Meditation–you’ve probably heard this word before. The most basic question that comes to mind when we hear everyone praising this practice for its remarkable benefits is: What is meditation? In this article, we’ll talk about what meditation means and why it’s an excellent investment of your time.
Meditation is the art of focusing your attention on a single object, such as breath, sound, or an image. The process of bringing your mind back to the object, again and again, results in an understanding of how the mind works. Over time, we’re able to pacify the mind and experience inner peace and joy.
The internet is full of misconceptions regarding meditation (and spirituality in general). Let’s discuss in detail what sitting meditation is, what it isn’t, and why you should bother with it.
What meditation is not
Before we dive into what meditation is, it’s important to understand what meditation is not. Meditation is not about walking on water, reading people’s minds, or seeing the future. It doesn’t have much to do with magic tricks, clairvoyance, or supernatural experiences.
Meditation is also not about becoming a better person by sharpening your mind, increasing your focus, or becoming more productive. These may be the by-products of regular meditation, but they’re not the real reason we practice it.
You’re not supposed to control your mind or become thoughtless either. Meditation is not an act of switching off the mind. I’ve talked more about the place of thoughts during meditation in this article.
Finally, meditation is also not a strictly religious practice. You can meditate without having any religious beliefs. Read this article to learn more about it: Is Meditation a Religious Practice?
So, what is meditation?
Meditation is training your attention and awareness to gain a better understanding of yourself. In the beginning, you can think of meditation like a gym for your mind. When you meditate, you’re dedicating time and effort to develop mindfulness to understand your thoughts and emotions and how to work with them.
The Cambridge dictionary defines meditation as “serious thought or study, or the product of this activity,” or “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.”
The former definition includes pondering over one’s life in the light of a book or scripture. While reflection has its place in improving the quality of our lives, the latter definition is what we’re concerned with here.
Meditation begins by choosing an object on which you’ll meditate, such as your breath, a mantra, or an image. Then, you sit upright on the ground or a chair and settle your mind on the object of meditation.
For example, if you decide to meditate on your breath, you try to be aware of every inhalation and exhalation. In case of a mantra, you mindfully recall the mantra in your head. Or if it’s an image, you close your eyes and hold the image in your mind as vividly as you can.
Within a few moments, the mind will wander off, and you may not even realize it. When you notice it, you gently bring the mind back to your breath or another object. It’ll wander again, and you’ll bring it back again, and again, and again.
Over time, the mind starts listening–you’re able to stay on your breath for longer periods, and that’s when you discover your inner peace. You start to understand the nature of the mind, and you realize that nobody can cause you to be happy or sad–it’s all within yourself. This fresh perspective allows you to be happier and more content with your life.
Many other changes also take place, but the central point is that you find a fountain of peace and joy within you and stop looking for it in the outer world.
That’s a good enough introduction for now. If you’re interested in learning what the ancient sages had in mind when they developed this practice, read this article.
What are mindfulness and concentration?
Mindfulness and concentration are often talked about in meditation. These are two distinct functions of the brain that work together to ensure that the monkey mind sticks to our object of meditation.
Concentration is when you force your mind to remain on your breath and think about nothing else. It means one-pointedness of the mind. When you focus your mind on something without interruption, it’s called concentration.
On the contrary, mindfulness is the ability to be aware of what’s happening in the present moment. When you’re mindful, you’re aware of your thoughts and emotions with no judgment or indulgence.
Mindfulness picks the object of your meditation and notices whenever the mind wanders. Concentration works to hold the mind steady on your chosen object. Concentration is moving forward on a rope, and mindfulness is noticing and adjusting whenever you lose your balance.
So you maintain your attention on the object by concentration, while mindfulness helps you stay attentive and not get distracted by passing thoughts, emotions, or images. If you end up getting distracted, mindfulness helps you notice it and brings the mind back to your object.
Why should you practice meditation?
It might not be obvious in the beginning, but meditation helps us understand who we are and what our innermost desire is. At the end of the day, we all want to feel fulfilled and satisfied with our lives. But external factors alone–however convenient or pleasurable they may be–can never lead to inner fulfillment.
Meditation shows us that we are responsible for our feelings of happiness, misery, or contentment. We can act gracefully in the world only when we’re content and joyous within ourselves. It opens the door to inner peace and joy within ourselves.
Whoa, wait! I’m not into the spiritual stuff. Does meditation still have something to offer me or not?
For those of us who aren’t really interested in self-exploration, meditation offers several physical, mental, and emotional benefits backed by science.
It helps us with physical and mental illnesses such as:
- Chronic pain
- Heart diseases
Some emotional benefits of meditation are:
- Increased emotional intelligence
- Reduced negative emotions
- Increased patience and self-awareness
- Ability to handle stressful situations
Meditation also influences brain chemistry. It:
- Sharpens the mind
- Reduces brain aging
- Makes you more creative
- Improves working memory
- Enhances focus and lengthens attention span
- Helps us overcome addiction
To learn about many such benefits of meditation with links to scientific studies, read: Benefits of Meditation: 20 Reasons Why Meditation Is Important
Meditation is an ancient technique that’s often misunderstood and promoted as a panacea for the solution of all problems of life. It is also associated with mystical stuff and supernatural experiences.
However, one should think of meditation only as an effort to understand the mind and calm it down. When we sit down to meditate, we’re trying to focus our attention on our object of meditation, knowing that the mind will wander.
The process of bringing the mind back repeatedly develops mindfulness and an understanding of how the mind works. Eventually, it calms down, and we find the peace we’ve been longing for.
I hope you found this article useful. Good luck and happy meditating! 😊