It is not easy for everybody to have access to a qualified meditation teacher. Especially not if you live in a remote area. So the question arises whether it is a good idea to learn meditation by yourself.
But can it be done?
Let me reassure you, learning to meditate on your own is perfectly feasible. The basic instructions are so simple that almost anyone can follow them. Using a simple strategy that includes YouTube and reading books will get you a long way.
Let me guide you through how I learned meditation on my own and then I will share my personal strategy to learning to meditate by yourself based on my years of experience and the many mistakes I made along the way.
My journey to learning meditation.
When I started my journey into meditation, almost 20 years ago, I was living in a small town where almost nobody had heard from this thing called meditation.
Let alone that there was a teacher nearby that I could go to in order to ask questions.
But I always had a hang towards spiritual and esoteric topics all the while being trained as a Ph.D. in physics.
At that time there was not a lot of information on the internet like there is today. Now, you can find virtually anything you want. And this includes free online meditation courses.
So I started out following different styles of meditation, but not really getting anywhere with any of them. I needed to focus on one style and then stick with it.
The problem was that I was not sure about which direction I wanted to take. On the one hand, I am drawn to Buddhism, but on the other hand, I am also drawn to everything secular. So it was a difficult choice.
Actionable Advice: After doing your initial research into what meditation style you want to try, you should really stick to one for at least a couple of weeks, preferably months.
So I was doing some meditation, but really I was more dabbling with it.
Furthermore, since my background was in science, I had trouble telling people what I was doing. I had some sort of shame regarding the issue. I felt that it was not in line with who I was.
But then I learned about MBSR, a mindfulness intervention that has been researched extensively and is completely secular.
Luckily, I had moved by then and I found a course nearby where I lived and so I joined the course.
This decision has helped me a lot. Paying for a course made me want to get the most of my money so I meditated more regularly in a tradition that I was comfortably in sharing with others.
Actionable Advice: Getting a good course can help you make a giant step forward. This can be both an online or in-person course.
Getting in touch with like minded people
The next thing that got me further was to meet people that were also on the meditation path.
I always undervalued this part.
I am mostly an introvert, but being able to talk to people about what they are going through has helped me understand my problems and move beyond them.
In Buddhism, the sangha, which is the community of people doing meditation, are deemed as important as the Buddha himself. And I can now see how that might be true. So joining an active community to exchange ideas is something you need to do.
Actionable Advice: join a community of like-minded people to support your progress in meditation.
My strategy to learning meditation on your own
Determine which meditation style is the best fit for you
Now, this article is not suited to find out which meditation you should do. I have some good advice on how to do this in my article covering online meditation courses. You can access it here and you will be taken to the relevant section.
I do realize that choosing among the dozens of options of something you have never done before can be a daunting task.
But the great thing about meditation is that although there are huge differences in the way things are presented, the real differences are much smaller.
There exists insight meditation (like mindfulness mediation) and concentration mediation (like repeating a sentence or praying a rosary).
And most meditation styles include the two in some way or another because any way you need them both.
So for your first choice, it is safe to go with your gut feeling. Find a model of meditation online that you like and just go with it.
If you are more mind and science-oriented like me, then do not doubt and go for mindfulness meditation of some sort. It does not matter whether it is MBSR or MBCT or something else.
Learn meditation yourself through watching YouTube
Once you have chosen your meditation style, you need to learn the basics.
And luckily, the basics are all very simple. If you want to experience a short meditation that introduces the concepts, have a look at the youtube video below.
Youtube is great for learning skills on your own.
When you are searching through youtube, search for ‘guided meditation‘ and then add the style of meditation you have chosen.
The great thing is that there a lot of videos out there so you can pick a teacher that you like for one reason or another.
This is by far one of the best methods to quickly get a feeling of what it is like to meditate.
Unfortunately, YouTube also comes with its limitations. You more or less need to carve out your own path. finding the bits and pieces and put them together yourself.
