What is Meditation? - Definitions and Explanations
By Remez Sasson
What is meditation? It is a mental/spiritual technique for relaxing the restlessness of the mind and freeing it from anxiety and stress. In its higher forms, it aims for the attaining of peace of mind, inner silence and spiritual awakening.
Meditation is a state of concentrated attention on a thought, idea, an aspect of God or on one's awareness, and usually involves turning the attention inwards, away from the external world. During meditation the mind often wanders away, and the meditator has to be constantly vigilant and bring the attention back again and again. This of course involves some effort in the beginning, but as one gains proficiency, less effort will be necessary. When one is advanced on the path, keeping the mind calm and free from distracting thoughts can become a habit.
In it higher forms, meditation aims to free the mind from the subconscious compulsive habit to think incessantly. This leads to inner peace, inner freedom, and to awareness of one's real essence - The Inner I - The Spirit, which is above and beyond the mind. It also leads to serenity, clarity and bliss. In this sense, meditation means 'a cessation of the thought process'. It leads to quietening of the endless chatter of the mind.
Meditation is practiced in both the East and the West in its various forms. You don't need to be a monk or a hermit or live in seclusion or in an ashram in order to practice it. In fact, you can continue living your day-to-day life, have a job, a husband or a wife and kids, and still practice it. You don't need to follow any particular religion, wear special clothes or lead a certain lifestyle. Meditation is an inner activity, which can be practiced anywhere, and has nothing to do with any external way of life.
There are many techniques and traditions, some involve visualization and others the repetition of a mantra. Some techniques require contemplating on the meaning of selected verses from the scriptures, and others require focusing the attention on the breath, a candle or a certain shape. There are also techniques that require silencing the mind and becoming aware of the inner Self within.
Though there are many techniques, meditation can be divided into two main forms. One involves thinking and focusing on a certain thought, idea or ideal, and the other, which is a more advanced form, requires the emptying of the mind of all thoughts and entering into a state of inner silence. It is not a state of dullness or unconsciousness, but a state of deep inner peace and awareness of one's real being.
Meditation has nothing to do with being lazy, impractical or dreamy. In order to practice it successfully, at least some degree of concentration ability is required, as well as self-discipline, willpower and perseverance, and the willingess to devote time, effort and energy to master it.
Regular practice of meditation affects in a positive way one's behavior, thinking, state of mind and attitude, as well as one's health. It also develops patience, tolerance and tranquility, as well as self-mastery, discipline and inner strength, but in order to reap the rewards, it needs to be practiced regularly.
"What is meditation? It is the suspension of thoughts. You are perturbed by thoughts, which rush one after another. Hold on to one thought so that others are expelled. Continuous practice gives the necessary strength of mind to engage in meditation."