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Friday, February 24, 2012

Overview of meditation

In India cave drawings of people in meditation postures were found.  Long before written records were kept and long before the advent of religions as we know them today, people meditated. 

There are many types of meditation that have been practiced over the years.  A very basic classification of meditation is into two types:  focused attention and open monitoring. 

Focused attention meditation or concentration meditation involves focusing on one object, such as the breath, a name of a sacred figure (e.g., Buddha, Christ), or a mantra.  Open monitoring meditation, sometimes called mindfulness or insight meditation, involves being open to whatever comes into awareness and monitoring it in a non-reactive way.  These forms of meditation have different purposes and different ends, but often they are combined.  In practices that emphasize open awareness, focused attention meditaiton is often used as preliminary to open monitoring.

In the way I teach meditation, focusing on the breath or the abdominal movement is used to build concentration, and there is a progression towards open meditation.  However, I ask beginners to try a “mind watch” exericse as a preliminary exercise.  This is a kind of open meditation, but the difference is that it is done prior to the development of concentration through focused attention, and is usually experienced as chaotic mind wandering.  Once beginners have become acquainted with this state, they are presumably motivated to work on concentration.  After a period of practice with focused attention, they are ready to develop a more inclusive form of awareness, and this is when I introduce open monitoring meditation in steps.

In future posts, I will describe the teaching sequence in greater detail. 

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