What Is Meditation?
Meditation has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and many people are receiving the benefits from this wonderful practice. While there are many people that are aware of meditation, there are also many that don’t actually know what meditation is or how to practice it.
What is the purpose of meditation?
There are many reasons why one might be drawn to meditation—curiosity, inner peace, mental stability, relaxation, self-realization, spiritual freedom. Whatever the reason may be for beginning the practice, meditation will soon reveal far more to us than we could have possibly imagined. It is a practice that brings us beyond the superficial layer of everyday thoughts and concerns, and into a deeper awareness of life and of ourselves.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years as one of the fundamental and core practices of many spiritual and philosophical traditions. Through meditation, yogis and sages were able to gain profound insights into the nature of reality, some of which are only recently being discovered through modern scientific research.
One of the most notable meditation masters was a man named Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as “The Buddha” meaning “the one who is awake.” The teachings of the Buddha can be summarized in his statement “perfectly tame your own mind.” The Buddha taught that it is the mind which shapes our experience of life, and when we are ignorant of the mind, it often causes us unnecessary suffering from its blind habits, reactions, and negative thought patterns. If one can become aware of the mind, however, one can see how the mind generates suffering, and one can train it to no longer create unnecessary misery, but instead to be a source of joy and peace. The primary means of training the mind is through the practices of mindfulness and meditation.
Meditation is really a way of being and perceiving, but typically, meditation refers to the traditional practice of seated meditation (link article on how to practice meditation), whereas mindfulness refers to carrying this meditative way of being into our everyday lives. Meditation and mindfulness are complimentary to one another, and are both essentially about bringing our attention to the reality of the present moment as it is, and allowing ourselves to experience life in the present moment without projecting our thoughts, opinions and judgements onto our direct experience.
Meditation and emotions
Though many of us are unaware of it, we are constantly projecting our thoughts onto our immediate experience, and in doing so, we overlook the reality of our experience and often create unnecessary problems for ourselves. We make up stories about our circumstances, we form opinions and beliefs, we impose our judgements and views, and have all kinds of thoughts about life, which really only exist in our minds.
These thoughts can often cause us stress, irritation, anxiety, fear, and a range of other negative emotions. Though essentially, they are only thoughts. When we are unaware of them, they take us on a ride and we experience the ups and downs of this mental roller coaster. When we are aware of them, we can remain as bystanders on the side, watching the ride, allowing it to come and go without getting on board.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation frees us from our thoughts by helping us to be more aware of them, and by helping us realize that there is a distinction between us and our thoughts. Many people unknowingly identify with their thoughts, and believe themselves to be the thinker. The reality is, however, that we are not the voice in our heads, but we are the awareness that recognizes that voice.
Meditation is training to realize your nature as awareness, and to relax as this awareness that you are, without getting pulled away or distracted by thoughts. It is a practice, and like all practices it takes time to master. With practice, you will be able to train your mind so that you can experience peace in the present moment, rather than stress and anxiety from thoughts of the past or future.
While meditation is a practice, the way to approach this practice is very different from any other life practice. It is not really something you do in order to achieve some result. Typically, we measure progress as a successful confirmation that we are doing something right. In nearly every domain of learning this is completely valid and reasonable, but meditation is different. In the practice of meditation, we are not trying to reach some special state, but realize that every state is a special state, every moment a special moment. When we let go of wanting something special to happen, we can begin to actually experience the reality of what is happening here and now—beyond all of our ideas, opinions, beliefs, thoughts, and expectations.
In meditation, you are just paying attention to what is, on purpose, without judging it or interpreting it mentally. In doing so, the regular habit of judging and interpreting begins to change. Through the very act of observing what is, and letting it be as it is, what is begins to transform on its own.
Meditation teaches us that we do not have to wait for the right circumstances to experience peace. Peace is our very nature, and we can experience it right here and now. The movement of the mind is what disturbs our peace, just as the movement of wind disturbs the surface of a pond. Yet, underneath the waves on the surface, the water is always calm and still. Similarly, underneath the waves of our minds, however turbulent they may be, there is peace and stillness. Meditation helps us contact the depths of our being, where peace is always present, regardless of what exists on the surface. With meditation, we can train our minds to no longer disturb our natural state of peace, but rather to abide in the simple joy of being alive in the present moment.