What do you want from your meditation practice? At the very least, you want to feel calmer and less anxious in your everyday life. However, this incessant striving to achieve a measurable result may be your first meditation mistake. The desire to make meditation work the way you want can become a hindrance if not acknowledged early on.
When I began my meditation practice, I was disappointed with the lack of any significant results. I felt comfortable during sitting meditation and noticed some negative thought patterns in my mind but nothing beyond that point. “There must be more to meditation than this,” I thought to myself.
That was until I read Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher. In this book, he gives seven best meditation tips for beginners that can improve your practice.
Almost everyone falls into the trap of evaluating their experience during meditation. For example, the moment you sit down and close your eyes you may notice a slight unease or discomfort. When a subtle “I don’t like this” negative thought comes up, acknowledge it without resistance. It’s an opportunity to stand as an impartial witness and let it be. As soon as you do that, you’ll notice that it’s just a thought, harmless and unobtrusive. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
When we begin practicing paying attention to the activity of our own mind, it is common to discover and to be surprised by the fact that we are constantly generating judgments about our experience. Almost everything we see is labeled and categorized by the mind. We react to everything we experience in terms of what we think its value is to us. … When you find the mind judging, you don’t have to stop it from doing that. All that is required is to be aware of it happening. No need to judge the judging and make matters even more complicated for yourself.
As you sit and meditate, you may feel rushed and impatient. This means that you can’t accept the present moment as it unfolds in front of you; you think something more important is waiting for you in the future. As you notice this tendency, remind yourself that nothing good can come from resisting your present moment reality. Being patient with your mind is an essential aspect of any meditation practice. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. A child may try to help a butterfly to emerge by breaking open its chrysalis. Usually, the butterfly doesn’t benefit from this. Any adult knows that the butterfly can only emerge in its own time, that the process cannot be hurried.
3. Beginner’s Mind
Your first meditation sessions may not meet your expectations. Perhaps you wanted relaxation but felt tension and unease instead. You might think that something went “wrong” and you didn’t do it the right way.
In such situations, you need to examine that thought. How does it know that something went wrong? It implies that you knew how it’s supposed to unfold and what feelings you should have experienced. This is a misleading thought which deceives itself into believing that it knows more than it actually does.
It’s important to approach meditation with a beginner’s mind, without expecting any particular result or sensations. Embrace the discomfort of not knowing what meditation should feel like and let the moment-by-moment experience to guide the way. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
An open, “beginner’s” mind allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does. No moment is the same as any other. Each is unique and contains unique possibilities. Beginner’s mind reminds us of this simple truth.
Cultivating a beginner’s mind is important, but you shouldn’t interpret this advice too literally. It’s just a pointer, something to consider in your meditation practice. Equally important is trusting your feelings and perceptions in the present moment. Don’t get entangled in the authority of other people, blindly following whatever they say.
No one can tell you what you should feel or think. Eventually, you must rely on your intuition and acknowledge if something seems off. While common meditation advice suggests that discomfort is normal and should be endured, you don’t have to sit through the pain. It’s perfectly acceptable to adjust your meditation posture or even stand up and take a brief walk to relieve tension. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is an integral part of meditation training. It is far better to trust in your intuition and your own authority, even if you make some “mistakes” along the way, than always to look outside of yourself for guidance. If at any time something doesn’t feel right to you, why not honor your feelings? Why should you discount them or write them off-as invalid because some authority or some group of people think or say differently?
You have reasons for practicing meditation and aim to achieve a specific result, but this denies your present moment experience — you don’t want to be the way you are right now. The cultivation of mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening and allowing everything to be the way it is. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
In the meditative domain, the best way to achieve your own goals is to back off from striving for results and instead to start focusing carefully on seeing and accepting things as they are, moment by moment. With patience and regular practice, movement toward your goals will take place by itself. This movement becomes an unfolding that you are inviting to happen within you.
This point comes naturally from the previous one. As you stop striving, it’s also important to accept things as they are right now. Resistance creates only more resistance; acceptance is the first step towards positive change in your life.
Acknowledging where you are at this moment is a powerful realization that can give you the energy to move on. But that doesn’t mean that you have to take a passive attitude towards life and resign yourself to whatever is. By accepting your current circumstances, you gain clarity on what you need to do right here and now. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
In the meditation practice, we cultivate acceptance by taking each moment as it comes and being with it fully, as it is. We try not to impose our ideas about what we should be feeling or thinking or seeing in our experience but just remind ourselves to be receptive and open to whatever we are feeling, thinking, or seeing, and to accept it because it is here right now.
7. Letting Go
Jon Kabat Zinn gives a beautiful illustration of letting go by describing how hunters trap monkeys in India. They drill a hole in a coconut, put a banana inside of it, and then secure it to the base of the tree. When a monkey puts a hand through to get the banana, it gets trapped because the hole is too small to let the fist go out.
The same happens in your mind when you can’t let go of a thought. As you may have noticed during meditation practice, your mind tends to hold on to certain thoughts and reject others. When you practice meditation, you should intentionally put aside the tendency to judge and give preferences. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
Letting go is a way of letting things be, of accepting things as they are. When we observe our own mind grasping and pushing away, we remind ourselves to let go of those impulses on purpose, just to see what will happen if we do. When we find ourselves judging our experience, we let go of those judging thoughts. We recognize them and we just don’t pursue them any further. We let them be, and in doing so we let them go.
If applied consistently, these seven meditation tips for beginners will greatly enhance your daily practice. As a supplement, I’ve put together this free worksheet available for download through the link below.
Hi, I’m Gavril, the guy behind this blog. What you see here is the combination of my three favorite things: reading, writing, and mindfulness. While you’re here, subscribe to my blog updates and gain access to free mindfulness resources for stress relief.