A student from Northern Ireland writes,
I've recently been contemplating practising meditation. I decided to look up what you had to say on the subject, and I was happy to discover the "how to meditate" post. I was just wondering though, how long should a person meditate, and what should a first timer like myself expect to think or feel during the first few meditations?
First, drive out all useless thoughts. Then get rid of all useful but worldly thoughts. Finally, achieve the cessation of all thoughts, including spiritual ones. Now you are at the threshhold of meditation proper. Unfortunately, a lifetime of work may not suffice to complete even these baby steps. You may not even make it to the threshhold. But if you can achieve even the first step, you will have done yourself a world of good.
The idea behind Step One is to cultivate the ability to suppress, at will, every useless, negative, weakening thought as soon as it arises. Not easy!
Meditation won't bear fruits unless one lives in a way that is compatible with it and its goals. So a certain amount of withdrawal from the world is needed. One needs to 'unplug.'
The attainment of mental quiet is a very high and choice-worthy goal of human striving. Anything that scatters or dis-tracts (literally: pulls apart) the mind makes it impossible to attain mental quiet as well as such lower attainments as ordinary concentration. Now the mass media have the tendency to scatter and distract. Therefore, if you value the attainment of mental quiet and such cognate states as tranquillitas animi, ataraxia, peace of mind, samadhi, concentration, 'personal presence,' etc., then you are well-advised to limit consumption of media dreck and cultivate the disciplines that lead to these states.