My meditation teacher once said that there were probably as many meditation techniques out there as there are people in the world.
A recurring theme I’ve come across is the idea that you should stick to just one meditation and not mix different methods. However, I’d like to reflect on that idea — partly because I am someone who has tried multiple methods. Is there really any harm in the pick ‘n’ mix approach to meditation?
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.
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. But what about people who have spontaneous or unexpected spiritual experiences after possibly no or very little meditation?
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 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 figuring out what’s best for you.
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 mantra to help still the mind.
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 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.