The Definitive “Underground” Meditation Guide: Secrets to Effective Mind Trainingby Scott Jeffrey
Overview: This in-depth guide provides meditation guidance, meditation instructions, and loads of “underground” tips based on over two decades of research and experience in mind training.
I was suffering from acute anxiety before and during exams in my sophomore year at the University of Michigan.
As a consequence, I was getting sick often and freezing during exams, lowering my performance.
My uncle shared with me a simple meditation practice he learned from a course. Using this method made a measurable difference in my health, performance, and well being.
And so, from then on, I began exploring and experimenting with different meditative practices and breathing techniques.
Perhaps you’ve never meditated before. Or, you’ve been meditating for years.
Maybe you dabble in meditation, or you tried it out and decided it wasn’t for you.
Regardless of your relationship to meditation (or lack thereof), I’m confident you’ll find tremendous value in today’s new guide.
In this comprehensive and unusual meditation instruction guide, I’m going to offer what I’ve learned from over 25 years of mind training.
- The unconscious reasons most people resist meditation guidance
- How to meditate even when you don’t want to
- Powerful meditation instructions to make mind training more effective
- Understanding the vital intersection between psychology and meditation
Let’s jump in …
Table of Contents
- What is Meditation?
- Who Can Benefit From Meditation?
- 16 Powerful Benefits of Meditation
- Five Unspoken Psychological Reasons We Resist Meditation
- The Legend of Bodhidharma
- The Physical Barriers to Meditation
- A Missing Element in Most Meditation Instructions
- Six Basic Guidelines for Proper Sitting Posture
- The Goal of Meditation from a Psychological Perspective
- Where Meditation and Psychology Meet
- A One-Minute Meditation Guidance
- 14 Underground Meditation Guidance Tips to Troubleshoot and Build Momentum
- Meditation Guidance Tip #1: Stand Before You Sit
- Meditation Guidance Tip #2: Walk Before You Stand
- Meditation Guidance Tip #3: Sit for Shorter Amounts of Time
- Meditation Guidance Tip #4: Stop Trying to Meditate
- Meditation Guidance Tip #5: Meditate at “Extreme” Times
- Meditation Guidance Tip #6: Watch Your Parts
- Meditation Guidance Tip #7: Pay Attention to Your Behavior After Meditation
- Meditation Guidance Tip #8: Meditate on an Empty Stomach
- Meditation Guidance Tip #9: Sit in a Technology-Free Environment
- Meditation Guidance Tip #10: Keep Experimenting
- Meditation Guidance Tip #11: Tune Your Breathe
- Meditation Guidance Tip #12: Be Aware of Self-Deception
- Meditation Guidance Tip #13: Observe Nature Instead of “Meditating”
- Meditation Guidance Tip #14: And Finally, Lighten Up …
- Cultivate a Living Method, Not a Dead One
- Another Secret Omitted From Most Meditation Guidance
- A Powerful Guided Meditation
- Recommended Books
- Read Next
What is Meditation?
First, to get the most out of today’s guide, a beginner’s mind is essential.
Regardless of what you’ve read or heard about meditation instruction, if you approach this guide with the mindset of a beginner, you’ll derive significantly more benefit.
Okay, so what exactly is meditation?
Meditation is the art and skill of paying attention.
Right now, at this moment as you read this, a lot is happening:
- A barrage of thoughts are flying through your mind (Should I keep reading this? Does this make sense? What am I going to eat next?)
- Various sensations are pulsing through your physical body.
- Waves of feelings are coursing through your emotional body.
And that’s just in your inner terrain. In your external environment, there are sounds, moving objects, invisible electromagnetic waves from the device you’re reading this on, and so much more.
But are you aware of all of this moment-to-moment information? Are you paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behavior in the here-and-now?
One function of meditation is to help you pay more attention to what’s happening inside of you and around you.
Who Can Benefit From Meditation?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field of Cognitive-Based Mindfulness Therapy, defines mindfulness as
“Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
From moment to moment, if you’re already fully present and aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment without judgment about yourself, your experience, or others, then you don’t need to meditate.
Why? Because, if you’re already fully present and aware, you’re already meditating (even if you don’t call it “meditation”).
