Episode 6 – Getting started with meditation, with Liam Chai.
Thinking about starting to meditate? The good news is you do already! Meditation is an innate ability we all share. We’re joined again by our friend Liam Chai for a philosophical, wide-ranging chat about the many ways people meditate, and the various ways you can learn to deepen your practice – everything from 2 minute breathing exercises from apps to week long silent retreats.Audio Version
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- ⏳ Recommended app – Insight Timer
- ☀️ Liam’s site – liamchai.com
- 😉 ‘The Goenka gang’ – Silent vipassana meditation retreats somewhere near you- dhamma.org
We’re on Youtube too 😄Transcript
An experiment this episode – rather than type up timings and notes, we’ve run the audio through a transcriber app. It’s not entirely accurate, but hey you get the whole text and we were able to release the episode now rather than “when we have time to do the notes” What do you think? Also: any volunteers to do show notes for us? 😄
So we’re here today to talk about getting started with meditation.
Perhaps I could ask you to kick off live as a show guest today.
I was your show guest last week too!
Because we love you.
Yeah, I think it’s a
it’s a relevant theme for me at the moment. I feel like I don’t know about the two of you. But I, I definitely come in. I think going in ways I think recently with my own practice. You know, there’s like, these periods of like, pretty intense, daily practice, especially on on retreat. But then I think after coming, I remember one time being on retreat. It was like a short weekend retreat. And someone was, yeah, he said, Oh, it was my first retreat that I went on. And, you know, I wasn’t, he was like, I wasn’t drinking alcohol. I wasn’t eating all this junk food. And I was meditating all the time on this retreat. And then he said, the first thing he did when he came back to is, you know, came off of retreat and back home. He said, he just he just binge on everything. He was like drinking, he was eating junk food. And he was like, just going in reverse. And, yeah, I feel like there’s this sort of similar cycle that plays out, you know, yeah, from like, really intense practice. And then after that, it’s kind of really, there’s not bothering and stepping away from the practice. And now, yeah, you know, so I feel like this podcast is. Yeah, it’s almost like a signal. Okay, it’s time to like, get back into the practice some more. So, it’s a good topic. I
actually thought about that. Exactly. today. I was thinking if we’re having on it on the, on the desk, we’re talking constantly about meditation, it’s absolutely vital that our practices solid. So I completely agree with
you. Yeah, I would add to that, that, it’s, I don’t know, formal practice is a thing, right. And we all get kind of a bit attached to it. I think that, oh, you know, I’ve done my meditation today, I’m fine. You know, everything’s cool. Or, like, Oh, I haven’t, you know, I’m a bad person. And I’m slacking on my journey. And I’m trying to make more space in life for just to acknowledge all the other kinds of meditation that I do as well, you know, like, just just sitting in a bath. And that’s, that’s been, I’m starting to sort of understand better how big a thing that is for me, that I can just sit in a sandbox with no, nothing, you know, that I sort of make a mini ritual out of it. And I will have nothing added to that I don’t bring a book. I mean, some people do, and that’s fine. But I just don’t bring a book, I just stare at the wall, basically. And sometimes I’ll change the lights and make it kind of real dark. And I just, and that’s, that’s my meditation. And, and that’s fine. Like, what, you know why devalue it, because I didn’t do like a formal practice.
