Many beginners successfully learn to meditate on their own.
Despite many gurus needlessly complicating it, contemplative practice is actually very simple. Not easy, but simple.
It requires no particular preparation, deep knowledge or special equipment.
All that’s required is time and patience.
How beginners learn meditation – my journey
I started meditation like most people. Fumbling around in the dark.
I was struggling with stress and overthinking, looking for anything which might help.
Quite serendipitously, my friend recommended the book, Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World, which provided a splendid overview of the topic.
Fortunately, the book was written following clinical trials in the UK and used clear, concise language – without the mystical component that deters many beginners.
The book was well structured, introducing 8 weeks of meditation practice, focusing on different techniques each week.
This was easily enough to get me started…
But, there came a time in my practice when I needed more.
After meditating for a time with just the book instructions, I felt my practice plateauing.
Although I’d cultivated a steady meditation habit, my practice seemed like it wasn’t progressing.
Like many meditators, I questioned whether I was doing it right, wondering where to focus my practice.
So I scouted around for an online teacher.
Not dedicated support, but a resource I could utilise for guided meditation, which I thought would provide two main benefits:
- Teach me new meditation techniques
- Provide reassurance that I was on the right track
I finally settled on the Waking Up app by Sam Harris.
Sam is a neuroscientist by background, so in addition to being a meditation teacher, I appreciated the grounded approach he brought to his explanations.
Thus I started a series of guided meditations.
Perhaps one of the most useful things this taught me was non-dual meditation.
Up until that point, I’d focused primarily on focused and open-monitoring meditation. However, by turning attention in on itself in an attempt to see the point from which you feel you’re directing your attention, we learn that subject and object aren’t separate
This place is found to be illusory, just another mind made construction.
Although concentration meditation can get you to this realisation, insight meditation is said to be a more direct path.
Thus, Harris’ recommendation to include it in the practice made sense.
Going it alone without a teacher
It’s perfectly possible to learn to meditate without attending traditional face to face meditation tuition.
We live in a golden age of technology, completely unrestricted by local access to such services, which may vary in quality or be completely non-existent, depending on where you live.
Internet connectivity provides instant access to the best teachers around the world and in many cases, getting this exposure is free or at least significantly more affordable than one on one sessions.
Let’s look at some of the pros and cons:
- Access to the best teachers in the world
- Free or more affordable than the alternatives
- No long term commitments
- Exposure to different schools of thought/techniques
- You don’t develop the same connection with your teacher
- Unless you’re in a group it can be hard to ask questions or get individual feedback
- You must rely more on your own motivation to continue with your practice, even when you don’t feel like it
If you’re curious about meditation, don’t feel like you have to jump headfirst into a 10-day silent meditation retreat.
- First, indulge that curiosity online. Watch a few videos and read a few articles.
- Then check out the introductory book I mentioned.
- There are a plethora of meditation apps these days that provide wonderful guided meditation. Headspace is the big one, but for a completely free, non-profit option, try Medito.
- Also, download a meditation timer. I use Insight Timer, which is free.
Can I learn to meditate on my own? Summary
With the abundance of information available online, you can easily learn to meditate on your own.
Although the methods are often overcomplicated, in reality, it’s incredibly easy to get started.
Most importantly, meditation is free, with open access to anyone who wants to develop a contemplative practice.
Although at some point, you might feel you’d benefit from specific one-on-one or in-person instruction, experimenting alone first can allow you the space to explore, extracting what you find most helpful from each technique and practice.
Simply sitting in meditation each day will have profound effects on your life…
So don’t procrastinate for a lack of formal tuition. Get going today.