No, I did this with when I learned photography, but sometimes, it is better to first have an overview of what needs to be done and then fill in the specifics through youtube.
Learn meditation yourself from books
Although you can find YouTube playlists that form some sort of course, I think it is not the best way to go more in-depth into the subject of meditation.
If you want to learn more and get a more in-depth understanding of meditation, you will need to dig a little deeper into the subject.
One of the things you should do it to buy at least one meditation book in the tradition you have chosen.
There are literally hundreds of books detailing the process of meditation.
Reading a book as the next step in your own apprenticeship of meditation after YouTube will give you a better view of what the overarching principles are.
This can be quite important as you will now be able to gauge your own progress and situate yourself in your journey. This in turn will allow you to apply techniques to address the specific needs of your particular level.
The most important factor: do the meditation
I already mentioned it in my personal story, but I think I need to repeat it.
The real danger of watching YouTube and reading books is that it can be a fun thing to do. Gathering knowledge is something we as humans usually love doing.
It is what made us so successful on this planet.
But if there is only one thing you remember from this page, is that in order to reap the benefits of meditation, you need to actually do the meditation.
Actionable Advice: No matter how much you enjoy reading books about meditation or watching YouTube clips about it, you need to do at least 20 to 30 minutes of meditation a day to reap the benefits.
Join a meditation course or community
This step aims at making your meditation routine permanent.
Do not underestimate the pull form all other things in your life. You really need to put it high on your priority list or you will not do it.
Even I, who am a long time meditator have sometimes periods where I hardly meditate. And although these ups and downs are perfectly normal, you should try to keep them as short as possible. Especially when you are trying to learn meditation on your own.
You can also download one of the many meditation apps that exist. Usually, they have some sort of community built-in. That is a great feature to have if you are doing some research into apps.
Personally, I only use Insight Timer to time my meditations and because I just love to have the stats. It’s a completely free app, but they also have paid courses if you want.
Actionable Advice: Find some way to make your meditation a priority. This can be through joining a course or by joining a community. But you can also read up on the benefits of meditation online or in books.
Never stop learning
Once you have the basics down, the real work starts.
There are many levels of meditation, and there is a lot to learn.
Yes, the basics are easy, and actually it does not get a lot more complicated than the basic instructions, but there are a lot of nuances that can be applied in meditation.
If you want to master this skill on your own, you need to be aware that these nuances are the part where a teacher is the most useful.
So when you are this advanced, I’d advise you to seek out a qualified teacher. You can lose a lot of time being stuck in something you think is ok.
Another option might be to seek out a specialized book. In this regard, I highly recommend ‘The mind illuminated‘ by Culadasa. This book also guides you through the first steps, but I think its value becomes increasingly high the further you are in your meditation journey.
Actionable Advice: Although you can get very far, at a certain point, interaction with a teacher can help you greatly into resolving certain issues in your meditation
Is there an advantage to going to a meditation teacher from the onset?
I’d like to answer with both yes and no.
Yes because it is clear that a teacher has the knowledge you are seeking. If you have a qualified teacher you will move on so much faster.
The teacher has experienced all the problems you will be experiencing as a beginner and has found a way around it. This is a great asset.
And No, because I know some teachers that do not speak from personal experience. They have been meditating for a couple of months and read a few books and think they are ready to teach.
In the meditation business, experience is all you have to offer as a teacher. It is your unique selling proposition.
Unfortunately, I know a few teachers who lack the required experience in meditation.
And as a beginner, you have no idea who is who. So always ask for credentials. How long have they been meditating and did they study reputable sources or with reputable teachers themselves.
So, I hope you are ready to start the journey to learn meditation on your own.
You will find that, at least the first steps, are certainly doable.
Let me know in the comments whether you are a self-made meditator or if you took a lot of courses in the beginning. I’d love to hear your story.
Featured image by cottonbro from Pexels.