What is meditation?
That’s a question that has been answered so many times in so many ways, it seems audacious of me to suggest that I might have the best definition. But I believe I may have the perfect explanation for meditation, and I would love to hear your opinion of it in a comment after the article.
What is meditation?
Look up that question online and you will find some very in-depth answers. You’ll see research papers about how meditation is a cognitive behavioral therapy that increases neuroplasticity and promotes harmony between the hemispheres of the brain… yeah, k thanks.
Then you’ll find the spiritual answers. Meditation is a principally Hindu, Yogic and Buddhist practice stemming from the Vedas of 1200BC. Nuh-huh.
These answers are far too lofty. And they are usually based on the fact that the author is, to put it mildly, trying to flaunt their intelligence.
Let’s wind it right back and look at the very, very basics. That way, you and I can have a mutual understanding of meditation that, I hope, we can agree on.
So let’s start with the very, very basics and look at what meditation is. And then I will tell you my personal definition of meditation and why I believe it is the numero uno way of looking at this often confusing but innately simple thing.
So, the basics.
Meditation is a mental exercise that trains your mind to focus on one or more elements.
When you meditate, you focus your mind on one or more things. This is the universal constant between all the different types of meditation (and bear in minid, there are more than 700 different meditation techniques). The one constant is that they focus the mind.
When you do this, you quieten your mind and produce inner peace. Because of this, meditation is also a type of relaxation technique. Because when you focus your mind on one thing, you stop thinking.
So, to describe meditation in a simple way: Meditation is when you focus the mind on something in order to relax and to clear away your thoughts. And it can be used as simply as a brief walk— something you do just to relax. Or it can be used in more complex ways, such as for spiritual advancement. But we will discuss that later on.
So far we’re in agreement, right? (If not, please leave a comment).
So, if meditation is about focusing the mind, what do you focus on when you meditate?
This seems the next logical question. We know that meditation is about focusing. So, what do you focus on when you meditate?
Aye. It’s a great question. In fact, that question is the key to unlocking the entirety of meditation.
Because you can focus on anything when you meditate. And your choice of what to focus on will change the results of your meditation.
When you meditate, you could focus on your breathing, your body, some words (a “mantra”), a mental image… you can focus on anything.
And so, while meditation is very simple (it is about focusing on something) it is also infinite, because you can focus on anything.
Simple. Yet infinite.
So we know that meditation is about focusing, and that you can focus on anything. Here’s the next step.
All meditations are defined by the thing you focus on.
What you focus on when you meditate will completely change the meditation.
If you focus on your breathing you will relax both mind and body. If you focus on love and kindness (and there is indeed a meditation called “Loving Kindness Meditation”) then you will develop love and kindness.
Meditation is like water. It is the same basic element. But it can take any form. And not only is meditation simple but infinite, like water, it also takes the form of the thing that is containing it, again, like water.
If you put water in a jug the water becomes the shape of the inside of the jug.
Likewise, when you focus your mind on something, your mind adopts the form of the object you are meditating on.
- If you meditate on your breath you will become light and relaxed, like your breath.
- If you focus on love and kindness you will become full of love and kindness.
- If you focus on a clear blue sky you will feel free as the air.
Incidentally, this explains the need for different types of meditation.
There are many different types of meditation because you can meditate on anything and, importantly, because you can develop any mental trait by meditating on the element that represents it.
- If you focus on a burning fire you will feel power.
- If you focus on the night sky you will feel infinite.
By the way, here I would like to state proof of concept. Because you do meditate on the night sky. Think of the amount of times you have gazed up at the stars at night. And why do you do it? Because it makes you feel free and infinite.
So, to recap.
- Meditation is about focusing the mind.
- You can focus the mind on anything.
- Your mind will adopt the properties of the thing you meditate on.
Now, hold it right here one sec.
Because I know that what I just said sounds overly poetic. “Your mind will adopt the properties of the thing you meditate on? Pah! I hear you cry. “
But this all becomes very clear and very easy to understand when you turn the picture around.
- Why does the sky represent freedom?
- Why does water represent purity?
- Why does your breath represent life?
And the only logical answer to these questions are: because those things make you feel those ways.
- Gazing up at the sky makes you feel free
- Watching the flow of water makes you feel pure.
- Focusing on your breath makes you more aware of your own life energy.
The only thing that meditation does is make you feel more of these positives.
You already feel free when you look up at the sky. But at those times, you’re not focusing on the sky 100%, you’re still full of thoughts.
So, you’re focusing 50% and you get 50% of that feeling of freedom that the sky offers you.
You obviously will see where this is going.
When you focus 100% on the sky, you feel 100% of the freedom the sky offers you.
So, to put meditation in a very simple nutshell, meditation says Get those positive feelings by focusing on positive things. Just focus more.
And here we come full-circle.
Because the truth is that it is your mind that makes you feel those ways.
When you gaze up at the night sky, you feel free, but not because the night sky genuinely forces you to feel free. Rather, your own mind produces that feeling of freedom when you gaze up at the sky.
And your own mind creates the feeling of purity when you focus on water.
And your own mind creates the feeling of power when you focus on fire.
And so, when you bring this together, you realise that when you meditate your mind is focusing on a part of itself.
When you meditate on water, you are actually using the water as a way to meditate on the feeling of purity that is a part of your own mind.
And when you focus on that part of your mind, that part which creates the feeling of purity, you cause it to grow.
So what, o what, is meditation?
Meditation is focusing your mind on a positive element of itself in order to cause that positive part to grow.
And so, the final, final, final part of this explanation of meditation is this:
To meditate, find something in the world that produces a positive response in yourself, and meditate on it 100%.
All the in-depth scientific and ultra-spiritual definitions of meditation come down to this:
Embrace the positive feelings and sensations that life already gives you. Just do it 100% by focusing all of your mind on it.
And that, is meditation.