The best way to learn how to meditate is through a course of lessons. One way of doing this is through a personalised one-to one programme, which gives you the advantage of lessons that suit your timetable, and directed personal instruction. Alternatively, you can attending a public course, although this won’t be quite so personal many people say that they really appreciate meditating with other people. I’ll describe a typical six-week public course here.
What We Do
Each session includes led meditations, some instruction on meditation theory, and discussions and reflections. On the first evening, we spend a bit of time getting to know each other, and clarifying what participants hope to get out of the course. Over the six weeks we explore three seated meditation practices:
• body awareness, which helps to get us ‘out of our heads’, to connect with our senses, and provides a foundation for the other practices
• the mindfulness of breathing, a practice which helps us learn to focus and regulate our attention, which is deeply calming and refreshing
• cultivating positive emotion, to support us to respond more creatively and connect more effectively
We also explore walking meditation, which helps to bridge the work done in formal meditation to our day-to-day activities.
At most venues we meditate sitting in chairs, and I bring some meditation cushions along each week so that you can experiment with using them.
I give out handouts each week, which describe the meditation practices, and provide key information on meditation practice and theory. I also provide a weekly diary, with advice on how to approach daily meditations, and offering suggestions on how to develop mindfulness and positivity in daily life. Many people also find it useful to receive regular text messages from me, helping them to remember to put into practice the things that they have learnt in the classes.
What to Bring
It is a good idea to bring a notebook and pen to make notes, as some of the exercises will involve you writing things down. You might like to bring a bottle of water with you, and if you already have meditation cushions or a stool then please feel free to bring them. Dress casually, in comfortable clothes that aren’t too tight, as we’ll do some light exercises in the class to help with body awareness. I encourage people to take their shoes off for meditation, so you might want to check your socks for holes!
You’re welcome to use a meditation course in whatever way suits you best, however if you want to get the most out of the course it helps to do a bit of preparation. Spend some time reflecting on what you want to get out of the course – what qualities would you like to develop? what unhelpful habits would you like to weaken? what would be an ambitious yet achievable goal in six weeks?
Like any other skill, you will need to practice if you’re going to learn to meditate, so I recommend that you think a bit how you can best support yourself to meditate. Many people find it helps them to have a place set aside for meditation – perhaps with some flowers and other attractive and/or meaningful objects. Ideally, this will be somewhere quiet, where you’re unlikely to be disturbed, and with cushions or a suitable chair – although not all of us have the luxury of enough space for this kind of thing, so you might have to make do as best you can.
You might also like to try out some of the led meditations you can download from the websites below.
The best introductory meditation book that I know of is Paramananda’s “Change Your Mind”
I bring along a selection of books on meditation each week, so that you can have a browse and see which appeal to you.
Wildmind is a large site devoted to meditation practice, offering plenty of useful information and lots of other stuff
Free Buddhist Audio is a huge site. There are many talks on meditation, and quite a few led meditations that can be downloaded for free.