Whenever I hear someone who say, "I meditate" I am filled with questions. As someone who has a regular meditation practice, I wonder if they do Buddhist meditation too. I think, if they do practice Buddhist meditation what tradition do they sit with? There are many different traditions within Buddhism like Zen, Theravada, or Tibetan. Finally, I wonder what different types of meditation they do.
However, when people are new to Buddhist meditation they often don't know about the different schools within Buddhism or the different types of meditation within the different schools. From chanting to counting the beads on a mala necklace, there are a ton of different ways to practice. As someone who practices Theravada Buddhist meditation these are the meditations I am most familiar with. Getting to know the different practices within this tradition can help us deepen our meditation.
1. Concentration Meditation
When many people think of meditation, they think of concentration meditation. Specifically, they think that meditation is sitting with your eyes closed and focusing on the breath. Of course, this is just one type of concentration meditation. When practicing concentration you often pick one thing to concentrate on and whenever the mind wanders you bring it back to the object of concentration.
In addition to the breath, there are many things you can concentrate on. You might try concentrating on the faint sound of the ringing in your ears or another constant noise. Additionally, you can try this meditation by placing a small tea candle about a foot in front of you. You spend the meditation with the eyes open just observing the tea candle. The important thing to remember with concentration meditation is that the mind will wander. Rather than trying to "not think" you can gently bring the mind the back to the object of concentration.
2. Open-Awareness Meditation
Open-awareness meditation is what it sounds like, meditating on whatever comes into your awareness. This is often done with the eyes closed and allowing yourself to become aware of your different senses. For example, you might start by noticing body sensations, then move on to pay attention to taste, smell, sound, sight, and the mind.
In this type of meditation you are not picking one thing to concentrate on. Rather, you are going wherever your attention is pulled and allowing yourself to notice what is happening there. If you are interested in trying an open-awareness practice you can try this one from Tara Brach.
Vedana is a word that is usually translated to mean feeling tone. With this type of meditation you want notice if you experience something as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. This meditation can be done in conjunction with open-awareness practice. When doing this you allow your awareness to go where it is pulled, you notice the thing, and then you label in your mind pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
Additionally, you can practice a body scan meditation and notice the feeling tone of the different places in the body. You might notice that your stomach is unpleasant and tight, while your hands feel warm and pleasant. You can simply scan the attention through the body noticing what is present and your reaction to those sensations.
4. Metta Meditation
The word metta is often translated to mean loving-kindness or unconditional friendliness. In this type of meditation you generally practice cultivating this quality with a number of different people. Generally, you start by bringing up good-will toward yourself, followed by a good friend, a neutral person, a difficult person, and all beings.
Usually you grow the feeling of metta by repeating a number of phrases to yourself and these other people. Some examples of such phrases are: may I be at ease, my I be safe, and may I be happy. If you are interested in learning more about metta practice you can check out Access to Insight.
When feelings of good-will, or metta, come into contact with suffering we call it compassion. Compassion is often talked about as our ability to be with pain. Rather than falling into usual patterns of avoiding what is painful, we try to hold it. As a meditation, this is usually done with a similar process as the metta description above. You practice offering phrases of compassion to yourself and others. These compassion phrases might include: may you be free from suffer or may you have compassion for you pain.
6. Appreciative Joy
Appreciative joy, or sympathetic joy, is a feeling of gratitude for happiness when it is present. When meditating we try to cultivate this quality by bringing up another person's joy. Then you might offer a phrase like, may your happiness continue. Often our natural response to someone's joy is envy. We might find ourselves feeling jealous when something great happens to a friend. In order to combat this reaction we practice bringing up a response of appreciation for their joy.
Equanimity meditation is a type of practice that we do in order to grow our ability to be balanced and stable. My favorite explanation of equanimity is the metaphor of a palm tree. A palm tree is able to withstand hurricane winds because it is able to sway a little bit and come back to center. Other trees that are too rigid are blown over by strong winds.
Meditations about equanimity help us to become more accepting of things as they are happening. For example, rather than fighting things that we see as distractions or unpleasant experiences we might try to respond to them with gentle acceptance. One phrase we might use is right now, it's like this.
Additionally, we might practice equanimity with other people. We might find ourselves falling into codependency in our lives. When this happens, we rest our feelings on another person's emotions. The other way we notice codependency is in our urge to "fix" other people. In order to find equanimity with others we might use the phrase: your happiness depends on your actions, not on my wishes for you.