Differing goals of meditation

In general, people may want to meditate for two different reasons :

  1. they may wish to experience a particular mood or state of mind;
  2. they may desire lasting change in their health, personality or ability to cope with life.

In the first case, meditation is a goal in itself. The meditator takes a passive, receptive role, giving himself up to an intense and possibly intoxicating experience in the hope that it will prove fulfilling. An ‘experience orientation’ of this kind can lead to introversion or a desire for meditative states that is virtually like an addiction. Regular life is seen as trivial while the contrasting meditative states are regarded as having the utmost importance and meaning. This orientation may also encourage emphasis on the indoctrinal role of a teacher or guru. Instruction is often delivered in an emotional manner, making heavy use of symbolic and figurative language. Candles and incense may be used to create a potent atmosphere.

By contrast, the second approach to meditation focuses on what it does, its benefits, and how it alters a person’s internal make-up and capacity to handle life. ‘Change-oriented’ practices of this kind see meditation as a means to an end – a way of pursuing long-term goals such as improvements in health, working life and relationships. There is an expectation that change will occur gradually, through regular daily meditation and a deep understanding of psychological structures and meditation practice. The orientation of Acem is of this kind.

An experience orientation seems more common in the present day than an orientation towards change, perhaps because focusing on the experience in itself requires less commitment to regular and challenging meditation practice. In the ‘experience orientation’ there is a certain pull away from everyday life and society, while in the change-oriented practices the opposite inclination is emphasized.

The meditation vehicle or object

All types of practice involve a ‘meditation vehicle’ or object that helps accomplish the goals of meditation by turning the mind inwards. Such vehicles can take a wide variety of forms, from internal mental operations, to bodily functions such as breathing or movements, to zen koans, prayers, sounds, mantras, objects or symbols. Methods of using meditation vehicles also vary. Some involve intense concentration, imaging or free association; others involve emptying the mind or allowing the thoughts to wander. Directed or non-directed thinking, and the presence or absence of emotions or moods, may also be factors in the use of meditation vehicles.