way to meditate. A better question to ask is “What style of meditation do you think would be the easiest for someone like me?”
Find the people who enjoy the style of meditation you’re considering. If they are all wearing robes and shaved heads, and you’re the type who lines up to buy the newest, trendiest sneakers, then that style is probably not going to be the right fit for you.
2. What’s the cheapest way to learn?
With meditation, cost is closely aligned with the level of instruction and ongoing support you receive. Because different styles have varied levels of instruction, support, and resources, they are all priced according to their value. Here are a few questions to ask when further investigating a technique's actual value:
- What is the follow-up support like and how much will it cost to come back for help?
- Will I have individual attention, and is the instruction live or recorded?
- How much will it cost to contact the same person who teaches me if I have questions in the future?
- Do I get everything I need in the advertised meditation course, or will I be pitched an advanced course, or monthly subscription, and if so, how much will that cost?
- Will I eventually be self-sufficient?
Meditation teachers want to help you. So base your choice on finding the most complete learning experience, not the cheapest method of learning.
3. Can you teach me to meditate?
It depends. Are you looking for guidance, or instructions for meditating on your own? Some people who you may think are “meditation teachers” are actually meditation guides — meaning, they are experts at leading or guiding you through a sequence of mental prompts, imagery, and/or visuals, but they don’t actually teach you the mechanics of meditation.
Meditation teachers specialize in teaching you fundamentals so that you can meditate successfully on your own, but they don't usually do guided meditations. So if you want to be guided, you need a meditation guide, and if you want instruction, you should seek out a meditation teacher.
4. Couldn’t I just meditate for (some ridiculously small number of) minutes?
Someone once asked me if two minutes was long enough to meditate — and he was being serious. Look, I’m all for baby steps. But when it comes to meditation, anything less than five minutes is not really going to get you anywhere. And that’s pushing it.
Really, 10 minutes would be my recommended cut-off in terms of minimal time investment per day. Instead of settling for a meditation style that you can get by on, keep searching for one that you enjoy enough to sit for a solid 15 or 20 minutes.
5. Isn’t this technique the same as (another random technique that’s completely different)?
The word meditation is generic, like the word sports. Just as there are many different sports, each with its own rules, there are different styles of meditation. Therefore, evaluate each technique and teacher separately until you find one that inspires you to learn.
6. How can I get my mind to stop thinking?
There is no “off” switch for your mind. Everyone’s mind is busy and everyone experiences thoughts in meditation. Meditation is a tool for changing your mental channel from a busy mind into a quieter mind, or into a happier mind.
Regardless, controlling the mind into submission has the opposite effect because Don’t think is a thought, and Why am I still thinking? is another thought. The better question is “What is the best way to meditate in concert with my thinking mind?”
7. How do I convince my (relative or family member) to meditate?
People will begin meditating when they are good and ready. There’s not much you can say to coerce people to start. If people see you carving out the time to meditate each day, and you’re not making a big deal out of it, they will likely see positive changes within you, and therefore be more inspired to start meditating themselves.
8. What’s the best meditation app for learning meditation?
Generally speaking, apps are of the "guided" variety, and while they may be great at tracking your meditations, they are not always good for learning how to meditate and may not leave you feeling self-sufficient. If possible, try to find a teacher. If a teacher is not available, look for a video course. If that’s not possible, try a book. As a last resort, use an app.
9. How long is it going to take to feel the benefits?
The better question to ask is "How do I know the meditation is working?" Reason being, the still mind may not be felt for months or years after you start meditating. But what may be apparent soon after you start are the losses.
You lose many of your unsubstantiated fears (fear of failing, fear of being alone, fear of growing old), you lose anxiety, you lose insomnia. These may not be the sexiest benefits, but, with time, they will help your mind become calmer.