Clerestory

Types of Meditation

September 13, 2019

After I learned to concentrate, for several months I only did concentration meditation. It’s blissful and gives blessed relief from the mental monologue I’d suffered/inflicted on myself for most of my adulthood. But when I stopped meditating the monologue resumed.

Then I learned about insight meditation, and I switched to doing mostly that. This had lasting effects on my happiness, outside of the time that I was meditating. But after a while it was diminishing returns: I was happy enough for everyday purposes.

Along the way I learned loving-kindness meditation. I found that it made a less judgmental person, though I never did it with the regularity and assiduity that it deserved. This is one I plan to spend more time on going forward.

More recently, I experimented with visualisation meditations, where I imagined fulfilling my goals. This improved my confidence, but I worried that it would make me arrogant, as if I’d already achieved all the things I was picturing.

When working intensely on the novel, it hardly mattered how I meditated. Once my mind calmed after a minute or two, I would enter the novel’s reality. I wasn’t able to sustain other types of meditation. This had the adverse effects on my well-being and mood that I would expect from not meditating much at all.

These days, in addition to a brief maintenance concentration/insight practice, I do a few variants of my own. In one, I just imagine myself doing the important tasks of the day, in the hopes that this will motivate me to do them with care. It seems to work.

Another is a variant on a Stoic meditation, where I try to picture the worst thing that can possibly happen during the day. It’s usually not that bad, which can be encouraging.

I think meditation has a lot of similarities with physical exercise. Just as one won’t get strong by only doing cardio, nor fast purely through powerlifting, one’s mental prowess improves in different directions when one varies the stimulus.

This doesn’t mean constantly jumping around; there should be a period of intensity in each area. But I don’t think that any one form of meditation can deliver the benefits that a diversity of methods can.


I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.