Based on the suggestion from a few of the books I read, I decided to try a meditation workshop at the Integral Yoga Institute here in New York. I had never meditated before.
At the workshop, the most important thing I learned was that there is no “one size fits all” of yoga. There are several techniques one could use to meditate, and people may be more comfortable or successful with one technique.
There were four specific types of meditation that I thought related to my project:
- Breath. This type of meditation is usually silent, and during it the meditator should focus on his or her breath.
- Mantram. In this form of meditation, the meditator repeats a word, phrase, or sound while focusing on breathing.
- Tratak. The meditator focuses on a visual image, such as that of a mandala, sacred picture or statue, or sometimes a plant.
- Walking. While walking, the meditator focuses on the ground a few feet forward. The leader of the workshop also said that some runners have described the runner’s high as feeling similar to successful walking meditation.
Workshop, Integral Yoga Institute, 10/11/2010.
The workshop leader also explicitly pointed out that one technique is not necessarily better than the other, but all of them take practice in order to become an expert. Furthermore, it’s not clear that any technique is more likely to be successful than any other. The important thing is to get into the habit of doing it, if only for a few minutes at a time.
In her book Rapt, Gallagher describes an experiment proposed by William James that sounds remarkably similar to the mantram form of meditation I learned about:
First, he says, make a dot on a piece of paper or a wall, then try to stay focused on it. In short order, your mind will wander. Next, start asking yourself questions about the dot: its size, shape, color, and so on. Make associations with it: its existential pathos, perhaps, or the dot as yang to the paper’s yin. Once you’re engaged in such elaboration, you’ll find that you can focus on the negligible mark for quite a while. Observing that this ability to attend to and develop even the humblest subject is a cornerstone of creativity, James says, “This is what the genius does, in whose hands a given topic coruscates and grows.”
Gallagher, Rapt, 133.
"William James on Attention."
Anderson, "In Defense of Distraction," New York Magazine, 5/17/2009.
It became clear through the workshop that the important component of meditation is not the technique or the subject, but the habit, the dedication, and the mindfulness that comes from the ability to focus. The behavior that meditation influences is the ability to focus carefully and thoughtfully on things that might otherwise go overlooked.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Eric St. Onge
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