There are all kind of meditation practices that help us to increase and stabilize our focus and attention. In addition, meditation can also be used to gain insights. Analytical meditation is such a practice. In essence, it is thinking about something. However, it is more structured. You select a topic and systematically examine it with a stable, clear, and focused mind. The meditation practice I want to present to you is again taken from the book: The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa (John Yates Ph.D.).
In order to really benefit from this meditation practice, you should have acquired a stable focus on the meditation object (e.g. your breath) in your practice before. Otherwise, what you want to analyze will slip from your mind now and then making it difficult to deeply analyze it. It might also lead to your thoughts running in circles. I guess you know how “productive” that is.
In his book he mentions that the topics you can choose from fall in one of three categories. First are teachings and other ideas you wish to understand more deeply. Second are problems you want to solve or decisions you need to make. Third are experiences, thoughts, or realizations that seem to point to a valuable insight.
There are four stages to solving a problem: preparation, incubation, solution, and verification.
When we want to solve a problem, we prepare by focusing our attention on the relevant ideas and information. We set aside anything irrelevant. This process is called selective encoding.
In the incubation stage, we solve the problem. We combine and recombine all relevant information and we are looking for new combinations of those information to find a solution. This trial and error process is called selective combination. Furthermore, we compare the present problem and its potential solutions with similar past problems and their actual solutions.
The solution comes either in the form of a sudden, intuitive insight delivered from the unconscious which is called insight solution, or we may have a conscious experience where all the pieces fall into place, which is called a non-insight solution. To better understand the difference, have a look into the book =).
In the last stage, we verify the solution. We do that through practical application. Though, intuitive insight solutions must first be validated by logic. Many otherwise effective solutions are unacceptable for social, legal, moral, or other reasons.
This method is intended to maximize your use of both conscious logical processes and unconscious intuitive processes. Set a timer for 45-60 minutes. Start with a regular mindfulness practice until your mind is settled.
Once you are fully present with a calm, clear mind, let the breath sensations slip into the background. Call to mind the topic you selected for this meditation. During the first phase, just “hold” the topic in mind. Listen to it, explore it, and wait for it to “speak” to you. “Holding” it mean keeping it in mind without analyzing it. If it is a problem, put it in the form of a question or a series of questions, and repeat them to yourself. If it is an idea, just roll it around in your mind. “Listening” means to stay in a receptive state rather than doing anything with it. Wait for something to stand out. By holding the topic in consciousness, you allow unconscious processes to start working on it. You know that it has spoken to you when a thought or idea pops into your mind, or when a particular word or phrase captures your attention. If a topic doesn’t speak to you, it might be too big and then it helps to simplify or break it down in more manageable parts.
Now, start to think about this word, phrase or idea. Analyze and investigate it from different angles. Test the logic and relevance of different thoughts as they come to you. Regardless of how abstract the topic may seem, stay open to thoughts and memories from personal experience that may arise and test their relevance, too. What you try is seeking a level of understanding that goes beyond the abstract and intellectual to include the experiential.
The desired outcome is for some sort of natural conclusion – an understanding, a solution, or a deeper insight – to arise from your reflections. You will feel a sense of completion and accomplishment. Often, the outcome is only partial or incomplete in terms of your original question. Nevertheless, if that outcome feels solid and significant, proceed to the fourth step. Another outcome may be the realization of the need for more information, observation, and/or experience. If the bell rings before you obtain a clear outcome that is okay. Your unconscious mind will continue to work on it. The next session might bring the desired outcome.
Once you have found an answer, you don’t want to lose it. Continue with the process of verifying and reviewing even when the bell rings to end the session. You may want to review the path of analysis you followed so you can repeat it in the future. If you discover a flaw, return to the incubation and analysis phase. If there is no flaw, you want to consolidate and integrate your new understanding. Then, you don’t have to repeat the whole problem-solving process. Just a short remark from my personal experience. Yes, I often have valuable insights. However, without consolidating and integrating those I am very much prone to forget them only to rediscover them months or years later if at all. Maybe you know this yourself. This could be done by creating mental cues that help bring you back to this state of realization and insight. This can be done by holding the “fruit” of your meditation in mind as the object of non-analytical meditation. Take the thought or idea or insight as your meditation object, allowing it to take root in your mind.
Keep in mind that this is only an excerpt from the practice. Yes, I tried to include all the important steps and information, but you might have realized that this is a complex process and reading the extended version in the book might bring you the aha-moment you might miss by reading this article.
Take care, Stephan