The idea for this post struck me last evening while watching “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.” Lately, and especially in the recent past, I find myself being asked two questions quite a lot:
I’m not an expert on meditation. However, meditating regularly for the past four years and having tried a few different kinds earlier, I have some thoughts on these two questions, shaped purely from my personal experiences. More about my meditation journey here.
From my journey, I categorize meditations into three types:
This broad classification, rooted in my experiences, is subject to evolve, yet serves as a framework for the present discussion.
Possibly where most begin, and where I too initiated my journey. Seemingly an effortless way to attain concentration, and for organized religions, a channel to disseminate their word.
The instructions are clear: repeat a name or mantra. Despite its simplicity, after two years, I discovered its reach is only at the surface level since it engages only the conscious mind. Here are a few kinds:
Mantra Meditation: Repeating a word or series silently or aloud to focus the mind.
Rosary Prayer/Japa Mala: Repetition of prayers or mantras, utilizing beads for tracking and fostering spirituality.
Kirtan or Chanting: Collective repetition of sacred sounds or words in a call-and-response format.
This is a very common kind of meditation out there and I tried it very briefly. It might sound like the most logical way to concentrate the mind, and if the goal is concentration, as we’ve seen in “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” it could work.
The instructions are simple: you close your eyes and visualize something. It could be a red dot on the forehead, a zero in the body, or an image of someone (mostly someone referred to as God/Goddess).
When your mind, as it will, brings up other thoughts, you bring your focus back to the visualization. Organized religions have versions which fall under this category, alongside practices like Chakra meditation.
When I say “you do nothing,” I don’t mean you just sit there and let your mind wander. “You do nothing” here signifies making a conscious decision to engage in non-doing and simply observe whatever unfolds in your mind. Be it thoughts of fear, love, hunger, hate — whatever comes up, you observe without reacting (to the best of your ability).
While it sounds simple, it’s far from easy. Holding a mantra or visualizing a Divine image is kindergarten stuff in comparison to the effort here. Your monkey mind throws everything at you, and perhaps, for the first time, you come face to face with everything lurking in your subconscious.
Sitting still and quiet for extended periods of time, watching what surfaces, can be a journey. It can take quite a while to even grasp these simple instructions, let alone master the practice. It demands significant effort to learn but, from my experience, offers the most impactful change on deeply rooted habit patterns.
This style of meditation, epitomized by Vipassana meditation, has been the most worthwhile thing I’ve done in my life.
Now, the second part of the question poses a bit more of a challenge — what is the best meditation you can do? I’m aiming to keep this as objective as possible, hence, we won’t settle for saying, “Remember that the ‘best’ meditation is the one that resonates with you and supports your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.”
When folks hit the gym, they generally understand that (in most cases) the tougher the workout, the better the outcomes. I’ve found this to hold true in meditation as well — the practice that demands the most effort tends to be the most rewarding. NAVY SEAL training is crafted to create an elite force. Pressure molds diamonds. And so on.
By this logic, more fruitful outcomes will demand more exertion. And as someone who has experienced all three kinds of meditation,
I can confidently say the effort required for Vipassana is unparalleled (and so are the rewards).
Here’s a visual summary of this post:
Let me clarify once more: I’m a beginner myself. I haven’t devoured all the books on Zen or any other meditation practices. My knowledge springs from a handful of books and, most pivotally, from my personal experiences navigating through various meditative practices.
I’m not here to push or advertise the ‘do nothing’ approach, despite its profound impact on my life. I fully acknowledge it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
My core intention with this piece was to offer a semblance of clarity or a framework to help navigate through the myriad of meditations out there, especially for those who are stepping into or already exploring this vast, often perplexing world. May your journey through it bring the serenity and insight you seek.
You might also like: deveshuba.com/why-meditation-is-more-than-just-another-atomic-habit
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