TL;DR: The more you meditate, the more you can focus on things without your attention being drawn away by other things. Because of it, you will be less stressed and feel better in general.
Table of Contents
Meditation should teach, at the very least, that you get what you focus on. So stop focusing on your definition or interpretation of the current reality, and instead start focusing on creative activities that interest you.
Meditation is literally just sitting down and doing the thing. Just do the thing. (There's a life lesson in there, too, btw... which arguably is the entire point of meditation - to teach that thing.)
OK, all that shit said, you don't have to sit cross-legged on the floor in the lotus posture if it's not comfortable for you. The point is to sit down in a reasonably comfortable position where you're sitting without slumping (backward OR forward), but still perfectly comfortable. You can sit in a chair as long as you're not slumping and as long as you don't fall asleep. The key is to sit in a way that keeps you awake but also is easy enough that you can forget you're sitting.
Once seated, heave yourself a big sigh and pay attention to your breath. Just feel it. In and out, as slow or as fast as you want. Just feel yourself breathe.
Finally, eyes opened or closed, slow your breathing to the point where you're no longer pulling or pushing the air in your lungs, but almost feeling the lungs themselves expand, very slowly filling and very slowly emptying. See how long you can do that for. Not "how long" with a stopwatch, just do it until you don't feel like doing that anymore.
Congratulations, you're meditating. In this state, you're still actively meditating (using effort to meditate), but eventually, you'll slip into more of a balance between actively and passively meditating. I can't really put it into words beyond saying that it's a point where there's relatively no effort required to be where you are. That means mental effort or physical effort.
That's meditating, and I don't care what anyone else tells you. They're probably right, too. The point is to get IN THE MOMENT and STAY THERE. See what you can see when you're there. Do this for as long as you'd like. There's no right or wrong amount of time to spend meditating (yes, that includes zero). Do it if you'd like, don't do it if you wouldn't. I can tell you, though, people who put time and effort into life tend to find rewards from those things. That's why people tell you to meditate - they found rewards in the practice, and they want to teach you to, too. (That's also why some people tell you about how they found Jesus - they found rewards in the practice, and they want to teach you to, too.)
Don't assume you have to do anything structured to meditate. Some people may require immense structure, you may not. Do what feels good, but isn't necessarily too easy. You're trying to balance effort and non-effort here into a single moment where it is both.
The thing you may realize is that you already meditate while doing other activities. You reach that state when you're really in the zone and driving a car, for instance. I don't mean thinking about a million separate things at the same moment your hands are on a wheel and foot hovering over a pedal; I mean totally in the moment with your car, and no effort is required. You are aware and you are present. That's only one example, but you very well may come to find that state all the time, and meditating helps you realize it so you can more easily find that state in the future.
I told you that last part because the truth is, there's no wrong or right way to meditate. You already meditate because being alive is meditating. Still, sitting quietly and calmly and focusing on your breath is a great way to come to that realization.
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you don't know what meditation is. If you associate it with hippies flying to India to find the meaning of life, who are actually 20 year old trust fund kids. If you think that you need a Buddha statue in your meditation package and pray three times a day.
This book does not teach meditation techniques, but it does introduce certain lines of thinking (perhaps better: perception!). And what is important, once read, I think that you don't have to put it on the top shelf, but you can keep coming back to it by reading in fragments.
Looking at Mindfulness: 25 Ways to Live in the Moment Through Art by Christophe Andre. The book is a collection of 25 very convincing lessons on how to meditate. I have read it for almost a whole month, each day several pages, i.e. one lesson.
Until now, when I read something about meditation and tried to apply it in practice, the results were laughable. Once it was too in my head, another time I couldn't concentrate, the next time I was uncomfortable and so on. With the advice from this book, everything was finally fine, and sitting still in silence on the floor was not necessary.
With this book everything is very simple. No special skills are needed, and after a few minutes you can feel a more calm and relaxed.
Stilling the Mind by Alan Wallace is an excellent translation and commentary on the shamatha and vipashyana teachings in the Vajra Essence. It's by far the best I've read. It's a straight up, no frills Dzogchen meditation manual.
Midnights with the Mystic is a great intro to what meditation is and where it meditation originated. Sadhguru is an enlightened master and his insights into the subject are the most clear and concise I've ever read.
