Here are a few basic forms of meditation. All of them are reasonably universal and they are – in their essential form – found in several different traditions. As with any skill, it’s helpful to be guided by someone who are experienced, and our own skills and understanding will develop with experience.
Training a more stable attention. This is helpful for just about anything in life, whether it’s work, studying, hobbies, relationships, or any inner or spiritual practice. It helps us bring our attention to something in a more stable way and for as long as we wish. It makes our attention a more useful and pliable tool for us. As a bonus, a more stable attention tends to bring in a sense of well being and grounding.
The easiest way of training this is to bring attention to the sensations of the breath (chest, nose, tip of nose), notice when it goes to something else, and then gently bring it back to the sensations. We can also use other objects: sounds, imagined or visual imagery etc.
This practice also gives us some insights into how the mind works. We notice that attention tends to go somewhere else, almost always to thoughts that have a charge, and it seems to go there on its own. We can also notice which thoughts attention tends to go to, notice the charge and that there may be something unresolved around it, and then explore it through inquiry or a healing approach, perhaps allowing it to resolve and the charge goes out of it. In a small way, this may give a greater sense of well being, allow us to function better in life, and make it easier for attention to stably rest on whatever we intend.
Notice and allow. The basic form is to notice and allow. Notice what’s here in the sense fields (sight, sound, sensations, smell, taste, thoughts). Allow it to be as it is.
Again, this can give us some simple insights. We may notice that what’s here is already allowed – by life, mind, space – to be here as is, and that it’s more restful to notice this. As before, we may notice attention going to thoughts with a charge. We can also explore noticing the space it all happens within and as.
We may notice the effects of this noticing and allowing. We may notice that it creates a sense of space around whatever happens. Attention may not be immediately caught up and drawn into thoughts with a charge. And that this becomes easier and more of a habit the more we do it.
As with training a more stable attention, we may also find that this noticing and allowing helps us in everyday life and that it brings with it a sense of well-being and grounding. (When attention is less caught up in charged thoughts, there is often a sense of well being and grounding.)
Insights. Insights can come as a byproduct of any of these explorations. When we over time notice how we function, insights are almost inevitable. Insights can also come through inquiry, and especially through more structured forms of inquiry such as The Work, Living Inquiries, or just noticing what’s happening in the sense fields (including thoughts).
These structured forms of inquiry are like training wheels, and although we may never outgrow them (or wish to do so), becoming familiar with them tends to lead to more spontaneous helpful noticing and simple forms on inquiry in everyday situations.
The main insights we may get from these inquiries is how thoughts combine with sensations, so sensations lend a sense of solidity, reality, and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. This is how thoughts get a charge, and how beliefs, identifications, reactivity, compulsions, and more are created.
Heart-centered. Heart-centered practices help us change our relationship to ourselves, others, the world, life, situations, and parts of ourselves. They help us shift from seeing (some of) them as a problem, mistake, or something that needs to go away, to genuinely befriending them. As with the explorations above, this tends to bring in a greater sense of well-being, ease, and grounding. And as my old Zen teacher used to say, we tend to become less of a nuisance to others….!
Some of my favorites here are tonglen (from Tibetan Buddhism), ho’oponopono (Hawaii), and all-inclusive gratitude practices. (See other articles for more on these.)
Continuous prayer. I’ll add this since it’s found in many traditions and can be a powerful and transformative practice. Say a brief prayer along with the in- and out-breath and the heart beats. Do it as often as you remember, and set aside time to do this exclusively. Over time, this will become a continuous prayer. You will even have a sense of it happening while you sleep.
The Christian version is the Jesus prayer or heart prayer: Lord Jesus Christ (on in-breath), have mercy on me (on outbreath). And synchronize the words with the heart beat (for instance, one heart beat for the three first words, then another, then one on “have mercy”, another for “on”, and then one on “me”).
Body-centered. These are the familiar ones, including yoga, chi gong, tai chi, Breema, and many others. Ordinary forms of physical activity can also be included here, if we bring our noticing and allowing to the sensations and movements of the body.
I won’t say too much about these since they are reasonably well known in our society today. We bring our noticing to the sensations and movements of the body, and what’s described above under training attention and noticing applies here too. And these explorations too tend to bring in a deeper sense of well-being and grounding, and we may also experience ourselves – at a human level – more as a whole.
These are all practical approaches to exploring ourselves and our relationship with ourselves and the world. They tend to bring in a sense of well being, ease, and grounding, perhaps first as we engage in these and then more stably in our life in general. They tend to invite in healing and a noticing of what we really are.
An important aspect of any spiritual practice is what it may bring up in us that needs meeting, clarity, or healing.
At times, these practices may rub up against our beliefs, identifications, and habits. So we notice these, and can take them to inquiry, heart practices, or whatever healing work we are doing. This is an important aspect of any spiritual practice, at least if we wish to be thorough.
Healing work in general is an important complement to any of these practices. We will, inevitably, encounter parts of us that needs healing, so it’s helpful we are are familiar with effective forms of healing work, or can go to someone who are.
These practices may also bring up old wounds and trauma. Any good guide or coach will inform about this in advance, keep an eye on our practice to minimize the chances of it happening in a traumatic way, and offer guidance through it should it happen.
The last part is, unfortunately, often overlooked or not mentioned by people offering these practices to the public. I assume there will be a greater understanding of and transparency about it with time as it is an aspect of spiritual practice it’s important to be aware of.