The Five Types of
Meditation Techniques

There are thousands of meditation techniques from many different traditions, but all could be classified as belonging to either one or a combination of five types:

  1. Concentration Meditation
  2. Mindfulness Meditation
  3. Reflective Meditation
  4. Creative Meditation
  5. Heart-Centered Meditation

A person well versed in inner science traditions has access to a veritable apothecary of meditative antidotes to disturbing mind states, as well as to potent methods for enhancing and developing wholesome and helpful states of mind. Mastering our mind in these ways, we will inevitably develop mastery over our physical and verbal expressions and our relationship with the world.

Type 1 -- Concentration Meditation Techniques

Concentration meditation techniques are the foundation for all other kinds of meditation. Through the power of concentration we build our capacity to overcome distraction and to sustain mental focus. The power of a scattered mind is very limited. But like a stream of water that can be channeled to make it more forceful and produce hydroelectric power, we can make the mind a more powerful instrument by developing a small seed of one-pointed mindfulness into "concentration power."

In classical meditation texts, this one-pointedness of mind developed through the energy of concentration is called samadhi, which literally means "to establish, to make firm."

The power of a concentrated mind can be focused effectively to enhance and deepen insight into other meditative themes or goals. To understand how this works, compare the illuminating capacity of the diffuse and scattered beam of a ten-watt incandescent lightbulb to the penetrating, diamond-like precision of a ten-watt laser beam. Such is the difference in illuminating power of the concentrated mind to the ordinary, scattered, and fragmentary flow of attention that most of us bring to everyday living.

By learning how to bring the stream of our attention into a laser-like beam of one-pointed concentration, we can train the mind to become a highly useful instrument for penetrating into and investigating the nature of reality. A concentrated mind is also the precursor of great bliss and the prerequisite for the development of psychic abilities.

Whatever technique of meditation you are practicing, it is necessary to have the ability to place your attention on the object of meditation and hold it there without distraction. With patience and practice, your mind will become calmer, more powerful, and able to apply itself to any task with precision and understanding. Any object or activity can be used for the specific development of concentration.

The same basic principle, however, always applies, no matter which form of meditation you are practicing: whenever your mind wanders, simply return it -- again and again -- to the object of your meditation.

Type 2 -- Mindfulness Meditation Techniques

Mindfulness meditation techniques emphasize the cultivation of a receptive, choiceless quality of mindful attention toward whatever arises in the sphere of our experience. At those times in our lives when we were rapt in wonder gazing into the depths of the night sky, listening intently, marveling at the beauty of nature, or wholeheartedly listening for the answer to our heart's prayer, we have naturally experienced this type of meditation.

Traditionally, the practices of insight or vipassana meditation, zazen, dzogchen, Mahamudra, choiceless awareness, self-remembering, and prayer of the heart are associated with this category of meditation. Mindfulness meditation strengthens our sense of wonder and appreciation, enabling us to effortlessly, precisely, and carefully attend to the totality of our experience unfolding moment to moment.

The interplay of concentration and mindfulness meditation allows us to develop the capacity to examine and intuitively understand the deep forces within our ordinary experience. The penetrating insight that develops can then be systematically applied to investigating the very subtle inter¬play between the phenomena we perceive and the nature of our own mind as the perceiver.

As we investigate our participation in the pervasive and dynamic interrelatedness of everything, we will come to sense ourselves as intimately related to and co-creative with the world of our experience.

Type 3 -- Reflective Meditation Techniques

The practice of reflective or analytical meditation is like disciplined thinking: choosing a theme, question, or topic of contemplation we focus our reflection, or analysis, upon it. When our attention wanders to other thoughts, we return to our chosen topic.

Traditionally, reflective meditation is employed to gain insight into the meaning of life, death, interrelationships, and social conscience, or to come to a conclusive insight regarding some key idea in science, philosophy, or scripture. Following our analysis through, we arrive at a conclusion. This, in turn, gives rise to a strong sense of faith or conviction.

In our day-to-day life and work, reflective meditation techniques provide us with a powerful and effective tool for focusing our attention upon personal or professional questions in order to discover a creative solution or breakthrough insight. Reflective meditation also helps us to understand the issues or inner conflicts that may arise during the practice of other meditations.

Type 4 -- Creative Meditation Techniques

Creative meditation techniques enable us to consciously cultivate and strengthen specific qualities of mind. Patience, appreciation, sympathetic joy, gratitude, love, compassion, fearlessness, humility, tenderness, and other qualities associated with aspects of nature, Divinity, or the natural world are among the attributes that are most commonly cultivated.

Creative meditations invite us to actively nurture these strengths of character by thinking, speaking, and acting "as though" these qualities are more fully alive within us.

Type 5 -- Heart-Centered Meditation Techniques

Heart-centered meditation techniques help us to awaken the radiance of our loving-kindness and compassion. They deepen our empathy and forgiveness, and teach us to live in kinder ways.

They begin first with ourselves, and then open the circle of our compassion to embrace all living beings. They draw inspiration from each of the other meditations: focus and the power of peace from concentration; deep listening and presence from mindfulness meditation; insight into the nature of suffering and a sense of interrelatedness from reflective meditation; imaginative resourcefulness and skill from creative meditation.

Properly understood, all of these types of meditation are interrelated and mutually enhancing. Many practices draw inspiration from a variety of meditation types and could be included in several categories.

While the intricacies of these interrelationships are beyond the scope of this site, it should be clear to you that the contemplative traditions offer us the inner technology necessary to fulfill virtually any developmental aspiration we may have.

Meditation allows us to go beyond words and mental concepts in order to know the true nature and reality of ourselves and our world directly.

[Adapted from the book "Luminous Mind" by Joel & Michelle Levey]

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