By J. Martin
Let’s talk meditation. Some folks are rocking some serious misconceptions about it.
There are many types and styles with endless variations in between whether you count breaths while passing beads through your fingers, imagine yourself in a serene place, or focus on each moment of experience to it’s very edges; just know there is no right or wrong, the goal is a healthy, introspective view. Rather than break down all the individual styles that there are in the world, which would most likely occupy the rest of this current lifetime, we will discuss the two main styles that are in use in Buddhism, Samadhi and Vippassana.
This is the stereotypical image of a bald man sitting cross-legged and possibly hovering with laser beams coming from his head (or something similar). Many think the Buddha himself “invented” this kind of meditation. While he did use it frequently, he by no means invented it. Samadhi (sitting quietly with bare awareness) has been practiced going as far back to the Indus River Valley people, well before the time of the Buddha. He did teach it, use it, master it, and advocate it’s usage. The practice of Samadhi is awesome in it’s deceptive simplicity, and it can be used secularly or theistically by those in really any religion or school.
Samadhi is conducted generally in a seated position; it can be in a straight back chair or on the floor, and the eyes can be closed or half opened. The goal here is not to just close your eyes and space out, quite the contrary in fact, we want to focus on the breath.
The breathing here is done through the nose, and the focus is on the physical sensation of the breath, either on the rise and fall of the chest, or on the feeling of the breath touching the upper lip just under the nose. Sounds simple enough if you haven’t attempted it. For those of you who have, you know it is quite the endeavor.
Now when the mind begins to wander (and it always does), we must bring our mind back to the object of meditation—in this case the breath. A really good analogy is that of striking a bell. We initially apply our mind to the object of meditation, like striking a bell, then we hang out there as long as possible, the reverberations of the bell. Our goal is to stay in the reverberations as long as possible, without of course, losing our jobs.
In the opposing corner wearing the dark brown robes…we have:
Vippassana meditation, sometimes known as Insight meditation, is a bit tougher for some. This involves conducting one’s normal activities while intensely focusing on the thoughts and sensations that arise along the way. Here we are fully engrossing ourselves in the present moment, how it feels, how it smells, tastes, etc. When thoughts arise we trace the line of thoughts this—one leading to that—which led to that and so on. None of the sensations or thoughts are to be clung to of course. Here we merely label them mentally and move on.
So if you have a paper to write, how does the pen feel in your hand? How does the paper smell? What does the environment sound like? Using all your senses experience all of the moment one moment at a time, and then let it go like a boss! This style of meditation has been credited as an invention of the Buddha’s and in some schools of thought is the only path leading to enlightenment.
I’m not sure I agree with that, but that’s a blog post for another day.
This is a rough guide and I may have outlined some things you already knew. It is just an overview to spark some interest. My goal here is to mostly whet your appetite for the meditative arts. Take this as a small starting point—study, but most importantly, practice. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
It’s your practice, so own it.
J. Martin is a a 32 year old father of three and has been married for 13 years. He was a mechanic for 15 years, then his true calling found him and he became a firefighter. He has been a practicing Buddhist for nine years, including two years of meditation class at the Theravada temple near his home. His teacher moved on and before he did he told him, “Remember, I don’t teach students, I teach teachers. So do something with what you’ve learned.” So J. went to do what he could to further the meditative arts.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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