Meditation practice is a staged development, that flows and fluctuates with our inner self.
You first focus on awareness, focus, the positioning of the body, and calming the mind. You are developing the receptivity to seeing inside and the peace to sit in calm awareness and quiet.
Next, you will reach the stage of introversion where you can view your self, your emotions, your fears, your doubts, memories, and internal connections. These can be re framed in a different perspective of the same, to change your response. The act of acknowledging these things changes them. Simply having the receptivity to see them as they are and not as you want or fear to see them, changes how they affect you. You practice letting them go in meditation and you will see the root of them.
Next, is the subconscious states that are the true beginning of meditation. This is where you begin to truly touch the subconscious mind, the energy, and the knowledge. This is where you move toward the goals of self-realization, transcendence, enlightenment, and bliss.
You start your practice in non-threatening, quiet, controlled settings to develop the foundation that allows you to delve into other forms of meditation and to take those you do to new levels and methods. You will be distracted, you will think of other things, you will have that annoying itch, you will want something to listen to. The practice of silence (even if it is only one of the forms you use) will help you learn to let them go. Experience them, acknowledge them, but do not dwell on them, fight them, or have emotions about them. That is why you start with a focus, whether it is a physical thing like the flame, a word, a thought like compassion, or an action like breathing.
We have through this series used a lot of terms and names you may not know offhand but you will find as you research that many forms of meditation have multiple names. Partially this is because the same form may come from multiple cultures and thus the names and even translations may vary. Also, we continue to develop new names as branches continue and branch again into new varieties of the same basic form.
Open monitoring for instance is a term I only heard recently because there are so many other names for the same thing. This is the silent observation forms where you are simply present and fully aware and immersed in the moment and what is. Most mindfulness meditations will fall into this type. Another example of this is Shikantaza from Japan. it is, like many in this group, a Zen based meditation.
Focused attention is another one but it is both fairly obvious and little different than the term I have used throughout, focused. Just like it sounds, these forms focus on something. The focus can be words, sounds, breath, an object, a point, or a body. You will also see this referred to as concentrative meditation. Mantra meditations such as transcendental meditation can be very helpful for focusing and clearing the mind. The specific mantras vary by form and culture and the tones tend to have very long histories and purpose. Those in the TM practice came out of the Vedic traditions.
There are some, like Vipessana (or in Tibetan rather than Sanskrit
lhagthong) that use aspects of both forms. Samatha is a form that also does but it is often today a paired form with Vipessana and you develop both together. The very long history of these forms leaves a lot of room for research and discussion about how they combine or don’t. “According to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “samatha, jhana, and vipassana were all part of a single path.”” The early roots are Theravada but it ended in the 10th century and was revived in the 18th. The idea of open observation is to see all without interpretation, expectation, editing, self, or bias. You are seeing physical phenomenah such as breathing without engaging with it. It is not you, it simply is.
Vipassanā jhanas are stages describing the development of samatha. The four vipassanā jhanas are: one – explore the body/mind connection, nonduality; discover three characteristics. See these points in the presence of vitakka and vicara. two – in which the practice feels effortless, Vitaka and vicara disappear. three – piti/joy disappears leaving only happiness (sukha) and concentration. four – purity of mindfulness due to equanimity, leads to direct knowledge. Comfort disappears in seeing the dissolution of all phenomena. All phenomenon is seen as unstable, transient, and disenchanting. The desire of freedom.
Other methods that combine forms often combine an empty or open meditation with another form. Some examples are shambhala, loving-kindness, open awareness, analytic, mindfulness, dzogchen, and stabilizing. Chakra meditations probably fall in this group also.
Several forms use prayer bead such as those found in Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.
Taoist meditations were heavilly influenced by Buddhism and like many of the others we discussed have a very long history. Ding is the concentrative form. It is also called intent concentration or perfect observation. Guan or observe is to obtain unity with the Dao. Cun is is a visualization tequnique to be present and increase longevity. Inward training of the qi through breathing tequnices are another form. The sit and forget form from the 3rd century is an empty form. Internal martial arts or neijia include qigong, neidan, taijiquan. The related meditation forms are quigong, zuochan, nd taijiqan.
Many faiths have forms that combine prayer and meditation such as the Catholic rosary. Judais, Bahai, and Islam each have a combination form that falls in this group.
Chakra meditation could take a post of their own and are something you should look into if you choose to practice meditation regularly. they are often incorporated into meditation practices and used with other types of meditation.