Meditation 101: A Beginners Guide to Mindfulness

Ep 131 Blog

Welcome to Meditation 101: A Beginners Guide to Mindfulness, with Zen Master Lon Young.

Lon Young is a writer and educator and co-founder of Awakening Valley Sangha. He is an ordained Zen Buddhist, as well as a devout Christian. Lon and his wife and their five children lived in India helping leprosy-affected communities and coordinating international humanitarian volunteer efforts.

He holds degrees in Music, Creative Writing, and Literature and has been teaching in public schools for over two decades. His poetry, essays, and short stories have appeared in several literary journals. And… he is a great meditation teacher and practitioner!

Why develop a meditation practice?

A lot of people first come to meditation to manage stress and anxiety. It helps them become calmer. But as they do it they realize it provides additional benefits:

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-They become less reactive

-More intentional

-Relate to your suffering in healthy ways

-Increased ability to concentrate

-Let go of grudges

-Develop self-compassion

-Cultivates an increased sense of connection and communion with life

-Create a sense of awakening or connection with the divine

Reduce stress

Manage pain

-Break cycles of addiction

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-Identify triggers

-Deal more skillfully with their suffering

-Leaders and athletes use it to bring clarity

-Mental health professionals use it to build trauma resistance and as a means to deal better with the past

-For increased health, especially in overcoming food cravings and with weight loss

Mindful eating, overcoming unhealthy eating habits

What exactly is meditation?

People have all kinds of pictures in their heads about it. Saying “I meditate” is like saying “I play sports.”

Some types of meditation:

-Mindfulness meditation, Vipassana

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-Metta, or Loving Kindness meditation

-Natural Awareness (Diana Winston)

-TM, Transcendental meditation

At its heart, meditation is a way of directing our awareness. It trains us to concentrate our powers of attention. It’s like a spotlight at the theater. It swings one way, and we notice an actor.

Another way, and we see a set with a table and chair. Our awareness can be shone in a lot of different directions. It can be laser-focused, or we can back up and see the whole stage.

Different types of meditation are different ways to shine the light of our awareness on different things, thus producing different results. That focus brings a certain type of energy that we can use to increase our compassion, reduce suffering, and achieve clarity and insight.

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What is NOT meditation? What are some misconceptions?

Another is that meditation has to be religious. It can be practiced without any reference to the supernatural at all. Non-religious and religious people can both experience the same sublime states through meditation. They will interpret the experiences differently but can have the same effects.
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It’s a misconception that meditating is a way to escape from our problems. People may think a meditator is zoning out, or getting their “Zen on,” but actually the opposite is true. Instead of escaping from our problems, meditation helps us face them.

It’s not that suddenly everything’s OK, it’s that we learn to be OK with life NOT being OK.

Another misconception is that there are so many problems in the world, so many things to be fixed, that isn’t it self indulgent to just sit on a cushion? Isn’t it a new-age version of fiddling while Rome is burning.

But when you look at spiritual practice, this isn’t true. Activists who meditate gain resilience, clarify their purpose and become more resolute. Gandhi did not try to escape the injustice in the world. He sat so that he could stand up to injustice.

Ep 131 Quote 05Day after day Gandhi sat for hours, but then he rose and met hatred with love, and it was meditation and his spiritual practice that gave him that kind of energy, and he did it every morning.

Plato once said, “The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself.”

The last misconception is that through meditation you will eliminate thoughts from your head. Some people give up because they think they can’t control their thoughts.

Instead, it should be considered a victory to simply sit and recognize exactly what IS going on inside.

Something does happen though as you are compassionate with yourself, just simply sitting with it, without judgment, and gently returning awareness back after distraction, does have the quality of calming the mind.

It can be quite a revelation to realize what is actually going on in your mind. We call that “Monkey Mind.”

The thoughts are still there, but they will have less control over you.

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Guide me through a typical period of meditation, what happens?

The first thing is to just make sure their body is feeling stable. It’s most common to sit in a chair with feet resting on the floor, and you feel stable and alert.

Secondly, check-in with your body. Meditation is not a disembodied experience, it’s very much an embodied experience. Identify areas of attention, breathe into them, and allow for more sense of ease in the body. As your body gets more alert and at ease, your mind follows.

Ep 131 Quote 06Be alert, but not overly vigilant.

At this point, just really start connecting with the breathing. There is nothing special about this, simply notice the breath coming in, notice it leaving, and simply observe. There is nothing to think about, simply observe the process of breathing in, breathing out.

You will feel calmer and calmer. We seem to be wired in such a way that becoming aware of breathing is a way of calming ourselves.

As we keep following our breath, this is where we start to discover the nature of our mind. Thoughts arise, and that’s OK. We need to remind ourselves to be gracious with ourselves, with whatever arises. We do not have to react to it, nor do we have to resist it. 5 or 6 minutes into our meditation thoughts will arise, and our practice is simply to allow them to appear, then pass away.