So do we need to practice meditation and receive meditation guidance? For most, the answer is yes.
Why? Because we live in environments of constant distraction and overstimulation.
For the most part, we are unconscious of our behavior and what’s motivating our actions throughout the day.
For example, let’s say you have a habit of checking Facebook often.
Consciously, you might think it’s because you’re bored or because you don’t want to miss anything.
Behind this explanation, however, there are factors you’re unaware of motivating this behavior.
Perhaps you are unaware of your envy toward others.
You might not realize that you’re comparing yourself to every person, profile, and post you read.
Maybe you don’t feel how other people are looking down on you and how small a part of you feels as a consequence.
This kind of stuff is what’s below the surface. And these types of unpleasant feelings drive much of our impulsive behavior.
And so, for those us who want to live our values, get to know our shadows, realize our vision, and become more conscious adults, mind training and meditation instruction, in some form, seems essential.
Paying attention is one of the most vital skills we can learn—something that touches every area of our existence.
16 Powerful Benefits of Meditation
Now, you’ve probably already read or heard about the scientific benefits of meditation.
Perhaps that’s why companies including Google, Apple, Nike, Target, General Mills, Procter and Gamble, and AOL Time Warner offer meditation training to their executives. Even sports franchises, like the Seattle Seahawks, have meditation programs.
I don’t want to invest a lot of time here, but for our intellectual minds that need “scientific validation” for the things we do, here’s a list of some of the benefits of meditation derived from current research:
- Lowers stress levels
- Enhances immune function
- Grows gray matter and makes your brain more plastic
- Provides better focus and helps regulate attention
- Improves regulation of emotions
- Heightens self-awareness
- Slows down your brainwave patterns
- Strengthens discipline and self-control
- Reduces anxiety
- Promotes better sleep
- Increases compassion
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces physical pain
- Enhances creativity (divergent thinking)
- Strengthens immune function
- Elevates mood
Okay, okay. We get it. Meditation is good for us.
But if meditation is so good for us, why doesn’t everyone meditate?
And even for those of us who have received meditation guidance and do practice it, why is there often still resistance?
(Resistance can take the form of being unwilling to follow meditation instruction or making little progress in your practice.)
Five Unspoken Psychological Reasons We Resist Meditation
There are both psychological and physical reasons why most people resist meditation guidance and derive limited benefits when they follow the instructions.
Let’s bring the psychological reasons to consciousness first.
The Lazy Part
The Message: “I don’t want to meditate.”
When the lazy archetype possesses us, you might think meditation would become more natural. After all, we’re just sitting there.
But meditation is an active process that requires physical and mental energy. And our lazy part mainly wants to be entertained so it can “check out” and escape reality.
When we run on autopilot, ignoring our emotional flow and energy expenditure, there are little reserves for meditation.
For this reason, most people find it easier to meditate in the morning as we tend to have more mental energy at the start of the day.
Regardless, a part of us (usually an adolescent part) fundamentally doesn’t want to sit still and pay attention.
Why? Remember the message from our teachers in school? “Sit down and pay attention.”
We revolted against this command back then, and this part of us still defies this directive now.
The Message: “Yes! I completed another 30-minute meditation.”
The brother of laziness is the Achiever. And it too creates an equal level of resistance to meditation.
The Achiever’s expression of resistance, however, is different. It might not want to sit still, perceiving meditation as a waste of time. (“I’m too busy to meditate. I have important things to do.”)
Or, if the Achiever believes meditation is essential for achievement (which is becoming a more common sentiment), it will put it on a list of things to do and then meditation to cross it off that list.
The Achiever will also push you to meditate longer than you should.
All of these unconscious drives create internal resistance and reduce the efficacy of your meditation practice.
The Message: “I’m better than you because I meditate.”
There are now many social groups (so-called “spiritual” or “new age” communities) where meditation is considered “cool” or the “in-thing” to do.
Meditation can become a part of a person’s identity. (“I am a meditator.”)
And this identification leads to inflation. (“I’m superior to others because I meditate and they don’t.”)
Psychiatrist David R. Hawkins aptly called this a spiritual ego. These individuals feel special because they meditate.
And these unrecognized drivers lead us to a false, inflated view of ourselves, which detracts from our meditation and creates resistance to cultivating a meaningful practice.
