Meditation is a tool, and as a tool there are many different forms that it takes. Some types of meditation are better at calming the mind, others for inducing clarity or insight. Some give rise to bliss, others to peace and equanimity.
In our practice of shamatha, we have several different types of meditation that we should keep in our toolbox and gain familiarity with.
Meditation with an Object
The Breath. The breath is probably the most common meditation technique. The mind and breath are intimately linked, so as we work with the breath we work on the mind. The technique is simple, simply observe the inhale and exhale of the breath. Some people focus on the feeling of the breath passing by the nostrils, others prefer to focus on the gentle rise and fall of the upper stomach as you inhale and exhale. Whatever method you prefer, simply connect with the inhale and exhale of the breath. It isn't necessary to count, just breathe naturally.
A thigle of light. A common technique within the Tibetan tradition is to focus on an internal drop or thigle of light. This thigle is often focused on within the heart chakra or some other chakra, and serves as a visualized support for your practice. Focus on a brilliant white drop of light in the center of your heart, then connect with the inhale and exhale of the breath. As you inhale, imagine that light becoming more brilliant, as you exhale imagine it becoming more stable. There are many alternative methods for working with thigles in meditation.
Vajra breathing. Similar to focusing on the breath, you can visualize yourself in the form of your yidam or as a clear body of light. As you inhale, recognize the resonance of the breath as OM. As the breath abides, recognize it as AH. As you exhale, recognize the resonance of the breath as HUNG. In this way we connect the breath with mantra. Initially this practice can be rather conceptual and you may find yourself reciting OM, AH, HUNG. As you gain more familiarity with the practice and the sound of mantra the words will fall away and you can simply observe the breath as inseparable from mantra.
Enhancement techniques. When you are drowsy or your meditation is dull, you can focus on a white thigle of light at your third eye. Alternatively, you can imagine the white thigle at your heart shooting up through your crown and extending further and further into the sky, almost like traveling up an elevator. When you are experiencing distraction or agitation, you can visualize a black heavy thigle in your navel, pulling you down into the ground like a heavy weight. Alternatively, you can imagine it shooting down into the ground, anchoring and grounding you. These enhancement techniques can be used initially to cultivate a calm, clear mind, or they can be used as remedial techniques to work with distraction and dullness during meditation.
There are many other forms of object based meditation, including practices like Guru Yoga, mantra meditation and other tantric practices. If you have instruction in those meditation techniques feel free to use them as you have been taught.
Meditation without an Object
Resting in the natural state. This type of meditation is unique to Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Simply relax the body, breath and mind. Don't worry about the past. Don't speculate about the future. Simply rest, without judging the present or cultivating expectations. Relax into the uncontrived natural state. In this meditation we want to recognize and rest in the nature of the mind, which is unceasing luminous emptiness. That can be difficult at first, as we learn to work with mind and its appearances. Any attempt to manipulate, correct, adjust or fix is mistaken. Simply relax in open presence.
Sitting in a comfortable meditative posture,
Our body is left open, relaxed.
The shoulders, neck and face are relaxed,
The eyes are left open, gently gazing into the space before oneself.
The breath is natural- gentle and uncontrived.
The senses are open, free from fixation,
Let whatever appears be as it is.
Don’t fixate- on feelings, thoughts, sights or sounds.
Just relax and settle, like waves on water.
Slowly, like mud settling out,
The mind will become calm and clear.
Rest in the natural state.
Any of these techniques can be used in our meditation. Become familiar with each of them. Develop your toolbox. Some you will naturally gravitate towards, others may be useful in certain situations.