What is meditation, exactly? What are the objectives? Meditation has so many variations around the world that it's impossible to pinpoint exactly what it is.
Despite the fact that science has spent decades studying meditation, the mechanism by which it operates remains unknown. Around 1500 BCE, one of the first recorded traces of meditation can be found in Hindu culture. Later, around 400 BCE, Taoism, and Buddhism emerged in China and India, respectively.
Many major religions, including Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity, Baha'i, Taoism, and Judaism, practice religious meditation. "To engage in contemplation or reflection; and 2) to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repeating of a mantra) for the intention of reaching a heightened state of spiritual awareness," according to Webster's dictionary.
Depending on where the meditation practice came from, it could be used for a variety of reasons. Ways to achieve a state of relaxation or mental clarity may be included in secular meditation. Many holistic medical practitioners prescribe meditation as a way to improve health and alleviate conditions including anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure.
The goal of meditation in more old traditional meditation methods like Taoism or Buddhism is to cultivate energy or life force - qi or chi in traditional Chinese medicine, or Prana in Ayurveda. In the end, traditional meditation in the great faiths is a method of teaching compassion, love, patience, and forgiveness to the mind and spirit.
In a Huffington Post article, Hindu monastic Swami B.V. Tripurari was asked if there is such a thing as secular meditation, or meditation practiced outside of a religious or spiritual setting "Meditation is, at the very least, aimed at ego death.
As a result, one could argue that using contemplative techniques for anything other than this isn't really meditation. And, if ego death is objectively desirable, resulting in compassion and other generally desired attributes, why disagree with the religious context's success?
What is the necessity to forsake light forms of religion if they have proven effective in fostering ego death and the deathless mystic experience? An activity that helps me clear my thoughts and opens the door to having a higher spiritual consciousness is walking in nature and dwelling in what I believe is the Cathedral of Creation.
A "movement meditation" such as Tai Chi is another exercise that I enjoy. William C. Phillips defines meditation as "the process of conscious, controlled focus of the mind that may occur when the thought process, both in pictures and words, has been stopped" in an article published in the Fall 2003 edition of The Journal of the American Society of Internal Arts.
He goes on to say that "Meditation is not the same as trance, sleep, or being in a state of nothingness. If successful, meditators are always aware, comfortable, and in command of their minds." According to Phillips, meditation has two parts.
Yin meditation clears the mind of all thoughts, allowing it to remain calm and concentrated. Shapes, colors, affirmations, mantras, chakras, and prayers are examples of Yang meditation that focus the mind.
Phillips explains the Buddhist tradition of Satipatthana, or mindfulness foundation. The goal of a Satipatthana exercise is to quiet the mind - to get it to cease producing - while keeping it occupied with inputs until it develops the habit of remaining silent and refraining from any thought during the practice.
When this is accomplished, the mind is ready to start meditating. Satipatthana is made up of four parts:
- The body is aware of its surroundings.
- Feelings and sensations are kept in mind.
- Consciousness or mental mindfulness
- Mindfulness of mental occurrences of mental objects is a skill that may be learned.
While many people do not make any effort to keep their minds empty during Tai Chi Chuan practice, Phillips adds that it can be meditation with mental and spiritual benefits as well as a physical practice if that is the intention.
Quieting the mind and practicing seated meditation is the most difficult task for some of us. Everything we've been taught pushes us to pay attention to the outside world and engage in goal-oriented behavior. I've previously used guided meditation mp3s and mediation music to aid in the development of my ability to sit with a calm mind.
I can think of two good meditation books that I've found to be enlightening and beneficial. Thich Nhat Hanh is a well-known author of works on mindfulness meditation.
"Turning the Mind into an Ally," by Sakyong Mipham, is a well-regarded meditation book. Despite the fact that I have not read any of Pema Chodron's books, numerous of my friends have.
Meditation can be a blend of creative activity, moving meditation, and sitting meditation practice to help us improve spiritually, psychologically, and physically. Rather than merely "zoning out," it is intended to be dynamic.
There's no need to go to a remote monastery or mountain retreat; meditation is supposed to improve our daily lives. While it may be easier to live the enlightened life as an aesthetic on a hilltop, our spiritual teachers are warning us that this is not really doing anything constructive in today's turbulent times; that we should become our very best and make a difference.
According to Maryanne Williamson, who was quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech in 1994:
"When we allow our own light to shine, we unintentionally offer others permission to do so as well. Our presence naturally liberates others as we are liberated from our own anxiety."
I'd love to hear about your meditation experience. What type of meditation works best for you? What aspects of your trip can be of assistance or encouragement to others? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below regarding your meditation practice.