I get that meditation may sound like the simplest thing in the world—all you have to do is be present with the breath—but if you have ever tried it you know it’s not really easy. That’s why it’s helpful to get some expert advice from people who have been doing it for a long, long time. If you don’t have many local resources where you can learn about meditation, I recommend picking up a good book on how to meditate.
Having read literally hundreds of books about meditation in the last 20 years, here are my top recommendations. I’ve chosen eight that are accessible, inspirational, and will provide basic instruction as well as guidance for how to launch a consistent practice.
How to Meditate by Pema Chodron
I’ll just come out and say it: Pema Chodron may have done more for making the Buddhist meditation teachings accessible than anyone in the 21st century. While some of her books, such as When Things Fall Apart, may be better known, this is the recently published go-to guide to learn the ins and outs of calm-abiding meditation. This book includes sections on working with strong emotions and how to accommodate everyone in your life with an open heart; if that’s something you’re angling for, this is the book for you.
Zen Mind Beginners Mind by Suzuki Roshi
This book came out in 1970 but remains the most accessible Zen meditation manual I have ever seen. It opens with chapters on the appropriate posture for meditation and how to connect to the breath but then goes on to include many aspects of how to hold the mind, all according to the Zen tradition. This is the type of book you can visit and then revisit a year later and get completely different things from it. While the words don’t change, we do in between, and the meaning of this timeless classic gets ever more subtle.
Start Here Now by Susan Piver
Having written a number of other books, Susan founded the Open Heart Project in 2012 and has become very well-known for making complicated Buddhist teachings accessible. In her latest book she strikes a beautiful chord between confident wisdom and vulnerability; reading it is like sitting in the room with a good friend coaching you in the meditation practice. This book not only gives introductory meditation instruction, but also includes tips for every aspect on maintaining a consistent practice, ranging from how to set up your meditation space, to how meditation affects our creativity, to how to do a self-guided retreat.
Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg
This New York Times bestseller came out 20 years ago and remains a mainstay in the Insight Buddhist meditation tradition (and around the globe) for how to engage maitri, or loving-kindness practice. Chock-full of practical exercises, this book is for anyone who struggles with love, either for themselves or for others. It highlights the clear benefits of loving-kindness practice, showcases the obstacles to getting going, and talks about how our compassionate heart can accommodate anything.
Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
The head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage wrote this, his first book, in 2003. It provides a thorough overview of calm-abiding meditation, as well as a road map to navigate all the obstacles that come up when you begin practice. There are chapters on the various types of thoughts that arise when you meditate, how to motivate yourself to practice when you’re feeling lazy, too busy, or disheartened, and how to make sure you don’t fall into the dangers of being too tight or too loose with your practice. If you want to befriend yourself through the act of meditation, this is the book for you.
There’s No Right Way to Meditate (And Other Lessons) by Yumi Sakugawa
Yes, this is a book of cartoons. But it does a brilliant job of introducing why one should meditate. It’s the book that even the most cynical hater will pick up, chuckle within a few pages, and soften to the practice of meditation. While other books may provide more of the technical know-how to launch a practice, this book will make the practice accessible to that grumpy uncle who thinks meditation is solely for hippies.
Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of those crucial members of the generation that has deeply shaped how Buddhism has infiltrated the Western mind. While all of his books contain his eloquence and compassion, this one is perfect for the beginner who yearns to understand how to live peace. He beautifully weaves in poems and fables alongside traditional teachings on how to work with feelings and everyday perceptions, which allows you not only to meditate, but also integrate the practice with your daily life.
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana
This book is ideal for anyone who is interested in mindfulness, period. This is a solid deep dive into the Theravadin Buddhist tradition’s explanation of how to meditate. It includes incredibly clear and, at times, humorous descriptions of how to work with distraction as it (inevitably) arises during meditation and answers questions like, “Meditation: Why Bother?”