I was in a three-month program with Sadhguru last year. He talked about his Guru a lot actually. He only had one encounter with him. The story of the encounter is in the book Mystic's Musings. He broke down in tears when he got into it, it was a very powerful experience. I imagine that's why he doesn't go into it usually. It was a special situation for us though since we were with him for 90 days.
I also suggest Inner Engineering: A Yogi's Guide to Joy a spiritual and self-help book by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev it talks extensively about the untapped potential of human beings You can also find interesting video on YouTube on Sadhguru channel
What do you need a shortcut for? There is no short way to get it. There's no long way to get it, either.
You already are it. Your'e it. You're there. You're money, baby, and you don't even know it. You have the tools you need. You just need to stop putting pressure on yourself to attain a certain outcome. The outcome you get is dependent on the effort you put in.
The real point is to realize that you can't do a god damned thing. You can't change yourself. You can't change anyone else. You can't just sit there and focus on eating. Things wander in your mind whether you intend them to or not.
Thinking is like breathing: sometimes you control it, sometimes it breathes without your help. The key is to not judge each breath as good or bad. Just breathe. The same goes for thinking. The key is to not judge each thought as good or bad. Just think. Let your mind go. Don't put up your own roadblocks, but let your mind roam. Pay attention from a distance. Don't actively wrangle your thoughts, but let them flow freely. It's amazing the sorts of things you can come up with when you're not judging your thoughts.
You don't have to sit there and focus on each bite of food. You don't have to sit there and focus on each drop of water hitting your body in the shower. Just shower. If your brain wants to think of a million things while you're in the shower, that's fine. Just remove judgment of the thoughts.
The whole point of focusing on each task in excruciating details is to realize that you can not do that. You just can't. So accept it and move on.
Everything we humans are and do is based on habitual practice of that thing. If you have a routine of feeling bad after showering because you couldn't "just shower," then one day you're going to find yourself sad every time you take a shower. You won't even really know why. You'll just associate showers with bad.
Remove the judgment. If you have a goal of brushing your teeth twice a day, and sometimes you miss, don't get mad at yourself for being an idiot. Realize that you're building a brand new habit, and that it takes time, and that you will mess up here and there, and most importantly, that it's OK to not be perfect at anything you do.
You can't force it. You must learn to get with the moment and go with the flow. OR not. It's not important that you learn that, unless you yourself decide that it is important. Then you have to deal with it. You have all the power here.
I hope that's helpful.
You don't need no apps or Youtube channels.
Sit down with a straight back.
Focus on your breath.
Take a deep breath, breathe out, notice the body breathing, count 1.
Take a deep breath, breathe out, notice the body breathing, count 2
Take a deep breath, oops here a thought train takes over your mind for 20 seconds, that's ok, start over once you become aware of that.
Take a deep breath, breathe out, notice the body breathing, count 1.
Keep doing this until you are able to count to 10 without thought trains then start over.
Initially you may force the breathing (because you think you have to do something to "meditate") but at some point you will just start watching the body do the breathing on its own without doing anything.
Do this for 20 minutes twice a day, in 6 months you'll be a Zen master compared to now.
Have no goals. Goals and targets will trip you up.
First off, I would let go of any idea of "right or wrong practice." There is no reason to judge your meditation. We spend our whole lives judging things as right/wrong, good/bad. Meditation is about cultivating concentration, mindfulness, and insight. It's a skill, cultivated through diligence and effort.
There are lots of books, guided meditations, and teachers. I would also see if there are any centers around you. There are many different traditions, school, and methods. Explore, learn and practice often.
Breath meditation is a good place to start. Sit in a position that is comfortable but keeps you alert, with good posture. Rest your hands in a way that's comfortable. Turn your attention to the breath, watching your natural rhythm and in/out breath. Try deepening and shortening your breath as you need to bring your mind to center while alert. When you get distracted or lost in thought, recognize it gently, then return to watching the breath.
Meditation is not a one size fits all endeavor. I did not have any luck getting started with meditation (after many attempts over a period of many years) until I very specifically defined my goals and approached it through trial and error. "Enlightenment" or "Inner Peace" proved to be way too vague, with no clear path from here to there. No guru can tell a person what they're trying to accomplish through meditation.
