There are roughly two types of meditation that have been taught and reintroduced in countless western mystical and Pagan traditions in the west, as thoroughly now as they’ve ever been in the east.
The standard is mindfulness meditation, out breath or breathing meditation. It can be done anywhere. It can even be done at complete rest as one falls asleep. Ideally though meditation more often aims for a more formal practice, and is referred to as formal practice.
This is the classic orange robe wearing, floor cushion, crossed leg sitting meditation, students of Buddhism are so familiar with. But most other practitioners do not really try to get quite that formal. The following four steps often suffice for basic mindfulness meditation:
- Formal positioning: this is the active or physical formality of meditation. Sitting on the floor is great, cushions are ok, otherwise a simple sitting position that is alert but not too comfortable is the goal. Robes are hardly required, but something between our everyday business casual and pyjamas is preferrable. Eyes should be open, but resting at about a twenty degree angle from the floor. Meditating in bed on a sick day, or standing on the bus for just a minute or two is also totally OK.
- Formal posturing: this is the idea that what we are doing has purpose, even lofty purpose. The spine and physical posture should be good, no slouching. The sense of presence and purpose should be strong, mild distractions are not really worth our attention. Some gurus say formal posturing is like imagining one is sitting on a throne in the center of the universe. Let’s just say, it truly is important.
- Focus on the out breath: Scratch the itch if you really have to. Finish that thought about ancient Iroquois mound builders and even jot it down in your journal real quick if you must. But then, kindly just return to focusing on the out breath. Some of the best forgotten ideas and priorities really do come up right in the middle of meditation. If they are good enough to come up, then they’re good enough to dismiss for thirty or forty-five minutes, acknowleding them as ‘thoughts’, ‘worries’ or ‘ideas’, just focusing on the out breath until the end of practice.
- Return to the out breath: It really is that simple. Keep labeling and acknowleding random thoughts and worries and return to focusing on the out breath. A lot of western practitioners call this “holding one’s seat.” It can refer to a lot of goals and assertions we make in life beyond basic mindfulness meditation, but here it just means returning to focus on the out breath for the duration of your practice.
Empathy Meditation or Compassionate Heart Meditation is another one of those alternative forms of meditation that has a funny eastern name all it’s own. But this kind of meditation basically comes down to specifying our current situation and holding joy and empathy for those that have experienced the same and worse. It’s not nearly as easy as mindfulness meditation and it’s probably better to be familiar with the process before you absolutely ‘need’ it, as it is one of those “in the fire” types of meditation for serious woe, heartache and life troubles.
Basically the previous method for Mindfulness Meditation can be followed to some extent.
- Formal Positioning; with the caveat that Empathy Medidation is much more likely to be useful when we are actually in our sick bed, or some other unfortunate circumstance.
- The in breath: As you inhale take in the mental and emotional totality of your current situation, all its fear, anxiety, despair, negativity. Imagine those like you who have experienced a very similar or even the exact same circumstance, as you inhale and include their woe, turmoil, fear, anxiety, despair and negativity in your in breath as well, taking on the emotional and mental totality of your circumstance as one of countless many have, are and will experience throughout time and space by countless sentient beings. It’s not easy is it, especially if times are not good, or even if it’s just another lousy Monday?
- The out breath: Next we are making a radical shift, without skipping a beat between in breath and out breath. Transform all of that worry and negativity into the largest amount of pure joy, brilliance and happiness you can muster and let it grow first into yourself and then towards all creatures everywhere with your complete out breath. This may seem like a major task, so it’s ok to start small and build outwards as our breath flows out. The first joy we breath out is the spark for our own brilliance, next we can move on to those with similar concerns, fear or negativity as we are currently facing, wishing them peace, sanity and joy, until the completion of our out breath includes all of creation in one large out breath of joy and happiness.
The ease of Empathy Meditation to some extent depends on our circumstances. Some practitioners swear that it’s a game changer during bad traffic jams on Monday morning commutes. Others claim it as a great hospice care standby and that it may have even helped speed up clinical healing times.