Whether you’ve just decided to learn how to meditate or have been at it for some time, sooner or later you’re bound to discover that everyone who practices meditation experiences the exact same thing. Sure, the variety of spiritual experiences can vary tremendously—from little moments of bliss to full-on immersions in ecstatic states of cosmic consciousness—but certain basic traits just go with the practice, and are experienced universally.
To help prepare you for the journey ahead (or, if you’re already well on your way along the meditative path, to reassure you that you’re not alone), I thought a helpful guide might be in order, detailing the top five observations I’ve made from my own daily practice and from countless conversations I’ve had with fellow meditators over the years. See if you can relate.
5 Things Every Meditator Must Know
- You need to be still.
- Your intention must be clear.
- It’s easier to meditate with others than alone.
- You will have thoughts. Lots and lots of thoughts.
- You can’t control your experience.
1.) You need to be still.
This one may seem obvious, but even after meditating nearly every day for the past twelve years, I know I continually underestimate the truth of it. If you’re going to learn how to meditate properly, you need to be still. And not just physically still, though that is generally very helpful. Even if you’re engaging in walking meditation, or continually moving your lips while chanting a mantra, it’s ultimately the degree of inner stillness, or focus, that you bring to your practice that reveals whether or not you’re really making what the Buddha called the “right effort” to meditate.
2.) Your intention must be clear.
If you decide to meditate for any length of time—whether it’s a 3-minute break while sitting at your desk at work or an extended 3-hour plunge on a quiet Sunday morning at home—you need to follow through on that intention. Do the full 3 minutes, undistracted, really intending to give everything to your meditation for that set period of time. Or if you decide to meditate every day, then make every effort to do so. It doesn’t matter if you are just learning how to meditate for the first time or if you are a veteran practitioner.
Why? Because by following through on your own intention, you always build consistency and self-confidence—perhaps the two most important qualities you need in order to get better at any practice in life, spiritual or otherwise.
3.) It’s easier to meditate with others than alone.
This is something I discovered only after joining a residential spiritual community a few years after I began meditating, and everyone I’ve met with a similar experience has only affirmed how true it is. It’s simply easier to meditate with others than it is to meditate alone. When you practice with other people, you generate a collective field of mutual support—and that support works on many levels, both gross and subtle.
For one thing, you’re more likely to follow the first two points above—be focused and still, and follow through on your intention to do the practice—when you know you’ll be disturbing other people if you don’t. But more fundamentally, meditating with others creates a shared field of consciousness that gives everyone involved easier access to a meditative state. If you ever have the opportunity to join a meditation group, or even to practice with a friend or spouse, I highly recommend it. (Just bear in mind that meditating by yourself also has distinct benefits, so be sure to keep doing that as well.)
4.) You will have thoughts – lots and lots of thoughts.
Yes, I know that Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, says he sometimes sits in mind-free bliss, completely awake without any thoughts arising, for up to four hours at a time—but unless you’re the next Eckhart Tolle, this probably won’t be happening to you very often. More likely, you’re one of the billions of human beings who have a bit more difficulty finding the “off” switch in your brain. And the good news is, that’s perfectly okay! You don’t need your thoughts to stop arising to experience the freedom, peace, and depth of meditative awareness. You just need to learn how to be free of your thoughts. Once you learn to simply ignore the mind, rather than silencing it completely, it’ll be just as good as that endless chatter not being there at all.
5.) You can’t control your experience.
This last point can catch even the most experienced meditator off guard. Even if you know that the goal of meditation is to let everything be as it is, it can be difficult to leave your internal experience exactly as it is. All too often, we want to get in there and mess around—trying to stop our thoughts (see above), or trying to feel less agitated, or trying to recapture a particularly powerful spiritual experience we once had. The results of such mental and emotional tinkering tend to be the opposite of actual meditation, and it’s easy to wind ourselves up in knots pretty quickly.
So my advice, whenever you catch yourself trying to manipulate your attention, your feelings, or your thoughts when you’re supposed to be meditating, is to heed the suggestion of the Beatles: let it be.
by Thomas Dixon