It's easy to be distracted by the seemingly many forms of meditative practices. Wikipedia offers a pretty good rundown of them.
Naturally, devotees of the various practices almost always believe that theirs is the best. I fell into this delusion during the 35 years or so when I meditated every day for one to two-and-a-half hours.
After all, my meditation practice was based on a secret mantra -- the Five Holy Names! Which, actually, weren't so secret.
But no matter. The power of the mantra supposedly came from the divine energy of the guru who initiated me. So even if some non-initiate repeated the Five Holy Names in meditation, this wouldn't have the same effect as us Real Disciples thought we enjoyed.
Pretty crazy, in retrospect.
Thankfully I've now come to understand that while claims of special meditation wonderfulness abound, meditative practices only come in two forms: focused attention and open monitoring.
Evan Thompson explains them in his book, "Waking, Dreaming, Being."
These terms, although derived from traditional Buddhist meditative vocabularies, were recently coined by scientists and contemplative scholars in order to delineate the specific kinds of mental processes involved in various Buddhist and non-Buddhist meditation practices, ranging from Vipassana to Yoga to Zen.
...In focused attention or concentration meditation, you direct your attention to a chosen object, such as the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your nostrils, and you keep your attention focused on that object from moment to moment.
Inevitably your mind wanders as distracting thoughts and feelings arise. At some point, you notice your attention is no longer focused on the object. You're instructed simply to recognize that your mind has wandered, to release the distraction, and to return your attention to the object.
...In open monitoring meditation -- or "open awareness" meditation, as I prefer to call it -- you cultivate an "objectless" awareness, which doesn't focus on any explicit object but remains open and attentive to whatever arises in experience from moment to moment.
One way to do this is to relax the focus on an explicit object in focused attention meditation and to emphasize instead the watchful awareness that notices thoughts and feelings as they arise from moment to moment. Eventually you learn to let go of the object of attention and to rest simply in open awareness without any explicit attentional selection.
The meditation practice I was taught back in 1969 by an American yoga teacher was pretty much the same technique as I was taught by an Indian guru in 1971, and is pretty much the same as I engage in now every morning.
How could it be otherwise?
Focused attention and open monitoring -- these are the two flavors meditation comes in. Mix and match as you like; add whatever extra toppings you desire; you'll still be left with focused attention and open monitoring.
Sure, people claim that it is best -- maybe even essential -- to concentrate on this or that (there are, of course, countless this's and that's) in order to benefit the most from meditation.
Others would have us believe that open awareness/monitoring needs to be done in a certain fashion, which obviously seems to belie the point of being open to whatever.
For most of my meditating years I engaged in both types of practice. I'd repeat a mantra for a while (focused attention), then rest in closed-eyed internal silence, aside from mind chatter, where I simply paid attention to whatever was present in my psyche (open awareness).
I find it amusing how some current devotees of the meditative practice I followed for those 35 years leave comments on this blog along the lines of, "You must have done something wrong to not get any results from your meditation."
It shows how little they understand about meditation. I diligently engaged in both focused attention and open awareness for an hour or two every day. Currently I do the same, but just for 20 minutes or so.
I enjoyed meditation in the past; I enjoy it now; I expect I'll continue to enjoy it in the future. Over the years I've concentrated on different things, and my sense of open awareness has altered also.
Where the closed-minded devotees mentioned above go wrong is assuming there's only one way to meditate, and that way will have similar outcomes for everybody who practices it. Both assumptions are false.
Focused attention and open awareness/monitoring meditation practices can be done in many different ways. Results will vary for every individual.
It's a lot like exercise, which also comes in a limited variety of basic forms: aerobic, strength-building, flexibility/balance, maybe others -- but also in a vast array of specific techniques.
Believing that repeating this mantra or sitting in that posture is the only way to meditate is as misguided as believing that the jogging and lifting free weights are the only ways to exercise.
Open your mind. That's the real benefit of meditation.