Taking a deeper look at meditation
When I first started looking at meditation several years ago I was surprised to find that it was not just about sitting still and trying to think of nothing. This it turns out is quite an advanced meditative technique and there are a number of different ways to meditate.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s “Jewish Meditation” is an excellent book on meditation and the first book that I recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about Jewish meditation or meditation in general. His other books are equally excellent, but without reading this one first it is in my opinion difficult to put his other writing to practical use.
Based on the information that he provides in Chapter 3 on Techniques, here is a breakdown structure of the different types of meditative techniques that I have created based on my understanding of this chapter in the book:
Internal – the stimulus comes from inside the practitioner
External – the stimulus comes from outside the practitioner
Visual – sight is the focus of the meditation
Auditory – sound is the focus of meditation
Structured – a set of instructions or script is followed during the meditation
Unstructured – no instructions or scripts are used during the meditation
There are other focuses of meditation than visual and auditory such as ones involving movement, smell, sense of touch, taste, etc but for the moment I’d like to focus on just the list above.
Taking the Breakdown Structure above and assembling it in a different way, I have put together the following breakdown of categories:
- Internal – Structured – Visual: visualizing internally Hebrew letters (as described in Sefer Yetzirah)
- Internal – Structured – Auditory: letter permutation that is spoken only in the mind (and not aloud)
- Internal – Unstructured - Visual: letting images, colours, things form in the mind without any attempt to influence what arises
- Internal – Unstructured - Auditory: listening to one’s own stream of consciousness without attempting to control it
- External – Structured - Visual: focusing on an object such as a rose and blocking out everything else
- External – Structured - Auditory: Mantra, repetition of phrase such as a prayer
- External – Unstructured - Visual: looking at sunlight or candle light reflected on the surface of water
- External – Unstructured - Auditory: speaking to God in a stream of consciousness such as the Bratzlav Chassidim do on a regular basis
As you can see there are a variety of different combinations of meditation. Whether they are directed by an internal or external stimulus to the practitioner; then there is the question of whether the meditation is structured or not. Finally there is the question of which senses to involve and for the examples above it was sights and sounds.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment on meditation, but hopefully it has illustrated some of the different forms. And also how using a breakdown structure can get you to think about choosing the right approach to meditating on a particular topic.
Edit: Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan defines meditation as a controlled manner of thinking.