Meditation: Weapon of Choice

All meditation styles are not equal

This post was inspired by reading an entry by oldmansmix.

In what feels like another life, I wrote a paper related to meditation. I wasn't using blogs or youtube as sources but lots of professional, peer-reviewed and published research papers and I was being judged on it. I also interviewed some mediators and had practised for years myself.

I learned that researchers tend to group types of meditation together. An example would be a body scan and a breathing meditation. These could both be considered to be largely the same thing; using a part of the body as an object to practise sustained attention. The object could also be external, such as watching a candle flame.

What's useful about the categories in research is that they can help you find new styles by preventing you trying something "new" that isn't really that different from what you were already doing.

The latest paper I read looked at had three categories:

(a) present-moment attention and interoception, (b) socio-emotional processes such as compassion and loving kindness and (c) meta-cognitive processes and perspective-taking on self and others.

Another paper divided meditations into either one category of focussed attention or another of diffuse attention. Another cerebral category involves noticing thought activity without being drawn into it. This is sometimes described as letting thoughts pass by like clouds.

My own experience has taught me that all of these involve reshaping your awareness or attention. Like panel-beating your mind, only it's more like a gentle but routine massage.

If you have one tendency then a contrasting meditation could help. For example, if you tend to get fixated on certain thoughts, then meditation that is a practice in diffuse awareness might help. It could help further to prepare the foundation by challenging any individual beliefs or identifying habits of thinking that you fall prey to.

If you're on the right track, you should notice benefits within three weeks at most (again, according to research I've read). And the minimum duration I've seen researched was about 13 minutes - so you can get benefits from even that (although personally, the depth of 30 minute+ sittings are what leave an enduring positive impression).

When I'm relatively active, fit and healthy I can commit to that and it settles my mind immensely. It's mostly enjoyable but not always. My memory and mood improve a lot. I don't pursue a relentlessly challenging style that does not yield improvements.

The key element is sustained attention - unwavering to whatever degree you can accomplish by challenging yourself only a little. Since attention (or option ally emotions like compassion) are the "muscles" you are exercising, the type is up to you. Some do walking meditations where as much as possible they are fully aware of each movement of body as they walk. This would need to be done slowly at first for the untrained mind.

I'm going to spare myself finding these sources for this post. This isn't complete or fully representative anyway but rather intended to help the reader find a meditation that "fits" and which they can look forward to because of the benefits and more importantly, the process.