The Message: “You should meditate.”
The unconscious message behind so many instructional meditation guides and the entire field of transpersonal psychology (that introduced the West to the benefits of meditation in the first place) is that you should meditate.
“Meditation is a moral imperative,” the literature states.
Essentially, the meditation community shames us into meditating. And if we don’t acknowledge this shame, it will silently limit or destroy our practice.
Meditation, in fact, will become a form of self-punishment. (No wonder so many people resist meditation!)
So why aren’t you meditating? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know better? It’s good for you.
Do you feel shame now?
The Message: “I love meditating.”
Truthfully, I’ve come to observe that most people who meditate hate meditation. But the existence of this hatred isn’t fully known to them.
Everyone would be neutral toward something like meditation as it’s a natural process. We develop an aversion to things because of how (and by whom) the ideas are introduced to us.
In the beginning, every child is curious and interested in learning.
Over time, however, children usually grow to hate education because (most of) their teachers are bored and hate teaching. (But the teachers’ attitude is also the result of a larger issue.)
The same is true here: meditation instructors hate meditating. And they transmit their unconscious hatred to their students.
You see, as you get to know your psyche, you begin to realize that there are parts of you that love and parts that hate. There’s an opposite within us to every thought and feeling we consciously experience. For better or worse, that’s the wiring of our psyche.
So any meditation instructor or author that is unconscious to the part of them that hates meditation is necessarily emitting these unowned feelings of resistance to their students. (Although I’m not a meditation instructor, yes, I too have a part that genuinely hates meditating.)
The Legend of Bodhidharma
Psychological resistance to meditation instruction can be tricky. Many forces in the unconscious secretly rule our behavior, making it difficult to pinpoint why we often sabotage ourselves.
But the physical barriers to meditation are much easier to address once we become aware of them.
There’s an old legend of how the Shaolin monks learned kung fu.
Initially, the monks spent their days in seated meditation in their Shaolin temples in China.
In the fifth century, a Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma arrived from India and noticed the poor physical condition of these monks.
After reflecting on this problem in a cave, he returned to teach them a series of stretches, movements, and standing postures to help open and strengthen their bodies.
Bodhidharma explained that these exercises would support their meditative practices and their path to enlightenment.
Chinese kung fu was born.
The Physical Barriers to Meditation
Most people are in the same poor physical condition as these Shaolin monks were before Bodhidharma’s arrival.
Almost all human beings in the modern world are disconnected and disassociated from their bodies in alarming ways.
We live mostly sedentary lifestyles. And we mainly identify with our thoughts/mind, not our body. Our image-driven culture reinforces this dissociation.
Surprisingly, even for those of us who engage in physical fitness or strength training, the situation is the same. You can be physically fit and still disassociated from your body.
Most activities that take place in a gym, for example, actually work against our internal energy and physical alignment. They don’t foster a body-mind connection.
Also, because of the stored neurotic tension, we hold in our bodies—what psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich called “body armor”—we have energetic blocks throughout our physical bodies.
And these blocks create tension (numbness or physical pain), causing us to hold our posture in unsupportive ways.
In my standing meditation guide, I mentioned the importance of shaking.
All mammals shake with tremors when they experience trauma.
Humans do too, but we learn as children to suppress this natural mechanism. Instead, our bodies hold the emotions of traumatic events from childhood (which happened regularly).
Trauma Release Exercises can help you release unconscious tension and open up your body. This process can measurably improve your ability to meditate.
A Missing Element in Most Meditation Instructions
If your body is tight and your muscles are rigid, you’ll struggle needlessly with sitting meditation.
Doing physical movements first will be far more productive and enjoyable.
Most meditation guidance is mind-oriented. You are told to take a seated position and focus on an object (like your breath).
However, if you focus on opening up your body first before sitting, meditation becomes a more natural process.
As an example, see OSHO’s Dynamic Meditation process. Although OSHO’s method might seem unconventional, I believe this type of physical process will be far more beneficial for most individuals (at least initially).
Six Basic Guidelines for Proper Sitting Posture
Proper posture reduces fatigue, increases energy, and eliminates unnecessary distractions caused by poor alignment.
