3 Forms of Meditation: Concentrative, Open Awareness, and Mindfulness
The Lens of Meditation
The idea of meditation is large—huge. So broad in scope, it's akin to using the word "flower" to encompass every breed of blossom in the world.
There are just so many types of meditation, so many ways of practicing this mind-training, soul-enlivening technique. The attempt of even a brief exploration of each would be paralyzingly difficult.
Instead, let's begin with an overview of the most fundamental of meditation techniques. Don't worry—we'll eventually work our way through each in greater depth.
In essence, there are three main types of meditative practice:
- Open awareness
Let's try applying the metaphor of a camera lens so that we can more readily explore these ideas.
1. Concentrative Meditation (Macro Lens)
Concentrative meditation is our macro lens of consciousness.
In this type of mediation, the practitioner is asked to place his or her attention on an object; a single subject of focus. Traditionally this has been a sound or mantra, the breath, or a physical object, such as a candle. This meditation is very deliberate. All extraneous thought and emotion is filtered away. The concentration is entirely fixed on the object of focus.
This type of meditation helps form mental acuity, focus, and application. It aids in overcoming distraction and builds patience.
Examples of formal types of concentrative meditation are the Maharishi's transcendental meditation, originating in India in the 1950s, and the Buddhist samadhi meditation.
2. Open-Awareness Meditation (Wide Angle Lens)
Open-awareness is our wide angle, panoramic lens of consciousness.
This type of meditation can also be called "open monitoring" or "non-directive" meditation. Here, the practitioner is encouraged to observe and be present. It is a resting in awareness itself without boundary or guidance.
Open-awareness meditation is often associated with the metaphor of the mind being an open sky. The practitioner is to observe the clouds (thoughts) that pass along their field of awareness. Another popular exercise is that of observing a flowing river and noticing what drifts past, carried by the currents of awareness.
Examples of formal types of open-awareness meditation are the Zen zazen and shikantaza meditations, as well as the Buddhist vipassana meditations.
3. Mindfulness Meditation (Standard Lens)
If concentrative meditation is our macro lens and open-awareness is our wide angle lens, mindfulness meditation would most certainly be our standard lens. Mindfulness is the happy medium between concentrative and open-awareness meditations. It is the balanced merging of the two.
With mindfulness, we employ techniques from both concentrative and open-awareness meditations. We choose an object of focus, perhaps the breath, and focus on this object with the same non-judgment and acceptance of open-awareness meditation. We focus but remain aware: aware of sensory input and perception, as well as emotion and thought. Without being carried away by our thoughts or lost in the stories of our sensations and emotions, we can remain attentive to our object of focus and accepting of our entire experience.
For a more in-depth look at what mindfulness meditation is and how to practice it, please read my article on mindfulness.
Which Form of Meditation Will You Explore?
All three of these forms of meditation are different. They place their attention on specified areas of focus and accordingly, yield different results.
No one form is better than any other; they are simply different. A well-rounded regular meditation practice may incorporate all three of these meditative styles into their practice. Each is fascinating to explore and expand upon, and one should certainly give each a try in order to discover which is preferable for the practitioner.
Meditation is a huge area of study. Even just scratching its surface is a daunting task! But with the fields of psychology and neuroscience continuing to uncover benefits to these ancient practices, it's clear that it's a subject with pursuing.
Good luck and happy meditating!
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Bodhipaksa. Open mind: focused mind. http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/open-mind-focused-mind
Kornfield, Jack. A Mind Like Sky: Wise Attention Open Awareness. http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1594
Levey, Joe, Levey Michelle. The Five Types of Meditation Techniques. http://www.self-guided.com/types-of-meditation.html