This week, I talk about how I learned to Meditate. It wasn’t a smooth journey and I share some of the mistakes I made along the way. I talk about the types of practice that I learned and the way that I teach today. We’ll do a short 2 minute practice during the session, and I’ll give 5 clear principles that can make a big difference for your Mindfulness practice.
As humans we want to belong to something and in our belonging, feel a sense of value from that also. There are loads of ways that we feel we do or don’t belong but we all need this feeling of belonging, we all need to feel loved and we’re always looking to stay in environments that give us this feeling.
Thank you for listening and have a listen to this last weeks episode: How To Cope With Feeling Overwhelmed
…Until next time
Keith Horan at The Mindfulness Community
You’re listening to Keith in the mindfulness community. With your host, Keith Horan. We’re talking about mindfulness and self compassion, how it can help you with stress, and anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Just bring about more peace of mind.
Thanks for being here.
Welcome to Episode Five. This episode is all about how I learned to meditate, the early steps in that journey and all the mistakes I made, then learning how to meditate properly and become really confident in it. I’ll share how I teach meditation and the five tips that I think can help your meditation practice. And somewhere in the middle of the episode, we’ll do a short two minutes mindfulness on the go practice.
Hey there. So I’m set up to record just after my morning meditation. And I thought I’d give you a picture of what that looks like.
We’re really lucky here, my wife and I, and that we have a yoga meditation room kind of connected to the house. And in normal times, this would be pretty busy, like my wife would teach yoga there. And I’d leave meditation and mindfulness workshops. But at the moment, it’s just our own quiet place to practice ourselves. So I go into the room, light candles, kind of set the space up, I sit on the ground on a cushion, like have a way of sitting there. And my usual daily practices 30 minutes. Now, I wouldn’t recommend 30 minutes as a place to start but
but for me, that’s about right. And, and I really love the practice. Like overtime with meditation, you just become confident. It’s like any skill. And in particular, with meditation, this kind of feeling of practised ease comes up.
Like some sessions are easier than others, depending on where my mind’s at and what’s been going on. But I usually know how to adjust and work with the practice. And it’s both really enjoyable and, and gives these really clear benefits. But it wasn’t always this way. So let me share how I really learned and sort of the mistakes and mishaps I made along the way.
So looking back, I had about four phases in my mindfulness training and practice. The first I tend to think of as my no teacher phase, like trying to practice mindfulness, just self guided. This was pre internet as well. The second was a more strict Tibetan style of practice. The third was learning the kind of modern, secular mindfulness practices. And then I think of the fourth as finding my own way, integrating all I had learned, and finding a way that works for me. And that’s also what I teach, of course.
So to start with, practising without a teacher, and without any guides, and without internet videos, and without all of that stuff. I think this was like me, you know, closing my eyes, trying to concentrate really hard, being frustrated when I got nowhere after maybe three minutes, like imagining that, you know, I’ll just close my eyes and reach enlightenment. And it’s all about trying really hard. And, and a lot of this was
I mentioned before going to India in 1999 really looking to see what could I find and what teachers could I find, and initially, of course, I didn’t find any and I was just travelling on my own. And as I was travelling I am I signed up for retreats and meditation retreats in near an old city called candy key and DIY in Sri Lanka. And so I booked myself in for about 10 days. I really didn’t know anything about this or anything about what to expect. But it was led by a kind of a revered meditation teacher called Godwin. So after a big walk up there, I arrived and saw the timetable and was shocked to see that we were going to have for 90 minutes of meditation sessions a day. I mean, at this stage, I had been meditating for maybe 10 or maybe 15 minutes max that kind of time. And suddenly I had this like entire day of practice ahead of me.
So at 430 every morning, I joined maybe 20 or 30 other people who went into this large room. And there were no chairs, there was just sort of this wooden platforms on either side of the room, and some cushions there. And that’s where people perched up there on a cushion to meditate for 90 minutes. And I guess because of maybe how experienced everyone else in the room was, and maybe also because of language things, there were almost no instructions on what to do. So I just followed what I saw other people doing, which was, they’d sit in silence during that 90 minute block. And maybe every 15 or 30 minutes, they’d get up and do a little bit of walking meditation, and then sit back down.
And I felt like the only person in the room who couldn’t do this, like my knees were in agony. At that stage, I had no flexibility to be able to sit like that. Now, it’s no problem. But then I just couldn’t sit like that. I just spent the sitting down time completely daydreaming and looking back, I just don’t even know how did I manage to stick it. Like, I think I must have been really motivated. After all, I’ve travelled all the way to India to to try and learn and learn to meditate, like I couldn’t really give up that easily.
