By Vanessa Fleming, Summersalt Yoga teacher
Meditation. It’s everywhere you turn – people talking about it, people trying it, people saying, “Am I doing this right?” or even “I can’t stop my thoughts and sit still, so I can’t meditate correctly.”
First off, asking the question of right way or observing that one’s mind is completely all over the place is the absolute first step in cultivating a beginning step towards meditation.
So often, I am asked about meditation from students. How do they start? What’s a good source? I get it…there are so many things out there to get you on the path, but how do you know?
But before the practice even starts, I’d like to recommend a handful of resources to get you on the way, or at least get your curiosity started.
The Authentic Life: Zen Wisdom for Living Free from Complacency and Fear
by Ezra Bayda
I find this book so incredibly helpful. I read passages from it over and over again. Ezra Bayda is a meditation teacher in San Diego, CA. He has a very intricate way of putting concepts into practical and attainable terms, particularly for Westerners.
In the book, there is one recurring passage that stands out for me. Ironically, it’s in a chapter labeled, “The Eternal Recurrence.” The passage says:
There’s an old Zen saying: “Realizing the Way is hard. Once you have realized it, preserving it is hard. When you can perserve it, putting it into practice is hard….When we realize how hard a spiritual practice is, the initial honeymoon phase usually ends, especially if we believed that practice was going to save us from ourselves–from our fears and our distress. When we realize that our practice is not, in fact, going to ensure that we’ll permanently feel a particular way–such as calm or clear or compassionate–it is very easy to get discouraged. Some students leave the practice at this point. But for those who stick it out in spite of the discouragement, there can gradually come a dawning realization….
Gems of wisdom are planted throughout this book. It reads easily and touches on points of our basic understandings about ourselves, and deep-seeded beliefs that we are “fundamentally not okay.” (Chapter The Misguided Quest, p.86), which cause unnecessary suffering within our minds. Through this awareness, understanding the “Dilemma of Anger,” how to work through these, and what is beyond the seeing eye, Bayda paves a path towards understanding with his simple yet effective technique of writing about practice cultivation.
Bayda also refers to concepts Personal Love and Big Love, while recognizing the complete difficulty of unpacking what defines personal love. He refers to attachment and letting go, the Great Awakening, how to keep sight of the path, expectations and aspirations, and saying yes to fear.
The Authentic Life is broken down into 4 parts: The Territory and the Map, Awakening the Mind, Emotional Awakening, and Awakening the Heart.
Each comes with segues into the next section, and the all encompassing idea of this book is this: Letting it be. You’re merely a human in an human world, don’t get so hung up on trying to be anything else.
Towards the end, Bayda provides a “Letting it Be” Meditation practice. I won’t spoil it for you…go find it yourself!
A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah
(compiled by Jack Kornfield & Paul Breiter)
“Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of Buddha.” — Achaan Chah
A Still Forest Pool is a deeper look from the interpretation of Buddhism. Achaan Chah was a Thai Forest Monk. He wandered the forest for many years before he settled and created two monasteries.
While his teachings are not as simply put as Bayda’s, the message is still clear.
Achaan Chah dives deeper into the teaching of Buddha and references his message throughout. He spent his entire life dedicated to understanding the elements around Buddha’s enlightenment and insight.
This book is more suitable for someone who is ready to take on a deeper understanding of the practice of meditation, but it’s not so far deep–it’s still readable. I recommend this book for the “next step” after the practice begins.
Guided Meditation Practices by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the leading modern-day Western practitioners in Mindfulness. Let’s face it, most of us can not just pick up and go sit in a monastery or a forest for months or years to learn how to quiet our monkey mind.
His method, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, is a highly popular technique for finding ways to de-stress and meditate in everyday, fast-paced life. Through the essence of adopting mindfulness, we can begin to achieve moments into the present.
Kabat-Zinn’s book, Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment – And Your Life, explores a range of techniques to begin, to deepen, to enrich and to continue a mindfulness based practice.
His website also includes a variety of resources, other books he’s written, MP3s available for download for meditation, and the like.
Alan Watts was basically an Eastern man trapped in a Westerner’s body. The only problem I find with Watts is that because he’s Western, he over explains yet tries to simplify very heavy content and concepts of the practice. Watts follows the teachings of Zen Buddhism. I am currently reading The Spirit of Zen, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time with wrapping my head around it. Ironically, I’m off to a forest and have this book with me to see if I can concentrate on it, without the modern-day distractions.
Here’s a little taste of his lectures, referring to “Waking Up.”
I’ll report back once I finish The Spirit of Zen. For now, enjoy the dive into the next step! The hardest part is getting started…you’re more than halfway there.
In the words of my Thai Massage teacher, Pichest, with a fist over the heart and then raised to the sky….