For your reference, here are basic sitting posture guidelines:
Sit at the edge of a hard chair with your feet firmly on the floor, parallel to your shoulders. There are many different cross-legged postures for meditation, but unless your body and joints are fully open, these poses will likely cause pain and numbness. Sitting on a firm chair is the easiest way of getting into the correct structural position. (Needing back support when you sit is a sign of physical tension and skeletal misalignment.)
Straighten your lower back. The spine has a natural “s” curve. The goal is to straighten the spine as much as possible. When you’re at the edge of a chair, slightly roll your hips under your torso to straighten the lower portion of the spine.
Straighten the top of your spine. Slightly tuck your chin inward. Imagine your head being suspended comfortably from a string at the crown of your head extending into the sky. Allow your head to float above your spine.
Rest your hands comfortably on your thighs. If your hands are too close to your knees, they will pull your shoulders forward. If they are too close to your torso, they will force you to shrug your shoulders. (There are many different hand positions you can learn later that direct the body’s energy in various ways.)
Slightly round your shoulders around your back. Your chest should be slightly concave. You don’t want your chest sticking out. Be sure to relax your shoulders.
Keep your eyes slightly open with a soft gaze. Keeping your eyes fully open can lead to distractions and closing them altogether can lead to tiredness, fantasy, or oblivion. A soft gaze with eyes slightly closed provides the optimal conditions for meditation.
Play around with these guidelines until you find a comfortable position. And check your posture periodically whenever you sit.
The Goal of Meditation from a Psychological Perspective
Meditation is a method for building awareness. Awareness enables us to pay attention.
Through meditation, you can develop what’s sometimes called the Observer Self or Witness. The Observer is neutral. It simply observes. (This observing mind is a primary attribute of the Magician archetype.)
Meditation creates a space between the experiencer and the Observer Self. And this space is essential for anyone committed to their personal development.
The absence of this space means that we’re unconscious of many of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Unconsciousness is the starting point of everyone’s process of individuation toward adulthood.
And it’s for this reason that many thought leaders like psychologist Daniel Goleman promote meditation to business leaders. Goleman’s research illuminates that outperforming leaders have higher emotional intelligence than their peers (not higher cognition).
Mind training can be a powerful way to build emotional intelligence or what’s aptly called self-leadership.
Where Meditation and Psychology Meet
When Carl Jung was introduced to Eastern philosophy in the 1930s, he found it enchanting and immediately began drawing parallels between their systems and his ideas. (See The Secret of the Golden Flower.)
But Jung had limited and incomplete translations of these Eastern texts. And this lack of information led him to believe that Eastern meditative practices were just for Easterners and Western practices (like psychoanalysis) were for the Western psyche.
Jung was mistaken. The East had developed their psychology thousands of years before the West. And meditation was a cornerstone of their practices.
Doing shadow work, for example, without a calm, centered, introspective mind is untenable. How would one develop such a calm-abiding mind without a method?
This lack of introspection has been a fundamental problem in psychology since the birth of psychoanalysis over a century ago.
Without a self-reflective mind, a psychologist (and layperson alike) lacks a foundation to observe oneself accurately.
Certainly, meditation and psychological development go hand in hand, which is why mind training is an important topic for anyone committed to actualizing their higher potential.
A One-Minute Meditation Guidance
There are many different kinds of meditation instruction. Here, for those interested, is a simple mindfulness meditation you can try right now. (Remember to maintain a beginner’s mind.)
The idea is to focus your attention on one particular “object.” That object can be your breath, a part of your body, a repeated sound (mantra), physical sensations, your thoughts, or awareness itself.
The object of focus isn’t what’s important; maintaining your attention on that object is.
We’ll use the breath for now.
Start by turning your attention to your breath. Notice how your body naturally breathes—inhale, exhale.
Without attempting to control your breathing, witness your body breathing itself.
When you notice your attention wander, bring your awareness back to your breath.
Mindfulness meditation is the process of catching yourself in a mindless state and returning your attention to a mindful state.
Notice how it feels to breathe. Focus your attention on the feeling of breathing.
You can focus your attention on the sensation of the air passing through your nasal passage or the air entering your lungs.
End this meditation after a minute or two.
