I believe that meditation has the power to change the world.
People often ask me about my meditation practice. Maybe you asked me, and I told you to visit this page. I’m so glad our conversation (and your own curiosity) led you here!
This is the part of my site that I care the most about. This page is for you. It’s here for the curious, the skeptics, and experienced meditators. My goal is to share some resources that have worked for me in the hopes that they resonate with you. I talk more about my own experience with meditation here. Let me know if these things (or others) have worked for you too. As always, be in touch if I can be of assistance.
I’m sure you know someone that meditates, or have been told you should try it. Maybe you’re curious, and a little skeptical. Perhaps you’ve tried to meditate and are sure you can’t do it, or that you’re bad at it. Maybe you think you don’t need it! You are not alone. I still think these thoughts, even with hundreds of hours of practice behind me. Like any new practice, there can be negative self-talk, misconceptions and myths that get in the way. I have two pieces of good news:
- You’re here. Any new practice requires curiosity. The fact that you’re reading this means you’re curious.
- You have almost certainly observed that your mind has a mind of its own, and that you tend to get lost in thought. This is the first indication that you’re paying attention to what’s happening, and getting to know your mind and how it operates.
The next step is learning to be ok with that.
The best way to start a meditation practice is to start meditating! There is so much material available to read and listen to that it can challenging to know where to start. Many resources are incredibly inspring, while others can be confusing or discouraging. This is why you have to learn by doing. With a relatively small amount of time invested, you can be your own teacher.
“If you want to understand your mind, sit down and observe it.”Joseph Goldstein
I’ll offer some suggested resources below, which I’ll organize by level of experience/interest, but first, I want to suggest a subtle quality of attitude that will help give you gain some momentum. Decide to try 5 minutes per day for at least 10 days, and don’t give up when it doesn’t feel like anything is happening or you think you’re doing it wrong. Commit to a manageable goal to start, and follow through. If you feel like you’re committing to a lifetime practice before you even start, your level of motivation will be non-existent.
No experience / Skeptical
10% Happier by Dan Harris. This book has made a real splash in the last couple years, making Dan Harris more famous as a meditation man than as a news man. I totally recommend his app, and YouTube LIVE “sanity breaks” too. If you’re just starting out, this book is an entertaining and inspiring way to get into meditation (without the incense and the chanting). It’s funny, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and contains valuable insight. I’ve gifted many copies and will continue to. If you don’t want to take my word for it, and can spare 4 minutes, watch this.
Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. This classic is slightly more on the self-helpish side, but full of so much fundamental truth about life and the pursuit of happiness that it will appeal to anyone looking to grow introspectively. A beautiful book by a masterful writer and teacher.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. This isn’t exactly a book about meditation, but it’s literally about the historical Buddha’s life arc, so it technically counts. I’ve probably read this book almost a dozen times, and love it more than ever. It’s beautifully written, short, and full of insights into the pursuits and conflicts we all encounter in our lives.
“What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Some experience, looking for a new angle
Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. This book has a confusing title, but aside from that, is one of the most convincing arguments I’ve read for making meditation part of your life. I had this book recommended to me on a meditation retreat, and have recommended it to others countless times since. I love everything about it (except the title). Don’t let that deter you. This book is great.
Waking Up by Sam Harris. Sam subtitles his manifesto “A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion” which I think is unnecessary, but gets to the point. He is very open about his atheism, but this doesn’t really come into play for most meditators. Harris totally nails the basics of meditation, as always from his point of view as a neuroscientist. It’s concise, clean and blindingly intelligent.
“We are all seeking fulfillment while living at the mercy of changing experience. Whatever we acquire in life gets dispersed. Our bodies age. Our relationships fall away. Even the most intense pleasures last only a few moments. And every morning, we are chased out of bed by our thoughts.”Sam Harris, Waking Up
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Tara Brach is one of the most popular meditation teachers for a reason. Her sweet, caring approach really hits home. Radical Acceptance gets to the heart of living with things as they are, something everyone can really use (especially in the days of COVID).
Real Love by Sharon Salzberg. Ever the champion of loving-kindness meditation (metta), Sharon Salzberg has a way of bringing out deep-seeded and fundamental qualities of heart. If too much love-speak makes you queasy, maybe you need this book! Open your heart and mind, I fully recommend it.
After the Extacy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield. Everything Jack Kornfield does is full of wisdom and insight, and I found this book to be really entertaining. It’s about finding lessons in unexpected places, and not taking yourself (and your issues) so seriously.
Every time I turn around, it seems like there’s a new meditation app that everyone is talking about. I have tried to keep up with giving them all a try, but there are too many! Here are my favorites:
- 10% Happier — To go with his breakout book, Dan Harris has gathered an incredible roster of teachers to create a hugely diverse amount of content his app. The variety can seem overwhelming at first, but once you find your groove (and favorite teachers) the overall excellence of this platform will make you want to keep opening the app. I gladly pay for this app, even though I usually meditate without it.
- Waking up — Sam Harris has created a really great assortment of mind-altering content, including the amazing 50 day Waking Up Course. I did the course when the app came out, and it took my practice to a new level. Sam’s way of approaching concepts in simple and straightforward (and often scientific) ways is different from a lot of the frilly, breathy-voiced, accented or affected meditation guides out there. Again, I pay for access to this content, and never question that investment (even when I’m not using it). It’s that good. The “lessons” tab alone is worth whatever you have to pay to get it. For more thoughts about pay apps, see below.
