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How to Meditate - Part 1: What is Meditation?
Meditation is the hot new buzzword in the United States. Everyone seems to have heard about it in one context or another. It is oftentimes associated with Yoga, Buddhist monks, the Far East, and long-haired Gurus. For the most part, meditation is viewed positively and, based on the fact that you've landed on this article, it is being researched frequently. In fact, the term "meditation" is searched more than 450,000 each month, according to Google.
But, what is this phenomenon called meditation? Dictionary.com offers a few helpful definitions: continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation. And, devout religious contemplation or spiritual introspection. Wikipedia offers a more lengthy explanation, but generally defines meditation as ... a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself.
Sometimes it is easiest to understand what meditation is not.
Meditation is not a religion. While meditation has been associated with Eastern Religion, it's origin dates back more than 5,000 years to the time of the Buddha, or Enlightened One. Buddhism, however, is not a religion. A religion generally has a combination of a set of beliefs, a supreme being or beings, and devotion to the being or beings. Meditation has none of these qualities. There is nothing to believe, there is no deity, and there is no practice of devotion, though one may wish to be devoted to practicing meditation.
On an aside, some Christians may feel that because meditation has its roots in Eastern Religion that it is at least non-Christian and at worst anti-Christian. In fact, "meditate" and "meditation" is used in the Bible about 20 times. And, it is referring to contemplation. In a future article I will discuss Centering Prayer, also known as Contemplative Prayer, which is a form of Christian Meditation created by Father Thomas Merton.
Meditation is not a singular, specific practice. It is much like the word "Sport", which takes the form of football, basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, and so on. Meditation can similarly take various forms in that it can be practiced in a variety of ways and with various methods. None of these are necessarily the "right" method, just "a" method. When you first begin a practice of meditation, you may try various methods until you find one that appeals to you. But, all meditation practice can be beneficial.
The only time I, as the author of this article, would say that a meditation practice is not beneficial is when it is harmful or dictated to you in a manner that is designed to commit you to the leader of that particular practice. What I mean by this is that you should be wary of the meditation "master" who says you will only achieve "enlightenment" if you follow that master's exact prescription for practice. This is baloney and this person is only taking advantage of your vulnerability as a student so that you "must" commit to his or her form of meditation. By some definitions, this is considered a cult. But, this is only my opinion on the matter.
Finally, let me dissolve another common myth about meditation. Meditation is not about stopping the mind from thinking. The purpose of the mind is to think and the only point at which it stops thinking is when we pass away. We do not want to stop our mind from thinking anymore than we want to stop our heart from beating. So, what are we trying to accomplish if not to stop thinking? The goal of meditation is to practice flowing with the thoughts of the mind while not responding, reacting, or thinking about the thoughts. This will not happen in your first meditation session and, hence, the reason it is referred to "meditation practice". Like learning a musical instrument, we have to play over and over again to learn how to play the music.
Regardless of how meditation is or is not defined, and regardless of the method of practice, the benefits of meditation seem to be universal. Meditation helps to reduce stress, improve health (reducing stress improves health), and over all has a positive effect on one's well being.
Meditation should be enjoyable, relaxing, comforting, and leave you with a sense of wholeness. After each session you should feel good, though you may experience some physical discomfort at first and from time to time. I'll address that in a future article. Essentially, you should look forward to your meditation practice each day. If not, you are being too rigid, your expectation is too high, or the method you are using does not match your personal needs. But, you should keep practicing.
In the next article I will discuss why I think everyone should meditate.
Thank you for reading,
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