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.”
There are many forms of meditation, and I just discuss here the form 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.
Here are some meditation instructions and detailed information on Insight Meditation:
A Path With a Heart
Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
Mindfulness in Plain English
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: