What is Meditation? What are Some Kinds of Meditation?
Oddly enough, meditation is our natural state of being. Well sure, not anymore. But it’s how humans lived for most of human history before all of the attention thieves sprang up.
Like every other animal on earth, and even how baby humans are today, our entire species was once majestic and perfect beings. It was completely one with nature, fully present and fully alert, very conscientious, and aware. (You’ll never see a horse that’s way too in his or her own head, only humans do that!).
This mental state of being fully present and alert is the state of mind that meditation can put us in. It can also help us stay in it after we’re done meditating.
Before the agricultural revolution when humans first learned to farm, we were foragers, like every other primate on earth. Once we learned to farm, we settled down, built up large cities and states, labored long hours in the fields, meticulously planned the crop cycles, built up larger city infrastructure, formed armies to protect them, and over time they developed into civilizations we have today.
Our Attention is Being Stolen
Over time, trillion-dollar attention-stealing industries started to crop up. To name just a few, there was the film and television industry, radio, newspapers, magazines, podcasts, social media, video games, drugs and alcohol, gambling, sports, and jobs. Our days spent looking for food, repairing the hut, and being with our family are long gone, and so too is our ability to be fully present and alert.
By learning to meditate, we learn to get back to that natural state of being. We shut out all the distractions and excitement of modern life, and for a short period of time we practice just being.
We still our body, we still and quiet our mind, and we tap into our innate love, peace, and presence that we share with the whole of nature.
Meditation is More Than Just Sitting Still
Meditation is a lot more than just sitting down with your eyes closed. In fact, meditation can be done walking, eating, and even sleeping. When we meditate, we bring our awareness into the present moment. We notice our mind’s tendency to think about the past or worry about the future. However, we actively bring our attention back to the present moment.
Some people do this by focusing on their breath, on a mantra, on their body, on the activity they’re doing in that moment, on a candle, a crystal, a statue of a God or Buddha, an image in their mind, or on the voice or sounds they’re hearing.
When done correctly, meditation is the training of the mind to focus on the present moment and become more aware of subtleties. By doing so, we can raise our level of awareness and consciousness, and increase our ability to focus and concentrate.
What Happens With Awareness?
When we are more aware when we can concentrate better when we allow time for our minds to process information when we are able to clear our heads of any distraction, when we are able to understand the nature of our own mind when we can see and understand the impermanent nature of reality, and when we regularly practice seeing how all things are connected; we become wiser, more thoughtful, more loving, more compassionate, more joyous, more grateful and more peaceful.
There are many different kinds of meditation and I will now go through the three main types and weigh the pros and cons of each.
What are the Different Types of Meditation?
Guided meditation is when you close your eyes and someone else speaks to you. They may guide you to imagine you’re in some relaxing setting like a beach.
They may speak to you about gratitude or healing or love or peace or good habits. Moreover, they may also speak about lowering anxiety, temper, stress, fear, or even procrastination. The variety is endless, but what they all have in common is a person speaks for much if not all of it while the meditator sits with eyes closed in a relaxed state.
Guided meditation, much like hypnosis, involves positive suggestions or affirmations while in a suggestible state of mind. This type of meditation is very easy to do and is very enjoyable for many people as compared to other meditations they might find more difficult or “boring.”
There is certainly a benefit to relaxing and listening to reaffirming positive messages, whether it’s called hypnosis or guided meditation. It can help with alleviating certain bad habits and create new and better habits.
What guided meditation does not do is increase our focus, raise our awareness, make us wiser or more mindful. Some people feel it really shouldn’t be called meditation at all and that it should really just be called listening to a lecture with your eyes closed. Whatever you call it though, there are undoubtedly benefits to visualizing or listening to positive messages in a relaxed state.
Mantra meditation, which could also be called object meditation, is the act of focusing intently on one object, word, sound, or sentence in one’s head. Repeating “Om” over and over in your mind for a certain period of time is a very common type of mantra meditation.
