Meditation has been around for many thousands of years, even before ancient spiritual and religious traditions. Imagine a cavewoman staring intently at a flickering flame, with full attention and focus. They didn’t know it, but they were practicing meditation.
In this post I’ll explore in greater depth what is meditation, I’ll explore meditation definitions, and share a few of the most common examples of the many meditation practices. You’ll discover that, at it’s essence, meditation is a simple (but not easy) practice, that has profound benefits.
Definitions of meditation
Let’s first look at what the dictionaries have to say:
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, meditation is an act of focusing one’s thoughts intentionally. It implies careful examination or contemplation, often leading to deeper understanding of a subject.
The Cambridge dictionary presents meditation as an act of concentrating on a single subject. This could be as a part of a religious activity or a means of achieving calmness and relaxation. It also includes serious thought or study.
In the Collins dictionary, meditation is described as a silent and calm state of mind, often as part of religious training or to manage daily life challenges better.
Yogapedia defines meditation as a practice of quieting, focusing, and transforming the mind. It enhances self-awareness and provides the ideal conditions for practicing mindfulness.
To summarize these dictionary definitions of meditation, we might define meditation as:
The practice of focusing one’s thoughts intentionally: to calm the mind, manage daily life challenges better, and enhance self-awareness.
What is meditation: the wisdom of practitioners
Here are some of the most insightful descriptions of meditation, from thought-leaders and practitioners.
The inner experience of meditation can be had without any kind of forced discipline. The outer trappings – how one sits, breathes, dresses, and so forth – are irrelevant.Deepak Chopra
Meditation is sticking to one thought. That single thought keeps away other thoughts; distraction of mind is a sign of its weakness; by constant meditation, it gains strength.Sri Ramana Maharshi
Meditation means letting go of our baggage, letting go of all the pre-rehearsed stories and inner-dialogue that we’ve grown so attached to.Andy Puddicombe
Meditation is not about stopping thoughts, but recognizing that we are more than our thoughts and our feelings.Arianna Huffington
Mediation is not spacing out or running away. In fact, it is being totally honest with ourselves.Kathleen McDonald
Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong, but just to watch it and move with it.Jiddu Krishnamurti
Meditation is to dive all the way within, beyond thought, to the source of thought and pure consciousness.David Lynch
We experience happiness as a series of pleasing moments. They come and go like clouds, unpredictable, fleeting, and without responsibility to our desires. Through honest self-work, reflection, and meditation, we begin to string more of these moments together, creating a web-like design of happiness that drapes around our lives.Tara Stiles
As you can see, there is no simple answer to the question of what is meditation. There are many types of practice and the journey of practice is a personal one.
Examples of meditation practice
Now that we’ve explored definitions of meditation, here are a few examples of the many practices of meditation:
- Mindfulness meditation: originating from Buddhist teachings, mindfulness meditation has become one of the most popular and researched forms of meditation in the West. With mindfulness meditation, you focus on your thoughts as they pass through your mind, observing and noting patterns without judgment or engagement. This practice combines concentration with awareness, helping you to foster self-awareness.
- Transcendental Meditation (TM): this is a form of meditation that has been extensively studied in the scientific community. It involves the use of a mantra and is typically taught by a certified TM practitioner. The practice is designed to quiet the mind, inducing a state of calm and peace. Transcendental Meditation is particularly suitable for those seeking a deep, accessible approach to meditation.
- Guided visualization meditation: also known as guided imagery or visualization, is a method where you form mental images of situations or scenes that you find relaxing. This practice often involves using as many senses as possible to create a vivid, immersive experience. Visualization meditation not only facilitates relaxation but can also cultivate positive feelings and enhance motivation.
- Movement meditation: this is an active form of meditation where movement guides you into a deeper connection with your body and the present moment. This approach can include practices like yoga, tai chi, or even simple walking. Movement meditation is particularly beneficial for those who find peace in action and wish to develop body awareness.
- Mantra meditation: this form of meditation uses a repetitive sound, word, or phrase to clear the mind. This technique is prominent in many teachings, including Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Mantra meditation allows you to experience deeper levels of awareness, making it an excellent choice for individuals who enjoy repetition or find focusing on a word easier than focusing on their breath.
- Body scan meditation: this meditation, also know as progressive relaxation meditation, aims to reduce tension in the body and promote relaxation. This practice typically involves focusing attention on each muscle group throughout the body. It’s often used to relieve stress and unwind before bedtime.
- Loving Kindness Meditation: also known as Metta Meditation, is used to cultivate feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance towards oneself and others. This practice involves sending well wishes to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and all living beings, promoting compassion and kindness.
- Vipassana meditation: this is an ancient Indian form of meditation that means to see things as they really are. This practice aims for self-transformation through self-observation, focusing on physical sensations in the body, and developing qualities such as wisdom and compassion.
At its essence, meditation is simple. It’s the act of paying attention to your awareness, and choosing where to focus your awareness. How we do that is more complex, there are many different paths.