In my local new age magazine, there are at least 20 different meditation courses. Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Kabbalistic, Sufi. Then there are the meditation classes emphasizing stress-reduction, weight-loss and pain-control.
Among the different meditation lineages, each has its own answer for what is the best practice (needless to say, theirs is the best). The Zen lineage split down the middle, as much due to philosophical differences as differences in opinions about which form of meditation practice was best.
Tibetans have 4 main schools, each with a set of practices that, you guessed it, are the best, according to them. Within each school, it's common for teachers who sat at the feet of the same master to have different ways of teaching how to meditate. I've even seen meditation teachers arguing about whether you should sit with your left hand cradling your right hand, or the other way around. And I've heard even more heated arguments about whether you should meditate with your eyes open or closed.
Way back when, a book was published call “Living Buddhist Masters.” Each of the dozen or so teachers featured in the book had a completely different opinion on which way you should walk down the spiritual path... and, as always, each thought that their way was running, and the others were crawling with a limp (I'm joking, of course, but only a bit).
It's said that the Buddha taught 84,000 different techniques, one for each of his 84,000 students. Each of the thousands of Hindu Gods has their own practice.
What’s a dedicated seeker to do?
Let’s go back to Buddha for a second and what was, we're told, his last teaching. The Buddha advised not to take anything in the scriptures or anything offered by a teacher on faith, but instead to put the teachings to the test and "be a light unto yourself." Developing trust in yourself is an ongoing part of the answer to "what's the best meditation technique?"
So, while it would be great to be able to say, "This particular technique, where you balance on one toe while reading the Mesopotamian phonebook backwards while simultaneously calculating your 2009 estimated tax payments (after assuming you win the Scratch-4 Lottery) and cultivating a feeling of compassion for everyone who missed a game-winning putt during a round of miniature golf, is THE fastest and most reliable way to get the benefits of meditation," it's just not going to happen.
Finding the best way to meditate has to start with you.
In the same way that Tiger Woods will never play football in the Super Bowl, and Michael Phelps won't solve some mystery in theoretical mathematics, each of us has natural predilections and tendencies. If we cater to what we're naturally good at, we stand a better chance than if we fight with our essential nature.
Here are a few light-hearted but serious questions that might help you find the best meditation for you:
* Are you very aware of sensations in your body, or is your body just that thing that moves your head from place to place?
* Is your body more often in motion, or more likely to grow moss?
* Do you often get absorbed in one thing at a time, or is your attention more likely to move from -- Hey look at that shiny thing!
* Are you a practical, nuts and bolts person, or do your friends buy you weighted boots to keep your feet on the ground?
There are no right or wrong answers to those questions. But there are different meditation techniques that could fit you, depending on which answers you give.
For example, if you're attentive to body sensations and are using in motion, then you might do best with a moving meditation, like Zen Archery, or forms of Hatha Yoga that emphasize meditative awareness.
If you get absorbed in things and are not nuts-and-bolts-y, you may like the practices in Bhakti Yoga, like japa, where you can get lost singing songs to the Divine.
If you're someone with an analytical bent, some of the contemplative practices from the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism might work for you.
I'm not saying that the suggestions above are 100% accurate and, clearly, we could explore this version of meditation matchmaking for quite a while. For now, I just want to point out that there are options and recommend you find one that fits you.
I teach a course called Instant Advanced Meditation (the I AM Course) which includes 10 different techniques. Some are body-based, some start with the mind. Some can easily be done during your daily life, while others get you so deep into your experience that you can't help but sit motionless. One of the students (I call them "I AM Explorers") called me one day and said, "I just realized something that you've been saying for years, but it just hit me. The point of having 10 practices is to find the few that you really like, and just do them! It's not about struggling with something difficult!"
I agreed, and then he added, "Once I realized that, I just focused on the practice called RePairing the Universe, because that's my favorite... and then I remembered that when I first learned that one a couple years ago, I didn't like it at all!"
We both laughed, and then discussed how, over time and with experience, we change. What may be the perfect meditation practice today may not be right for you next month, or next year... or tomorrow!
The opportunity, therefore, is to take the Buddha seriously. Be a light unto yourself. Trust yourself.
Some teachers will say, "If you merely walk around digging shallow holes in the ground, you'll never get deep enough to find water." Sure, that may be true when it comes to wells, but that doesn't mean it's true when it comes to meditation.
Maybe you need to dig enough holes until you find one that really compels you to dig deeper, because you really like that hole. Or maybe if you dig enough shallow holes, the entire foundation of the ground itself will collapse into a sinkhole deeper than any well you might have dug.
Other teachers say that a meditation technique is like a river; to get wet you have put your whole body in it. Okay, but the benefits you find from meditation shouldn't be some imagined goal in the future. If you're not getting reliable and consistent benefits, if meditating isn't enjoyable for its own sake, you might want to dip your toe in another part of the river.
Pick a technique that seems to fit with who you are. Give it a whirl. If it just doesn't feel right, maybe it's not the right one for you. Oh sure you might be able to push through the difficulty and maybe find something nice on the other side. Or, you might try something else and find that it fits better and leapfrog over that obstacle.
Most importantly, life is short. There's no need to have the search for the best way to find peace create more stress.
Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."
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