Other types of mantra meditation could be visualizing a God, guru, or the Buddha in your mind. The mantras could be in English or some other language, you may know what it means or it may be meaningless to you, they may not even be actual words at all but just sounds.
How Can Mantra Meditation Help?
Mantra meditation is a great starting point for learning meditation. It’s not as easy as guided but it isn’t as hard as mindfulness. It’s just right for any beginner to start their daily practice of meditation. For many people, starting straight away with mindfulness meditation is too difficult since most of us live with wild minds jumping from thought to thought, and so before they’re able to clear the mind of all thoughts, just focusing on one thought such as a mantra is much easier at first.
Because mantra meditation involves the intent focus on an artificial sensory perception like a word or object, it does not raise our level of awareness or understanding of reality nor the mind. It is great for concentration and focus, patience, and peace, which in itself can decrease stress and increase our joy and contentment in life. At times, mantra repetition with the intense and prolonged focus can even lead to trance-like states, which is why it’s also been called transcendental.
Repeating a mantra has been found to reduce stress and depression, and improve our mental and physical health.
Mindfulness meditation is also referred to as awareness meditation. This is the act of observing some natural phenomena in the present moment with great concentration.
To observe the present moment, the mindfulness meditator’s main aim is to focus. They may focus on their breath, their body, their surroundings, or whatever they’re doing in the present moment, such as eating or walking, with great focus and concentration.
This heightened, extended focus on the minutiae of our thoughts and senses leads to an awareness of ever-greater levels of subtlety and details into the nature of our perceptions and the nature of our reality.
The more we look at anything, the more we notice. The more we notice, the more we understand. For this reason, mindfulness meditation not only increases our focus and concentration but also our awareness and our wisdom. We see things more clearly, we notice and understand reality better by seeing through the fog of thoughts and judgments.
What Happens When We Start Training Ourselves To Be Mindful?
As we train our minds to observe without judgment, as we stop living constantly in the past or the future. We experience life more fully and vividly.
Moreover, we stop living in the dream of thought and start living in the present moment. We see reality for what it really is, not as our opinions or preconceived misconceptions put on top of it. This is why “Buddha” simply means the awakened one.
Many scientific studies have been done on the brains of long-time meditators and the findings have been remarkable. When a Buddhist monk has his brain hooked up to electrodes, we find that his brain is visibly different than people who do not meditate.
Their fear centers of the brain are smaller, their empathy regions are larger, and they have more grey matter in general. Mental illness is rare to non-existent, much greater happiness and peace exist, and even physical ailments are much rarer.
Without getting too much into it because it’s something quite different altogether, there is one more type of activity that some people call meditation. This is dynamic meditation and involves movement of some kind.
This is most commonly done through singing or dancing. Both of these have wonderful benefits of boosting certain happiness chemicals in the brain. It also aids in the active movement of the body which is very healthy.
However, while singing and dancing are very meditative practices, I put them in a separate category. This is because because they do not transform the way we experience the world outside of meditation.
Meditation is about training the mind. After the meditation is over, we see things more clearly. We are able to focus better, we’re more aware, and are wiser about the world around us.
How Can You Venture Into Dynamic Meditation?
There are a great many activities that I call meditative. This includes swimming, cycling, acting, doing yoga, and so on. Why are they meditative? Because they force us to be present and clear our heads.
We say going for a walk is a great way to meditate. However, are we actually walking? In reality, we’re constantly making sure we don’t fall over, bump into someone, or walk into traffic.
This is why when we do actual walking mindfulness meditation, we do it very slowly in a large empty area. This way, you can focus on each step rather than on making sure you don’t bump into something.
While it’s very fun and fun is important, once the Dynamic Meditation is over, we may feel a rush of adrenaline or dopamine. However, we have not fundamentally changed how we see and take part in this world. We have not trained our minds to be more present, to focus better, to understand more clearly, or to think differently after it’s over.
Which Meditation is Right for You?
Whichever type of meditation you can do on a daily basis, that is the best meditation for you. Whenever you can fit it in regularly, those are the best times of the day for you. Think of it like exercise: a lot is good, but a little is better than none.