Meditation and Mindfulness
There are roughly two kinds of meditation: concentration meditation and analytical meditation. In their most extreme forms they are very different, but many practices are a mixture of both.
In concentration meditation one focusses on one object. This can be the breath, a visualized Buddha or any other internal or external object.
In analytical meditation you simply ponder a topic and how it applies to your life. Being aware of your body changing from moment to moment also has a clear analytical component. You're observing as well as analysing the changes. The aim of analytical meditation is integrating that topic into your life: emotionally as well as physically.
Whatever kind of meditation you practice, you will always have to deal with both distraction and dullness. Any kind of meditation is likely to increase both concentration and productivity.
This is slow work; it cannot be hurried. This is urgent work; it cannot be procrastinated.
Eugene Peterson (Christian Contemplation)
Mindfulness meditation - living in awareness
The main aim of mindfulness is becoming more aware: what is going on with my body, my emotions, my thoughts? It helps by training the mind to find peace or concentration even in stressful times. Another way it helps in dealing with stress is that you will learn when you're outpacing yourself and need to slow down.
The advantage of the Western MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) program is that it is structured like a course: there is a stable group, a clear start and finish, explanation, homework, sharing experiences and of course meditation. It's a balanced program with attention for body, emotions and mind.
One of the pitfalls of meditation is a tendency to keep going round in our thoughts. And then back to the breath (for instance). That's a very good way to train concentration, but not much else will happen.
If you want to go a bit deeper, you need to go 'below the neck' - to face emotions (embedded in the body). There is a saying that meditation is going from head to heart. The eight-week MBSR training course includes specific techniques to encourage that.
- Mindfulness meditation books
- Allowing yourself to just be with yourself – Jon Kabat-Zinn Quote
- Meditation and self-knowledge, Katinka Hesselink
- How to bring more awareness in your daily life, Katinka Hesselink
- Academic learning vs Emotional learning, Katinka Hesselink
- Is there something wrong with boredom, during meditation? Katinka Hesselink
- 10 simple mindfulness exercises, Katinka Hesselink
- 3 simple meditation exercises, Giten, Swamy Dhyan
Loving Kindness, Self Compassion - Metta meditation
A relatively new development in the field of Mindfulness is that (self-) compassion training is offered as a subsequent course to the eight week MBSR.
Modern psychology has found out that 'self-talk' is essential - and they're not concerned with the precise words we use to talk to ourselves, but with the tone. Are you aggressive or kind to yourself? Can you motivate yourself without bringing yourself down?
It's a major discovery that precisely the people who have it hardest in life, are also often the people who are least kind to themselves. They have never learned to take care of themselves. People with trauma in their system have learned to survive by pushing through and suppressing emotions. That works fine in a crisis, but if you're tense throughout your whole life, that will cause physical problems in the long run.
'Ordinary' people too often have a tendency to be overly strict to themselves, especially in protestant Christian (or formerly protestant) communities.
Meditating on loving kindness and compassion - for yourself and others - can help us enjoy our own company. It is a training that helps us take care of ourselves, comfort ourselves.
I find that this helps me a lot.
The Compassion Training by Kristin Neff, which I do the meditations of regularly, is based on Buddhist Metta meditation, but adapted to our modern context, challenges and limitations.
- Why self-compassion isn't selfish, Katinka Hesselink
- H.H. the Dalai Lama on the use of meditating on compassion
- Asanga's Teaching of Great Compassion, a meditation and visualization exercise.
- Buddhist meditation
- Mindfulness in a Buddhist context
- Breathing meditation - Anapanasati Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 118)
- The Nature of Buddhist Meditation, Lama Doboom Tulku
- Why Buddhist Meditation doesn't always work
- Thich Nhat Hanh on the Benefits of Silence
Mahayana Boeddhisme (Zen en Vajrayana)
In Mahayana Buddhism the central motivation is to become a Buddha for the wellfare of all sentient beings.
In Vajrayana (Tibetaans Buddhism) visualisations and analytical meditations are usually the main focus, while in Zen it is just about sitting on your cushion. In the latter case you will often not get all that much instruction.
However, in both cases there is a lot of variety within the tradition as well. Dzog Chen for instance (Tibetan) is a lot like Zen and in the Koan tradition (Zen) there is room for analytical meditation. In both traditions there is also room for the basic Buddhist meditations on what the self is and how things exist. This brings us to philosophical themes like emptiness, impermanence and the false dichotomy between observer and observed.
Yoga and Hinduism
There is a long tradition of meditation in India. Buddhist meditation is only one strand of it - a relatively regulated tradition within the wider Hindu tradition. The basic text within the Indian meditation tradition is the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. Every spiritual teacher from India of any note has written a commentary on it. Here are my reviews of two commentaries by people within the Theosophical Movement.
- The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: A New Translation and Guide by Ravi Ravindra
- Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, Science of Yoga, by I.K. Taimni
- God and milk story - from the Hindu - Advaita Vedanta tradition
There is not much of a meditation tradition within the theosophical movement. It is possible Radha Burnier wanted to start one, but her teaching-style was a bit too loose for me: she just sat down in full lotus posture and we were expected to follow suit. That was it - we sat there for an hour or so. That fits her teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti, who was averse to any kind of authority, but most people need more guidance than that. I certainly did (KH).
Blavatsky too tried teaching meditation at the end of her life. She did this through her Meditation Diagram. If you look at it without theosophical glasses on, it looks like a pretty typical Buddhist analytical meditation.
- Quotes on memory, thought and meditation
- There are three monks, who had been sitting in deep meditation (joke)
- The Mind that has put its house in order....
- Problems of Mind and Heart
- Silence and Sound
- Some Thoughts on Meditation
- The Unreality of Ideas
- The Yoga of the Future
- Time and the Troubled Mind