Imagine your mind is a spacious sky, and the thoughts are clouds. You can observe them, but you can simply observe them pass away as well.

The same is true with strong feelings. We don’t have to suppress them or come up with stories about them. We can let them arise, notice them, and sometimes they pass away, sometimes they linger a while, and that’s OK.

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There’s a quality of graciousness, welcoming what comes up without pushing them away, or clinging to them. Whether negative or positive. If you find yourself daydreaming, or dwelling in the past or future, simply return to the breath.

Jack Kornfield talks about “when” this happens, not “if.” Just imagine you are taking a puppy for a walk. Gently tug on the leash to bring the puppy back when it wanders.

How do we measure success? Well, whatever happens, happens. Just have a sense of graciousness. Something IS happening over time. Eventually, we get better and better at returning. Little by little, day by day that muscle of concentration gets stronger.

Eventually, we see the effects in our day to day lives.

For how long should people sit? Should they use an alarm?

Timing meditation can be really helpful so that we can relax and not have to check the clock.

But start where you are and work up from there. If 5 minutes is all you’ve got, start there.

What is the difference between meditation and mindfulness, and how do they work together?

I think of mindfulness as moment by moment awareness. Fully paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment.

Mindfulness is a way of savoring the present moment, whatever it is. You are fully aware. You are fully present. You’re not judging the moment, or wishing it were different. You’re not swept into the past, or caught in the future.

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Think of meditation as a tool you can use to live with more mindfulness.

Meditating every day is like a tune-up that keeps our mindfulness engine humming.

When you are able to be fully present for somebody it is such a gift.

Wishing things were different robs the present moment of its inherent perfection.

For somebody who wants to add meditation to their life, what are the simplest ways to get started?

Just start with 3 breaths, and you don’t have to be on a cushion or chair! Pause at any time during your day, and take 3 deep breaths and become aware of your body in the moment –that’s a powerful practice.

If you do this day after day the thoughts and emotions will not stop, but they will arise and pass away without you being so reactive. You’ll be more grounded. You’ll learn to sit with whatever comes up. There will be strong emotions, but they won’t sweep you away.

The ability to stay present means people can more fully show up in their lives.We can learn to feel through our suffering instead of distracting ourselves from it. Try Metta meditation (loving-kindness). This is a practice of compassion. Use an app like Insight Timer to find a meditation that works for you.

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Try a three-step process to develop a practice

1. Start by regularly pausing and taking 3 deep, mindful breaths, throughout the day.
2. Start a simple meditative practice of a few minutes a day, working up to 20 minutes per session.
3. Experiment in guided meditations and discover those that work best for your personal life situation.

Why would you meditate with other people?

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There is a real sense of connection and unity when you come together with other people for a common purpose.

There’s a longing for human connection, we’re wired for it. Connection is a real predictor of well being, even longevity.

We all need a rich web of connection and interconnectivity with other people.

Group meditation takes your practice to a higher level. Other people who guide these things will have ideas and insights you may never have had yourself.

Find a Sangha (Paly for Community), by searching the following:

-Through meditation apps that include community
-Search within your faith tradition
-Try an introductory course from somebody like “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.”
-Search the term “Sangha near me.” Although this sounds very “Buddhist,” many of these in the US contains a broad base of people from all walks of life and faith traditions.

Name one of your favorite books

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. Short, conversational, and easy to read.
The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh. A Zen Master shows how to take mindfulness off the cushion and into each moment of our life.

Also Old Path White Clouds by the same author.

List of resources
Waking Up, Headspace, Insight Timer, Oak, 10% happier


Old Path White Clouds

Bringing Home The Dharma
The Little Book of Being, Diana Winston

Untethered Soul

The Book of Joy

The Way of Zen

Secular Buddhism

The Mindful Brain, by Daniel Siegel. A brain-based look at how mindfulness supports our cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal well-being.

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat Zinn. An introduction to the principles behind the author’s influential Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR).

Waking Up, by Sam Harris. A guide to meditation as a rational practice informed by neuroscience and psychology.

The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teacher on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life, edited by Barry Boyce. An anthology of the best writing from leading experts and practitioners in the field of meditation.

The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh. A Zen Master shows how to take mindfulness off the cushion and into each moment of our life.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki. A modern Zen classic introduces Western audiences to the simple art of breathing.

The Issue at Hand, by Gil Frondsdal. A straightforward introduction to mindfulness of our body, thoughts, emotions, and breathing, as well as how to deal with stress, manage our anger, and cultivate loving-kindness.

True Refuge, by Tara Brach. Clinical Psychologist and popular mindfulness retreat leader presents moment-by-moment awareness as a powerful tool to work skillfully with our obsessive thoughts, self-judgement, overpowering emotions, and inability to forgive self and others.

Heart Wisdom podcast (Jack Kornfield)
Tara Brach

You can find Zen master Lon Young through theses channels:.

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