Starting a Meditation Practice
It has never been easier to get access to the best of know-how on how to meditate.
When I started in the nineties, one of my first attempts was to get one of the handful of books our local library had on meditation and try it out following the instructions in the book. It dawned on me quickly that that wasn’t going to cut it. A few months later by luck (and the fact that I was poor in mathematics) I had a math after-school teacher that knew about a local Zen group in the neighborhood: Far from a Zen center, it was someone’s basement that me and a handful of other folks would meet once a week for a few hours of joint sitting for the following year.
To my great advantage however, I had found a group to practice with. Many newcomers to meditation tend to think of meditation as a solo-practice and I think that is very misleading. While a regular, daily solo-practice is hugely important I know very few people who have successfully established a lasting practice without the support of a community (I write more about this in my article on how to make mindfulness a habit).
Finding a community that fits you however is no easy feat at all. Especially given there are hundreds of different styles and traditions of meditation out there and you know little or nothing about them. So where do you start?
If you want to get an overview of the different types of meditation, one of my favorite books is Ram Dass’ A Journey of Awakening - A Meditator’s Guidebook, which Daniel Goleman edited.
I tend to be pragmatic: Assuming you want to be able to join a group in person regularly, finding a place near you is a good start. Simply googling “Meditation in X” may do the trick. Assuming you live in a city, chances are, something will pop up. If you live in a rural area, you may only find a place that you can attend on select weekends or for retreats - that is fine too.
I tend to favor an intuitive-experiential approach: Go the place and see what it feels like? Who are the other people? What walks of life do they come from? Can you relate to them? Are they warm and friendly?
I tend to favor places also that are less rigid in tradition, and importantly are open to all, independent of religion, origin, sexual orientation etc., and that do not require you to believe in anything. At the core meditation is a scientific practice of paying attention to what is present right here and now. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to practice it or believe in some kind of otherworldly phenomena.
I would stay away from any places that have a strong guru-orientation, especially when the teacher is revered as a larger-than-life figure. Those places can easily become breeding grounds for abusive behavior. I would also stay away from places that charge large sums of money and favor places that are non for profit organizations. And I would stay away from the famous, youtube meditation stars too.
Sometimes you will know immediately at entering a place that this community is or is not for you. Sometimes it will take a few visits to get a hang.
I started in the Zen tradition (and still practice in it). I (and of course I am biased) think Zen is always a good starting point, and luckily these days there are many groups (Zen of isn’t immune to some of the above challenges, so you need to use your good judgement with all of these).
Here are a few good potential starting points for you to find a Zen group
White Plum Sangha has a couple of hundred of different zen groups around the world. I have been to a few of them and thought each of them was different but great
Sanbo-Kyodan has Zen Centers across the globe, I started my practice in this lineage and have been to a couple of these which were all great
Other schools that to my knowledge have a good reputation are
Vipassana Meditation in Goenka’s lineage with over two hundred groups globally
There are many different places to practice Tibetan Buddhist meditation, Tibet house is a good place to start to find places globally and across the US.
Finding a Community
Finding a Community
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