Once you have a specific goal, experiment with different techniques that feel as though you are making progress to that goal. I wanted to feel less anxious. Sitting quietly and looking inward was not very effective for feeling less anxious (for me). I finally gave tai chi a shot and find that meditation through movement helps to clear my mind and lower anxiety levels throughout the day. No mystic chi cultivation, just relaxation through slow gentle movements.
So it may help to pick a few techniques to experiment with in order to build your own empirical support for what works for you specifically.
I get concrete, if perhaps hard to quantify, benefits.
When I meditate, even just one-off half hour session, I tend to feel pretty good, kind of smooth feeling, or have a subtle sense of flow for the rest of the day. It didn't take me long to get to this point. Few weeks of doing a guided mindfulness meditation (audio by Kabat-Zinn). I have been doing yoga for a few years prior to that though...
The 'post-meditation' effect is pretty consistent. Besides that, I sometimes get good intense feelings (that I could perhaps describe as a sense of wellness) while in meditation. It doesn't always happen. Sometimes it does, but it's not consistent for me and I don't have that as a goal.. But when I put enough time into it, like half an hour every few days, they seem to happen more often.
So, I'd say, just keep doing it, and don't pressure yourself. If you get good guidance, it won't take long to start working. Self-awareness, (mindfulness) is part of the equation, and as you practice you will get better at it - your sense of your internal feelings, and general mental state will sharpen, and you will indeed notice the effects of meditation better.
I am also not into new agey 'do it just for the benefit of itself' kind of school of thought. I do it entirely for my health and well being, and there is a 'technique' or 'mind set' to it.
I sometimes feel like paying for guided meditation is like the difference between exploring a jungle or going with a tour group. It can take longer to learn things by guiding yourself without a chaperone but it can mean more to you than just being told what to do and there's the potential to pay attention to more than what people are telling you.
At the same time Headspace, even just fo the 10 free sessions is good because it goes over a lot of the components that many practices focus on managing in meditation and it presents it in very simple terms. I think the HS sessions are also good for brand new folks because the 10 free sessions I think gradually allow guidance to be tapered off so you can sit still for longer periods of time, which is good for newcomers.
Forget having an Ego death experience, you are not going to get that without heroic doses of psychedelics or some extremely high level of meditation skills. That shouldn't be a goal in of itself if you don't know what you're doing.
If you want to read about it, I'd suggest Ego is the enemy, I found it a little dry but still pretty helpful.
I don't think meditating will cure your anxiety. Especially if it's a serious case.
I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder with daily occuring panic attacks.
My method was to meditate when I was anxious to see that I was actually running from nothing at all.
Just let anxiety be until it goes away on it's own and do your thing. Anxiety does not harm you, your reaction to it is harmful. Once I realized this and let myself "go inside" my anxiety, the problem was almost done with.
Change your reaction from "Go away you bad feeling" to "You can stay for as long as you need to bad feeling" and you won't suffer.
I do know it's easier said than done, takes a long time until you can sit with an uncomfortable feeling without wanting it to go away.
It's weird, but I also like to recite "Litany Against Fear" from Dune when I get anxious:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, mindfulness gave me my life back. For most of the first half of this year, I was depressed and often thought about killing myself. It's more than I want to talk about in a reddit post, but my life had sort of run away from me. I felt like a slave to my mind, stopped by some mental wall whenever I tried to really do anything.
Mindfulness helped me in mostly two key ways. The first was the ability to notice my thoughts as they were occuring. When you're in a bad place mentally, it's really hard to realize that you ruminate, burning all your mental energy on endlessly repeating thoughts. These thoughts are almost always fixated firmly on the failings of the past and the looming catastrophes of the future, allowing you no chance to focus on improving the present, which is your only way out. To combat this, I took up the exercise of consciously replacing my negative thoughts with equally correct neutral or positive thoughts. This took a long time to work, but was ultimately crucial.
The second way it got my life moving again was through commitment despite an immovable wall of emotions. Depression leaves you with no interest and less energy to do just about anything. I would take my emotions into account, accept them, and do something small in spite of them. This was really hard, honestly, but that muscle gets stronger with use. I started with something as simple as "get out of bed and shower" every day. If I did that, the day was considered a success. Over a long period of time, I was able to start living normally again.
There was a lot more to it, like overcoming a lack of purpose, but mindfulness played a critical role in my progress.