There are many forms of meditation and choosing one over the other is a matter of personal preference. I happen to like mindfulness-based meditation, as promulgated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach and Jospeh Goldstein—the tone of their advice is just right for me and many others, but it might not be for you, you might prefer a meditation technique that utilizes a mantra, like Transcendental Meditation, or any of the other forms. No matter—you can use any one of them to deeply explore your consciousness.
It’s a basic quandary of the human mind, maybe THE basic quandary, which is that the mind likes to play– in the future, in the past, all over the place. It’s like a little yappy dog, and like one of those, it needs a chew toy to distract it from ruminating and thinking. In various traditions we give that busy mind a mantra, or chanting and slogans, almost always the breath to distract it. In qigong we throw slow movement into the mix to utterly absorb the body and the mind.
The key thing is that learning to be in the present, in the now, is both utterly simple and very challenging. It can take a lifetime to learn. Even the Dalai Lama says that he’s still learning. Joseph Goldstein says, “no matter how long I practice I always feel like I’m just at the beginning, because I’m never further along than at the front edge of my understanding.”
There’s a reason they call it a practice:
When we are giving ourselves the experience of being relaxed, calm, alert and objective, we are practicing and perfecting mindfulness. When we are being tense or angry or anxious, we are practicing and perfecting being those states as well—BUT, if we are observing that we are going to those places while we’re doing it, we have the opportunity to take ourselves back to the relaxed place. It’s ultimately about cultivating an inner strength.
I’ve heard the distinction made between prayer and mediation is that when you pray you’re talking, you’re asking for something—and when you meditate you’re just listening. Some people call it “falling awake.”
There’s a huge body of literature, and courses offered everywhere, many for free.
You can study in classes, and go on retreats, which are great, but ultimately the idea is to be able to live your whole life with a mindful aspect. As Grand Master Tang says, “lead an ordinary life and make changes from within that life. Don’t let your environment throw you off, cultivate your inner strength and the ability to not let your mind wander.”
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness
by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra
by Thich Nhat Hanh
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Library)
by Pema Chodron
Fingerpainting on the Moon: Writing and Creativity as a Path to Freedom
by Peter Levitt
Training in Compassion: Zen Teaching on the Practice of Lojong
by Norman Fischer