For thousands of years, cultures have used meditation to develop an awareness of the present moment, a dissolving of the sense of self, or as a way to cleanse the mind of its internal critic. Some practitioners find benefit in combining external substances with their meditation practice.
There are many styles of meditation and different methods of practicing meditation. Notably, there is guided and unguided meditation — also called silent meditation. In guided meditation, a teacher leads you through the steps of the practice. Having a teacher or guide is particularly useful for beginners because the teacher is experienced and trusted. Their guidance can be vital to getting the most out of the experience. Typically, the teacher explains how the mind behaves during meditation, leads the meditation technique, and then suggests how to integrate this technique into everyday life.
In unguided meditation, you meditate alone, without anyone explaining the process. For some, unguided meditation involves sitting in quiet and paying attention to the body and thoughts for a set time. For others, it involves using specific techniques learned from previous guided practices.
The most popular meditation techniques stem from the Tibetan Buddhist and Burmese traditions. Meditation techniques, or types, are often labeled as either calming (Samatha) or insight (vipassana) meditation.
Calming meditation cultivates a quieter, more peaceful state of mind and improved concentration. Most calming meditation practices are known as Focused Attention meditation – a common starting point for novice meditators. The practitioner of his type of meditation maintains unbroken focus on a particular object – either internal (your breath, a mantra, a visualization) or external (a candle flame, a material thing) — monitors her attention and returns to that object whenever distracted or the mind starts to wander.
Once the practitioner is aware of being caught up in a thought or emotion and has lost awareness of the breath, they engage in “noting.” They “note” the thought or feeling to restore understanding, create a bit of space as a way of letting go, and learn more about our thought patterns, tendencies, and conditioning.
Insight meditation often sets an intention to transform one’s mind by developing qualities such as wisdom and compassion. As in Focused Attention meditation, Insight meditation focuses on the breath and being aware of the physical and mental sensations that arise.
Some core techniques combine elements of both insight and calming meditations. These meditations help practitioners find calmness and mental quiet while also helping improve feelings of well-being, happiness, and empathy for others.
Open Monitoring is another standard meditation style that aims to bring attention to the present moment and openly observe mental contents without focusing on them. Open Monitoring meditation often follows Focused Awareness, as the practitioner learns to switch from a narrow attentional focus on an object to global awareness of the present moment.
Loving-Kindness Meditation focuses on developing compassion and love for oneself and others, gradually extending the focus of empathy to foreign and disliked individuals and then to all living beings. While incorporating technical elements from Focused Awareness and Open Monitoring, Loving-Kindness has a different emotional content.
Loving-Kindness focuses on the image of different people — it doesn’t matter if we know them or not, if we like them or not — is integral to this technique. We direct this “skillful compassion” positive energy and goodwill first to ourselves and then, as a ripple effect, to others, which helps us let go of unhappy feelings we may be experiencing. By opening one’s hearts and minds for the benefit of other people, we have the opportunity to foster a sense of happiness in our minds.
Mantra Recitation is often considered a variant of Focused Attention meditation. It involves repeating a sound, word, or sentence, either aloud or in one’s mind, to calm the mind and avoid mind-wandering. Its unique speech component may have distinct neural correlates.
Mindfulness Meditation is typically defined as a state of non-judgmental awareness of one’s present moment experience to cultivate mindfulness.
Non-Dual awareness is present in many contemplative traditions. Advaita Vedanta and Kashmiri Shaivism (Hindu), and Dzogchen and Mahāmudrā (Buddhist) meditations aim at identifying the “illusory nature of the subject-object dichotomy that structures ordinary conscious experience, thus revealing the ‘non-dual awareness’ that lies at the background of consciousness.”
Pure Consciousness is a state described as “objectless” or devoid of content. In the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the practice of Samadhi is believed to lead to the experience of Pure Consciousness.
The ancient Buddhist tradition of Zen meditation involves sitting upright and following the breath – specifically diaphragmatic breathing and the way it moves deeply in and out of the belly – and letting the mind merely exist. The overriding goal is to create a sense of alertness and presence.
Mantra meditation has some similarities with Focused Attention meditation, but instead of only focusing on the breath, the practitioner focuses on a mantra – a syllable, word, or phrase. The belief is that the vibrations associated with the mantra encourage positive change.
