The photos of blissed out Very Attractive People™ with perfect teeth and hair can be very inspiring. But often when we actually sit on the meditation mat, we find all sorts of problems - we can’t get comfortable, maybe there’s pain in the back or shoulders, and our minds just seem to race!

We say, I didn’t notice my mind racing before - If only I could stop thinking I could meditate!

So you head to your favourite search engine to search for meditation. And there’s an overwhelming amount of writing, guided meditations, podcasts, and videos. They’re all from different traditions, and they all seem to be different.

Personally, when I started meditating I cast a very wide net, reading everything I could, listening to guided meditations, and I tried to come up with a meditation practice that would work for me.

This was a good way for me to understand the meaning behind the mysterious words, but the drawback was that I didn’t always follow one method, and consequently found it difficult to go deeper with any one method.

As I continued meditating, it became clear that the Buddhist path was the one for me. But even within Buddhist meditation there are many practices - Mindfulness of Breathing, Metta Bhavana, Just Sitting, Vipassana (insight practice), and many, many more.

Naturally I was in a rush to get enlightened, I had no time to waste! After more than ten years of meditation I still consider myself a beginner. When I was getting started, probably less so. But I found that many books fell into two groups. Either they seemed to be introductory and fairly basic. Or they’d be so far past where I was at, I’d get a few chapters in and then feel the writing was so far from my experience I couldn’t understand it and would abandon the book after a few chapters.

So to help you, here’s a few of the books that I read, and a little about what worked for me and what didn’t.

Search Inside Yourself: The Secret Path to Unbreakable Concentration, Complete Relaxation, Total Self Control - by Chade-Meng Tan

Book cover for Search Inside Yourself, Chade Meng TanChade-Meng, the author, was a Google engineer with the official position of Jolly Good Fellow. Part of his work involved running mindfulness courses within Google. I majored in Computer Science and so at the time this very much appealed to me. When an engineer sets their mind to something, they can often be thorough, yet concise. And most importantly, “correct” (how much I’ve learnt since!). And the book’s subtitle promised so much!

I found the book very inspiring, and it was easy to read. If you’re not specifically after a Buddhist meditation book for beginners, it’s a great introduction to general mindfulness and meditation. Though ultimately I was after something a bit meatier, and I think it was this book that helped me pinpoint that.

But I also realised that the usefulness of a good book on meditation wasn't the instructions. It was keeping the idea of meditation alive in my mind, and to read and then feel inspired to sit. And this book is excellent for that!

Search Inside Yourself: The Secret Path to Unbreakable Concentration, Complete Relaxation, Total Self Control - by Chade-Meng Tan is available now! (at time of writing)

The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide; Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness - by Culadasa Yates, PHD

Book cover for The Mind IlluminatedThis also appealed to my very rational mindset. As John Yates PHD he lectured in neuroscience and physiology. But as Culadasa he also has forty years of meditation experience under his belt.

To me, this book is a manual. With ten clearly defined stages, all I needed to do was to follow the steps and I’d be enlightened in no time! And I’d be able to tell everyone else what they were doing wrong!

The first chapter is fantastic. It’s really just about establishing a daily meditation practice. I can do that! But the next chapters were progressively more difficult. And I didn’t really understand what some phrases meant. There were plenty of resources available. Too many, in fact! He was releasing 90+ minute Q&A videos and podcasts. Every week, it felt like. He seemed to have endless energy to talk and talk. Which made it very difficult to find any specific information.

I did like that this had a Buddhist focused approach to meditation. And although again I was forced to abandon this halfway through, I think this book had the greatest impact on my meditation. It really is a fantastic guide, and has a great mix of writing and diagrams, and I found it quite easy to read.

With one caveat - not to get discouraged if you’re not able to understand the instructions - I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one. If you’re the type of person who needs a bit more discipline than inspiration, this is great. As the book points out, you need to make meditation a priority in your life. If you think you’ll do it in your spare time, there will always be the temptation to do something else instead, and often without realising it we’ll forget all about our grand plans to meditate whenever we have a spare moment.

The Mind Illuminated by John Culadasa Yates is available now (at time of writing)

Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation, by Larry Rosenberg

Book cover for Breath by Breath, Larry Rosenburg with David GuyFor me, this was the one that hit the right spot. Very readable, has lots of great instruction but also includes lots of great anecdotes. Based on the Anapanasati Sutta (the Mindfulness of Breathing scripture, as taught by the Buddha), this guide goes deep!

Between the slightly too light and the slightly too heavy, Breath by Breath was the happy medium. You might even say it represents a middle way between, and yet transcending, both extremes.

Very inspiring, and it’s a book that many “serious” (sincere?) meditators rave about. At least, as much as dedicated meditators rave about anything.

I read it about two years ago, and writing this article, I’m well aware that I’m now due to re-read it. Because it was one of those rare books that, when I got to the end, I wanted to go straight back to the beginning and read it all over again.

And yet it’s obviously a book that as your practice deepens, you can come back to and see things that just didn’t land the first time. No deeper teachings, just deeper understandings!

Get your copy of Breath by Breath from the Windhorse website.

Wrapping it up (in a pure white cloth!)

To be honest I would say I’ve never had a great deal of “success” in meditation. Fellow meditators will occasionally talk about their deeper experiences, and a bit like a book that is too advanced, I can only imagine what they’re talking about.

But I still meditate every day! Because it obviously has huge benefits, both for me and the people I interact with. I’m definitely far from perfect, but if I can act with a little less craving, a little less ill will, and a greater sense of interconnection, it’s all been worth it.

And if you stick to it, I promise it’ll be worth it for you, too. While it’s not the goal of meditation, with enough practice, the mind will naturally become clear. And you might see another photo of a Very Attractive Person™ with perfect teeth and hair and realise: that posture looks really uncomfortable! They’re clearly posing for a photo. And your meditation practice can touch your heart so deeply that those once inspiring photos seem almost irrelevant to actual meditative experience.


Photo by Engin Akyurt:

Photo by Engin Akyurt:

Photo by Engin Akyurt: