It can be overwhelming to a newcomer to the practice of meditation to make sense of all the different methods and practices out there. There seem to be so many different kinds of meditation, many of which with funny names added to them like “vipassana” or “chakra”, that it can be hard to know where to start.
In reality though, meditation can be grouped into three broad categories, which can help make sense of all the different options out there; it is these three options that I hope to explore in this post. Firstly though, for the sake of this discussion let’s define meditation as “the process of focusing intently on something”.
That’s it. It’s that simple.
You could be thinking about a math problem and we could effectively define you as “meditating on the problem”.
It’s important to realize though, that meditation is not the same as zoning out. If you are focusing intently on your seventh vine compilation, you brain is pretty much shut off completely and has probably turned to a fine jello-y paste.
To be in a state of meditation, you need to be aware of what you are focusing on.
It is this deliberateness that makes all the difference. Imagine the difference between someone who lives a deliberate life and one who gets swept away in the waves of circumstance; to a large degree, this difference can be traced back to the degree of intentionality that a person applies to their day-to-day life, and the place this all stems from is the mind.
What makes meditation “Jewish”?
The meditative state is simply a certain mindset, or to use a Hebrew term it is a “vessel”- a container within which you can put whatever content you want. Another way to look at it is that meditation is a process and it is your choice as to what kind of content you want to put into it.
Think of the mind as a CD player – meditation is the act of turning it on, and what you meditate on is essentially what CD you want to listen to.
You can now understand how it is easy to make a meditation “Jewish” or Buddhist” or a “chakra meditation”. By focusing on a Jewish idea, you are practicing Jewish meditation. If you focus on your chakra’s (energy zones in your body), you are doing a chakra meditation.
I have found it helpful to group the types of meditation it is possible to do into three broad categories. Internal focused, externally focused, and unfocused. Here’s a brief explanation:
1. Internal Focus
These types of meditations focus on something that is happening inside of you, usually in the form of your breath, your heartbeat, or a contemplating a specific thought or idea. This type of meditation is great for strengthening your relationship with your body, and for internalizing new thought patterns and positive mindsets.
We live in such a hectic, fast paced world, that it is easy to ignore the cues and messages our body is telling us “Slow down!” “Pay more attention to your health!” Our body is an essential part of our being, but often our mind get so caught up in the day to day tumult that it does not give the body the proper attention. Meditation on your breath restores calm to your day and strengthens this mind/body connection.
Similarly, when we learn new ideas, we often don’t give them the proper attention or focus. We let empowering, life changing ideas zip past us with little more than a glance.
If you really want to create change in your life, a very helpful skill is the ability to fully internalize a concept. This way your subconscious mind- which is actually what influences most of your decision making – can become part of the new mental paradigm you are creating within your consciousness help you translate it into reality.
2. External Focus
This type of meditation involves you focusing your attention on something outside of yourself, like a candle, a sunset, or another human being. This type of meditation is good for connecting to the broader world, to the amazing people, places and things that surround you.
Again, by default our lifestyle leaves us with very little mental room for appreciating anything; which is why deliberately making a time for this is so important. Focusing your attention on appreciating the good that others have done for you is a proven method for becoming a happier person; focusing your attention on the awe inspiring grandeur and intricacy of nature is a great way to connect with the creator of the universe, a method which was practiced centuries ago by Jewish sages.
It is important to note that Jewish tradition teaches us that the creator is not just “outside” of ourselves, in “heaven”. As human beings created in the “image of God” we each contain a divine spark that we can actually discover by turning our attention inward, which we would then technically categorize as an internally focused meditation. Ultimately, Judaism teaches that there are multiple ways to connect with God; for some, an awe-inspiring nature scene is the most effective way to do so.
3. Unfocused Meditation
This category involves focusing your attention on a broad category, and then observing the details as they arise. For example, to focus your attention on your thoughts and allow them to freely emerge and then dissipate is a form of unfocused meditation.
This method provides a framework, but then has you “free-associate” from one point to the next without getting fixated on any one idea. Another example of this might be focusing on your emotions: inevitably, you will find that your emotions shift and evolve as you focus on them, which results in you focusing on your emotions as a whole but not on any one specific feeling.
This approach is probably most beneficial for developing your self-awareness – it can be an entertaining and enlightening experience to watch what types of random thoughts and impulses your mind comes up with. This can only happen because you are giving your mind and emotions the “space” to freely express themselves.
Finally, this method is often recommended to people who are new to meditation, since it is very simple to do and requires less discipline than sustaining your focus on one concrete idea – something that is more common in the first two categories we discussed.
What do you say? Do you agree with this division? Are there specific types of meditation that you practice most often? Let me know in the comments below.
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