Beginners Guide to Insight Meditation
If you are completely new to Insight meditation you may wish to learn the basic practices in the following ways:
Experience a day retreat at Gaia House especially designed for beginners. There are usually two or three of these every year. On the retreat they will teach you the basics of meditation practice throughout the day.
Join our Introductory Course in Insight Meditation. These happen at least once a year. Keep an eye on our website to find out the dates for our next course.
Come along to our Tuesday night sitting group. You will be very welcome. You will be approached by the facilitator for that evening who will ask about your experience of meditation. If you have not meditated before the facilitator will spend the first 10 minutes of the session with some guided instructions.
You can also follow the basic instructions below to begin your practice and use some of the resources listed.
How do I start a meditation practice?
Choose a time and space where your chances of being interrupted are at a minimum. Find your seat—an intentional posture. A cushion on the floor or a chair that allows you to sit upright, for example—where you can sit comfortably with your back straight for a predetermined time (ten to fifteen minutes would be fine to begin with). Consistency is more important than lengthy sessions.
A small ritual to orientate the mind may help. For example reading a short inspiring verse or looking at a Buddha image or an object that reminds you of the value of your practice.
Your eyes can be closed or half-open with the gaze directed downward in front of you. Now set your busyness aside and tune into the feeling of being present in this space, this body, this life.
Make the intention for your meditation. Breathe naturally. Use awareness of your breath to anchor your busy mind. Observe the breath in the present moment, non-judgmentally, watchfully, here and now.
Thoughts will arise! Your mind will get pulled away. This is what minds do. The practice is to notice and gently and non-judgementally come back home to the breath. Every time you realize that your mind has wandered, bring it back, gently but firmly, to the breath. This is the basis of your practice: watching, acknowledging, letting go of the minds wanderings and gently and kindly coming back to the breath.
Remember mindfulness of breathing is not a concentration exercise to see how many breaths you can have before wandering away in your thoughts. The moment of mindfulness is when you notice you have wandered away and then bringing your mind gently back. “Comebackfulness” would be a better name.
Remember that there is no such thing as a “distraction”. Thoughts are not the enemy. Any thought or sound can become temporary objects of meditation before returning to awareness of the breath.
Remember too that meditation is not a self-improvement exercise. The aim is not to “get” or “get rid of” anything. Not even to become more calm or more peaceful. It is a gradual letting go of “the getting mind”. Nothing special has to happen. No need to struggle.
“Meditation does not work or not work. It is simply being aware of what is in your experience right now” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Your best allies are a sense of curiosity and interest, a fresh outlook, non-striving, kindness, and an attitude of befriending. It is a training of the heart as much as the mind.
A good on-line guided meditation is Gil Fronsdal’s guided meditation on the breath (15 mins) https://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/363.html
Another good guided meditation focussing on settling into the body is Tara Brach’s Vipassana – Opening our hearts to life as it is (20 mins)
Resources: Books for beginners
Breath by Breath – The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation by Larry Rosenberg
A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield
Seeking the Heart of Wisdom – The Path of Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
When Things Fall apart by Pema Chodron
Loving-Kindness. The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg
Talks and guided meditations to download:
Dharma Seed http://www.dharmaseed.org/ A wealth of talks related to meditation practice
Audio Dharma http://www.audiodharma.org/ Talks mainly by Gil Fronsdal
Insight Timer – a useful app for timing your meditation and guided meditations. You can also join the Bristol Insight Meditation on-line group on this app and link up with others in the group https://insighttimer.com/
Introducing Insight Meditation by Jake Dartington
This online course gives you an overview of Insight Meditation and the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths. For each week there is a video introducing the theme, notes that highlight key teachings, and an audio meditation for you to practice daily.