Are there different types of meditation?

L: If you wanted to write an article about meditation what types of meditation would you include?

Is it possible to specify a few basic types of meditation?

For example: Buddhist meditation, Yoga meditation etc.


Jay: : To me the word meditation has two different meanings. Meditation can refer to many different mental exercises that have certain goals. For example, there are mental exercises that can create a sense of greater energy or focus or clarity. There are other exercises that create a sense of calmness. For any emotion there is probably some mental exercise that can increase or decrease that emotion.

I’m sure there are some benefits to these exercises for some people. It’s really not that much different from what we do all day long. Our brains are continually monitoring the states of the body/mind and moving us to do things that either change a state of mind or amplify it. For example, if we feel sad, we might decide to watch a funny movie in order to feel happier. We can use movies, physical activity, food, drugs, people, nature or biofeedback to change our states of mind. Many meditations are a form of biofeedback.

To me meditation means something different. It means being in touch with what is happening in this moment without immediately trying to change it. It means giving time and space to what is happening right now. It means listening deeply to the present moment.

Suppose that in sitting still it becomes clear that there is sadness. It might also be noticed that the instant that the state of mind is labeled and identified as sadness, there is also the judgment coming up that I don’t want to be in this state and there is the thought of going to see a movie, for example.

So all of this is visible because there is quiet listening. At this point I may or may not get up and go to a movie. I might prefer to stay with the listening for a while because there is some interest in being more in touch with these feelings that were labeled sadness. Staying with the feelings themselves, I may find that the heart opens wider or some tension in the stomach softens and opens up, for example, as part of the process of listening and feeling what is happening right now in this state that was called sadness. In listening I find that the label no longer applies. Sadness deeply experienced is not what I thought it was. In listening whatever is going on is going on in wholeness.

So if someone says “I want to learn to meditate”, a good question to consider is if there is something that that person wants to change. Is there some state of mind that they want to stop having or to change? Is there some state of mind that they want to have more of?

My feeling is that before we spend a lot of time and energy trying to change our states of mind, it is a very helpful thing to spend time coming in touch with the state of mind that we are concerned about. For example, some people want to obtain clarity. The opposite of clarity for them may be confusion or fuzziness. They want to get rid of one state of mind and obtain its opposite. So before assuming that this is a good thing to do, it may be much more helpful to really look into what this “confusion” or “fuzziness” is and what is behind the feeling of wanting to be rid of it.

On the surface it may seem obvious. “Of course everyone wants clarity. If you are confused, you can’t do anything right.” But this is just a surface observation. It may be perfectly valid at this level but my feeling is that we really need to understand “confusion” much more directly, more intimately, more carefully, before making assumptions about it. What usually happens is that a state such as confusion is recognized, identified by the brain, and a reaction to it is immediately set into motion. When this happens, there is not very much time or space to be in touch with the original feeling.

We can easily spend our entire lives reacting to states or experiences that we have never really lived deeply. This is exhausting because monitoring and reaction take a lot of energy. Listening, on the other hand, is a gathering of energy. But more importantly, in reacting we are making many assumptions about ourselves and others that on closer examination often prove to be very inaccurate and often completely untrue or distorted. So our life becomes more and more difficult and painful because we simply don’t see what’s really happening. We haven’t examined our life carefully as it unfolds moment by moment.

The remedy for this is simple. To become present with the truth of each moment. There are no tricks or strategies or techniques for doing this. It simply requires a wholehearted interest in this moment. Everything follows from this.

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