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
Meditation teachers has written many definitions and explanations of meditation. Just as spiritual gurus have written many different definitions of spirituality.
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.
What do the science of meditation, the spiritual aspects of meditation, and religious meditations all have in common? They are about 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.
Meditation is focusing on different objects
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.
This explains how there can be both religious meditation, and meditations for agnostics and atheists.
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?
One of the most famous quotes by Bruce Lee is the water quote shown in this image.
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
The brain is just like a tree that needs to grow. One of the best ways to grow the brain is with meditation.
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.
How I personally found the true meaning of meditation
When I was finishing drama school back in 2004 my acting teacher said to me “Imagine there are curtains closed around your mind. Now imagine them opening”. In this one sentence I realised the actual definition and meaning of meditation, and I’d like to share my revelation with you.
Looking back on that time when my drama teacher told me to open the curtains of my mind, one of the main reasons why his words resonated with me was because they were unquestionably true. The truth of the statement immediately struck me. For years I’d been living my life inside my head, not truly living in the moment or experiencing the full richness of life. And I’d never even noticed it until my drama teacher pointed it out.
After that acting lesson I approached my teacher and said “I want to truly thank you”.
“For what?” he asked, squinting, completely unaware of the importance of what he’d said only minutes before.
“I’ve always known something wasn’t quite right with my mind. When you said about opening the curtains, I immediately realised what was wrong. And now I think I can change it.”
My acting teacher had pointed out something about myself that had been going on for years, but something I’d never realised. It was a real “Ah ha” moment. Meditation is often that way.
Meditation isn’t something new or complex. If you were to look up the definition of meditation you might hear talk of Buddhism and Hinduism, or neuroscience. But the real meaning of meditation is much simpler than that.
No, meditation is now new or complex. Nor is the idea of living consciously or mindlessly. They’re very old idea, and they’re very simple to grasp. You probably already understand why you need to meditate. With all the stress and pressure put on us, it’s no wonder than most of us are not mindful, we’re consumed by thoughts about money, work, family, health, and other issues. We know that something isn’t quite right, just as I knew something wasn’t quite right before my drama teacher pointed it out to me
We already know that something isn’t right, but we never quite grasp what it is that is wrong.
Then we come across mindfulness and meditation. We’re told that we need to live in the moment, to be mindful of the world and of ourselves, to experience the fullness of being. And it seems such an obvious thing, when you hear it.
“You’re alive now. Live this moment,” says the meditation teacher.
“Well obviously,” says the student.
“And yet for years you have been consumed by your own mind and thoughts,” the teacher points out.
The student is stumped, because although it is obvious that they should live the moments of their lives, they don’t.
So it is that the idea of living mindfully is the single most obvious thing in the world. The definition of meditation is basically “Be alive inj the present moment”. That’s the meaning of meditation: be here, be now, be alive. But simply “Being alive” is so obvious that most of us forget to do it. We need a reminder to live in the moment. And that is what meditation is.
Meditation is the reminder and the practice of living in the moment. And it’s something you already do.
Live in the moment. That ethos is the real meaning of meditation. The definition of meditation is that we focus the mind on the moment.
Think about the last time you were really stressed. Let’ say you had a bad day at work. You were angry and needed to get away. You took your car and drove off somewhere quiet, to the park, for instance, because you needed to chill out. And then you sat there in the park not doing anything, just relaxing, just focusing on the moment.
That was meditation.
The same thing happens when you experience a moment of pure joy. Think about the last time you saw a truly stunning sunset. It was so beautiful you momentarily forgot yourself. You cared about nothing other than admiring this beautiful sunset.
That was meditation.
Or the last time you made love, and you felt a deep and profound connection, and it was like the world stopped and there was just the two of you.
That was meditation.
Sure, books might tell you that the definition of meditation is “Sitting with your legs crossed on the floor focusing on your breathing”. But it isn’t. The meaning of meditation is being present, being here, being now.
When you see something truly beautiful, like a sunset, you naturally live in the moment and enjoy the beauty of the world. And in so doing, you experience a moment of meditation.
Moments of beauty, like this beautiful sunset in Coquitlam, make you live in the moment, experiencing meditation.
You see, you already meditate often. You meditate when you need to relax and when you experience moments of pure joy. You already do it. You’ve just never really thought of it like that before. Those were just a couple of moments when you chilled out and enjoyed life, right? Moments when you let go and just lived in the moment. And that is what meditation is. That is the definition of meditation. That is the meaning of meditation. It’s being there in the moment.
So on the one hand, you might think of yourself as a beginner, but on the other hand you have in truth been meditating for years.
The only real difference between traditional meditation and those moments when you lived in the moment is intention.
Meditation is the intention and practice of focusing the mind on the present moment.
It isn’t by accident that we naturally meditate. Our bodies and minds need those meditative moments in order to rebalance, to calm, and to heal. The problem is that society prevents us from experiencing these types of meditative moments often enough.
How many times have you thought to yourself “I’ll relax and have fun just once I get this thing done”? And then you end up in a perpetual cycle of doing that doesn’t permit any moments of simply being?
Inevitably, the less you allow yourself to relax, the more stressed you will be. Stress is the leading cause of death, and the cause of innumerable health complications, ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Of course, the more you allow yourself to relax the less stressed you’ll be and the better health you’ll enjoy. So it’s no surprised that meditation has been scientifically proven to offer over 110 health benefits, ranging from curing depression and anxiety to slowing the aging process.
