Both beginners and experienced meditators can benefit from occasional guided meditations. Listening to instructions read aloud helps draw your attention to your present experience. It is not unreasonable to let your mind sink gently into the words of the speaker and see where it takes you. The reason I say this is that I suspect that most people, even those interested in meditation, bring a touch of skepticism to the whole project. There is a certain part of you that says, “Why should I listen to this guy? How do I know this will work?” These are valuable tools of critical thinking, and they should be used vigorously in many contexts—education, science, art, business, etc. But it is also useful to occasionally let your guard down, relinquish your thoughts, and be present with the words you hear.
Listening to a guided meditation is not like listening to a college lecture or an interesting NPR story. It is more like listening to a song: you just let the notes hit you directly.
For each of these, simply sit in your normal meditation posture while listening to the instructions. Be upright, yet relaxed. I have a bit more to say about each one below.
. “Complete Meditation Instructions” from UCLA
This one is your bread and butter meditation, the one you will return to again and again. It is a gentle, free-flowing, and open exercise that helps draw your attention to the breath and body—your home base, the place where your experience happens.
It was recorded by the UCLA Mindfulness Research Center.
. “Dynamic Presence” – Tara Brach
We often walk through the day as though we have no body, as our thoughts dominate everything we do. We know that “living in your head” is distracting and not useful, but we do it anyway. This meditation by Tara Brach uses helpful metaphors and poetic language to connect your attention directly to the sensations in your body. These are the sensations that are always there if you pause to notice, but which we don’t normally notice as we go through our day—the in and out flow of the breath, the sensations of pressure where we sit, the tingling of the skin. These are always happening and are useful tools in remaining mindful of the present moment.
. “Looking for the Self” – Sam Harris
In this meditation, author Sam Harris invites us to look within and consider whether there is indeed a unitary “self.” Most of us tend to walk around believing that there is one—steering us this way or that like a pilot in a cockpit. But this meditation draws your attention to another way of noticing that experience. If you watch closely enough, you’ll see that your conscious experience is simply a collection of thoughts, emotions, feelings and sensations. There is not in fact a little pilot inside your head. It’s more like a million tiny dots of experience that all add up to the one experience we call consciousness. Each thought, feeling, and bodily sensation is one tiny dot of what you call “you.” Like this:
During meditation, notice how you can only focus on a few of those dots at a time, and that you never actually arrive at the rock solid “me” we tend to imagine.