So I think, you know, when you start doing a ritual like that, so ritual being something new take on quite regularly. That begins to open up the scope for it being a formal practice. And that sounds because, yeah, it takes on another element every time you do. And I think exactly that. How we see four practices only just setting but I was speaking to
someone said the other day, where
even just like movement based practices aren’t even acknowledged as much. So let’s say yoga or Tai Chi or even just walking, but we would say that would be like walking practice, you know, rather than like a sitting practice, which everyone thinks to be a bit more like for warm sometimes. So the more that we can expand the scope of what we allow ourselves and give ourselves permission to say, Okay, well, this is me still practising meditation, because I’m completely absorbed in the present here. I think that’s enough. And that in itself is a practice. For us to keep
Yeah, yeah. I
mean, I think the whole point of formal practices, so that it just spews over naturally into informal practice. And I think, yeah, when Bill when you were saying about how you’re, when you’re just taking a bath, I feel like those are, those moments are almost like the fruits of meditation, where it’s, you know, you just have these, these moments of spaciousness, and you can kind of allow yourself to just be I, yeah, I hear a lot. Yeah, teachers kind of recommending when, when people will do their first like, solitary retreats, to, to not try to pack like, really pack the scheduled in with, like a routine or like, you know, saying, okay, nine to 10, I’m going to have meditation and then 10 to 1030, I’m going to be doing some reading, to just not really try to fill the schedule, but to just have a lot of this empty time where, you know, where you can just just be without any formal practice going. And then even that, in some ways, is a Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely a practice. Maybe it’s not formal, but it’s it’s still practice.
Yeah, yeah. Nice. That it’s interesting in it, the kind of attitude to meditation. And I mean, there’s a there’s a lovely book. Um, I think we mentioned Lauren Roche. Last time we talked. It’s called meditation made easy. So good. It’s a it’s a funny one, right? That title is really off putting, if you’ve done, you know, retreats and stuff, you’re like, Oh, yeah, whatever. It’s some sort of kiddie thing. But actually, like, a lot of the book is just about attitude towards it. And let me let me read a little bit here, because there’s a lovely passage that just sort of keep I keep coming back to recently. It he’s saying that, yeah, meditation is an activity of your total being, and you cooperate with it. Your contribution is to create conditions under which it can happen. You are inviting meditation to happen, by the way you pay attention. When you take this approach, not only is meditation easy, it is effortless. And I mean, that That, to me, just it’s a completely different perspective on how I learned meditation, because I learned it in a very formal way with the mostly via the Goenka.
Let’s not call it a cult. Gang.
You know, and it, I owe them everything on that level. It was it was very useful to me to learn via that route. But I’m, you know, I’m realising more and more that that’s not the only route. And there’s the Actually, it’s almost like that route is okay, now sit down and meditate, you know, do this, do that. Now you’re meditating, you know, and look at the fruits you have gained. But actually, there’s, there’s, you can’t really, like, do meditation. Meditation, does you? Yeah. Oh, you can actually do is kind of open the door to it make space for it?
Yeah, for sure. I, there’s actually
I remembered hearing about these two umbrella terms for the different schools within, within Buddhism. Hmm, so one, one being like this, they call it the developmental approach to Buddhism. And then the other one being this more discovery approach. And I think that’s quite a nice because a lot of people will probably only ever come across this developmental approach where it’s okay. You have to really strive you have to really work hard and cultivate, cultivate, cultivate. But then the other side of the school is the other school is. Yeah, it’s about it’s just this deeper, deeper, deeper relaxation and kind of recognising that there’s nothing to do you know, that you can’t actually meditate. And so they practice non meditation, and there’s all these different kind of language that’s used. And I think according to people’s personalities, they might gravitate towards one or the other.
I love that. Wow, the discovery approach.
So if it’s not so much taught this kind of discomfort discovery approach, how earlier might you suggest if someone listening what you just Said piqued their interest, how would you? Why would you send them to go such? Oh,
yeah, I guess it depends
how much they, yeah, how in depth they want to go? Because? Yeah, especially if this podcast is about getting started with meditation. I’m not exactly sure because I think a lot of the Yeah, I mean, so just within Buddhism, the schools generally that kind of favour the discovery approach would be like. So like within like, even like within Tibetan Buddhism, it’s kind of split between those two approaches. So like, the nygma School, when xop Chen, within Tibetan Buddhism are quite discovery approach, and in Zen is also pretty
skewed towards more discovery rather than
developmental, but probably that’s a big, you know, I don’t know if those just those topics in general are helpful.
