Why I Recommend An 8-Week Course To Every Type Of Meditator

People come to meditation for a wide variety of reasons. Some might be struggling with stress and want the medicinal benefit of secular meditation to reduce it. At the other extreme, there are those looking for a deep tradition to add to their spiritual journey.

All of these interests are matched by the wide range of meditation traditions. At the secular end are the amazing programs of MBCT and MBSR, with their evidence-based scientific approaches. Then there are the temples where nuns and monks can immerse themselves in the Buddhist traditions. And there’s everything in-between.

Wherever your goals lie on this spectrum, they will be best supported by establishing a solid base in mindfulness. Without it, I’ve seen people flailing about with poor teachings and unstable practices.

The 8-week MBCT/MBSR programs have been designed for the highest likelihood of success. Even though the programs might seem psychological and un-spiritual, they are the best chance to experience real mindfulness. The course designers know what works; they know how to teach it; and they know how to train the trainers.

What we build on top of this evidence-based foundation is up to us.

Keep Meditating, Even When It Seems Worthless

This has happened countless times. Even when I’ve been really into my meditation practice. I’ve started a sitting, I recall the first minute, then the next thing I know: my timer has gone off to signal the end of the session.

Even worse, this can happen with a guided meditation. I can be so distracted that the sounds become lost in another world while my mind is drifting or is caught up in some imaginary scenario.

Even worse than that, this pattern has sometimes repeated for days.

At such times, it can seem like the meditation isn’t doing anything at all. It can become a question: is there any point in continuing to sit if all I’m going to do is drift for half an hour?

And yet, if I look at the difference between un-mindful meditation and no meditation, it’s clear that these apparently worthless sittings are doing something. The feeling of steadiness continues to be supported.

The answer, in all cases, is to check our experience. Is this leading in the direction of less suffering, in my life, in general? Does it do no harm?

And keep learning. From books, courses, teachers, even websites.


I’ve avoided the phrase ‘bad’ meditation, because there are some things you can do that are unhelpful and can make you feel worse if you don’t figure them out. An example is spending the whole time in negative judgement about failing to be mindful. I have enough experience not to do that, even in the cases I’m describing in this post.

The Practice Is To Notice

Even after years of practice, I needed to be reminded of this.

I was on a course and a teacher was doing a guided meditation. My meditation felt heavy and oppressive. I was noticing my ongoing symptoms of brain fog, and feeling quite frustrated that it was there again, changing how my practice felt. I started pushing against the experience rather than settling into the meditation.

Then the teacher reminded us that the intention is to notice what’s happening.

This non-fixing is what Mark Williams calls the being mode, as opposed to the doing mode. We can notice when we are getting caught up, trying to make things different.

Doing mode is one in which we try to close the gap between the way things are and the way we think they should be. We respond to what we hear as a call to action – and it can make us feel worse.

“Another mode of mind is required when it comes to dealing with unhappiness. Evolution has bequeathed us with an alternative to critical thinking. … It is called awareness.”

Mark Williams, The Mindful Way Through Depression. Audiobook.

Kindness Adds Direction To Mindfulness Practice

It’s often assumed that mindfulness has kindness built-in. I don’t think this is true. A counter-example is the way that some beginner meditators criticise themselves for not being mindful enough. It’s an act of unkindness towards one’s self.

Mindfulness needs to be deliberately filled with the quality of goodwill.

As well as making a healthy static meditation practice, kindness can also be used to give a sense of direction to the practice. It’s the first signpost that we are moving along in the direction of less suffering.

Mindfulness without kindness is like standing on one leg. It won’t get us very far along the path.

Add Kindness To Your Mindfulness Practice

One of the biggest mistakes that a new meditator can make, is to become judgemental about their ability to be mindful.

The scenario is that a meditator is being asked to place their attention on an object, such as the breath. When the mind drifts, the student is to bring the mind back to the breath. However, instead of bringing the mind back, the student starts criticising themself for ‘failing’ to keep the attention on the breath. This is a mistake because the criticising thoughts compound the distraction.

There is a simple counter to this self criticism – it’s kindness. You should apply it proactively. So now the instructions are like this: Place your attention on the breath. When you notice that the mind is no longer on the breath, fill yourself with the quality of kindness. Then, remembering your original intention, ride the kindness back to the breath.

If you find it hard to bring the quality of kindness to life, then practice it. Mindfulness and kindness are the two legs of a beginners’ practice. You need them both, so you can move along.