It also turned out on that retreat, that there were only two meals a day, and the last time you eat during the day was around lunchtime. Luckily, I knew this before I went there. So I sneaked in a few packets of cheap biscuits like custard creams. So I was like sneaking off to have my custard creams during the day. And it was like the only thing that was like my big trees. And even though I managed to stick out the whole thing I am, I’d say I made pretty much no progress. The one thing that did happen was I had one really nice conversation with God when with the teacher, I’ll tell you about that another time. But I think this kind of summarise my whole early phase where I was enthusiastic, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. And I made very little progress.
Then came my my Tibetan practice phase. And this was an incredible system like it was beautiful in how it was taught, it was hundreds and hundreds of years old, with really, really experienced teachers and a really amazing system.
Looking back, it was quite strict, like there wasn’t much choice. It was a little bit on the austere side. But it was incredibly detailed, thorough training. And I’m really grateful for us. Some of the practices that I still use and love today came from that training time. And in total, I spent about 12 years really committing to those practices. So that would have been like most of my 20s and my early 30s.
And then came the more modern mindfulness secular type of practices that are so familiar nowadays. You know, initially, I just got into those because I was thinking about students in the school where I was working, and I really wanted to bring in the most useful practices for them.
But I was stunned to find that actually, at that time, that was the type of practice I needed. And it’s mainly because for me, life had just changed. You know, I started meditation in my early 20s. And I was single, and I had no responsibilities. So I couldn’t, I could really commit to something like I was like a semi-professional meditator or something like that! Whereas, you know, jump forward a dozen years. And, yeah, I’ve got a job and my wife and our three kids and all these different responsibilities. And actually, I needed to practice that would fit with that. So that’s where the modern mindfulness practice came in. And, and that would still be at the core of what I practice myself today. And it’s probably the biggest influence on what I practice and what I teach.
But I mentioned that for me, there’s sort of a fourth phase now where I’m integrating everything I learned and finding the best way to teach us.
I’ll give you two extremes. So the archetype, or the typical picture we may get, when we think of somebody dedicating themselves or being really advanced meditators is maybe like a sort of monastic person. They’re doing this professionally, they spend, maybe they remove themselves from life and go on retreats, and they meditate for hours and hours a day, that type of person. So just kind of an image like that.
And I’ll give you a classic story. There’s a famous teacher maybe 1000 years ago, and to try and understand meditation deeply, and gain all this insight, he, he went into a cave somewhere in the lower Himalayas and spent three years in meditation. And then, at some stage, he came out because he thought, yeah, I’m kind of now’s the right time. But something happened in his life pretty quickly. And he thought, okay, I’m not ready yet. And he went back in and he did another three years of practice. And then he came out and something else happened. And he realised I need to go back to the cave for another three years of practice. So that’s nine years of meditating in a cave. So like, My daughter is 12. So if I was to follow that sort of style, then you know, I’ll see her in, in maybe when she’s in college or something. I’ll skip her secondary schooling and catch her in college! So obviously, that style of practice doesn’t really work. But yet , some ways that techniques are taught, they’re taught as though that’s the type of life we live, that we live these sort of austere lives where we’re sitting back. And that’s not my life at all, like, my life is full of chaos and love, and it’s messy, and happy and difficult, and all of these kind of things. So how can I, how can I have a deep practice in the middle of that?
So that’s one kind of extreme that I give a picture of. But here’s the opposite. Sometimes with the way mindfulness is taught nowadays, it’s taught as though it’s this little, tiny, maybe little shallow thing that, you know, you do this short practice, by listening to an app, you know, once every month or once every week, and it’ll calm you down for a minute or two, like it’s almost reduced down to this tiny little thing. And while I’m delighted to see more mindfulness practice in the world, sometimes I feel it’s too diluted.
I know personally, how powerful it can be, and that it’s really accessible. And it’s really possible to meditate deeply. But not not really by just reading a book or just following an app or trying something like this. So on the one hand, I don’t want to have this kind of token mindfulness practice. And on the other hand, I can’t, I can’t commit to like meditating hour after hour every day and doing all those things. And my training has encompassed all of this.
So what I’m finding now is a kind of a middle way. And I really believe it’s possible to have a really strong meditation practice, right in the middle of everyday life. And even more, I think that to have a strong practice is the best way to stay steady in the chaos of life. And I feel like I’m able to cope with more and be more steady for other people. Because of my practice, it doesn’t remove me from life at all, it means I’m able to engage even further. So I’m going to share in the second half, five tips that give an idea of how I think a deep practice can happen in the middle of everyday life. But first, let’s just pause for a quick practice.
