Before you begin examining what analytical meditation is or how it’s performed, it’s best to take a step back momentarily to examine the overall concept of what meditation really is.
As you investigate, you’ll quickly discover that many practitioners and master teachers of the various forms all have their own way of defining and describing their chosen practice. It’s the same mountain viewed from different angles, called by different names and traversed by different routes, but the destination is always the same.
Regardless of what you call it or how you define it, in its most basic form, meditation is simply a practice of continuous thought and self-examination, the general goal of which is to promote inner peace and tranquillity and to improve one’s quality of life.
What is Analytical Meditation?
It’s been said that our thoughts define our reality. Analytical meditation is the process of observing, interacting with and questioning these thoughts. In doing so, we’re able to determine their validity, and we’re able to challenge the beliefs we hold on to so dearly.
Analytical or reflective meditation is not much different in its overall goals than other meditative forms; however, unlike concentrative or mindfulness meditation, analytical meditation actually welcomes and encourages rational thinking to promote this inner peace.
What is the Difference between the Concentration, Mindfulness, and Analytical forms of meditation?
Let’s briefly take a look at the difference between these three forms of meditation: concentration, mindfulness and analytical.
Concentration. Concentration is the foundation that virtually all other forms of meditation rest upon. It may sound a bit odd, but even mindfulness meditation, whose aim is to focus on nothing but the here and now, still requires a basic mastery of focus in order to be successful.
It is no overstatement to say that mastering concentration is the most difficult step in the process, and this is why instructors put so much emphasis on it. Internal and external distractions seem to relentlessly find their way in, and they can distract even the most seasoned meditator.
Mastering this form first allows for a much more rewarding and productive meditation session. An unfocused mind is similar to multiple small streams. Each stream has its own path through a forest. Each one is easily traversed, and none is very powerful by itself.
A focused mind, though, combines these tiny, seemingly insignificant streams into a raging river that is a veritable force of nature; its movement is unwavering, and it is no small feat to divert it.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is the process of simply being. Practitioners focus on the present, often using their breathing or posture as a focal point to keep their minds from wandering.
Practitioners are told to focus on the here and now, and when thoughts do invade this serenity, they’re told to observe these intruding thoughts without judgement and to simply let them pass by without indulging in them.
Analytical. On the other hand, analytical mediation encourages analytical thought. Practitioners are taught to pursue these thoughts, investigate their connectedness to other thoughts or feelings and to contemplate them from various points of view.
Although virtually anything can be an object of analytical meditation — the flame of a candle, the feel of your sitting posture or the melodic song of birds chirping — common focal points for this type of meditation include loving kindness or the value of human life.
The idea is that by concentrating on and analysing these things, the meditator will induce specific thoughts or feelings, and in doing so, he or she will be able to alter old, negative thought patterns and replace them with new, more positive ones.
How Do I Perform Analytical Meditation?
Here are the basic steps to get you started with your first reflective meditation session. Keep in mind that these are only guidelines; feel free to modify these steps to best suit your preferences.
Choose a focus topic. Choosing a topic can be done in a number of ways. You could, for example, choose a topic that centres on emotions that you’d like to cultivate, like compassion, peace or your feeling on the impermanence of life.
An alternative to this is to focus on thoughts that have come up during other meditation sessions. For example, if you notice that your meditation sessions are usually interrupted by thoughts of worry, stress or doubt, these topics may prove worthy of additional investigation through reflective meditation.
Eliminate distractions. Distractions are nearly impossible to completely eliminate; however, there are some things you can do to greatly reduce them. For example, if a messy room or unclean dishes distract you, attend to them first before attempting to meditate.
Find a quiet, serene location. Next, find a quiet or secluded location. With practice, you may be able to meditate virtually anywhere, but when you’re starting off, it’s best to choose a location that’s away from the normal chaos of everyday life.
Assume a comfortable posture. When it comes to your meditation posture, you’re free to choose any position that is comfortable enough to keep you from being distracted or in pain, but you don’t want a posture that is so relaxed that you’re likely to fall asleep.
Start with some relaxation techniques. You’ve probably noticed that it’s much easier to think clearly when you’re in a relaxed state. When you’re reflectively meditating, this principle takes on even more weight.
For the best results, spend the first few minutes focusing on your breathing or the comfort of your posture. Then, once you’ve sufficiently relaxed your body and your mind, then move on to the next step.
Begin your analysis. Now that you’re in a fully relaxed state, begin analysing your chosen topic. You’re free to change the topic as necessary; however, keep in mind that staying consistently on a given topic is the best way to break through and gain new insights.
As you analyse your thoughts, be open to what comes to mind. If you see connections, feel free to examine and explore them, but avoid letting your mind wander. If you notice that you’re getting too far off topic, gently bring your topic back into focus.
Bonus Tip: The Paperclip Technique
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the use of this meditation technique is to provide an example of it in action. To this end, rather than using an abstract concept, consider a physical object as a focal point: an ordinary paperclip.
The process all begins with an ordinary object, a common paperclip. You begin by directing all of your focus on it, examining the look, colour, heft and feel of the item. Consider its other attributes like its flexibility or how functional it is compared to its size.
You may also even begin to compare yourself or your life to this simple paperclip. If you were more flexible, could you be useful in different situation? Where in your life would increased flexibility prove to be beneficial? Could you, like this ordinary office item, become more effective in your life by being less rigid and more malleable?