I find I think it’s just more
of focus on relaxation, as opposed to
I guess maybe this is wrong, wrong definition of concentration is having to really put effort in
is probably the good place to start.
Do you have anything so not one?
Yeah, I mean, I think that perhaps the the, the sort of challenge with taking a discovery approach is that it’s it’s an intuitive kind of form that didn’t really suit monastic training much. And, and most of the sort of meditation traditions that we we get from the east that we we are learning today are you know, that there were basically designed to keep 18 year old boys in line. So they didn’t like, you know, cavort with the girls in the local village. So it was all about discipline, and, and, you know, hard training and you know, like this, this very, because you can’t have the boys cavort with the local girls, because then the villagers come and burn down your monastery when one of them gets pregnant. And yeah, you know, that that’s, that’s like 90%, of why the monastic trainings are like they are from, from what I’ve learned about it, that, you know, that there’s very strict rules, because you can’t have those young lads mucking about. And you have to train them, like, it’s a military school, basically, or you’ve got trouble everywhere, and your ministry gets burned down.
I think also, just in the same way, like, if there isn’t a set, like curriculum, it might be a bit more difficult to teach someone something.
Especially if discovery is
maybe a bit more like looser, maybe the approach to have something more rigid, is easier for
just to contain, and a space to.
Yeah, I think that’s the kind of the classic thing of pedagogy or whatever, you know, this the traditions of teaching have generally been very sort of top down militaristic styles of training, because that’s, that’s the easiest thing to do. When you’ve got lots of young people you want to you want to keep in line and, and you know, train in a certain way. And most education was built to sort of provide useful clerks and soldiers for empires. That’s like that, you know, he was either keeping monasteries in line or later on, you know, this, this this sort of model of teaching that we got from from Prussia was all about building an empire and a military. So yeah, it’s obviously much harder to do individualised or at least it’s a completely different mindset. I don’t know if it’s much harder, really, because yeah, no one’s done it much in finances, and you. Sorry, go ahead
in Finland, in that educational system, so they allow the youth to choose what they want to learn. And it’s much more discovery based.
Yeah, I hear lots of great things about Scandinavian education. Much But yeah, yeah, so I don’t really know like, the only people I do know who are talking about this in my mind and my limited research so far people like Lauren Roche and he who just really stressed that it if you I mean, he came to this position over many many years of being a kind of counsellor for people who meditate and and he would sit and listen to them for that for hours and and help them understand what was working and what wasn’t in that current practice. And his take on it was well actually it’s, it’s the people who tend to do best are the ones who are not kind of following some rigid formula.
I also think, from who I know, Sarah Blondin, she’s probably not someone who would be mentioned very often in the meditation space. Not because she isn’t a great meditation teacher in her own right, she’s actually very famous on places like insight timer. But it’s just that the style in which she helps others learn is through almost poetic speech, and guiding one home to themselves. And then that’s where she leaves them. So she makes an environment which is conducive to be relaxed and be effortless, in and she’s like, a sister. I’ve never had, you know, she’s helped me through such difficult times. And it’s, yeah, it is difficult to say that it will definitely be meditation that four sets, but she does like we like, of course, though, set, but it’s just a completely different mindset was which we said.
Yeah. So I would recommend her as someone if anyone’s listening. So we can post that are after?
Yeah, I, I think
another another way, I’ve, I’ve seen that distinction between development when discover is, is usually people start with developmental get, because it kind of also makes sense. When you just think about any new skill, you’re kind of acquiring, whether it’s piano or, you know, another instrument, there’s this initial phase of, okay, you have to kind of be quite, you know, you have to put in quite a lot effort to, to really get going. But then once you’ve kind of got past that stage, then actually to continue progressing, you kind of actually want to just relax more, and let this sort of let all of that practice that you’ve done initially, kind of take over so that the practice starts to just have its own momentum, and it becomes more and more this effortless way of just being. And so I feel like there’s a similar progression in a lot of how these you know, traditional meditation schools would teach the practice where, yeah, in the beginning, say, okay, really strive diligently. And as you kind of get that discipline over and done with and they focus more on the Okay, now just drop everything and relax and
forget everything you learned.