Meditation is truly powerful. But it’s powerful because it’s natural. It is the most natural thing in the world. The mind needs to slow down and to calm. It does that by living in the moment. Society prevents you from living in the moment. Meditation redresses the balance. That’s why meditation is so very important: Because it undoes the damage that modern society does. That’s also why the next time you tell yourself you need to take 10 to relax, you should do it. Give yourself those natural meditative moments. That’s the beginning of learning meditation: embracing the meditations that life naturally gives you.
See a sunset? Appreciate it. Love the feeling of cold water on your body? Enjoy it. Feel like closing your eyes and focusing on your breath for a few minutes? Do it. Those are all meditations, and they are all very beneficial for your health.
So, the definition of meditation is to be present in the moment. The meaning of meditation is simply to be alive, here and now.
And now that you know the meaning of meditation, why not take a look at my article about the fundamental basics of meditation practice? It’s full of vital information you need to know if you want to succeed in your meditation practice.
Meditation is pure perception
Meditation. It’s not spiritual. It’s not religious. It’s not scientific. And it definitely isn’t difficult. Meditation is all about working with man’s most basic and fundamental ability: the ability to perceive.
Perception is man’s thing; man’s blessing or man’s curse dependent on your point of view; dependent on… well…your perception.
You may wish to see it as a blessing from god, a blessing from nature, or a blessing from whichever source of creator you personally believe in, if any. But the one blessing all humans share, regardless of age, wealth, belief, health, or anything else, is perception.
If you took all 6 billion people on the planet, lined them all up, and studied just what it was that made them one and the same, you’d find that the young, the old, the blind, the deaf, the black, the white… everyone; they all perceive the world in some way.
Perception is our most fundamental function. By controlling our perception we can control our greatest weapon: our minds.
The practice of focussing our perception is ancient.
For thousands of years, people have meditated, and in so doing they have learnt to focus their mind and to control their perception. Because that, in a nutshell, is what perception is: it’s the practice of focusing the mind.
Most meditations focus the individual’s mind on breathing. We focus our mind one-hundred percent on our breathing and this quiets the mind, quiets our thoughts, and creates inner peace.
I know, that sounds far-fetched, that inner peace can be created just by focusing on your breathing, but it’s true, and I’d like to show you how it’s true just a little later on.
Meditation is the art of focusing the mind, focusing our perception. The definition of meditation is “Focusing your perception”. That is the definition of meditation. It’s not the definition of medtiation that you’ll find in a book, but it is the true psychological and spiritual definition of meditation.
When meditating, we may focus on our breathing, or on many other things, like a beautiful countryside, relaxing music, a mantra (a set of repeated words) or any other item. By controlling our focus we control our reality.
When I was recovering from my depression, I spent hours every day sitting in my conservatory back home in England, just looking out onto our garden and field, down past our horses, to the countryside beyond, to those rolling fields of yellow and green. And I’d just sit there meditating / focusing on nothing but the vision of that countryside. That’s another form of meditation: just sitting and observing.
Those times when you idly sit, doing nothing but focusing your mind on whatever it is you’re looking at. That’s meditation. That’s focusing your mind on the present moment, which is the very definition of meditation.
So, put down the dictionary for just a sec and ignore their definition of meditation, because the real definition of medtiation is not found in a book, it’s found in you.
If you take ten minutes right now to sit in your garden and just focus your mind on the flowers, the sky, or, if you have a water feature, the sound of those droplets gently dropping, then you will be meditating.
So you see, everyone meditates, because meditating is simply taking some time to sit and observe. That’s the very basic form of meditation. Everyone’s done it. No doubt everyone does it every day. We might not consciously sit and focus our minds on our breathing, but we do have moments when we just chill and focus on something, on some music, on a work of art, on the feeling of water on our body when we shower. We all meditate, even if we are not consciously aware of it.
And you’ll notice that it’s when you meditate, it’s when you allow yourself to go and take a bath and focus on the feeling of the water, or you have yourself a delicious meal and do nothing but focus on the taste of it… it’s at those times when you unwind, when you relax.
So, you see, meditation has been relaxing you for years whether you realise it or not.
So you might be wondering; “If we all meditate, what exactly separates a meditator from a non-meditator?”
The answer is pure awareness. The answer is that “meditators” are those who know to focus their mind on the present moment, and who consciously go about practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness: The art of focusing the mind on the present moment, without judgment and without thoughts.
The only difference between a “Meditator” and a “non-meditator” is that meditators practice specific techniques. These meditation techniques all involve the same process: Focusing the mind on one particular thing.
Some meditation techniques focus the mind on the breath, others on a specific sound, some on physical feelings, and so on. But they all involve focusing the mind on something specific.
For instance, try this simple candle meditation technique
Simply close your eyes once more and focus on your breathing for two minutes. Now focus your mind 100% on the mental picture of a lit candle. Just imagine that you’re looking at a lit candle.
Do this now before reading on as we’ll be referring to this exercise numerous times throughout the book.
That’s just one example of a meditation technique in which we focus the mind on one specific thing.
Through this simple process of focussing the mind we can quiet the mind, build concentration, relax both physically and mentally, and overcome negative and destructive thoughts. And it all revolved around the simple process of focusing the mind on one thing.
And that’s all meditation is: focusing the mind on one thing. Simple.
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