Thursday, June 24, 2010

What is Meditation?

This is the first of a series of essays on meditation.

Meditation is a mental practice used to get beyond the thinking mind into a deeper state of awareness. It is more important to meditate regularly than to follow a rigid schedule. According to Wikipedia,

“Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and/or psychophysical practices which may emphasize different goals -- from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.”
A common form of meditation is concentration meditation. This is the easiest for beginners to do. Part of the idea of meditation is to develop concentration so that you can control distractions. The meditator tries to keep one’s mind on a single point of focus. The point of focus could be a short repetitive prayer, one’s breath, a breath count, qi energy flows, or anything else.

Meditation has a long history. It has been part of Buddhist culture for thousands of years. The two common types of Buddhist meditation are shamatha and vipassana. Shamatha consists of types of concentration meditations used to develop focus. Vipassana consists of practices to develop insight into the true nature of reality.

Step eight of the eight-fold path of Buddhism refers to “Right Concentration”, referring to meditation. In this context, concentration refers to a mental state where the entire mind is directed toward a single object. Through meditation, people develop the ability to concentrate on focus in everyday situations.

Christians have practiced meditation for almost as long, although they prefer the term "contemplation" nowadays. Some Catholics use the rosary to practice meditation. There are many biblical references to meditation among the prophets. Many scholars and religious officials of the Middle Ages wrote guides to meditation. In addition, there are many secular meditation practices.

Regardless of our motivation or background in meditation, our first efforts at meditation are difficult. Before we even notice it, our mind has wandered away. We find that our mind bounces around from one idea to another and it seems that there is nothing we can do to stop it. Some people describe it as your “monkey mind”, where your mind jumps around like a monkey jumping from one branch to another.

Continued practice develops better mental focus. Exercise develops your muscular strength or endurance. Meditation develops your “concentration muscles” and helps us learn how to maintain focus. When the mind wanders, all that is necessary is to bring the mind back to that point of focus. Do not allow recriminations or frustrations to develop.

I will discuss specific meditation techniques in future writings.

© 2010 Eric Borreson