Stephen Batchelor in “Buddhism Without Beliefs” has a metaphor for meditation that I like: think of the process of awakening like a footpath. We struggle through the undergrowth to reach it, and when we do, we know we are heading somewhere and are able to move more freely. The footpath is maintained because others are walking on the path, just as we are helping to maintain it by walking on it. “What counts is not so much the destination but the resolve to take the next step.”
Here’s a book that I highly recommend for those who want to try a different approach from the usual “sit down and watch your breath.” Good for people having difficulties.
There are many forms of meditation, and I just discuss here the techniques I was taught . I practice and teach Vipassana–or Insight–meditation, a type of Buddhist meditation. This isn’t necessarily better than other kinds of meditation, it’s just one that works for me.
Mindfulness can refer to many different states of mind. The general meaning is just being in the present moment. Mindfulness in Vipassana meditation refers to something a little more specific: being aware of the present moment while watching the mind’s movement toward greed, hatred, and delusion. So there is some interesting stuff going on there!
For the beginning meditator: There is a lot of information out there for starting a meditation practice, so I won’t repeat it here. You might check out several books or web sites and see what works for you.
I also have some videos online that I created for an Introductory Class on Buddhism. These are all guided meditations, are less than 15 minutes in length and provide a good start for beginners:
Introduction to Meditation: Body Scan
Introduction to Meditation: Follow the Breath
Metta (Lovingkindness) Meditation