Typologies of meditation

Naranjo (in Naranjo and Ornstein 1971) distinguished between three types of meditation called respectively the Way of Forms, the Expressive Way, and the Negative Way. The Way of Forms includes meditation upon external symbols and objects such as candle flames, mandalas, koans, questions, and mantras. Naranjo calls this the way of concentration, absorption, union, outer-directed, and Apollonian meditation. One example of concentrative meditation is Ramana Maharshi’s method of meditating upon the question “Who am I?” There is a focusing of attention and a centeredness on the question (which could be substituted by a mandala, flame, lotus flower, mantra, or focus on breathing).

The Expressive Way includes those meditations that involve receptivity to the contents and processes of consciousness. In this type the meditator “dwells upon the form that springs from his own spontaneity, until he may eventually find that in his own soul lies hidden the source of all traditions” (quoted in Naranjo and Ornstein 1971). Naranjo describes the Expressive Way as the way of freedom, transparency, surrender, inner-directed, and as the Dionysian way. It involves letting go of control and being open to inner voices, feelings, and intuitions. Naranjo suggests that the best illustration is to be found in shamanism—“Not only is shamanism in general a mysticism of possession, but the shaman’s trance is usually content-oriented . . . He is one who has attained communication with the supernatural and may act as a mediator between spirits or gods and man, making the desires of each known to each other” (quoted in Naranjo and Ornstein 1971, p. 97).

Finally, there is the Negative Way—involving elimination, detachment, emptiness, centering. The meditator puts effort into moving away from all objects and not identifying with anything perceived:

By departing from the known he thus allows for the unknown, by excluding the irrelevant he opens himself up to the relevant, and by dis-identifying from his current self concept, he may go into a conceptual awakening of his true nature (quoted in Naranj o and Ornstein 1971, p. 29).

In this approach the aim is to withdraw attention from both external perceptions and internal experience “to cultivate a detachment toward psychological acting in general” (Naranjo 1974, p. 29). Thus, a good example of the Negative Way is vipassana meditation, a Buddhist approach involving “bare attention.” In this method the meditator merely registers sense impressions, feelings, and mental states without reacting to them by deed, speech, or mental comment:

By cultivating a receptive state of mind, which is the first stage in the process of perception, bare attention cleans the mind and prepares the mind for subsequent mental processes (Naranjo and Ornstein 1971).

Ornstein (1972) describes two major types of meditation—concentrative and “opening-up” meditations. The first type he sees as developing one-pointedness of mind and gives as an example the technique of Zen breath counting. This involves counting the breaths from one to ten and then repeating the process. When the count is lost the meditator returns to one and begins again. He sees the “opening-up” exercises not as attempting to isolate the practitioner from ordinary life processes but rather as involving those processes in the training of consciousness. Thus the Zen practice of shikantaza or “just sitting” is an exemplar of this type of meditation. Watts (1957, p. 175)describes it as:

. . . not therefore, sitting with a blank mind which excludes all the impressions of the inner and outer senses. It is not “concentration” in the usual sense of restricting the attention to a single sense object, such as a point of light or the tip of one’s nose. It is simply a quiet awareness, without comment, of whatever happens to be here and now. This awareness is attended by the most vivid sensation of “non-difference” between oneself and the external world, between the mind and its contents —the various sounds, sights and other impressions of the surrounding environment. Naturally this sensation does not arise by trying to acquire it.

Shapiro (1982) describes three major attentional strategies—a focus on a whole field (wide-angle lens attention), a focus on a specific object within a field

(zoom-lens attention), and a shifting back and forth between the two. The first type would include mindfulness techniques such as “just sitting.” Another example would be vipassana, which Ross (1981, p. 159)describes as the central practice of Buddhism:

. . . the continual effort to at first note and later to just be one with the immediacy of one’s situation; to break the adhesive of one’s constant train of conceptual thought about past, present and future; and to bring oneself with clarity to the touch and consciousness of the present. The practice of mindfulness greatly deepens the power of concentration and the ability to stay with one’s life situation.

Zoom-lens attention is what both Ornstein and Naranjo call concentrative meditation but the third type, shifting back and forth, is a novel category quite different from Naranjo’s, and includes passive concentrative techniques such as transcendental meditation (TM). It is argued that in TM there is both concentration and mindfulness and that with increasing adeptness, mindfulness becomes more dominant (Brown and Engler 1980; Welwood 1982).

Goleman (1977) distinguishes two paths of meditation, essentially the same as those identified by Ornstein; he calls them the paths of concentration and insight. Not only are the meditation types different, he argues, but the experiences along the paths of meditation practice will be quite distinct too. On the path of concentration the meditator will develop deeper and deeper absorption and one-pointedness, going through eight “jhanas” (full absorptions) to achieve a final state “so subtle that it cannot be said whether it is or not” (p. 19). The path of insight involves developing deeper mindfulness and insight through stages of “pseudonirvana,” realization, and effortless insight to nirvana, in which state the meditator “will have utterly given up the potential for impure acts” (p. 32).

And confronting all of these is Krishnamurti (1987), who held that all techniques are an obstacle to the unfettered, unblemished experience of existing here and now. Meditation systems with mantras, techniques, teachings, traditions, and stipulations simply lead us to exchange one illusion for another. He argued that we are in a constant state of mental conflict as a result of making comparisons between what is and what should be. Consequently, we hide away in a construction of daily habits, mechanical repetition, dreams of the future, and memories; we do not live in the present moment. Krishnamurti urged the development of a kind of opening-up meditation—“choiceless awareness”—a clear and direct perception of experience now, without imposing names, preconceptions, and habitual perceptions upon our experience. It is only by watching the contents of consciousness that we can perceive the ways of our minds and begin to understand experience directly and not through symbols created by our intellects (Krishnamurti 1987). Freed from conditioned habits of perception and cognition one can be free of the self and therefore free to love. This leads to a state of aloneness beyond loneliness and an ability to attend without motive; thus one can live in the world with clarity and reason (Coleman 1971).

Krishnamurti’s approach is mirrored to some extent by the huge increase in interest in what has come to be called mindfulness—this increase in interest can be seen as a revolution in interest in meditation and has taken place over the course of the last 15 years.

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