14 Underground Meditation Guidance Tips to Troubleshoot and Build Momentum
Now, if you’ve already experimented with mind training, here are valuable meditation instructions to improve your practice.
Meditation Guidance Tip #1: Stand Before You Sit
Even though I began practicing various forms of meditation 25 years ago, it wasn’t until I was introduced to Qigong about seven years ago that I began to gain deeper insights into meditation.
Through practicing qigong and various internal martial arts, I began developing body awareness, becoming conscious of structural alignment and the movement of energy within the body.
In particular, the standing meditation called Zhan Zhuang was and continues to be the most powerful and practical of these practices for me. And I would recommend it to anyone.
If you learn how to stand in the proper alignment first, sitting meditation becomes infinitely more accessible.
Meditation Guidance Tip #2: Walk Before You Stand
One of the main obstacles to personal mastery is our cultural obsession with moving fast.
If you’re feeling edgy, go for a walk instead of sitting or standing.
Walking meditation is especially practical during the day when the mind is highly active.
Become aware of your pace, as it will often mirror the speed of your thoughts.
By placing awareness on your pace, your cadence will eventually slow down, and with it, your mind will become more still.
Meditation Guidance Tip #3: Sit for Shorter Amounts of Time
Instead of trying to meditate for longer, stop your practice earlier.
If you leave your meditation practice wanting more, you’ll return to it again and again.
Even sit or stand for only 30 seconds to a minute.
Meditation Guidance Tip #4: Stop Trying to Meditate
The Achiever part in us is always trying. Trying creates tension.
It takes energy to get into the correct posture, but then you have to let go of this effort too.
Meditation Guidance Tip #5: Meditate at “Extreme” Times
Try meditating as early as you can in the morning or late at night.
From 11 pm to 6 am is the period most conducive to falling into a meditative state.
In Taoist practices, they call midnight the height of yin (stillness) while midday is the peak of yang (activity).
If you wake up in the middle of the night, instead of checking your phone and exposing your brain to blue light, meditate.
Meditation Guidance Tip #6: Watch Your Parts
If you get frustrated, watch the frustrated part.
If you get sleepy, watch the lazy part. (Or go to sleep.)
If you find yourself wanting something, watch the part that desires.
If you catch yourself thinking about a problem, watch the analytical part.
We have many parts or archetypes within our psyche. But we are not these parts.
When we observe these parts, we differentiate ourselves from them. This “space” enables us to stay neutral and aware.
Meditation Guidance Tip #7: Pay Attention to Your Behavior After Meditation
Do you jump right into your next activity? Or do you continue to move slowly, consciously, and deliberately? Just observe.
And pay attention to how you feel and perform throughout the day.
Do you notice less emotional reactivity? Are you staying any calmer in stressful situations? Are you more focused at work? Are you more aware of your internal dialogue?
Not paying attention to changes in your daily experience is a subtle form of internal resistance to meditation.
Meditation Guidance Tip #8: Meditate on an Empty Stomach
Avoid eating before you meditate.
Even if you don’t feel your body’s energy yet, a lot is happening internally all the time.
Food blocks the body’s energy and, as a consequence, it will disrupt your meditation practice.
Meditation Guidance Tip #9: Sit in a Technology-Free Environment
Whenever possible, meditate in an area free from technology.
The more sensitive you become to your body’s subtle energy, the more aware you become of the effects electromagnetic frequencies have on your biofield. Hint: it’s highly disruptive.
If you’re going to meditate in the morning, when possible, do so before touching any technology including your mobile phone.
Meditation Guidance Tip #10: Keep Experimenting
Test different methods for yourself until you find something that works for you.
Make your meditative practice something that’s practical, something that relaxes you and leaves you feeling refreshed.
Turning meditation into a chore fosters aversion. Deriving physical, mental, and emotional benefits from meditation will drive you toward it.
Meditation Guidance Tip #11: Tune Your Breathe
Our thoughts are what keep us from being in the present moment. There’s a direct link between the frequency of our thoughts and our heartbeats.
The quicker the heart beats, the faster our thoughts race (and the more neurotic we behave).
While you can’t slow down your heart rate directly, you can do so indirectly through the breath.
Slow your breathing by observing it. By doing so, you will quiet your mind. (See the guided meditation from Alan Watts below.)
