My meditation teacher once said that there were probably as many meditation techniques out there as there are people in the world. How are you, therefore, supposed to know which meditation is right for you?
A recurring theme I’ve come across is the idea that you should stick to just one meditation and not mix different methods. I’d like to challenge that idea.
I’ve heard the following analogy a fair few times — more recently from S.N. Goenka when I went on a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation course.
A person shouldn’t jump from meditation technique to meditation technique because this can be compared to digging lots of shallow holes to find water, as opposed to digging just the one deep hole.
The problem with the above statement is that it’s just an opinion. I have a huge amount of respect for S.N. Goenka — he helped to bring Vipassana meditation into the mainstream and has educated so many people on the teachings of the Buddha.
However, you have to remember that he practised just one particular type of meditation, which was Vipassana, and that worked out really well for him. He can’t then make a bold statement that no one should mix techniques or experiment with a wide variety of meditations.
In my opinion, meditation is not a linear process. In the West, we approach many new things using a series of steps. It’s comforting to know that A leads to B and so on.
Meditation, however, doesn’t necessarily work in this way. You could practise the same technique every day for years and just not get what meditation is really about. You could also sit down for the first time and have an incredibly mind blowing experience. I know it doesn’t make logical sense, but I believe that there’s some truth in this.
I think that our beliefs — about anything — will manifest and shape our reality, so when you apply this to meditation — if you believe that practising multiple techniques is counterproductive, it will be. Don’t we all look for evidence or try to justify what we want to be true? In a way, that’s what I’m doing in this article.
Because I love being curious, and get naturally excited by trying new things, the thought that this could be damaging to my meditation practice, isn’t comforting.
It’s quite a horrible thought to think that you’ll go backwards or undo all the work you’ve already done, if you switch techniques. But, this thought process implies that none of the techniques are related or interconnected in anyway. It also reinforces the idea that the process of meditation is linear.
I can honestly say that I feel happy to have tried so many different meditation techniques. It’s the variety that has taught me so much more than I could have learnt from following just one path. I’ve found that when you mix different techniques, you realise how connected they all are. You’re not digging lots of isolated holes to get to a well — you’re digging one massive hole to get to a river or an ocean…or maybe a whole new world .. or maybe you’re not trying to get anywhere…you’re just happy playing and digging in the mud.
I know I’m not ‘right’ because that’s not really what it’s about. I’m just doing what everyone else does — and that’s justifying a situation that I want to be correct. It shouldn’t really be about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ though — it should be about options and trying super hard to get to a non dualistic attitude.
We have to remember that meditation techniques and different spiritual practises were created by humans. There can’t, therefore, be an objectively ‘right’ way to practise. It would also be impossible to test all the trillions of different meditations out there to discover what really was the best way to meditate. Also, it doesn’t take into account people’s intentions for meditating in the first place. Some people might just want to de-stress after work — what’s the harm in adopting the pic n mix approach?
There are so many well respected meditation techniques and paths that all say conflicting things. I’m actually a bit obsessed about reading spiritual books that all disagree. It’s comforting to know that there are so many paths out there that I think all lead to the same place.
In the spiritual practice of Advaita, for example, Ramana Maharshi argues that all that is needed when it comes to meditation is an enquiry into the question ‘Who am I?’ The curiosity and the drive to seek the answer is said to be more important than the meditation technique itself.
Surely this implies that according to Advaita, it’s acceptable to mix as many techniques as you like — providing that the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ remains central to your practice? I suppose when a concept is abstract, you can read into it what you like.
Vipassana claims to be the only pure Buddhist meditation and argues that one will go much deeper with this practice than practising mantra meditation. The thought process here is that Vipassana isn’t adding anything extra to the meditation — you’re dealing purely with your own mind and body.
With mantra meditation, you’re not really observing what’s naturally occurring — instead you’re adding a nice mantra to help still the mind. Again, there’s no objective truth in this.
I’m not going to list any more examples of people finding evidence for being right, but hopefully you get the idea.
I’ve come to the conclusion — at least for now — that mixing meditations is both right and wrong. It could make someone incredibly lost and confused and at the same time really help to progress someone else’s meditation practice.
With this in mind, however, there do seem to be some universal truths that connect all meditation practices, just like that there are some fundamental truths and similarities that connect all religions. Again, different schools of thought differ, but one day I’d like to think I could compile an objective list.
For now, I’ll stick with the following three things that I think are fundamental to a successful meditation practice. I’ve put in brackets where I first heard the idea expressed. I know that there’s a lot of overlapping. Pretty much all schools of thought, for example, say you should live a moral life.
- Living a moral life (Sivananda Yoga)
- Having a deep interest and curiosity in meditation whether that’s in the form of the ‘Who am I enquiry?’ or just a general curiosity to know more about what meditation can offer. (Advaita)
- Letting go of any preconceived ideas and starting each practice with a ‘beginner’s mindset (Zen Buddhism)
Finally, I will say that we all have different motivations for meditating. Some people just want to relax and relieve stress when they meditate, so going back to the ‘well’ analogy — if that’s correct, is there really any harm in digging lots of shallow holes? Not everyone wants to delve deep into the depths of their psyche to find the water.
If that person then wants to delve deeper at a later date, at least they have lots of different holes to choose from.
If the intention is to discover greater truths about the world we live in, then maybe digging that one deep hole is the best way. Then again, maybe it isn’t, but I think this is up to every individual meditator to figure out and judge for themselves.