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A taxonomy of meditations... - Elf M. Sternberg
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A taxonomy of meditations...
I really have to get back into meditation. It's been too long, and while I've been able to keep up the workout and yoga, meditation has fallen by the wayside. Which is a pity because I've recently read a fascinating meta-study on the kinds of meditation. It seems there are five kinds of meditation, and when I remember to practice them, I've only been practicing two of them.

There is attentional meditation, in which the attention is brought back to a single point. Open-monitoring attentional meditation is Zazen, the most common of Zen practices, and involves not concentrating on any single thing, but maintaining a specific state of mind, a state in which awareness of metacognitive states is paramount, and maintaining that state is the point of the practice. And it is practice, and it takes effort.

On the other hand, there's cultivation of attention, which is expanding one's power to concentrate on a single subject with power. In the Greek and Roman traditions, this is pneuma, and is the practice most recommended by the Stoics. It's a difficult practice, and it involves expanding one's power to accomplish one's goals without invoking burnout.

These attentional meditations exist to strengthen your own self-awareness, and to help you regulate your reactions to events. It's not meant to suppress emotions, but instead to help you cultivate the best emotions, the most joyous emotions.

Stoicism also has a values meditation, called the premeditatio malorum, in which you think about how you will react if something horrible happens-- the house burns down, a family member dies, you lose a limb, or worse. The idea is to both concentrate the mind on enjoying what you have now, and telling others how much you appreciate them, and planning in the theater of the mind for how to react most effectively to disaster, such that you can regain equilibrium quickly.

Theravadan loving-kindness meditation (the kind practiced by the Dalai Lama) is surprisingly enough in the same family of values meditations. These are considered constructive meditations, in that your role is to contemplate how you fit into the world, and how best to help those around you. Both have the same basic premise, though: "You were not put on this Earth to procrastinate."

The last is deconstructive. The purpose of this, which often happens as a side-effect of attentional meditations as well, is to help you understand how your own mind works. Dzogchen's been getting a lot of attention recently, and it's main purpose is to emphasize the Buddhist insight that there is no "I" in each of us, no little man inside our head who is "me" in a concrete, atomic sense; you are a mass of impulses, emotions, moods, biochemistries, and sensations, all vaguely moving in the same direction.

There's a lot more to say about this paper. But I'll leave it at this for now.

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gipsieee From: gipsieee Date: September 14th, 2015 10:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. Even your summary makes many things that had confused me* about the different branches/approaches/philosophies make more sense.
*But clearly they not actually held my attention long enough to even start trying to figure out if anyone else had already spent time thinking about them..
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