If you want to go further in meditation and achieve a better mind, try getting analytical with your practice, like they do in traditional Buddhist meditation.
Analytical meditation takes us much further than the standard “Focused Attention” methods and asks us to investigate and systematically improve our thoughts and feelings. Indeed, this is the heart of many Buddhist techniques, such as Tonglen and Metta.
In this guide I’ll show you how to do Analytic meditation properly. We will start with the basic practice, as taught by the Dalai Lama. And then I will show you how to apply this method to your daily life.
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How To Do Analytic Meditation
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- Sit comfortably with good posture. Close your eyes.
- We begin with mindful breathing because this calms the mind, which in turn helps us to focus. So begin to breathe from your diaphragm. It is essential to be calm and mindful before continuing because, as Tibetan Buddhist Tenzin Norbu states, “One cannot successfully engage in analytic meditation without [a calm, focused mind].
- Focus your mind on your breath and simply observe your breath moving around your body. Continue to do this until you feel calm and relaxed.
- For this exercise we are going to focus on stress because this will help us to reduce the stress in our lives. You can use Analytical Meditation for any emotion, thought, or belief. But let us continue with the example of stress.
- We want to use questions to analyse the nature of mental phenomena. We ask questions such as, “What is the nature of this thought / emotion?”, “How does it benefit me?”, “How does it harm me?”, and “What would be a better alternative?”
- So let’s continue with the example of stress. Ask yourself, “What is the nature of stress? What form does stress take?” Here, you are investigating how you experience stress, such as the fact that stress exists as tension in the body. Spend several minutes investigating the nature of stress before continuing.
- Now ask, “How does stress benefit me?” Allow the answers to reveal themselves. For instance, you might think that stress focuses your energy and motivates you to act. So simply consider how stress is helpful.
- Now ask how stress harms you. What are the negative effects of stress? Consider how stress harms your body and how it can cause you to act in unenlightened ways.
- And now ask what a better alternative would be. Could you get the positive effects of stress (focus and motivation) without the negative effects? How?
- Visualise yourself responding to situations in the new, better way. Over time, this will develop a positive habit. You will learn to stop reacting with stress.
- As you can see, in Analytic Meditation we are probing the nature of thoughts and emotions and analysing them. It is mindful analysis of reality.
Above, we used an example of stress, but you can also work with thoughts and beliefs. Simply explore and challenge your thoughts and beliefs, seeking healthier alternatives.
What to analyse
Here are some of the topics you might like to work with in Analytical Meditation:
- Compassion. Consider the nature and benefits of compassion and how you might live a compassionate life.
- Death. Its inevitability and what it means to die.
- Karma and its influence in your life
- The Eight Worldly Concerns (Buddhism)
- Contemplating texts and verses. If you’d like to try this, read my guide to Contemplative Meditation.
- As the Dalai Lama once told neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, you can use Analytical Meditation to help with literally any aspect of reality that you are struggling with. So ask yourself, what areas of your life could it help with?
Don’t Use An App
Now an important note. While there are guided Analytic meditations, to get the most out of it you need to practise on your own. The reason is that in this meditation you are studying your own mind and analysing your own thoughts and feelings. An app can’t help because an app doesn’t know what you’re thinking or feeling. You can, however, work with a teacher, because you can openly discuss things with a teacher. Indeed, this is one reason why I teach this method in my online lessons.
Benefits of Analytical Meditation
One of the foremost benefits of Analytical Meditation is that it makes us think about thoughts and emotions in a rational way. It is a very scientific aspect of Buddhism. It trains the mind to approach thoughts and feelings in a more stable and rational way, instead of being reactive.
With Analytic Reasoning you can change your thought habits and this, in turn, can change behavioral habits. Meditate on a problematic thought, challenge the thought, and replace it. Do this frequently and you will change your thoughts, and in turn change your actions.
Are you the type of meditator who enjoys reading spiritual texts, studying the dharma and suttas and so on? If so, you might have experienced times when you struggle to understand certain philosophies or psychological truths. Analytical Meditation can help at these times. By meditating on a spiritual verse / quote / sermon, we can increase our understanding of it.
Indeed this is one reason the Dalai Lama advocates the technique, according to Dr Richard Davidson, William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthy Minds.
Analytic Meditation is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy in the sense that we can use it to rid ourselves of unhealthy thoughts and to develop healthy thoughts instead.
Buddhist monk Tenzin Norbu tells us that “pondering thoughts can help [us] develop a particular pattern of thinking or feeling”.
This practice of challenging our thoughts is very similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, and can yield similar results.
Have you ever noticed how your emotions can give you a warped sense of reality? For instance, feeling angry can make you feel as though the whole world is a terrible place. By analysing this thought you can realise that it is not true and that, no, the entire world is not a bad place, there are instead both good and bad aspects of the world. And in this way, Analytic meditation can improve your perspective on reality.
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison