Meditation has three basic forms. One form is to focus the mind. The object of focus can be your breath, a candle flame, a word or a sound. The second type of meditative practice is to widen the view to observe the activity of the mind. Termed “mindfulness,” the object of this practice is to observe as the mind leaps from past to future, stirring emotions as it travels back and forth.
The third type of meditative practice is done to cultivate within oneself a desired quality. The quality can be compassion, harmlessness, or the ability to express unconditional love.
This type of meditation may be used within religious tradition and beings who express this quality may be called upon for assistance (e.g. Quan Yin, Jesus or Krishna).
While many different meditative practices are used, three specific practices have been significantly researched in the United States. These practices include: transcendental meditation (TM), the relaxation response, and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). TM and the relaxation response are examples of focused meditation.
TM was introduced in the United States in the 1970s. Derived from the Ayruvedic medical tradition, people are given a one-syllable sound, based on their year of birth. This sound, repeated silently, is particularly matched to the constitution of the practitioner. More information about this type of meditation is available from www.tm.org.
In a practice similar to TM, people are encouraged to sit quietly each day and focus their thoughts on a word. For this form of meditation people are encouraged to choose a word that has particular meaning for them (for example, love, peace, joy, soft belly).
MBSR is a form of mediation that combines components from different meditative traditions and relaxation techniques. Established by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts, the Center for Mindfulness Internet site provides a wealth of information about courses and research (see www.umassmed.edu/cfm). Emphasizing a focus on the breath, MBSR also includes a tolerant observation that the mind has a tendency to “chatter” and jump from past to future. Emotions are frequently attached to thoughts.
Thinking about the future may trigger feelings of anxiety or desire, while thinking about the past may trigger feelings of guilt or anger. MBSR practice emphasizes gentle acceptance of that experience and return to focus on the breath.
In addition, MBSR emphasizes bringing this state of mindfulness into one’s everyday affairs.
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