Beginner’s Mind – A Fresh Look at What Meditation Is

A: I am a 19 year old girl. I dont know much about yoga or meditation. I read somewhere about all its benefits and was wondering whether you could explain to me what it is and how to start? I just normally feel way too stressed and I have no quietness inside. Any advice would really be appreciated. I have recently recovered from anorexia but now I started binge eating. I just thought that a type of meditation might help me. How does one start? What do I need? And most importantly what do I do? I know these might be stupid questions, but I have no idea. Thanks.

Jay: It’s nice to hear from you. From what you wrote it sounds like you are a sensitive person and that you are aware of the internal noise, stress and junk that most of us have going on (though many people are too focused outwardly to notice it.)

There are many kinds of physical, mental and emotional exercises and systems of healing. Some of them might help you a lot but I would have no idea which ones! There are even systems of meditation exercises. But for me meditation is something different. To me the word meditation points to a thorough listening to what is going on right now, moment to moment, both inside myself and outside. This kind of listening can be called silent because in order to really listen, there has to be some stillness of the body and the mind.

What is the point of listening -inside and out – in this silent way? The fact is that there is so much going on inside us all the time that we never hear or experience. We don’t know ourselves! No wonder we are always ending up in painful situations. We usually don’t even know what we are or what we really need. So sitting still and listening starts to let the body, the mind, the feelings, the emotions all be heard. It’s like our whole being wants to speak to us but never gets the chance.

The strange thing about this silent listening is that at the very same time that it is allowing the inside being to be noticed, it also allows us to be touched by the simple environment around us – sounds of the fan, the warmth of the air on the skin, maybe even a sense of the spaciousness all around us.

Another strange thing about this silent listening is that even though what is “heard” in the listening may include sounds, sights, smells, feelings, emotions and memories, after a while listening mostly seems to consist of lots of unknowable space and openness. What we are used to listening to and what we usually feel is most important is the sounds, sights, memories, thoughts. But after meditating for a while (some minutes or some years) it is the vast, unknowable openness that seems to be most important, most supportive and most healing.

So the more silent listening there is, the more intelligently and compassionately we can take care of ourselves and at the same time the more connectedness we feel with the simple world that is all around us, including other living things.

I heard a Tibetan man give a talk about meditation recently. The Tibetan tradition is full of very complex meditation practices but this man was unusually simple. He said that all that is needed is Silence. That’s it. Some people asked him more about this and we clarified it a little to say that Silence is Listening. Listening requires silence and silence reveals what is here right now in its depth and fullness, each moment.

This is really the beginning and the end of meditative work. Just to discover this possibility of listening in an open space of not-knowing.

Probably the best way to start with this is to sit in a comfortable position – a chair or couch is ok. Lying down can make you fall asleep. The spine is like an antenna and seems to work best if it is upright and flexible.

Now, when you first sit down to try this, you might (or might not) notice physical restlessness. You might also notice a lot of resistance to just listening. You may also notice the strong buzz and pull of thoughts and emotions. There is no need to think that you should be getting rid of these things. That just makes more noise!! But you can just see if you can find some patience with it all and some interest and curiosity in what is going on. This silent listening is not always pleasant. In fact there is much difficult and challenging stuff that comes up in us at times, though silent listening also has the possibility of revealing a deep oneness with what is happening. This can happen unexpectedly at some moment.

There is much that comes up in starting to listen. It can be really helpful to have other people to talk with who have experience with listening, especially if they can keep it very simple and not become too involved in meditation theory or practices or ideas of what you should do. If you want to let me know what part of the country you are in, I might be able to recommend some people or centers.

As listening deepens, it’s possible that the things that bother us the most – our fears, addictions, and so on – start to come to light in a healing way. Actually at first they may come to light in a difficult way but then there somehow comes some insight and some healing – maybe not right away but with persistence in giving this listening a chance. And as these difficult things start to open up, there seems to be more ability to feel the intimate connection with everything inside us and around us.

I hope this address your question a little bit. Feel free to write back if you have more questions or as you try this and questions come up.

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