Find a Meditation Practice that Works for You - dummies

Find a Meditation Practice that Works for You

By Stephan Bodian

In centuries past, ordinary folks didn’t have the opportunity to thumb through a copy of Meditation For Dummies, pick and choose their favorite meditation techniques, and then sample them like connoisseurs at a wine tasting. Instead, they considered themselves extremely fortunate if they happened upon a teacher willing to impart some secret method. Then they took that method home and practiced it single-mindedly for the rest of their lives.

But times have changed, and people now live in a veritable meditation superstore, with a different technique down every virtual aisle. So what’s a gal or guy to do with all the choices? Well, you need to know yourself, what you like or don’t like, and what you’re hoping to get out of your meditation.

Next, you need to take a sip here and there, trust your taste buds, and eventually settle on a particular approach. Then you can use this approach as the centerpiece around which you construct a regular practice — just as, say, a wonderful meal can be constructed around an especially fine wine. But so much for epicurean metaphors!

Here are the principal pieces of a complete meditation practice. As you can see, this list includes meditations themselves and related practices:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Mantra meditation
  • Body scan and relaxation
  • Walking meditation
  • Lovingkindness meditation
  • Compassion meditation
  • Working with your emotions and habitual patterns
  • Devotional meditation
  • Insight practices like self-inquiry
  • Healing meditation
  • Mindfulness in action
  • Using a meditation altar
  • Chanting and/or bowing
  • Dedicating your practice

How do you know which practices to include in your own custom-tailored routine? To begin with, you’re better off starting out simple: Choose one technique and stick with it for a few months or even years. Then, when you feel confident in your ability to concentrate reasonably well, you may want to consider how traditional meditators combine different practices.

In the Buddhist tradition, for example, people generally mix meditations designed to cultivate wisdom with those that have the power to elicit compassion or love. Then they season the basic ingredients as needed with others like self-inquiry or healing meditations. Next, they throw in some walking meditation. Finally, they frame the whole routine by first reminding themselves why they’re meditating and then, when they’re done, by dedicating the virtue or power of the meditation to the benefit of others.

Of course, this mixture of ingredients is no casual hodgepodge but has evolved over several thousand years.

Maybe you’re not as methodical as all that and would rather just use your intuition and do what feels right. If so, go for it! Ultimately, the process of choosing a set of meditation techniques may be as personal and mysterious as the process of choosing a mate.