Have you ever noticed how the dictionary definition of meditation is, well, crap?
The dictionary definition of meditation is basically to focus the mind for a period of time.
Truth is, the dictionary definition of meditation is pitifully inadequate. It’s not exactly the best explanation of meditation, is it?
I was disappointed by this definition of meditation, so I decided to look elsewhere.
I figured I’d see how meditation is defined according to the experts.
The definition of meditation given by experts
Meditation teachers have written many definitions and explanations of meditation. Just as spiritual gurus have written many different definitions of spirituality.
The 3 most popular definitions of meditation experts give:
- Meditation is a cognitive behavioral therapy involving neuroscience.
- Meditation is a religious practice spanning Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga…
- Meditation is a spiritual practice.
But meditation isn’t any of these three things at all.
Here is the best definition of meditation. Explains everything!
Meditation is focus.
When we meditate, we focus the mind on one or more things.
That’s the universal constant between all meditative practices.
There are hundreds of different types of meditation but they are all about focusing the mind. You can read more about this in my article on Focused Attention Meditation and Open Monitoring.
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).
Things get way more interesting than this though.
A more accurate definition of meditation is: Consciously focusing the mind on a specific thing
In all different kinds of meditation we focus the mind on one or many things. What makes one meditation unique to another is the specific thing we choose to meditate on.
For instance, in Samatha meditation (a Buddhist technique) there are 40 different objects that we meditate on. They include things like: the breath, body sensations, and different feelings.
There’s a reason why Buddhists meditate on different objects. The reason is that what you focus on when you meditate completely changes 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.
The mind is like water. It takes the form of whatever you put it in.
Guess what happens when you put your awareness into any one thing.
Your mind becomes that one thing.
So what the fudge does this have to do with our definition of meditation?
Well, here is a new, better definition of meditation.
Meditation is consciously choosing to focus the mind on one thing in order to give the mind the properties of that thing.
When you meditate on an object, your mind adopts the form of the object you are meditating on.
- 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.
- If you focus on a burning fire you will feel power.
- If you focus on the night sky you will feel infinite.’
Here’s where your dictionary definition of meditation becomes, well, basically trash to be honest
The dictionary definition of meditation states that meditation is an exercise or practice that we do. Kinda like working out.
It’s wrong because meditation is not an exercise we choose to do. Everyone meditates.
You ever sat under the start at night, just kinda focusing on the heavens? That’s meditation. Everyone does it. So when your dictionary definition of meditation says its a “exercise”. Wrong.
We all meditate. And we all meditate for a reason.
When you sit under the stars at night and meditate on the heavens, you’re doing it because it makes you feel good, right? For me, stargazing makes me feel free and infinite.
So now we know that a better definition of meditation is “The natural act of focusing the mind on something positive”
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. No part of the sky is actually freedom. The sky itself does not create that feeling. The mind does.
When you meditate you simply focus more on those positive objects. And that creates a positive response in the mind.
You see why the dictionary definition of meditation is wrong, right?
Meditation is not some exercise we choose to do. It’s something the mind does for itself. Something it always has done.
Only difference is that in a meditation session we focus more than we do normally.
You already focus on the night sky sometimes when you wanna chill. 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, right?
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.
This is where this definition of meditation gets crazy
When you focus your mind (meditate) your mind soaks-up the properties of the things you’re meditating on. Hence why meditating on flowing water makes you feel free and pure.
But here’s the deal: It’s actually your mind that creates those positive feelings.
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 something that it is creating for 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 now our definition of meditation becomes, “Meditation is the mind focusing on a positive part of itself in order to make that positive part grow. ”
Now you know the real definition of meditation, you might notice something…
Now that you know the real definition of meditation, you might notice that you already meditate every single day of your life.
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. And that is a moment of 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.
Meditation is the mind focusing on a positive part of itself in order to make that positive part grow.
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Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book: Your Best Meditation