I participated recently in an on line conference titled: “Be the Change Meditate” The conference has presented interviews with many meditation experts.
One talk that impressed me with his clarity was the interview with Dr. Richard Davidson. He is the founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a world renown expert and researcher of the impact of meditation on our brains. He spoke briefly about the meaning of meditation and then described 3 types of meditation as a way to understand some of the different meditation practices.
I am often asked what is meant by meditation and to outline different meditation practices and I found his explanations very pragmatic. He was asked: “What does meditation mean?”. I was intrigued with his simple answer. He said that meditation involves a familiarization of the the mind. As I reflected on my experience of 20 years of meditation, this idea of familiarization of the mind resonated with me fully, as there was a time in my life where I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of the way my mind worked.
I often tell a story about the feedback I received from a friend over coffee over 20 years ago. I was sharing some of my challenges around working and my personal life. After a few minutes, she stopped and said the following: “I can’t believe it Doug, you are so hard on yourself”. At that point, I can recall considering her comment and saying something like: “I don’t see what you are saying”. At that point in my life, I can see that I had very little knowledge of a significant part of my mind and that was my thoughts about myself. My friend was hearing a lot of self- critical thoughts being expressed — I didn’t see it. I did not have a lot of familiarity with the thinking part of my mind. Learning about this part of my mind was the first step in learning how to work with it to reduce the impact of the negative thoughts.
Dr. Davidson also explained 3 types of meditation, which he uses as a way of differentiating meditation practices. Interestingly, each type of mediation has a unique neural circuitry profile in the brain. That is a discussion for another blog. He referred to the first type of meditation as focused attention practices, where one concentrates an object. The object may either be internal ie breath or external ie sound. The second type of practice is described as open monitoring, panoramic awareness of whatever presents itself in the mind. As the mind wanders, one lets the attention follow wherever the mind goes. The third practice is referred to as positive affect training where the meditator works on cultivating positive emotions ie compassion, loving kindness. This kind of meditation often involves the repetition of phrases and mental imagery. If you are interested in more of Dr. Davidson’s work in ideas, take a look at his most recent book: “The Emotional Life or Your Brain” that he authored with Sharon Begley. The link for the Center for Investigating Health Minds is http:// www.investigatinghealthyminds.org/index.html