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Question for January 20, 2013: Advice for Beginners
Medivate — 5 years ago — in Question of the Week
What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in meditation?


davidbhayes — 5 years ago — permalink
I may get long-winded, so I'll start with a quote from someone smart that kind of gets at my point:
"Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. ... No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday." —Bhante Gunaratana
The thing I most remember of starting out with meditation was frustration. I would get so frustrated that I couldn't just sit there all "Zen-like and peaceful". I found my mind to be very turbulent and judgemental, and finding that made me more frustrated and turbulent. It was in many ways a frightening and confusing thing to experience, and it did, to a real extent, force me to think seriously about many of the traits I'd previous taken for granted as under my control.
The hardest and greatest thing about meditation—especially by yourself silent on a cushion—is the way in which you're unable to distract yourself. You can't just go back to fantasizing about the future because you've made a commitment to the process and to yourself you're here to be with your breath (or other object of meditation). I remember being quite cheered, too, while I was having these struggles by coming across this line that rang true from Pema Chodron:
What's encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance. We see very clearly that we're closing off. That in itself begins to illuminate the darkness of ignorance.
What was so hard for me about meditating, what caused me to run from the cushion after five or ten minutes, was the way that I couldn't escape the reality of my mental situation. Things I'd been able to not know about myself I had to know now. Things I didn't like to sit with had to be sat with. It was hard and frustrating, but it was also the best thing I think I've ever done.


sundaresvani — 5 years ago — permalink
feeling particularly crazy today, I wonder if you have a source for the gunaratana quote?


davidbhayes — 5 years ago — permalink
It's from Mindfulness in Plain English, which you can actually (awesomely) get free in digital form. This quote is from in Chapter 7, about two-thirds of the way through. Here's the paragraph in full:
Somewhere in this process, you will come face-to-face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation; they have not. So they still feel relatively comfortable. That does not mean that they are better off. Ignorance may be bliss, but it does not lead to liberation. So don't let this realization unsettle you. It is a milestone actually, a sigh of real progress. The very fact that you have looked at the problem straight in the eye means that you are on your way up and out of it.