There is no try.
Yeah, I think that it’s true for to say, this was anything as you said, like piano. But let’s take are all of the most famous artists had, generally, a really, really strong background in formal technique to take fun golf, or you take Picasso, each one of them in their earliest drawings, you see that they can depict real life. Exactly. But then after, what you want to do with it is completely up to you and your choice. So, yeah, for anyone who definitely learns a skill, you do make it your own. And, yeah, I think that’s very similar.
Liam, I’m curious to know, I mean, have you do people ask you how to get started? Meditation. What do you tell him? Um,
I think what we’ve been covering so far about, yeah, this more this folk, the attitudes are definitely important. And yeah, I mean, I guess general tips with that, that I, you know, I also tend to I definitely follow these in the beginning, and I still do for the most part would be things like, you know, yeah, like a 10 second formal practice is actually fine. And I sometimes do that where, okay, if I’ve had a really hectic day and I haven’t been able to sit like a fool, you know, whether it’s 20 minutes or four hours, something like that. I’ll just do I’ll just set a timer for like a minute. Or even less sometimes and, and that’s it like, and then I eat because I think it’s also important to to get that streak, I feel like there’s something about that continuous streak, even if it’s just a 10 second formal practice, that can be really helpful for maintaining that habit. And yeah, so that’s kind of what I like to do with keeping it just super minimal.
I actually love that. And I definitely stress to newer students that I teach that sometimes. So it’s from, I think I initially learned this one from charming tan, who was the original founder of Search Inside Yourself. And he said to his friend, he wants to learn how can I start, and he just said, just do it by taking one full present breath. And so his friend started doing this. But being an overachiever, he just started, you know, increasing that momentum. And I, I think, what you say them about having a streak or how I might put it as like, just being able to maintain this habit, in whatever sense, like however short it is, it doesn’t matter. So that as we build momentum, the time doesn’t really matter. And it’s much easier to increase time, after something has already become quite habitual. It’s really the same essence of like, when you first start teaching a child to brush their teeth, like they don’t like it, like, you know, sometimes they’ll just like run away and go to bed before but that daily, two minutes of brushing their teeth, twice a day accumulates is so much The difference being that if they, they, I think I’ve worked out the one the other weeks, that it’s about like 65 minutes or something a month. So if you went for like a regular teeth clean, that’s about a similar time, but your teeth would be absolutely ruined by them. Or if you look at it in another sense, how doing very little frequently makes a massive difference is how I like to see it. Yeah, and it’s the same, I think, for meditation practice.
Yeah, there’s a, there’s a great
I think he has an email course now called tiny habits. I don’t know if the two of you have heard of that. But it’s just great. I mean, it’s not meditation specific, but just the Yeah, the the lessons on habit formation and actually how to form a habit through these like, yeah, these tiny behaviour changes. is gold. It’s Yeah, it’s a great, great resource.
I think that’s the number one
question that I get, they say, Okay, well, now I know, like this plethora of different meditation techniques, I just find it very difficult now to remember to have to do it. So it’s often the, when you remember, then you can do your one minute, you know, like, but when you first start something, sometimes it needs that formality so that you can come back to it. And often they say with new habits, to link it on to something you already do as a habit, so that you can remember. So if it’s brushing your teeth, then you might just stand for a minute and you might just take a breath or If you come home and the first thing you do is put down your keys, you might just stand there a lesson longer to
bring yourself back into
a state where you like have put work away. So I think that habit attachment is very, very helpful.
So maybe we can have a little brainstorm now, maybe coming up with a few of when you might do that to a habit.
Anyone want to go?
Yeah, I mean, it could be as simple as, you know, having a lie down. Lie you say after work, just just low on the floor? And, you know, put your knees up, stare at the ceiling? Five minutes, that kind of thing? Yeah. Yeah, we’re off to a bath. You know, just just take a moment to breathe and let your thoughts run wild.
