There are many techniques for meditation. Categories include chanting/mantras/vocal toning, awareness (of body sensations, thoughts or emotions, surroundings), contemplation, devotion, and focused concentration. Meditation can be practiced in static (sitting, standing, lying-down) positions or while moving. Prayer is or can be meditation, depending on how it is done – with the oft-noted distinction that prayer is talking to the divine (whatever your finite concept of the infinite may be), while meditation is being perfectly still and, with your entire being, listening to the divine. The best meditation technique is the one that works for you.
But how do you know what works, if your only comparison is your own experience? In any endeavor, you must know where you are going in order to get there in the most efficient manner possible. I traveled a bit of a meandering path when I started meditating many years ago, traveling to seminars to learn methods. After all, these people had written books, gained a large following, and made a lot of money teaching meditation – they had to have the right stuff, no? (This was before the internet. You kids don’t know how easy you have it now.) 🙂
When I met my teacher, Dr. Yang, in 1993, I shared some of the “Daoist” techniques I was following at the time. Without criticizing, he said one thing that immediately changed my practice – and my life:
All meditation is the same, in that the technique gradually quiets your mind, guiding you to focus on one thing. Then, you let go of that one thing and sit in quiescense.
So simple (but not easy). Whatever technique you use, you need to understand that it is a tool only – a tool to calm your daily “monkey mind” and begin to approach quiescence. The Eastern lesson of the teacher pointing to the moon, but the student only looking at the finger, well describes the common error of mistaking the meditation technique for the goal of quiescense.
Different traditions have different words for quiescence, but they all mean the same. In taiji tradition it is called “wuji.” Indeed, sitting meditation in China is called “practice of wuji.” I’ll write more about that, and provide a first simple meditation using the philosophical concepts of wuji and taiji, in a later post.
The progression from technique to quiescence is a continuum. Gradually you enter deeper into quiescence, and gradually you let go of the tool to allow you to enter deeper yet. And deeper. Awareness is the key. Awareness of your thoughts and emotions, so that you can return to the tool when the mind wanders, and then return again to quiescence. And go deeper. Decrease, and decrease again. Everyone is different, and I do not believe it useful to try to draw a hard line anywhere on the continuum in an attempt to define “levels” of meditation achievement. But there are a couple measures to judge your progression. First, quiescence is being. If you are doing something, you are practicing technique (at best) and are not in quiescence. Second, as you progress you will feel increasing peace, joy, calmness, tranquility, energy/vitality, and awareness.
Not long ago I enjoyed an impromptu lesson from an Indian lady in New York who offered to share her meditation. I accepted, happy for any opportunity to meditate. She went through a very traditional Indian chakra meditation, gradually proceeding through all seven. Each chakra had a function, color, shape, design, etc., but I did not come close to remembering them. After the seventh chakra she ended the meditation by saying:
When the mind is perfectly still, all of the chakra’s are working.
Ah, the goal of the technique – to enter quiescence. 🙂
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