1. Trying harder doesn’t help – I brought a lot of “Type A” energy to my mindfulness meditation practice at first. I see now it was driven by a desire for quick results. The irony is that “hard work” during meditation is actually counterproductive. Striving to “do it right” will only reinforce the idea that there is something wrong with the present moment that needs fixing. A key element of mindfulness practice is letting go, letting be, not trying to be anywhere other than where we are in the present moment. This is where the transformational aspects of the practice go to work.
2. Friendliness and gentleness are essential. Building on the first point, as Pema Chodron says, one key part of mindfulness meditation practice is the cultivation of a friendly, gentle mind. It is when we are able to sit with difficult thoughts, feelings, emotions, situations, etc. with a friendly, gentle, non-judgmental mind, that the real benefits of the practice begin to reveal themselves.
3. Loving-kindness, or Metta, meditation, is of tremendous value. I started practicing mindfulness meditation to work with anxiety. What I discovered is that my mindfulness practice, while very beneficial in many respects, did little to actually help me handle anxiety. It was when I started incorporating loving-kindness meditation that my anxiety really started becoming workable. The traditional Buddhist teaching is that both loving-kindness and mindfulness practices are essential and the two reinforce each other. As mindfulness has become popularized in our culture, many people are exclusively practicing this form of meditation, and few of us are familiar with the “heart practice” of loving-kindness. I currently practice an even mix of both styles of meditation, and have found this to be most helpful for me in maximizing the benefits of mindfulness.
4. There is no substitute for practice. If you are like me, you may obsess over the conceptual aspects of meditation. We may read lots of books, listen to lots of podcasts, seek for a fuller understanding of what’s happening in the meditation practice, or how to make the practice go better. But, like everything else in life, there is no substitute for practical experience. We can read all the books we want about shooting a jump shot in basketball, and never improve much in our actual shooting technique; in the same way, reading about meditation is no substitute for practice. I have found that many of my conceptual questions have answered themselves as I continue to practice. Basically, what’s needed here is trust. Trust that the wisdom you need is already inside you. Teachers and writers can help guide us on the path, but ultimately the responsibility lies with each of us to find our own answers.
5. Just like going to the gym, results don’t happen overnight. Practice a bit, every day, and over time insight will ripen. 10 minutes a day is a great way to start.
6. There is no one correct technique, teacher, school, approach. There are many good choices. In my experience, its best to explore various methods of meditation, various schools, teachers, etc. Whichever ones resonate the most are the ones that are right for us.
7. Mindfulness alone is not enough. This was a big one for me. I spent a period of time thinking that if I could just be present and mindful enough, all my problems would fix themselves. Unfortunately this is 100% not the case. I still need to take care of my body, eat nutritious food, keep a schedule, spend time with friends and family, get out in the woods, find fulfilling and meaningful work, give back to others, face up to my fears, take care of the car when it breaks down, pay taxes, etc… The basic challenges of life don’t go away when we start meditating. Meditation, however, trains us to have some very useful tools for working with challenges.