Let’s try a more physical practice today. So in a moment, I’m gonna clap, my hands are kind of doom away from the mic so it’s not too loud. And I’d invite you to do the same. And then we’ll just kind of tune into that experience and use that as a way of connecting with the body. Okay.
So then once you clap your hands If you can keep them together. And if you can also close your eyes if that’s possible.
And just kind of notice sort of the tingling or pulsing sensations that you can feel in your hands.
not looking for anything particular but really noticing sensations in your hands.
And then letting the hands rest and expanding your awareness out to the whole body.
Like moving from the hands all the way out all the way down. Maybe noticing your feet, like temperature at your feet, or sense of touch
the trunk of your body, your legs all the way up to the top of your head.
Can you still notice kind of lingering sensations in your hands?
Just pausing for a moment, just being aware
that you have a body, that you’re in your body
that you’re breathing,
nothing special, just being here,
and then letting go of the practice in your own time.
Great, so then I have five tips that that could really help you on your meditation journey.
Gentle, Patient & Kind
So the first one is about the attitude to bring in again. So this is all about being gentle, being patient, being kind with yourself. So I mentioned before, it takes about six months to two years to develop really good concentration. So you can’t expect it straightaway. And actually, the more you can accept where you are, the more you can accept that your mind wanders and that you feel restless, and that you want to move and all that stuff. And the more you even allow yourself to do that, the easier it is to make progress.
We all tend to be our worst critics. And we can be too harsh towards ourselves. So really introducing that kind of voice. That’s encouraging your practice rather than expecting too much or putting yourself under pressure. in meditation, it’s not about trying really hard. It’s usually about using the least amount of effort to keep the practice going.
Learn how to meditate.
This is the big thing that skipped nowadays, like Nowadays, people just put on an app and try it. And there’s really very little training around it. So for example, when you meditate, you’ll often find that you’re really restless. Well, there’s ways of dealing with that. There’s antidotes you can use, there’s techniques you can use to help work with that restlessness. But you have to learn them, someone has to teach you that stuff. And it’s the same if you’re feeling like really sleepy or kind of drowsy. Again, there are techniques to sort of bring more brightness to your practice, or even just knowing like, how can I tell if I’m making progress or not? or How can I tell if I’m stuck, there’s a lot of sort of understanding that goes with meditation. By learning how to meditate Well, all this becomes more easy to understand. And then it’s easier to be enthusiastic about your practice, you know where you’re at, you know where you’re going, when you run into difficulties, you know how to deal with them.
Learn a Number of Techniques
The third suggestion I have is that it’s really good to learn a number of different techniques. So I don’t mean like trying loads of techniques once or twice, I mean, really learning five, or six, or eight or 10 techniques really well. So when I say different techniques, I mean, maybe learning to focus on the breathing, learning to be aware of the whole body, developing a practice based around compassion, maybe your practice runs self compassion, or a gratitude practice, or maybe a lying down meditation, a movement practice learning how to do mindful walking. By knowing a number of techniques really well, it helps to keep your practice alive. And I’ve often found that my main practice has changed from year to year or even within a year. And it just helps to freshen things up.
Make the Practice yours
The fourth suggestion is to really make the practice yours, like we all need to learn the same basics. But the way we practice then can become more and more personal. So for example, some people, it suits them to do a practice in the morning, some people it’s better to do it at night, when your life is really busy. A short practice makes more sense than a long one. Sometimes you’re exhausted and doing a lying down practice is the best idea with a blanket and really resting and recovering. At other times the body needs movement. So really kind of tuning into your own needs and and really making the practice yours.
Practice in Daily Life
And then finally, the fifth suggestion, bring your practice into everyday life. And this really is the point of meditation practice. So by practising, you know, formerly in the morning or in the evening, you’re really strengthening a muscle. You’re learning how to come back, how to become more present, how to come into the body, how to notice what your thoughts are, but then it’s all about playing with that during the day. It’s all about these little moments of coming back. You know, connecting with your kids, when you’re talking with them.
Realising that you’re actually getting really irritated. But realising it early enough, so that it doesn’t turn into, you know, a full blown explosion, or realising that you’re tired and annoying that you need rest. Or noticing the things that bring you loads of joy and making sure that you make time for them. All these countless ways that we can bring more awareness into our everyday life. And ultimately, that’s the real point. We practice in a formal way. And that’s really enjoyable. What actually the results come right throughout the day.
All right. So I hope that’s helpful. And thank you so much for listening,and take care.
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