It is no longer a question of whether meditation works or not. The scientific research has found multiple benefits to practice; better concentration, a stronger immune system and less reactivity are a few examples of those benefits. But there are a variety of meditative techniques that are being practiced these days. So, which one is the best type of meditation for me?
The answer is all meditation is good. Questions such as What type? How long? How often? is just our Western thinking mind comparing and wanting. Wanting to do what is the “best” or the most “transformative” or maybe, the “easiest”. We want information from external sources to validate our efforts and recognize how “good” we are. Or how “good” our meditation is.
Meditation is neither good nor bad. It is being in the moment. To do this we pay attention, which is universal to all types of meditation. The object that we use to pay attention to may differ, but what is consistent among all the types of meditation is that it triggers the relaxation response by accessing the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the branch of the autonomic nervous system that is supposed to be our default system, but our lives have gotten so charged, distracted and revved up, we think that quiet and relaxed is boring. So, we look for experiences that trigger the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight branch of the autonomic nervous system. It gives us that feeling of “being alive”; until our immune systems start to break down……
Objects of concentration can vary from using compassion phrases, contemplating characteristics of luminaries, such as the Dalai Lama or Christ, a body-scan, or being with the felt sense of joy. All are appropriate, but as would be expected, these variations affect different parts of the brain.
Why this gets confusing is because different types of meditation are all lumped into one bucket. And when research indicates that meditation is beneficial, everyone wants to get onto the bandwagon of his or her practice being validated. But the only validation you need is does it work for you?
One of my most favorite words in Pali (the language of the Buddha) is ehipassiko, which means “come and see” for yourself. Don’t believe anything about meditation on blind faith or because someone told you it is true. The most important thing is to gain direct experience. Try it. Click here or here for a good place to start. These sites introduce you to the Insight (mindfulness or Vipassana) tradition. Other traditions to explore are the yogic tradition, Zen, TM and Tibetan.
So, I didn’t answer the question of which type of meditation is the best. Only you can answer that question. And remember to bring curiosity and joy to the process. Let me know how it goes.
“When you come upon a path
that brings benefit
and happiness to all,
follow this course
as the moon
journeys through the stars.”
― Gautama Buddha
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