Yeah, in the tidy habits. course, they talk about recipes, that you can create these recipes. Where? Yeah, you find like, after I take my first bite of breakfast, I will take one mindful breath. So that’s like a tiny habit recipe. I think there’s Yeah, I mean, because there’s so many of these, some of them also quite unconscious habits that, that I you know, that I know, I have as well. That I can probably link with a new practice. And some of them like just super simple, like, when I leave the front door, you know, send loving thoughts to, to friends, you know, something like that.
Or as you end on the way to work, even though there’s lots and lots going all the way to work anymore. As soon as you see someone, the first person you see, you send them a warm wish. Or you can do it to your entire train or bus, whoever is on there.
So, I’m getting started with meditation helped me out here.
I often say, initially, actually, what is the function that you want to have, because there are so many different meditative practices, what is most important to you. So someone might come to me saying like, they’re often really stressed out. So they just want to calm down a bit more than they want to relax. Others might say they want to focus better. Others say they
maybe want to be more skillful with other people.
Others just might say, for general health or just for clarity. So I might push them into a direction to say, Okay, well, this exercise might be helpful for you to initially start exploring with and see how you go with that. And then often, just though, they might come back and then develop further on what they might have found difficult or what they, what other exercises might suit them to within this same sphere. Nice. So I think it really depends. And, and maybe we can either write out some later on or Yeah, so for example, for a concentration practice, you can just do simple breath work either counting to 10. Or you might be just noticing sensations within a particular part of the body. Or just feeling and recognising the flow of your breathing in the form of sensations, you know, something very, very simple, just to begin. If you might be doing clarity, I might even say, suggest a journaling practice. Just free flow of like a mind. Just allowing for five minutes, continuous writing. Don’t like, don’t stop at all. And if you have nothing to write, just keep racing. I didn’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write, I didn’t want to write, and then reading it over. And a lot of the time, when it’s on the page, you get a lot of a lot more distance and perspective from it. For what else is there? Well, as I mentioned, loving kindness if you want to have more skillful relations with others, so sending out warm wishes, also, just maybe bringing that within yourself as well. So even loving kindness to oneself first, before actually sending that out to others. And another practice, which is like seeing similarities in them. So Bill has a mind just like me. Or bill likes tennis just like me. Although, yeah, so the more that we see similarities, the more that we can start associating the other person as being like us, and when we put them in our in Group B can empathise with them better? So I think if anyone listening has a specific function or particularity as to why they might want to begin meditating, then I think send them in and we can post some stuff out.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s a great idea. Get do get in touch with, we’re happy to help we can cover in another episode. And all right, back to you. Sure.
Yeah. That’s great. I wanted to also add about the loving kindness practice. I, I, I, I believe there is actually there was a study it was trying to ask, it was asking what what was the, like, what practice would yield, you know, like, the fastest results. And I think one of them was was, was actually loving kindness in the sense of how quickly beginners would experience some benefit from the practice. And, and I’ve actually noticed this on like, just like beginner retreats that I’ve run, the the one that the practice that people seem to kind of just really have this like, like, Whoa, that was like, you know, something different that I really felt something change. This is usually the loving kindness or Yeah, the meta metta practice. And now it was funny that I ended up coming across that study that said, I I really, I can’t remember it off the top of my head. But it was something about change. I
think that’s under Tanya singer.
Possibly, I’ll have to dig it up. But you might know motors.
So actually, under her work, she is so like, her work is fascinating. And she basically did different studies on how, like, what do we notice, actually, different meditation practices give different results. And I think for compassion training, loving kindness actually had the most impact in developing compassion, but also sense of awareness, bodily and greater self awareness. And then also, I think, to overall, yes, so overall, long term health, it also had the most benefits. And they looked at, I think, just simple concentration practice. I think body scan and
So compassion training actually has a lot of benefits within it. So it’s like three in one combo.