By utilizing one-on-one instructors trained and licensed by Maharishi Foundation, Transcendental Meditation® is a personalized and individualized practice. Transcendental Meditation® involves sitting comfortably with eyes closed for 20 minutes twice per day and engaging in the practice as instructed. Students are encouraged to practice twice daily, typically a morning meditation and a second session in the mid-afternoon or early evening.
Yoga meditation incorporates Shavasana — corpse or relaxation pose — to relax the body and relieve tension. Shavasana helps integrate the neuromuscular changes during yoga and gain the most significant benefit from the practice.
Another ancient meditation tradition, Vipassana meditation, has the practitioner concentrate on intensely examining specific aspects of their existence with the intention of eventual transformation. Practitioners of Vipassana are pushed to find “insight into the true nature of reality” via contemplation of several vital areas of human existence: suffering, unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, non-self, and emptiness.
Chakras are energy centers in the human body, and Chakra meditation aims to keep the body’s core chakras aligned, open, and fluid. Unblocking one’s chakras can relieve uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms.
The ancient tradition of Qigong meditation involves harnessing energy in the body by allowing meridians, or energy pathways, to be open and fluid. During this meditation, sending this energy inward is believed to help the body heal. Sending the energy outward is believed to have the power to heal another person.
Sound bath meditation uses gongs, bowls, and other instruments to create sound vibrations that focus the mind and bring it to a more relaxed state.
Rather than focusing on visualization or the breath, Resting awareness lets the mind genuinely rest. Thoughts may enter, but they drift away instead of distracting from the present moment.
Reflection invites the practitioner to ask themselves questions such as, “What are you most grateful for?” By asking the query in the second person — you — the intellectual mind is discouraged from answering it rationally. Awareness is focused on the feelings, not the thoughts, that arise when answering the question.
Some meditation techniques lend themselves to including psychedelic substances better than others. And neither psychedelic nor meditative states are simple, uniform categories. The variables include:
- The style of meditation.
- The drug (and its dosage).
- Individual personality traits.
- Level of experience.
More dramatic disruptions of self-consciousness occur most frequently and intensely for highly experienced meditators or with higher doses of psychedelics. Self-consciousness may be best understood as a “multidimensional construct,” and self-loss or ego dissolution can take several forms. Self-loss or ego dissolution may require a critical inflection point to achieve this possible non-linear phenomenon.
Recent research has indicated psychedelics’ potential, such as psilocybin (so-called “magic mushrooms”), LSD, mescaline, DMT, and the DMT-containing brew Ayahuascato treat mental health disorders. Psychedelics have long been known to produce significant disruptions of self-consciousness (i.e., Drug-Induced Ego Dissolution) – a loss of one’s sense of self and self-world boundary.
When combining marijuana with meditation, consideration must be given to the mode of consumption. Cannabis flower is often more direct and less complicated to dose correctly. When smoking marijuana, effects are typically felt within 5-10 minutes. The effects of edibles frequently take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
Additionally, cannabis flower has a terpene profile, bringing different mental and physical effects. Edibles lack terpenes and make it more challenging to customize one’s experience – beyond a feeling of sedation or a flush of excitement and creativity.
It’s also essential to understand the effect cannabis has on the practitioner. Does it encourage an escape from reality or heighten the ability to process reality. It can be beneficial if hitting the bong helps one gain a broader perspective on humanity and offers objective hindsight, which can help promote productive foresight.
A challenge with incorporating marijuana into a meditation practice is that the effects of THC can simultaneously make things more apparent and more complex at the same time. The consumer can become “hyperaware” – a sort of feedback loop of being aware of your awareness of how aware you are. The original thread is lost, and the practitioner can get lost in a spiral of self-reflective thoughts that might not produce beneficial results.
For some, the opposite can be true. The addition of cannabis can reveal previously unseen or unrecognized motives for harmful or destructive behavior. It becomes possible to bring an objective eye to deep-seated biases, emotional deficits, or aspects of negative social conditioning.
Many of these techniques are best learned with an experienced and, in the case of Transcendental Meditation, certified teacher to be most effective.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter which meditation technique you choose or if you incorporate cannabis or other psychedelics with your practice. The vital component is to find a meditation that allows you to experience calm, empathy, mindfulness, and even inner peace. If you can bring that into the rest of your day, you’ve achieved something formidable.