I very often suggest meditation to HSPs for reducing and recovering from over-stimulation. But I realize that when someone recommends meditation or says they meditate or are going to teach it to you, it sounds as though meditation is just one thing. But really they may as well say, “I recommend pills.” That is, there are many kinds of meditation, just as there are many kinds of pills.
Each form of meditation has its purpose. If you already meditate, great. (But there’s no harm in trying other methods or doing two.) Since they had to be listed in some order, they are from moderately to most relaxing, given the parts of the brain being used. This is in keeping with HSPs’ need for effective, “efficient” downtime. But the list could be ordered differently, according to other benefits. I have also added something about each method’s spiritual goal, another interest of ours.
- Guided meditations. After relaxation instruction, you are guided in how to use your imagination to achieve a goal. Often inspired by depth psychology (e.g. Carl Jung), practitioners can take you to a deeper, perhaps more spiritual part of yourself (“You are at the edge of a deep forest, there is a path into it, someone is waiting in the forest to guide you through this dark place…”). Done alone it is called “Active Imagination.” Guided meditation can also be used, for example, to help you imagine how a certain animal perceives or to break a habit. But even though your body is relaxed, your brain is still pretty busy.
- Guided meditations for relaxation. Someone speaks in a soft voice (in person or audio), instructing you how to relax. There are countless methods. (For example: “Take five deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, then bring your attention to your center, around your navel, feel the warmth there…”). Best if you can learn to do the method by yourself, so that your brain is not busy listening. But it is still busy.
Now we go to the forms of meditation studied for the types of brain waves they produce. (For a summary of this research, see Travis, F., & Shear, J., 2010, “Focused Attention, Open Monitoring and Automatic Self-Transcending: Categories to Organize Meditations from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions.” Consciousness and Cognition, 19(4), 1110-1118.)
The following three also all share the goal of “Awakening” or “Enlightenment.”
- Meditations involving focused attention, concentration, or contemplation. Example: Zen Buddhist meditation, sometimes on a koan. Or counting breaths, coming back when a thought interrupts your count. Or repeating a phrase, perhaps about loving kindness. Or focusing on a candle, or any object. If your mind wanders, you bring your attention back. Proper breathing and posture (cross legged on a special pillow, without back support if at all possible) are paramount. The goal is to slip into stillness, satori, “no-mindedness,” without thoughts or feelings, and maintaining this increasingly outside of meditation, until one is enlightened (reached nirvana). The associated brain waves are Beta and Gamma, found during focused attention.
- Open monitoring or mindfulness-based meditations, usually derived from various forms of Buddhism, involve observing breathing, thoughts, or other content of ongoing experience without an emotional reaction. Again, ideally sitting in an upright posture without back support. The goal is to become reflectively aware of the contents of your mind without judgment, beginning to see the personal self as impermanent, an illusion, and what is real as pure dynamic emptiness, the “now.” Perfect calm and objectivity, whatever is going on, would be enlightenment, although instructors separate from Buddhism downplay that goal. The associated brain waves are Theta, found when monitoring internal processes, indicating that the brain is more relaxed than during focused attention.
- Automatic self-transcending practices. For Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Christian Centering Prayer (CCP) you sit in whatever way is comfortable and lie down if sleepy. Although you use a word (CCP) or mantra (a meaningless sound, TM), the goal is for it to become fainter, until it disappears. What is left is more or less pure awareness, with minimal or no thoughts or feelings. Thoughts are not discouraged, however, and even considered a necessary part. When noticing thinking, one goes gently back to the word or mantra, moving toward deeper quiet. The emphasis is on no effort. Enlightenment occurs when the inner restful silence becomes a permanent background to life. (You see how similar the goals are of all three.) The associated brain waves are Alpha 1, found when the brain is alert, relaxed, with internalized attention and expectancy. Although TM instruction has a set course fee, financial aid is available.