For many years I've found that combining various types of meditation techniques has proved quite effective. But anyone who has been formally trained in a traditional meditation school has probably learned that this is frowned upon.
So at the risk of offending some seriously respected teachers (including my own) and enraging some of my friends and colleagues, I’d like to speak in favor of "mixed-method" meditation because it’s worked for me and I’ve seen it work for others. In terms of widespread meditation-acceptance, I do believe that the mixed-method is where research is headed.
I trained for several years in Vipassana; a tradition that — like most others — explicitly warns against combining or practicing other traditions. My mixed-method journey began as part-professional-pragmatism, and part-curiousness.
Pragmatically, as the disciplines of psychology and neuroscience shifted toward Eastern mind-training methods, I needed to become familiar with the various techniques and traditions. I was also simply curious and, I guess, in my bones didn’t feel that all my aspirations could, should or would be simmered down into what could be translated through the teachings of one tradition alone.
Folk called upon an analogy of mixed martial arts (which began as an attempt to find out which martial art — karate, or kung fu, or whatever — was the best). Here’s what he had to say about it:
… it turned out, over time, it wasn’t what any particular school or technique was consistently going to beat all the others. It turned out that you had to synthesize everything and plug the holes in your game… This is what’s happened in pragmatic dharma [meditation teaching]… we talk about this very openly, and we see what works. If it doesn’t work in the ring, it immediately gets tossed out”
I’m up for mixed martial arts, and I’m up for mixed meditation, which is why I teach multiple evidence-based meditation methods. It’s why I encourage clients to try several. It’s why I encourage a tailored practice. Tossing out a practice doesn’t mean it should be tossed for all time for all people. It means it’s not right for this particular person, at this particular time.
I think we can get really efficient here and I think we’re only at the beginning of understanding just how specific and optimizing we could be in our application of meditation.
Yes, there is richness in tradition and there is value to the guidance, given in most traditions, you choose one approach and stick to it. But I disagree that the approach chosen must necessarily reflect one technique in its entirety. It fails to reflect the fact that, in a great sense, we are ultimately experimenting with the mass application of methods that were once the domain of mystics and monks and not so much practiced (or at least not necessarily practiced ardently) by the layperson.
In any case, these mind-training methods were also being used in very different cultural and historical contexts. The bottom line is this: we don’t know about the full potential, promise and problems associated with how we’re using them right now. We’re seeing some positive results, but no one can yet say just what is the best practice is in our contemporary context (and maybe such a thing cannot ever be said).
But everything is in evolution, including the teachings of ancient traditions, especially within the great ocean of meditation. Evolution is adaptation. Adaptation requires a willingness to let go of preconceived assumptions and expectations of how things are and the way that they will be.
And as meditation continues its rapid evolution, I think the key consideration we can borrow from all orthodox meditation traditions is the value of committing to a set practice (which might be a mixed-one). It’s the same type of commitment we apply to anything we want to master. Commit to something and you’ll reap the benefits! So if you benefit from a mix of meditation methods, then own it, diligently commit to it, and enjoy.
Photo Credit: Robert Randall Productions