Disclaimer:There are many different types of meditation associated with separate lineages that have distinct aims. I have mainly been trained in, practice, and teach meditation in the Theravada tradition. In Pali, the language of Theravada texts, the two main types of meditation are called Vipassana (insight, clear seeing) and Samatha (concentration). These practices are most often presented as “mindfulness practice” in the West.
Why should I bother to meditate in the first place?
Great question! It isn’t immediately obvious, especially to the outside spectator, why sitting and spending precious fleeting time seemingly doing nothing would be beneficial. I view daily meditation practice as a sort of dress rehearsal for life. Sitting and paying attention to various aspects of the present moment experience with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgment can allow us to see all of the reactivity that comes up in a setting where we purposefully aren’t acting to do anything about it. Now, this does not mean that meditation makes us passive or apathetic, but rather that it trains the discernment to see clearly for ourselves what is worthwhile and what causes suffering. This is actually quite an active stance compared to blindly believing every thought that enters our minds and acting it out on autopilot. So what tangible impact does this rehearsal have once we hit the big stage of our everyday lives? Maybe you’re able to pause as you unconsciously reach for your phone or a snack. Maybe you’re able to catch yourself and respond more skillfully before you say that thing that strains a relationship for the next 24 hours. And most importantly, maybe you won’t judge yourself so harshly when you notice you’ve been lost in thought or you’ve made that inevitable misstep. In other words, maybe you’ll be able to allow yourself to be more fully human.
If I don’t feel calm and can’t clear my mind of thoughts while I meditate, am I doing something wrong?
No! This is the single most common misconception out there regarding meditation and it gives me endless grief to hear it perpetuated. *Pauses to take a deep breath* If this describes an experience you’ve had meditating, then congratulations- you’re a human being and AI hasn’t prevailed quite yet! To quote Dipa Ma, an Indian meditation master who was influential in the Vipassana movement in the West, “The whole path of mindfulness is this: whatever you are doing, be aware of it.” Meditation does not require us to have any experience other than the experience we’re having right now (including anxiety, sadness, irritation). It is common to notice a sense of calm as a byproduct of meditating, but this is not a sign that you’re doing anything wrong or right or that the meditation was successful or otherwise. Now, what about those pesky thoughts? It is the nature of the human mind to produce thoughts, and so it is completely normal and actually important to notice them during meditation. In meditation practice we can experience for ourselves the difference between being lost in thought and being aware that thinking is happening. This crucial shift in perspective frees us from being caught in the contents of thoughts and allows us to simply observe them coming and going without so much attachment.
How often and for how long should I meditate?
The most important aspect of developing any practice is consistency. I suggest starting with a short realistic commitment to meditation practice that you can build into your routine every day (e.g. 5-10 minutes). As quantifying meditation practice can be a little nebulous, it can be helpful to consider it akin to physical exercise. Up until a certain point, the longer and more consistently one exercises, the more benefits one can expect to see. It is also important to reassess a workout plan when there is an injury present. In the same way, if you are currently suffering a bout of clinical depression or other mental illness it would be best to consult a psychological professional trained in mindfulness before beginning practice.
I want to start meditating. Where should I start?
My favorite free resource that I recommend is the app Insight Timer. Their catalogue boasts 28,000 free guided meditations including many led by some of the world’s preeminent meditation teachers. In terms of getting started with Vipassana practice, here are 3 meditations you can find by searching through the guided meditations on the app: Simply Begin Again – Joseph Goldstein, Vipassana (Basic) Meditation – Tara Brach, Breathing Meditation – Jack Kornfield
If you don’t have a device available that can download apps, this Youtube video beautifully outlines the Vipassana meditation instructions:
Guided Meditation Instructions with Joseph Goldstein –
Warmest wishes to you in practice and beyond!
This post was submitted by Dylan Scott.
You may know Dylan as the smiling face behind the check-in desk at Maha every Tuesday night. Beyond his role in the work exchange program at Maha, Dylan is a contracted mindfulness teacher with the Myrna Brind Center for Mindfulness within the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Jefferson. He also works with medical students at Jefferson offering the Koru Mindfulness program, which is a curriculum specifically designed to introduce mindfulness practice to emerging adults. Separate from his teaching, Dylan serves as Koru’s social media manager working to create an inclusive community to support students in practice. With an organization called Roots2Rise, Dylan co-facilitates monthly meditation and yoga drop-in sessions for employees at Prevention Point in Kensington.
Dylan was first introduced to mindfulness practice during college in response to struggles with panic disorder, and is in the process of writing a forthcoming book titled, “The True Compass,” to serve as a resource for others looking to find more freedom from anxiety.