Meditation Guidance Tip #12: Be Aware of Self-Deception
It’s all too easy to fool yourself with your meditation practice, convincing yourself that you’re making progress when you’re not.
I did this for many years. I convinced myself I was becoming “more spiritually evolved,” when I was just checking out on a couch every morning.
American Buddhist meditation teacher Pema Chodron confesses that she would “check out” during her compassion meditation training. She did this for ten years even though she was considered to be an “expert” in her community.
The mind’s capacity for self-deception is infinite.
Meditation Guidance Tip #13: Observe Nature Instead of “Meditating”
Because humans transmit meditation instruction from mind to mind, we tend to complicate what’s, in truth, a natural and straightforward process.
Whenever possible, go for a walk and observe nature. Stare at a tree, plants, the grass, or the sky.
If you can become absorbed in nature as a healthy child can without mental instruction, you don’t need to meditate.
Meditation Guidance Tip #14: And Finally, Lighten Up …
Finally, be kind and gentle with yourself. Seriousness and frustration create tension. High expectations will detract from your meditation practice and give you an excuse to quit in the future.
The more light and free you feel when you meditate, the more value you’ll derive from your practice.
For a funny take on the modern meditation experience, watch this short video by comedian JP Sears.
Cultivate a Living Method, Not a Dead One
One last point I think is often overlooked in meditation guidance and instructions.
Ancient Taoist and Buddhist schools make a distinction between a “living method” and a “dead method.”
A living method is something that’s integrated into an individual’s daily life and way of being.
A dead method is something that’s performed mechanically as an automatic routine.
A Chan Buddhist proverb states:
“Study the living word, not the dead word.”
For most of us, meditation becomes a dead method. (For many years, it was for me.)
Meditation becomes something people do in the morning or evening.
And this practice is separate from the rest of their lives and how they behave.
The real purpose of a meditation practice is to lay the foundation for cultivating a meditative state throughout the day.
Another Secret Omitted From Most Meditation Guidance
While many traditions get fixated on cultivating stillness, I’ve come to understand that the key to mind training is in combining stillness with movement.
I don’t mean physical movement, but rather the flow of energy within our bodies.
A common expression in the internal martial arts is “stillness in movement; movement in stillness.”
Qigong translates to energy skill. Learning how to move and sink the body’s energy is, in my opinion, the most important and commonly unaddressed aspect of meditation instruction and mind training.
I developed a simple, yet highly effective process for busy individuals interested in learning how to cultivate this skill.
This technique helps individuals access more of their higher potential on a consistent basis.
You can learn it within 30 minutes and use it at the beginning of your meditation sessions.
I call it The Mastery Method. View the details about it here.
A Powerful Guided Meditation
Finally, the video clip below is an excerpt from one of the lectures of philosopher and author Alan Watts. It’s the best guided meditation instruction I have found on the Internet.
Outside of D. T. Suzuki, Watts is mainly responsible for making Eastern philosophy (including meditation guidance) accessible to the West during the ‘50s and ‘60s.
He’s one of the most prolific writers I’ve ever read, and he was equally engaging in his lectures.
Notice how he brings you into the state of the Observer Self.
Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
by Chade-Meng Tan
Chade-Meng Tan was one of the first engineers at Google. Years later, he helped launch the Search Inside Yourself Institute, a leadership program within Google. The program is a synthesis of the work of psychologists Jon Kabat-Zinn and Daniel Goleman, neuroscientist Richard Davidson, and others.
At its core, Search Inside Yourself is a mind training program in emotional intelligence, the critical factor in outperforming leadership. Not only is this book an accessible, practical introduction to emotional intelligence with clear practices and methods, it’s also an excellent summary of dozens of other great personal development books rolled into one.
Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation
by Alan Watts
As I mentioned above, Watts is one of the most prolific writers I’ve read. All of his books are insightful and engaging. This book is a selection of excerpts from Watt’s lectures compiled by his son.
The Way of Energy: Mastering the Chinese Art of Internal Strength with Chi Kung Exercise
by Lam Kam Chuen
As I repeatedly mentioned in this guide, learning how to cultivate energy through standing meditation will make seated meditation infinitely easier.
The Way of Energy is an excellent guide filled with vivid illustrations and minimal text.