There are many forms of meditation. You may be wondering where to start. Here, I provide my own personal perspective and provide conceptual models that propose to demonstrate how the most common practices function to transform your mind and brain.
My personal practice began with samatha and vipassana meditation (styles that come from Theravada and mostly the Burmese lineage holders). Samatha is translated as “taming the mind” and vipassana is translated as “insight” and is often referred to as “mindfulness” meditation. The specific types of meditation practices that are involved in these contemporary settings include 1. Focused Attention and 2. Open Monitoring, respectively.
Focused attention can be trained on any object (e.g., a mantra, a diety, or a flame), but in the case of samatha, the focus is on the breath. Focus on the breath and nothing else helps to stabilize the mind (bring it to stillness). Similarly to a mantra meditation, focusing on one object is thought to be helpful – mostly because it does not allow many other distractions to arise.
Open monitoring (OM) typically builds upon the stability of attention you have cultivated in FA practice. It directs your attention to any object that arises and allows you take inventory, without reacting or intentionally following any one train of thought – just let it rise and pass.
Guided Practices to Try
FOCUSED ATTENTION (BREATH) MEDITATION
OPEN MONITORING (INSIGHT) MEDITATION
LOVING KINDNESS (METTA) MEDITATION
Sample some more guided practices in FA, OM, and Loving Kindness practices HERE
THE BASIC MINDFULNESS SYSTEM (NOTING AND LABELING)
There are many teachers out in our communities – some better than others, some come directly from a lineage of rigorous scholarship and experiential practice.
SN Goenka was one of the first teachers in India to widely spread the teachings of Vipassana (He died recently- but his teachings live on)
Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield are teachers that brought many of the teachings from Vipassana and Burmese styles of noting and labeling practice to North America. Check out the Insight Meditation Center (Barre, MA) or Spirit Rock (Marin County, CA) for teachings along these traditions.
How Do these Meditation Practices Work? Dr. Vago and the FNL have worked to create system-based models that identify the cognitive, psychological, and neural mechanisms by which these meditation practices function.
MEDITATION RETREAT CENTERS
- Insight Meditation Society – Barre, MA
- Spirit Rock , Marin County, CA
- Natural Dharma Fellowship , Wonderwell Mountain Refuge, NH
The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy (IMP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and training of mental health professionals interested in the integration of mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy, for the purpose of enhancing the therapy relationship, the quality of clinical interventions, and the well-being of the therapist.
- Upaya – Santa Fe, NM
Upaya Zen Center offers daily Zen meditation, weekly dharma talks, and programs on Buddhist teachings, art, neuroscience, and social engagement. We also offer professional training for end-of-life-care and Buddhist chaplaincy.
- Barre Center for Buddhist Studies – Barre, MA
For integration of study and practice – learning the dharma through practice. Learning practice through dharma.
- Boston Rigpa Meditation Center
- Vipassana Meditation Centers (U.S. and Canada)
- Boundless Way Zen, Worcester, MA, USA
- San Francisco Zen Center, San Francisco, CA, USA
- Zen Center of San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA
- Karme Choling, Barnet, VT, USA
- Still Quiet Place
- Shambhala Mountain Center, Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, USA
- Vipassana Meditation Centers (worldwide)
- Plum Village, France
This list of retreat centers is not meant to be exclusive.
FINDING A TEACHER
Finding a teacher that is right for you is really personal preference. You may like the sound of one teacher’s voice and not another. You may simply gravitate towards a teacher for some other practical reason – but most importantly I would encourage you to develop a relationship with one teacher after sampling a few – it is important for that teacher to develop a relationship with you as well – so that your progress can be monitored and that someone is there to support you when difficult thoughts/emotions arise (and they likely will).
I practiced some Zen, but later became more interested in Tibetan styles of Dzogchen and Mahamudra practice. These involve cultivating deeper states of non-dual awareness – where there is no subject-object distinction. Check out UPAYA Zen center for an experience with Zen. My teachers in the Tibetan traditions have been the Dalai Lama, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche.
I also like the Tergar Group – This group provides Tibetan Mahamudra teachings by one of my favorite teachers, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. They now have online courses!! One can start with “Joy of Living” and work your way up. The teachings do get very subtle and profound. Learn about Tergar [Link]
Another option may be western teachers who provide a bit of a mix that a lot of people love. I work with a teacher named Shinzen Young. Shinzen has a style of noting and labeling experience that is very easy.. Shinzen Young has an ongoing community of people who learn through “online retreats” and teleconferences.
Another “online” resource is the Buddhist Geeks life retreat. Check them out…they are based out of Boulder and have some good Western teachers
Some good mobile apps also exist. The one’s most commonly used:
Calm – Calm is actually paired with an EEG headband (The Muse) you can purchase from Interaxon. It can be most effectively used for biofeedback when paired together. There is not a lot of data to support this biofeedback mechanism yet, but there is a lot of interest.
Here is a review of the top meditation apps [Link]