How to Make Sense of All the Different Styles of Meditation

meditation prayingWhen someone is beginning to explore meditation, it’s often somewhat confusing which style to actually do.  There are seemingly endless options, ranging from the world’s major spiritual traditions to more secular approaches to individual teachers with their own “innovative” style.

For example, there’s Zen buddhism, Vipassana, Yogic meditation, Taoist meditation, Christian meditation, secular mindfulness groups, heart-centered meditation, Advaita Vedanta and countless fusions or other integrative approaches.

Of course, all these approaches to meditation are getting at something similar, and yet they’re also quite distinct.  In today’s post, I hope to give some clarity on the basic framework underlying all meditative practices.

May this benefit you and your journey into yourself!

bowing question markThe Two Basic Questions Of Any Meditation Practice

1) What do I actually do?

2) What is the purpose of doing that?   (aka why?)

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A Rough Guide to Why & Where to Go on Meditation Retreat

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Why Go on a Meditation Retreat?

Before I went on my first retreat, I had practiced yoga and meditation on and off for a couple years.  That period was sort of like the courting phase of a new relationship.  I was trying it out—practicing once or twice a week, reading some books, engaging with others who did the practices, and seeing what happened.

Needless to say, I became convinced that there was something really powerful for me in this practice.  I decided to “go for it,” and signed up for a donation-based 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat that I had heard about through word of mouth.

Whoa!

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From Years of Travel to Intensive Meditation: What I learned about Freedom

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I had just left an eight-week silent meditation retreat in Lumbini, Nepal and was sitting patiently in a local shop with a Nepali man named Jupiter.  He was halfway chatting with me, halfway filling out my bus ticket to Varanasi, India.  Midway through, he paused and looked at me with a curious glance before asking, “are you always like this?”

I smiled, a little confused, thinking maybe he was referring to the large beard I had grown in two months of no shaving; I said, “do you mean my beard?”

“No, I mean how peaceful you are.”

“Oh….  Well, I’m generally a pretty tranquil guy, but I just got out of a meditation retreat, so probably more than usual.”

By the end of the night, I was on a horse carriage riding through the streets of Varanasi, a twinge of novelty in my eyes while roaring with laugher over the chaos of Indian nights—the horns and lights and street dogs and glitter-like colors in every which direction.  Continue reading

The Top Six Benefits I’ve Gotten from 10,000+ Hours of Meditation Practice

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Over the years, I’ve heard literally thousands of different questions from meditators about their practice.  Interestingly, all those questions really condense down to three: what, how and why.

When someone asks “why meditate?” they are often asking, “what are the benefits of meditation?”

“What will I get out of spending all that time developing present moment awareness?”

This is an absolutely essential inquiry!

When we know some of the common benefits to look out for, we’re more apt to notice them when they start happening, and, accordingly, we naturally boost our motivation & commitment levels.

Even though it could be argued that the core benefit of mindfulness meditation is freedom more, suffering less, I today wish to give a more personal, less abstract list.

After having logged 10,000+ hours of formal meditation, what do I actually see as the major benefits on my life? Continue reading

How I Learned to Love Myself

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From March 2014 until December 2015, I was on intensive meditation retreat in Myanmar.  Since returning, the main question people have asked me is, “what did you get out of all that time meditating?”  One of the more common responses I give is, “I learned how to love myself.”

This post will detail my process of developing self-love using the four-stage model of “competence” or skill development.  It sort of speaks for itself, but here’s a very brief summary:

Stage one is where we’re in self-hatred, but don’t even know it.  Stage two is where we know we’re in self-hatred, but are powerless to stop it.  Stage three is where with conscious effort we can actually stop it and experience self-love.  Stage four is where the self-hatred no longer happens, and without making any special effort, we experience steady self-love.

It’s my hope that in sharing my story, I can demystify some of this process and help you dive into deeper layers of your own self-love!

Index:
1) Unconscious Self-hatred
2) Conscious Self-hatred
3) Receiving Love from Others
4) What is Self-love?
5) Conscious Self-love
6) Going Beneath the Surface
7) Unconscious Self-love
8) Self-Love Is not a Destination
9) What You Can Learn from my Story
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My Three-Years-Ago Life Philosophy

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When I was a young boy growing up in a christian home, my mind was already ultra curious about the bigger picture.  I was told that everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus would go to hell.  I would ask, “but what about the people in the Amazon who never even hear about Jesus—do they too go to hell?”

By age 12, I intuited a picture much bigger than christianity; but, I was also intrigued by how seriously so many people took their Christian beliefs, as well as other religious and philosophical positions.

I was determined to be different.

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The Two Approaches to Getting Un-Stuck

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I’ve never been stuck in quick sand, but as a child I watched enough cartoons to know it’s not exactly a pleasant experience.  You’re literally stuck.

While you may never be strolling the dessert and fall into a pool of wet sinking sand, you just as much as myself and everyone else will regularly face inner quick sand—places where we get stuck.

Maybe it’s a bout of anxiety or having to do a bunch of things you don’t like.  Maybe it’s low motivation or hearing some bad news.  So when you’re stuck in your quick sand,

What to do?  What to do?

Imagine for a moment we pixelated your self-structure, like an old school television—not just one coherent picture, but 1,000 little colored pixels that make up the screen.

In your self-structure, some pixels are your good qualities, such as kindness or patience.  Some pixels are your “difficult” qualities, such as depression or self-judgement.

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Using Meditation to Think Efficiently

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For a lot of my life, I had trouble falling asleep at night.  I would usually lie there for 30 – 60 minutes until my thoughts slowed down enough to allow me some sleep.

It wasn’t just at night.  All day long, the thoughts in my head went on and on and on.  I had difficulty paying attention to lectures or reading books without lots of mind wandering.

At the same time, I became very skilled at analysis and articulating myself.  People always said I was very thoughtful and discerning.  This felt good to hear.

In other words, I became very good at thinking, but I paid a price for it—not being very present in other aspects of my life.

I often wondered if there had to be this trade off.  Couldn’t I be both good at thinking and present in my life?

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When Your Biggest Obstacle Is Not Having a Vision

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One approach to spiritual practice is to tune into your “high-road” vision—your deepest aspiration for your life.  From there, you begin to explore what obstacles are preventing you from living that vision, and removing them one-by-one until your life is your vision.

Say your vision is to live creatively, simply and soulfully.  After many years of trial and error, you’ve found your calling through playing the violin with a modern twist.  You are good at what you do.  However, you still have a lame day job, a few destructive habits, a difficult relationship with anxiety, and some bad relationship patterns you can’t seem to break free from.

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“Tricking yourself” into Life-Changing Insight

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There are two basic flavors of life-changing insight.

Firstly, there are the spiritual insights, which always pertain to something about the eternal present.  Maybe it’s perceiving the sacredness of all things, awareness splitting off from the ego, or dropping into a boundless love.

Secondly, there’s the human insights, which refer to meaning, purpose and choices.  Maybe it’s figuring out your life’s calling, realizing it’s time to leave a job, or understanding the meaning of your friend’s death.

In either flavor, the insights happen totally unpredictably—some call this grace.  Maybe it comes through a peak experience in nature.  Maybe through a profound absorption in song or dance.  Maybe through the deep stillness of sitting meditation.  Or, maybe through nothing special, like cleaning the bathroom sink.

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