Choosing A Meditation Technique? Think Again

As a meditation coach, I’ve come to learn many things about meditation that I never would have known had I not started teaching. For instance, that different people do better with different methods, that for some people its a really bad idea to meditate with the eyes closed, and finally, that when it comes to choosing a meditation technique you should probably do the last one you’re thinking of.

Yes, that’s right. Whatever method of meditation you are currently thinking about doing, it is probably not the best option for you. 

This is a weird little anomaly that I’ve discovered after working for years as a private meditation teacher. I teach all different kinds of meditation techniques, from Buddhist methods like Vipassana to modern methods like Body Scan. And one of the first things I do with a new student is to help them find the right meditation technique.

This almost always goes like so: 

First, a new student comes to me for a lesson. They already have in mind a pretty good idea of the type of technique they want to do. I discuss their challenges and goals with them, learning a little bit about their mental health and their mindset, and what they want to get out of meditation. I then choose a meditation technique for them and explain it. And almost always they are at first reluctant, almost opposed to it. We then do said meditation together and it is an absolute game changer for them.

I have seen this same pattern recurrently for many years. And it has left me absolutely convinced that the meditation you should do is probably the last one you’re thinking of. But why? 

Why You Should Choose The Meditation Technique You’ve Been Avoiding

The sad reality of the situation is that we avoid the meditation technique that is best for us. We do this for a few reasons:

1) We prefer to work on things we are already good at (for instance, focusing) rather than things we might struggle at (for instance, compassion)

2) Usually the thing that will heal us is also in some way related to former pain (such as the individual who experienced childhood neglect, for whom the best meditation is probably Loving Kindness, but also for whom the idea of love and kindness reminds them of that neglect).

3) We harbor cognitive biases. For instance, imagine a very intelligent person who always presumes that the best solution is the most complicated one. They end up choosing whichever meditation is the hardest even though they would probably do better embracing a little bit of simplicity.

All of this means that we are most likely to choose a meditation we think we will be “best” at, one that completely avoids any emotional pain, and one that adheres to our cognitive biases. Sadly, to create genuine change through meditation, we actually should work on our weaknesses, directly tackle our pain in order to transform it, and challenge our cognitive biases.

How To Choose (With Examples) 

To pick your meditation, ask yourself: 

  • What emotional pain can you heal with meditation?
  • What beliefs and biases can you challenge?
  • What meditation will best compliment your existing lifestyle and personality?

Let me illustrate this with a few examples. All of these examples are from clients I have previously worked with. I have changed their names and certainly details to protect their privacy.

Example 1: Tony

Tony came to me after several years of meditation practice. In his meditation he had always worked on cultivating inner peace by distancing himself from his thoughts and feelings, using techniques like Buddhist Vipassana. Unfortunately, he had distanced himself so far from his thoughts and feelings that he had caused himself to have dissociation. Why? Because of a misguided belief that distancing ourselves further and further from our thoughts and feelings leads to inner peace (unfortunately this is a common misunderstanding). The solution I worked on with Tony was to use associative meditations, literally the complete opposite of the methods he had been doing. We worked on meditations that reconnected him with his body, his thoughts, and his personal values. This cured an issue that was beginning to seriously affect his mental health.

Example 2: Hanna

Hanna came to me at first because she was unable to focus and to be productive. We did start by working on some focused meditations like Zazen. But as we chatted it became clear that Hanna had experienced emotional neglect in her childhood that was still affecting her now. I suggested working on compassion methods like Tonglen and Metta. At first Hanna was reluctant. And I understood why. She couldn’t think of compassion without being reminded of her childhood emotional neglect. But I knew that we would need to get there. So we started meditating on more comfortable forms of compassion. Hanna had cats whom she felt very close to. As a cat lover myself I totally get that. And so I had her meditate on the love she felt from her cats. From there we worked upwards to friends, colleagues, grandparents and finally parents. At the end of this, Hanna told me she felt true inner peace for the first time in her life. This never would have happened had she not done a meditation that at first had felt daunting to her.

Example 3: Joshua

Joshua is an incredibly intelligent man, an architect. He loves complex puzzles and is into science. He came to me wanting to unlock the mysteries of his mind and tap into his spiritual side. He had read my article on Merkaba meditation, arguably the most complex form of meditation in the world and deeply spiritual. Despite being a novice mediator, Joshua wanted to go for it. He actually was displeased when I said that it’d probably be better if he started with a very simple method. He couldn’t see how just watching his breath would possibly help him. Thankfully, as he enjoys deep discussions, he let me explain to him why I believed his bias for complexity was limiting his experience of life, and why he might be surprised what happens when he did the simplest thing possible and just observed his  breath for fifteen minutes. Afterwards, he was suddenly joyful to have realized how easy it can be to just exist. 

As you can see, all these people got the most out of meditation when they were willing to do a technique that didn’t feel natural to them, went against their existing beliefs, and in some cases even directly addressed emotional pain. And that is why the best meditation for you is probably the last one you’re thinking about.

Final Thoughts

In life we often go on autopilot, thinking what we usually think, doing what we usually do, and meditating in whatever way feels easiest and most comfortable for us. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. And if all you want out of meditation is a little bit of relaxation, then sure, go the easy route. But if you’re actually looking for personal transformation, to change long held personal beliefs, and to heal wounds you might have had for many years, then don’t be surprised when you find the solution down a path you’d never normally take, with a meditation technique you’d never normally do. Why not join me for a private meditation session. Together we will find the perfect meditation for you, the technique that will lead you to liberation and transformation.

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By Paul Harrison

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.

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