Leah, I’m curious to know, like, what, what stage of retreat? were you doing that practice on? Or was it was it a short thing? Like, how did that work? With the loving kindness?
Yeah, oh, the example I brought up was was with like, yeah, I organise a few of these beginner retreats for mainly just for friends. So there were like, 15 of us that would kind of get introduced to mindfulness and mindfulness related practices. And that was just the one night I noticed that people would comment and say, Wow, yeah, that loving kindness practice that really kind of shifted something in me. You know, after that one that first day and usually it was like complete beginners who would come across that practice. And so
right, so are we doing it like at the end of the first day, or I’m just trying to get this?
Yeah, usually at the end of Yeah, it’d be like, I’d usually teach something like mindfulness of breathing first, and then offer that loving kindness practice.
Nice. Yeah, yeah.
I used to notice I’m going to retreats. I mean, it’s taught at the end of the course. But it’s such a kind of relief. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So practice
is actually interesting the different contacts with, in which this practice when it actually is taught in, for example, or corporate context. And for many different teachers that I know, people don’t actually want to go to that space, like, yeah, maybe in a retreat space, it’s different, like you’re more open to it, you know, that maybe something out of your comfort zone might come up, or maybe you’re just a little more willing. But in a corporate environment, they don’t actually like, oftentimes,
they just call it – love is always
a funny little thing on on this corporate office yesterday, this guy, Cory Doctorow, in the introduction to his his great book, called in real life, he describes the corporate office as, like a really boring role playing game, like cosplay. This sort of structure where you have to limit your, your speech, your feelings, your dress, all in all, in kind of line with some sort of mid 20th century ideal of what an office worker does and feels and thinks.
Yeah, but I think it’s a good point that you raise about people’s perception, especially corporate cultures perception on on Yeah, just the word love. You know, I wonder whether any, any mindfulness teachers have had success in maybe even renaming that practice to not include the word love. And, you know, because they’re just wait, I feel like, Maybe, yeah, Chad. Chad Ming had something like that, where he was like, just wish two people? Well, we’ll just have think, yeah, I think well, about two people. Right? Yes. 10 second purpose.
Yeah, wishing them well. Yeah.
And you don’t even have to use the word love. And yeah, so maybe that’s a way to kind of jump into the
Yeah, job pass the corporate sort of filter.
Yeah. And also, when you name it, like compassion practice as well. At least it’s like a more for more time where you know that you’re just trying to help someone else out? It’s not like loving kindness, which maybe has, I don’t know, different connotations in people’s minds.
Yeah, it’s a tricky one, isn’t it? I mean, the language of these things matter doesn’t mean any of the things that we have in the West, exactly. As I understand that, it’s kind of like, yeah, it’s kind of like a universal love practice. But you know, it all of it just sounds like hippie nonsense, especially if you’re in the corporate world.
And as a last thing, I might say about someone developing a practice. So there are a huge range of apps out there. And in my opinion, some of acids and others. I would recommend for someone insight timer, before I recommend any others. And the reason being is that there are so many
great meditation teachers out there freedy.
And so you can really come to understand different types of four practices. And even just your connection to a teacher, I think, is really important. And just the perception of, if you like, their voice or not, you know, more superficial things that just can help if they have a nice voice and be like that. Yeah. And because they have like, 10s of thousands of meditations freely. There’s ever something for everyone from like kids to if you are looking at more spiritual based practices, to more like secular or even corporate practices, like the entire range is on there. And it’s well reviewed and rated. So it’s not as prescriptive as other apps where they have only one or two teachers. And you also have to pay.
yeah. Inside time is great. It’s also got the I just love the like the little bar charts, you get for tracking you can get definitely just that gamified aspect I find quite useful for Yeah, just whether it’s maintaining the streak or like, Oh, yeah, I gotta get another couple of like another hour this week to hit my talk. It’s kind of
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