Questions about meditation

Curious about meditation? New to it? Rick Heller of the Humanist Mindfulness group, answers questions about meditation for beginners.


  • Where's the best place to meditate (Outside? Inside? In a chair? On the floor?) 
  • Should it be dark? Light? 
  • How do you stop thinking about things that are stressing you out? 
  • How should you best position your body, and why? 
  • How long should you meditate for in the beginning? 
  • Is there a time of day that's best meditation for some reason? 
  • Any other tips you can give about where, how and why we should meditate.


For a beginner who is not participating in a group, the best place to start may be:

1. In a quiet room, especially one where they will not overhear conversations. More advanced meditators can meditate in a noisy environment, but it’s always hard to meditate when someone is having a loud conversation nearby.

2. For a beginner, a chair is probably easier than a mat on the floor. If a chair, it should not be a “comfy” chair that you sink in to. Better is a chair or bench with perhaps a little padding that lets you sit up fairly straight. You do want to sit up straight, but not in so rigid a manner that it makes you tense. Ideally, you want to feel relaxed and energetic.

3. In our group, we often dim the lights before meditating.

4. You don’t actively try to stop thinking. Rather, you focus on something like the breath, and by paying attention to the breath coming in and out of your nostrils, you naturally pay less attention to your thoughts. 

5. For a beginner, we find that 20 minutes works well, but longer leads to restlessness and can be counterproductive.

6. Many people meditate shorting after getting up in the morning and before going to bed. It’s fine to meditate in the middle of the day, but if often does not fit into people’s schedules.

7. After you’ve done a bit of meditation, you learn that you can keep some of the calm meditative mindset with you as you go about your day—while walking, shopping at the supermarket, raking leaves, etc. 

Hope that helps

Rick Heller
Humanist Mindfulness Group
Humanist Community at Harvard

To learn more about the Humanist meditation - check out this course at:

Understanding that it isn’t customer service – it’s human service

Understanding that the people you work with and for are real people with real problems of their own helps you think about your job in a totally different way more satisfying way.

I started my company, Humanist Learning Systems, to help people by sharing my knowledge and the knowledge of others with them.  The thing about sharing knowledge though, is it’s a pretty lonely business.  People read your book, or they take a course and very rarely do you get feedback about whether they thought it was helpful or not.

But every once in a while I hear from a customer. Maybe someone takes the time to post a review online, or they contact me directly because they have a question they need answered, or – they have a problem they are hoping I can help them with.

When someone actually takes the time to call me and ask me a question – I am thrilled. I don’t view these conversations as a hassle. I view them as the reason I went into business in the first place. It’s another opportunity for me to help a fellow human being and it’s satisfying because – it’s real.

It’s nice when my customers recognize that my company is not some faceless bureaucracy, but it is staffed by a real live person, me.  

We all play multiple roles in our lives. Sometimes we are the ones providing customer service and at other times we are asking for customer service. Regardless of the role I play, I try to remember that the other person is a human just like me.

I find that when I treat my customers and my customer service reps as real people, not just people who exist to serve my needs, I not only feel better. I feel more human. And that feels really good.

Derek Sivers – founder of CD Baby has a really great article on customer service ( where he talks about how putting the customer first and allowing them to win every fight with you is not just good customer service, it’s good for you. He says, “the act of doing this every day is very peaceful. It feels like daily empathy practice.”

Being human with your customers and with those who provide you with customer service are a way to not only make a human connection, it’s a way to practice being the best version of yourself. And it feels good. So why not make work and your interpersonal interactions fun. Why treat what should be an opportunity to connect with your fellow humans as work?

Be nice, be yourself, be human and recognize that those you interact with are human too and show a genuine interest in them.  You may not be able to solve all your problems or theirs, but you will help make things a little bit better and that’s at least something.

Happiness and Existential Angst

We all experience existential angst at some point – but are there ways to answer these questions in such a way that will help us to eliminate that stress and be happier?

I think the answer is yes.  According to – this page - – existential anxiety is a product of not having good answers to the big questions of life – like – who am I, why am I here, and do I have a purpose. As well as the really big question – how much control do I really have over my life?

The big problem seems to not know.  When we don’t know what the future will hold, we get nervous.  Really nervous. When we don’t feel like we can control what happens to us in the future, we get nervous too. Trying to figure out whether our actions will help us or hurt us – stresses us out.

And if we don’t figure out how to cope with that stress – it can overwhelm us.

As a Humanist – I cope with not knowing by accepting I don’t know. And I realize that may seem really strange. How can accepting something that is stressing you out – help you relax.  Well – when I accept that I can’t know – I stop trying to know. So I stop expending my mental energy on it and – that’s what relaxation is.

Who am I?  I don’t really know. I mean I know my name and who I want to be. But who am I and why am I?  I don’t have an answer to that and I’m actually totally ok with that. It doesn’t bother me. Why? Because I have accepted that those questions don’t actually have answers. And so I don’t have to ponder them anymore.

What is my purpose in life?  Well, that one is a bit more interesting and can have a really good answer.  I can’t know if I have an “ultimate” purpose or not – so I choose to not worry about that. But I can decide who I want to be and what I want to accomplish. And it turns out – that’s enough. In fact, it’s REALLY satisfying.

There is a reason this blog has as its tag – encouraging people to live ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.  That’s my life’s purpose. To help other people adopt a similar purpose. And the great thing about this – is – working towards it makes me happy.

Do I need answers to the big questions to be happy? No. I just need to do my best with the life I have to do my best to be my best. And stop worrying about things that don’t really matter. Like – whether I have an ultimate purpose in life or not. Can’t know it and if I do – I do – but clearly – not knowing is part of how I’m supposed to do this thing called life – so let’s get on with it.

Coping in a Highly Competitive Society

I come at this from a Humanist perspective.  The key to coping well in a highly competitive society is to really have a good grounding in your goals in life. That is what provides you with meaning and purpose and helps you not be pulled off course by the rat race.

We do live in a highly competitive society. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Competition spurs us to do better and to be better and to achieve more.  That’s all positive.

The problem is I’m not sure people really know what they are competing for.  Neuromarketers have become expert on how to trigger “scarcity” and peer pressure through likes and clicks and feedback and limited time offers. And this works because – we are competitive – innately so.

Clearly, peer pressure and the desire to one up and be seen as better than our peers is a built in response we humans have. We need to fit in with our tribe for security reasons and so we can get caught up in competing to just to fit in. But that doesn't lead to happiness.

What people need to do is find balance. Balance between the need and desire to compete and the need to be happy for the sake of being happy.   This isn’t an either or thing, it’s a balancing thing.

And to balance – we have to think. What is it that we really want?  Do I even want what I am competing for?  Perhaps I should let this go and compete for something else.

It’s an amazing feeling to consciously let go of the need to compete for things that – really don’t matter to you.  Letting go of the rat race, frees up your energy and resources to compete in the things that do matter to you.  And because your energy and time isn’t scattered on things you don’t care about – and you are able to focus on the things you do – because that’s what you chose for yourself, you end up being happier and less stressed.  At least I do.

The key to doing any of this successfully though, is learning how to think more effectively and learning how to calm your brain enough so that the fight/flight response that gets triggered when we are in competition, is deactivated so that we only compete on things that matter to us personally. This is why there is such a growth in the mindfulness/meditation realm.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...