Two Ways to Talk About Meditation

Two Ways to Talk About Meditation February 3, 2023

There are two primary ways to talk about meditation. Picture: CC0 License

“I am giving a meditation talk next week at our church,” a friend told me during our monthly discussion. “My goal is to talk loosely about my thirty-year meditation experience and then open the floor to discussions. What do you think? How do you talk about meditation when you give talks and workshops?”

I responded by saying that his approach was as good as any I’ve tried and that having open discussions in an era where people have access to more information about meditation than they can digest is wise. Understanding where people are coming from, what they are interested in, how they practice and what experiences they’ve had opens doors to having deeper and more meaningful discussions. The only advice I gave him was to define two ways of talking about meditation and invite people to explore both.

Two Ways to Talk About Meditation

Meditation can be split into two important categories. One is practice. This category includes everything from posture and relaxing to breathing and focusing methods. The other is experience. This category consists of all possible experiences people have had when meditating, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Meditation Practices

When people choose to talk about meditation practices, the discussion is usually about the mechanics of meditation. Do you kneel or sit cross-legged? What kind of breathing do you use to prepare? How do you maintain a straight spine without tensing too much? How do you relax the body while staying alert? What is your point of focus? Is it a mantra, yantra, candle, phrase, word, prayer, or something else? How do you deal with distractions, internal and external?

Because there are so many meditation practices to choose from, this kind of discussion can be rich. People who are open and willing to explore will see similarities and contrasts. Hopefully, both will be instructional.

Meditation Experiences

Meditation experiences are of a different kind. They are subjective and rely on interpretation. Because each experience is personal, you cannot argue about the rightness or wrongness of experiences. However, past and present meditation communities agree that having discussions will expose certain throughlines. After all, human beings rely on the same internal architecture—and I’m not only talking about the brain. Our minds and emotions behave in similar ways.

Experiences will vary. Some people will have strong physical responses to meditation, especially if it includes deep relaxation. Others will experience emotional highs (and lows). Some will gain tremendous insights. Others will experience long or short moments of peace.

Definitions Provide Clarity

These two simple definitions can provide tremendous clarity. When someone starts talking about how they sit and what they focus on, the listener can identify the topic as practice. When another person becomes poetic and starts talking about heightened emotions or the eye of the storm, the listener can identify the topic as experience.

Without these distinctions, however, discussions about meditation can get messy. Those who focus on mechanics and scientific metrics for progress can become quite irritated when the conversations turn to the color spectrum or endless metaphors. And those who practice meditation for experiences often get turned off by mechanical jargon and accuse others of taking the spirit out of meditation.

Both Are Important

Methods are foundational. Experiences are the results of practice. Both are important aspects of meditation. They would not exist without each other. Still, I’ve found that defining these two categories opens up a richer discussion. The framework allows people to identify which part they are talking about. Most importantly, they reduce the chances of miscommunications and needless irritation.

Gudjon Bergmann
Author and Mindfulness Teacher
Amazon Author Profile

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