- Dharma Seed — This is perhaps the most astonishing collection of meditation resources on the internet. This free database of dharma talks includes guided meditations by all of the top teachers, plus countless talks about the practice, recorded live at retreats and other live events throughout the world. There is a lot to sift through to find what you think you’re looking for — start by searching for a teacher you like, and see where it takes you.
On paying for apps: It might seem crazy to pay for a meditation app, and I get it. Some are over $100/year, which is more than you pay for Hulu. Again, no surprises that you don’t want to pay that. Also, there’s a lot of free content out there, AND, shouldn’t you be able to meditate without a guide? Yes, I know. But speaking of Hulu (insert Netflix, HBO, ESPN+, etc.), do those paid necessities make you happier and nicer? If yes, great! You’re getting your money’s worth. I can assure you that what you spend on a great meditation app can have the same, or greater effect on your life. Think about this: look ahead to a random day in the future…you are smiling, smiling because you are generally content with your life and your experience. The people in your life are also pleased because you are kind and generous to them, even when they are difficult to deal with. You are also able to better deal with challenging situations that come your way, and behave in a way that you’re proud of, a way that maybe even sets an example for others who want to be better people. In this moment, looking back at your investment (let’s say you spent $250 for a year of subscription(s), on the high side), would you say that all of those life benefits are worth that $250? The same as one trip to Whole Foods? Two or three nice dinners out? 3 months of high speed internet? 1/4 of a weekend vacation? I’d make that investment 10 times out of 10. If after this rant, you still don’t buy it, or want to and can’t, Sam Harris will give you a year of his app for free. All you have to do is email him. Here’s the info. Scroll to the bottom and read under “the fine print”. But seriously, if you can pay for it, do. You won’t regret it. [Steps down from soapbox]
There are SO many podcasts out there, now more than ever, and the topic of meditation has become a super-popular topic. Everyone is an expert, and there is some potentially dubious stuff out there, amidst a sea of wonderful, inspiring content. I won’t pretend to know all the best podcasts, I just know what I’ve enjoyed and what has inspired me to be better. So, in the face of too many great podcasts to recommend, I’ll give you my top two:
- Making Sense — Originally called the Waking Up Podcast, Making Sense is Sam Harriss’s long-form interview podcast, and has a lot of great content related to meditation, especially his interviews with top meditation experts. As always, Sam goes all neuroscientist on his guests, but is amazing at getting to the heart of any matter efficiently and directly, drawing out the most important takeaways. Check out Episodes 4, 15, 63, 89, 91 and 111 to start.
- The Tim Ferriss Show — Tim Ferriss is certainly known for his books about self-improvement, which I have digested somewhat fanatically over the years. But it’s his podcast which is a true marvel. Obsessive about improving himself in pretty much every way imaginable, Tim interviews top performers in basically every field, and somehow gets them to share what practices, routines and beliefs they attribute to making them so successful. He appraoches interviewing the same way, always trying to get better, so you can be sure he gets the info that will benefit you the most. As with any show with a variety of topics and guests, I like to pick and choose based on my interests. There are simply too many to get to all of them, and unless you’re an early-stage investor or entrepreneur, there are a lot of episodes that might not be super pertinent to your journey. However, there’s much to learn from all of his guests, because he simply gets the best people. Tim has devoted several episodes to discussing meditation, with the most experienced teachers in the field. Check out episodes 2, 14, 94, 122, 123, 148, 268, 277, 300, 319, 342, 363 and 372. Some of these are not meditation-related, but have incredibly inspiring things to offer. Pick and choose!
Experienced meditator, time to get deep
The biggest step forward in my meditation practice came when I started attending retreats. First, I went to a couple day-long retreats at New York Insight Meditation Center. If you are in the New York area, I recommend NYI wholeheartedly. If not, consider attending a similar event at your local meditation center. Here is a list of centers across the world.
If you don’t live near a retreat center, and you are ready for a life-altering meditative experience, consider traveling to a residential retreat center such as Spirit Rock or Insight Meditation Society. These centers were founded by the people that brought meditation to the US in the 70’s, and are beautiful, historic places to deepen your practice. I have attended two silent retreats at IMS, both of which changed my life and my practice significantly. Disclaimer: going on a long retreat might not be the right choice for some people. If you just had a baby, for example, running off to sit silently in the woods while you peer inside your mind might not be an investment of time that is appreciated by everyone you leave back at home. Additionally, if you have no meditation experience, a multi-day retreat might not be the best way to get started. Instead, try to attend a day-long retreat or evening dharma talk locally. Ready or not, a silent retreat of even a few days will change you in unforgettable and positive ways. As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about retreats.
Related resources & all-time favorites
This is Water by David Foster Wallace. This commencement speech by one of his generation’s best writers touches on super-important themes of awareness, worship and education, among many others. I listen to it easily 4 times per year. There isn’t a more valuable and inspiring way to spend 22 minutes.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. This classic story of real-life survival and the power of self-talk is always inspiring and humbling. You think it’s hard to stay positive? I know. Read this book and you might see your challenges differently.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat. This is not a book about meditation, and again, the title is a little cheesy. However, Solve for Happy touches on all the benefits of meditation practice without talking much about meditation (much) and is in itself very touching.
Sam Harris YouTube “on death”. This might seem a little dark, but it’s not. It’s beautiful. I know there are a lot of recommendations for Sam Harris, but this is one of the best things he’s recorded. It’s available on his podcast, his app, and thankfully, also on YouTube, linked above. Listen, and watch your perspective change completely in under 3 minutes.