"The essence of meditation is awareness"
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
"There is only one problem – distraction. Therefore there is only one solution – mindfulness."
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
"If you want to understand the mind, simply sit down and watch it"
What we are trying to cultivate with meditation, is awareness. That is, knowing what is happening in experience in the present.
We usually use an object as an anchor for our attention, traditionally we use the breath.
To be clear, mindfulness is knowing what is happening in the mind in the present. To develop mindfulness we choose something happening in the present, and we rest our attention there.
If using the breath, it could go like this:
- Rest attention on the breath
- When you notice you are distracted, gently return the attention to the breath
That's honestly it. That's all there is to it. That's the pith instruction.
Recommended paths to learn meditation
Waking Up with Sam Harris
The best meditation app, available on Android and iPhone. It takes you through a fifty day course, many philosophical lessons, a five day course in loving-kindness practice and unique daily meditations.
Unlike many other courses, Waking Up aims to take you beyond the basic mindfulness techniques and point out the very nature of the mind. Who is the meditator?
Unfortunately it is by default a fairly expensive app, at $15 (USD) a month or $120 a year. It is certainly worth it though. If you were to buy a year and meditate once per day you would actually be paying only a few cents per very high quality meditation.
If by chance you are financially unable to afford this app, Sam has graciously offered it for free by emailing email@example.com and explaining so.
If you can afford it but are unsure if it is worth it, he has also promised that you can email them to claim a full refund if you complete the fifty day main course.
You can also try the first five days for free before you commit.
Joy of Living by Mingyur Rinpoche
There is also an online course that I'd highly recommend by his foundation Tergar. The course provides weekly content, meditations and the opportunity to interact and ask questions with expert meditation teachers regularly. Unfortunately, this course isn't running all the time and is only open at certain times of the year.
Also this six-week course is not free but costs money. It is US $125 for the whole thing. If you honestly cannot afford this, I suspect you can arrange for a discount or a free course as the people that run it are very kind.
Ten day intensive Vipassana course by Dhamma
There's nothing quite like going into intensive retreat. Across the world there are many meditation centres running at this moment by the not-for-profit Dhamma. Right now, in this instant thousands all over are sitting on ten day retreats.
Vipassana means insight, and this tradition of vipassana focuses on acheiving this by paying attention to the sensations in your body. Everything in the outside world that causes pleasure and pain does so by causing pleasant or unpleasant sensations in the body. By training our minds to be tranquil in the face of different feelings in the body, we are also training the mind to remain tranquil in the vicissitudes of life.
These retreats are very strict. Noble silence for ten days means no talking to another human besides your teacher and retreat manager. Waking up at 4am every morning, ten hours of meditation every day. Only two meals each day, breakfast and lunch, both of which are vegetarian. No reading material or any other entertainment during this time also. These conditions have been well thought out to maximise the effectiveness of the retreat.
Also the course is free-of-charge. In fact they won't even let you pay for it until after the course when there is the option to donate. The fact that this course has been running so long, has spread across the world and yet runs entirely on donations should tell you something of its quality.
I haven't actually used this one properly, so it is a special mention. It's a free app that was created in collaboration with meditation teachers and scientists. It has two streams; clear mind and open heart, each of which are thirty days.
Also it is totally free.