avoiding the common pitfalls
Probably as many people fall off the meditation bandwagon as stay on it. As with all beginnings, a beginner’s
meditation practice is often a rocky road. But, there are some basic rules that can assure our seatbelts stay
fastened. Here are the most valuable ones.
Humble Beginnings: There is a saying amongst monastics; “an old hand’s training the first year, a beginner’s training
the second, and no training at all the third.” The truth of this saying I saw demonstrated time and time again during
my ten years of monastic life. It describes overly enthusiastic novices or laypeople who set unrealistic goals at the
start, fail to maintain them, become discouraged, and quit.
Instead of beginning MEDITATION with an hour a day, begin with ten minutes, but be extremely disciplined about
that “ten minutes.” Have a fixed time, and a realistic amount of time (that seems not enough) and never miss a
session, and if you must, make it up later that day or evening.
Wait until you find yourself looking forward to your meditation period as you would a meal when you are famished.
When this time comes cautiously increase your time period.
No Expectations: If you find that you feel great meditating right from the start it is a sure sign that your meditation is
not correct. Meditation is hard work and stirs up many obstacles, latent negativity, and disturbing emotions.
Meditation is like lifting the corner of a carpet and finding a pile of dirt under it.
It is common for beginners to quit saying, “meditation wasn’t right for me, it just increased my thoughts, emotions,”
and so forth. Meditation, correctly engaged in, increases awareness, and this brings to light things about ourselves
we may rather leave beneath the carpet, but that is in our best interest to sweep out.
Know the mechanics: The mind polarizing itself during meditation, typically dividing itself between what we think of as
meditation, and what we don’t. For example, eating a peanut butter sandwich may stand juxtaposed to the mantra we
are reciting or a prayer to our guru.
The deeper we absorb ourselves in meditation, the more distinct the “background’ noise will become. Our mantra
recitation, for example, can seem to be projected on a screen of thoughts or a thought of what we will do when our
meditation session is completed, an idea for a project we are working on, or a solution to a relationship problem, and
so forth. This is a kind of abstraction, which is another way of thinking about meditation. The background noise can
seem to balance out and equalize our meditation. We may feel in a state of equilibrium, aware very keenly of what
the background noise is, but favoring, ever so slightly, our meditation.
What we must realize is that the so-called background noise is as essential to correct meditation as the mantra itself
or whatever meditation topic we choose. If we do not seek to banish it, block it, or focus on it, it will not obstruct us in
any way, and our meditation practice will prosper.
Soft Landing: Emerge from the meditation respecting the space you have created. Whenever we rise from a seated
meditation session, we are more sensitive than we may realize. Take five minutes to walk around silently and observe
what you notice in your environment, the thoughts that come to mind without your bidding, the way your body feels,
and so forth.
Do not emerge from meditation and go off following the “background noise” mentioned above. If you must have that
sandwich or make that call, first give yourself space to move about with no agenda. This is absolutely important and
will ground your meditation.
Be Informed: Meditation by itself will lead to wrong and dangerous viewpoints. Many masters have said, “Don’t trust
your own mind.” Meditation practice is really one leg of a stool, the other two are, study, and reflection. If the three
are not balanced out, our training will fail. Find an excellent non-new age dharma book and use it as a guide. His
Holiness, the Dalai Lama, is exceptionally approachable in his writings on the mechanics of beginning a meditation
practice, as are Dilgo Khyentse, Urgyen Tulku, Mingyur Rinpoche, and others.
Don’t Be Fickle: Don’t hop from one practice to the next because you are not getting anywhere. Once an authentic
method is picked, stay with it. Meditation is self-correcting, and if you are a little off don’t fret about it, you will
naturally align if you do your part. Have faith in yourself and the method you choose and don’t spend energy
wondering if you are doing it “right.”
Keep it Simple: The topic of meditation can be fundamental and yet lead to profound realization. Don’t seek out the
“highest” or “quickest” meditation method. There are none. What is perfect for one individual’s growth is not so much
dependent on the type of meditation we engage in, as for how we approach it. It is up to you!
Meditation is the best ride we could ever get on, and we all have a free ticket. This is an opportunity to experience a
fullness of life that we should not neglect to take.