What is meditation?
That’s a question that has been answered so many times in so many ways. Scholars have written about meditation for thousands of years.
So it would be audacious of me to suggest that I have the single best definition of meditation.
But who said I’m not audacious?
I’ve just finished writing the most in-depth guide to different meditation techniques that exists online. And right now my mind is buzzing.
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.
But first, let’s look at how the best meditation teachers have defined meditation.
Different definitions of meditation by the best online meditation experts
Clearly there are lots of different ways of explaining meditation.
Commonly, people will explain meditation in three ways:
- As a cognitive behavioral therapy involving neuroscience.
- As a religious practice spanning Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga…
- As a spiritual practice.
But meditation isn’t any of these three things at all.
You want to know what meditation really is?
Meditation is focus.
When we meditate, we focus the mind on one or more things.
That’s the universal constant between all meditative practices.
Meditation = Focus.
You probably already know that there are very many different styles of meditation. In fact, there are hundreds. But they are all based around the same thing.
All meditations are based around the idea of concentrating on something.
Take a look at this guide to Focused Attention Meditation and Open Monitoring. When you read that article you will realise that every single meditation technique is one of those two things.
So, to describe meditation in a simple way:
Meditation is when you focus the mind on one or more things in order to relax and to clear away your thoughts. This could be as simple as focusing on your breath Or it could be as difficult as focusing on a 1000-syllable mantra. But it is still just focusing.
So far we’re in agreement, right? (If not, please leave a comment).
Meditation is focus. What makes a meditation is what you choose to focus on.
So, if meditation is about focusing the mind, what do you focus on when you meditate?
This seems like 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 even though meditation is just focus, there are a million different meditations because there are a million different things to focus on.
So meditation is simple but infinite.
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 actually a meditation called “Loving Kindness Meditation”) you will develop love and kindness.
Meditation is like water.
It is always the same basic thing. But it can take any form.
If you put water in a jug the water becomes the shape of the inside of the jug.
You remember the Bruce Lee water quote?
Put water in a jug and it takes the form of the jug.
Guess what happens when you put your awareness into any one thing.
- 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.
That’s why there are all different meditations.
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.’
And here’s the “Oh s**t” moment”:
You already meditate. Because you already experience moments of meditative focus.
Think of the amount of times you have gazed up at the stars at night. When you’re staring up at those stars, you’re meditating on .
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.
I know what I just said sounds overly poetic. “Your mind will adopt the properties of the thing you meditate on? Pah! I hear you cry. “
Mind if I prove it to you?
- 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.
Those objects create those feelings in your mind. When you meditate you simply focus more on those positive objects. And that creates a positive response in the mind.
So actually, meditation is basically just an increase in concentration
We already meditate because we already focus on things.
You already focus on the night sky when you want to relax. But maybe you focus 50%, not 100%.
You focus 50% of your mind on the night sky and you feel somewhat relaxed.
Pretty obvious what happens when you focus 100% of your mind on that same sky.
You feel more relaxed.
So, to put meditation in a very simple nutshell, meditation says Get those positive feelings by focusing on positive things. Just focus more.
Amazing thing is:
It’s actually your mind that creates those positive feelings.
Your mind creates positive feelings when you meditate on positive objects
When you gaze up at the night sky, you feel free, right? But you don’t feel free because the night sky itself forces your mind to go into freedom mode. You feel free because your mind creates that feeling for itself when you look at the sky.
- Your mind creates a feeling of freedom when you gaze up at the sky
- 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.
So, when you meditate your mind is focusing on a part of itself.
Meditation is your mind focusing on 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, you cause it to grow. Because what we focus on grows.
So what is meditation? It’s your minds way of nurturing itself
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.