Just Meditation represents a distinctive approach to the learning and practice of meditation, that is independent and inclusive, as well as simple and accessible. In short, Just Meditation is just meditation.
I first got into meditation in the early 1990s. It was easily the best decision I’ve ever made, and I’ve been meditating ever since. In about 2005 I started sharing that practice with others by leading meditation sessions and retreats. And in 2014, I came up with the idea of ‘Just Meditation’.
Because that’s what it is.
So, how did it all start? Well, basically, I was in my late twenties, and my life was a mess. I was heavily into drink and drugs and it was all going downhill fast. The truth is I was profoundly unhappy, possibly without even realising it, and for whatever reason I was just drinking myself into oblivion. At the same time, I’d always had a bit of an interest in Buddhism and I’d read a few books about meditation. And these books made it sound attractive, something I wanted to do – not least because, well, who wouldn’t want enlightenment, right? But I’d never actually tried it. And of course, in those days, it wasn’t like it is now, there was no internet, there was no YouTube – and in any case, I was too busy getting wasted all the time.
And then one day I simply hit a wall. I realised things had got out of hand and I needed to do something about it. So I decided to take myself away from it all. I left my old life behind and I got on a plane to India. Bit of a cliche, but there we are, that’s what happened. And although I had initially planned to just go a way for a few months to sort my head out, I actually ended up spending the next two years, travelling around and living in monasteries and ashrams, learning about meditation and yoga and reading everything I could find about Indian philosophy and all that kind of stuff.
Oh, and I gave up drink and drugs for good as well.
I’ve since learned that it’s not at all uncommon to be spurred into trying meditation as a result of some crisis or other. It was certainly true for me, and I know it’s been true for many others too – though, of course, it need not always be the case. People take up meditation for all sorts of reasons. For some of us, it might take a crisis before we realise we need to regain control of our lives. For others it might be the natural outcome of a developing interest in spirituality or self-improvement.
One way or another, though, we do need a reason to want to take up meditation. It could be the impact of a life changing event, or it could just be a matter of realising that everything has become too stressful. Either way, the point is that we get into meditation because we believe it will be the solution to some problem or issue we face in our lives.
That’s why whenever anyone asks me how to meditate, I always ask them why they want to learn how to meditate in the first place. Not because there are necessarily any right or wrong reasons for wanting to meditate, but simply because we need to be clear, in our own minds, about the question that we want to answer.
Fast forward twenty years. It’s now 2014 and I was leading a popular monthly meditation group in Newcastle upon Tyne. There were a few things about this group that were different to what one might typically expect. For a start, it wasn’t part of any kind of religious organisation. It wasn’t a Buddhist group, or a church group. And that was because I felt there was a need for a space that was neutral and therefore truly inclusive, that didn’t involve having to buy into any particular tradition or worldview. So I worked really hard on making the practice as accessible as possible. I avoided any use of technical jargon. I kept things simple, so that pretty much anyone could get into it. And that was the second thing that was different. We had a really good balance of both men and women attending the sessions and a really wide range of people from all kinds of different backgrounds – all sharing the silence together.
And so, Just Meditation was born.
And to this day, Just Meditation continues to embody two essential features. First, it is independent and inclusive. And second, it is simple and accessible. So, let’s look at each of these in turn, so that you can decide whether or not Just Meditation might be for you.
The Just Meditation approach distinguishes itself from other schools of meditation by neither promoting nor rejecting any particular spirituality, belief system or worldview. Just Meditation is completely independent; it’s not part of any other organisation, school, tradition or teaching. This means that nobody is required to ‘buy into’ the metaphysical assumptions of any particular ideology, whether religious or secular. You can be a Christian, you can be an atheist; you can be Buddhist, Pagan, Sikh or Sufi. You can be nothing or anything, and still benefit from the practice – no strings attached.
At the same time, whilst we don’t promote the beliefs of any particular spiritual tradition or other system of thought, we can still acknowledge that there may be something of interest in any body of teaching, which might deepen our understanding and merit further exploration.
Thus, whilst the Just Meditation approach is ideologically neutral, it is not dogmatically or reductively so. For example, we don’t pretend that contemporary secular mindfulness isn’t based on Buddhist teachings when it very clearly is. This allows us to acknowledge the significance of various wisdom traditions, and engage in further investigation as and when it might be relevant or informative to do so – for those who want to.
That’s the first principle. Just Meditation is independent and inclusive.
The second principle is about keeping it simple and making it accessible.
Just Meditation is just what it says it is: a simple, no frills, meditation practice, involving focussing the attention on a single object, such as the breath or a mantra, whilst at the same time letting other thoughts come and go without getting caught up in the story.
It is a method that is suitable for absolute beginners, so simple that it can be taught in just a few minutes, requiring no prior knowledge or beliefs, but at the same time it is a practice that will last us a lifetime or more, because we will always be able to go deeper.
In other words, the basic practice is the advanced practice. There are no higher teachings for the initiated. The technique is the same on day one as it is twenty years later. Sit quietly. Observe the breath. Repeat a mantra if that’s helpful. Let the thoughts come and go, without getting involved in the story. That’s it.
The only variable is how far you take it, which is not about getting somewhere or achieving certain outcomes, but going deeper into where you already are.
If meditation is truly universal, then there is no need to dress it up it with a lot of technical jargon or esoteric beliefs. If it is not something that pretty much anyone can do, if it’s not something that is simply part of ordinary everyday life, then what’s the point of it? Meditation shouldn’t be seen as something that is only for special times and special places. It is not something that only ever happens somewhere else, like on a beach or a mountain top. And it is not something that is only for certain types of people either.
So it’s called ‘Just Meditation’ because that’s what it is: neither exotic nor exclusive, but ordinary, accessible and available to all. And whilst it’s obviously not the only meditation technique out there, I’d like to think it’s the only one you really need.
And that’s why I talk about Just Meditation as everyday meditation for everyone. It is everyday meditation in the sense of the simple, straightforward way in which it is taught and practised. It’s everyday meditation in the sense of being something we might do, literally, every day. And finally, it’s everyday meditation in the sense that it is something that should be seen as being just a normal part of ordinary, everyday life.