There are many different types of meditation practices. Most familiar, perhaps, are mantra meditation, Mindfulness of Breathing, Metta Bhavana (Development of Loving Kindness), and the candle meditation. Recently I was asked by a student if I thought she should add a third meditation practice to the two forms of meditation she already practices. I responded to her question with a list of questions to consider before she made her decision. I hope these questions will be helpful to you as well, if you are considering adding other practices to your meditation repertoire.
Regarding adding another form of meditation to your meditation practice – there are differing ideas about doing that. In my own meditation process (from 1993 – 2000), it was recommended that I practice the metta bhavana and the mindfulness of breathing (which some believe can take us all the way to Enlightenment). When I was ordained, in September 2000, I was introduced to two more forms of meditation – the Six Element Practice and an Amitabha Buddha visualization practice. Those practices were taught during a seven week retreat and I had an opportunity to practice both forms in a context where I received instruction and support.
It’s probably a good idea to consider the intention underlying one’s desire to take on another meditation practice. Here are some questions to consider:
1. Am I bored/tired with my practice as it is? If so, why?
2. Which meditation practice do I practice most? If I just practice the Mindfulness of Breathing as a way to become more focused and mindful, should I practice the Metta Bhavana for a while so that I am developing loving kindness for myself and others? Is there a reason I practice one practice more than another? Am I having difficulty concentrating or feeling positive emotion for myself and or others? If there is resistance to one practice, understanding the resistance can be valuable.
3. What do I want to accomplish by taking on another meditation practice?
4. Do I know enough about the practice to do it without the support of a teacher and practice group?
After reading this list of questions, another student responded:
“Thank you for the list of questions to consider when thinking about trying another meditation practice. Your first question struck home with me in that sometimes after I have been doing a particular meditation for awhile I have more difficulty staying focused. It just struck me that maybe instead of switching to another method, I need to just sit with the restlessness of my mind and see what happens. Not being able to stay still emerges once again.”
It’s a good idea to be aware of your meditation practice, and to take stock, now and again, to see if changes (additions or deletions) might be helpful.
Instead of changing from one technique to another, are their variations within each technique that could be useful? I’m thinking of the many ways to practice “mindfulness”: just sitting, following the breath, counting breaths (with numerous variations), etc,etc. Are there similar variations within other techniques? Perhaps people merely need to have more choices within their chosen style of meditation.
Good point, Rich. There certainly are variations within meditation techniques. The usual stages of the metta bhavana include developing loving kindness for: ourselves, a dear friend, someone we don’t know well, someone with whom we are having difficulty and all beings throughout time and space. During different times in our meditation practice we may choose to practice just one stage or begin with the second stage or make other creative decisions. Knowing ourselves and the motivation beneath our decisions is key. Perhaps it’s a combination/balance of being creative enough to find ways to stay with the practice without hopping from one practice to another with expectations of certain experiences. Thank you for your comment.