Basic Types of Meditations

Meditation is a very ancient practice. It has been used by pretty much all cultures and traditions around the world. Given its history, there are literally hundreds of different types of meditation practices that are around.

But all of this variety falls under three basic broad categories. They are as follows.

1) Concentration
2) Open Awareness
3) Positive Visualization

I will briefly discuss each of the categories here and later on devoting separate posts to address each category in depth.

Concentration Mediation

This is the most simplest form of meditation. Here you practice concentration. What does it mean to practice concentration? Well, you begin with focusing or concentrating on an object.

You will find that it will be very difficult to maintain concentration and you will find yourself distracted by thoughts. In concentration practice, your mind periodically wanders away from the object of meditation and whenever you realize that you have wandered away, you bring yourself back to the object of meditation. This is the essential practice of concentration meditation.

It is also nothing else but attention training that we referred to in the earlier post.

An anchor is a key element of concentration meditation. Any object that is relatively stable can be used as an anchor. Some examples people use are, an image, a candle light or the breath. All that is needed in choice of anchor is that it should be relatively stable. Because one cannot begin to train concentration with something that in itself is not stable.

Breath is actually recommended purely for the reason of portability. It is always there with you. It is stable, with a fixed pattern of movement. Any physical object besides the breath will need to be carried with you.

You pick your preferred anchor and you focus your attention on that object. You invariably wander and start thinking about all different things. Eventually you realize that you have wandered away from the anchor and once you realize this, you just bring yourself back to the anchor. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend being lost. What’s more important is, you repeatedly bring yourself back to the object of attention when you realize that you are lost.

Open Awareness

This meditation is all about maintaining awareness over the extended period of time. This type of meditation can be little hard to comprehend. It also involves concentration training, but in ways that may not be obvious initially.

In this type of meditation, you don’t focus on a single object or single anchor. But you maintain the awareness of whatever that arises in your perceptual field.  When we hear a sound, an auditory perception is registered in the mind. We can also become aware of this auditory perception. In simple terms, when we hear something, we also know that we hear something.

We sit and close our eyes. There will different types of sounds, physical sensations, thoughts and emotions that we will go through. The aim is to maintain awareness as we experience physical and mental phenomena.

This meditation can be very effective and has been used by spiritual traditions to gain insight into the nature of the reality for hundreds of years.

Positive Visualization

This type of meditation is very different from previous two types. It is really not an attention training. It is a training for cultivating positive attitudes. Some meditation experts may object, but I tend to view this as a positive conditioning meditation.

Human mind learns best by conditioning. Just by repeatedly doing an activity we can cultivate expertise at that activity. The same idea is applied to develop positive emotions of love, kindness and open heart.

We sit and begin by artificially visualizing the positive emotions. And although it is artificial in a way to begin with. If you practice it frequently enough, you make those positive emotions part of your being. You become more loving, kind and open person over the period of time.

These are the three broad categories of meditation. In future posts we will cover details about each of these categories. Please feel free to comment or ask questions using the comment form below.


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What is Meditation?

Before we delve deeper into what mindfulness is, it would help to have a very clear idea about what meditation is.

What really is meditation?

In routine usage, we use term ‘meditate’ to mean deep thinking. Yet ‘meditation’ actually implies something that is quite unlike deep thinking.

Different people have different notions about meditation. We tend to associate meditation with spirituality. Because in the past meditation was mainly used by people to advance their spiritual growth. Today, people still use meditation for the same purpose.

But meditation is now used to achieve several other goals, including improving physical health, emotional health and well-being. Just to mention a few of the innumerable benefits that meditation confers.

One of the best ways to understand meditation is to view it as attention training. One visits the gym and lifts weights to strengthen muscles. Similarly, during meditation, one picks the object of meditation, also called the anchor of meditation and repeatedly brings attention back to this anchor.

We value attention. It is a skill that is highly sought after. If you notice we are asked to ‘pay’ it.

What prevents us from paying attention? Distractions. If we get distracted, we can’t pay attention. In meditation we train our minds to become better at attending to things. Alternatively, we can say that with meditation we train our minds to focus better or pay better attention.

And how do we train our mind? Just like training our muscles. To train the muscles, we repeatedly lift weights and we gradually keep increasing the amount of weights we lift. In the same manner, with meditation we sit and focus on an object and repeatedly bring our mind back to the object when we lose focus. It is a very simple practice.

But we tend to confuse simple with easy. Not all simple things are easy. Meditation practice in itself is simple. But it is not easy. It takes hard work to meditate.

We are used to taking our mind for granted. Training the mind is a concept that we don’t easily identify with. We tend to think we are born with a mind and we live with it. But it is possible to train our mind just like it is possible to train our body or train pets.

Lastly meditation is not just the attention training. It is much more than that. You may think that how can just the attention training help. Or how can it bring about all the benefits that I have been referring to. Those are valid questions.

It is a journey that starts with attention training. We will be exploring meditation more in the next few posts.


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