Mindfulness and the six paths of meditation

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Further to the recent article I wrote on Matthieu Ricard on Altruism and the talk he gave at the Action for Happiness event in London, I bought his book at the event and have been reading it ever since. The book is called Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World. It is 700 pages in length, with a total of 149 pages at the end of references. So it is not a quick read, but well worth it never the less.

One of the chapters in the book deals with “Training the Mind” and I found it fascinating to see the references to the Mindfulness meditation practices that I have been following and their roots in the Buddhist meditation techniques Mathieu was discussing. Of the 6 meditation practices in Buddhism, the mindfulness approach appears to focus on the first three. The three that appear not to be covered in the  – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction mindfulness programme I follow are – visualisation of mental images, fearlessness and devotion.  The techniques he talks about that I follow and use are as follows:

Focused Attention:

This is where you sit and focus on the Breath. The breathing in and out, the tiny gap at the top and at the bottom of every breath you take. Focusing your mind on the present moment of breathing and not allowing it to wander off into the myriad of thoughts that we all have every moment of every day.

Open Presence

Meditation on open presence consists of letting your mind rest in a clear state, at once vast and vivid. The mind is not focused on any particular object but remains completely present. When thoughts arise, the idea is to let them come and go and not to dwell on them. The MBSR approach is to think of a sky, with the clouds containing the memories, thoughts, and feelings. Attaching them to the clouds and letting them drift off. I tend to think of post-it notes that I write on, attach them to the clouds and then watch as they drift off.

Altruistic love combined with compassion:

This is one of the MBSR meditations that I have followed regularly. The practice involves reciting the following:

May xxx be safe and free from suffering

May xxx be as happy and as healthy as it is possible to be

May xxx have ease of being

Where the xxx, for the first round is I. For the second extends itself out to loved ones, then the third round out to friends, fourth round strangers and finally every living being on the planet. This is at the heart of what Matthieu talks about in terms of creating a compassionate and altruistic mindset. I love this meditation and it is one of the ones I practice all the time. 

I would love to know which practice you enjoy, or even if you practice other techniques that I could learn as well. Maybe, you have techniques that involve the other three paths of meditation – visualisation of mental images, fearlessness and devotion.

As always, I leave you with a quote….

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

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