Meditation is the universal practice used around the world by religious and secular alike as a way to stop the mind, relax the soul, and grow in wisdom; and today, in our nonstop world, it is more necessary than ever. Meditation is best done in total quiet. But when first starting out, it can be helpful to have instructions. The internet is full of great meditation advice (below are some of our favorite sites), but there was, until now, something missing: when I first began to meditate, I looked all over for short audio instructions to help begin a silent meditation. I could not find any. What I found were countless guided meditations. This type of meditation is great, but it does much of the work for your mind. Guided meditation can risk turning into another form of media consumption, someone else guiding your mind. The goal of meditation is to put you back in control of your mind. So we have started creating a series of “meditation starters,” or simple audio guides to help anyone settle into and begin a meditation. These are not full-length guides but opening instructions that point you toward your own inner ability to calm down, heal, and see deeply. The real work happens when the audio ends and you are left with silence. Explore and enjoy our growing bank of Meditation Starters.
Meditation has two main aspects: first, meditation is about stopping; second, it is about looking deeply. The focus of the practices here is on stopping. This stopping has three parts: pausing our mind; calming down; and, finally, resting.
In-Out, Deep-Slow, Calm-Ease, Smile-Release Meditation
When I first struggled to begin meditating, this simple series of mindful phrases, offered by Zen Master and humanitarian Thích Nhất Hạnh, became a wonderful tool for calming down, relaxing, and connecting with the breath.
Body Scan Meditation
A simple body scan meditation is a great way to relax before connecting deeply with the breath and meditating in silence.
“Love Everything” is the mindful phrase I try to take everywhere I go. It’s a reminder to embrace and be open to every moment of your life, even the worst moments, which are there to help us grow in compassion and wisdom. When you love every minute, every second, every rose, every thorn, every stranger, every disaster, every illness, every moment, you truly are enlightened.
Mountain Cloud Meditation
One to Ten Counting Meditation
This is one of the most common mindfulness meditation practices recommended by masters from around the world for beginners who wish to establish a practice. It’s a simple counting exercise, counting each in and out breath from one up to ten and then back. When you lose track of your count, it means you’ve gotten lost in thought. Then you start over. Great for developing concentration and quickly ceasing the mind from its endless loops of thoughts.
More on Meditation
As I said above, meditation has two main aspects: stopping and looking deeply. The focus of the practices here are on stopping.
Many meditation techniques can be summed up quite simply: sit and pay attention to your breath. That’s all the instruction some masters give. What I discovered when I first tried it for myself was that my mind was in total chaos, a loop of endless thoughts that were impossible to turn off. It was like flipping through late-night cable, seeing endless clips and awful reruns. In fact, this is why many people, at first reaction, do not like meditation. It’s too raw. You actually have to see the chaos that goes on inside yourself. Most of us keep relentlessly busy just for the purpose of not having to see clearly what goes on in our own heads.
So it turns out, it is not that easy to pause the mind, sit calmly, and rest. When I started meditation, I needed mantras and visual techniques to help me clear out the junk. As one of my favorite teachers says, our minds are like a dirty, old light bulb hanging in a dark room, and it takes quite some time to slowly polish away the years of crud that crusted over the light.
Instead of just sitting and paying attention to your breath, there are techniques to help you keep focused. One such technique is to follow your breathing in one part of your body. I like to follow my breathing in my stomach, feeling it rise and fall, rise and fall. Even with regular practice, for many years, my mind wanders.
What really always helped me, was meditation starters. I found full-length guided meditations intrusive, because they told me what to think (which meant, I was still thinking). But meditation starters are different. This is the method often employed by my favorite teachers: they open with some mindful words and phrases to guide their students, then release them to the silence. Meditation starters are simple, two to five minute audio clips that help you get grounded and started on your meditation. Our goal at Tall Trees Grow Deep is to create a bank of these meditation starters, great for kids and adults.
Other great meditation resources:
Audio Dharma: A great set of resources offered by the Insight Meditation Center. Gil Fronsdal has a wonderful course on beginning meditation.
Zencast: Another great site full of meditation advice.