As I have previously mentioned, my initial inroad to Buddhism was through meditation. One thing I soon discovered, though, is that meditation can be a minefield! Not in the sense that it’s difficult to do, but in the sense that there’s so much variation and variety in forms that it can be hard to know what to take in.
At the Triratna centre I go to they have taught me four basic forms of meditation: mindfulness of breathing, metta bhavana (the cultivation of loving-kindness), “just sitting” and walking meditation. I use all of these regularly, and I do at least one of them every day. I try to alternate between mindfulness of breathing and metta bhavana, but sometimes I will do them together, starting with mindfulness of breathing and then going on to metta bhavana. Time doesn’t always permit that, but I do find that metta bhavana is much easier after a period of mindfulness of breathing.
At the Tibetan centre they teach two basic forms of meditation: shiney (also known as samatha or shamatha) or calm-abiding meditation, and lhatong (also called vipassana or vipasyana) or insight meditation. I haven’t learned the latter yet, but shiney can take various forms.
Sometimes the object of meditation is the breath, just like the mindfulness of breathing technique I learned from the Triratna group. Other times it could be the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl being repeatedly rung and allowed to gradually fade out, or an object in the shrine room. Other times we do objectless meditation, which is much like the Triratna “just sitting”.
There are many other names and variations within Buddhist meditation traditions, so that it can get confusing for beginners like me. My advice would be to start simply and master the basics first. Mindfulness of breathing has to be the easiest form of meditation to learn, but it can have profound effects on you.
You could start out with a guided meditation phone app like the excellent Headspace, or a timer app such as Insight Timer (which also features some very good guided meditations that can be helpful, as well as various discussion groups you can join if you want to). In the end, though, there’s no real substitute for a flesh-and-blood teacher who knows what he or she is talking about to guide you into the wonderful world of meditation. This is true whether you are interested in Buddhism or not; most Buddhist centres in the West offer meditation classes that are open to all, not just to Buddhists or potential Buddhists.
I started out meditating for just ten minutes a day, and found that beneficial. I have gradually increased that, so that now I generally meditate for anything from 45 minutes to 90 minutes a day (although not usually in one sitting). I’ve found it so beneficial in terms of giving me clarity of mind and that much-abused cliché, “inner peace,” that I fully intend to keep on meditating daily for the rest of my life.