What is Meditation?
Meditation is a mental practice used to improve three main principles of your mind: awareness, concentration, observation. Using any of these aspects can be a form of meditation. They all have at least one thing in common: to concentrate, become more observant or increase our awareness—we need to have a clear mind. To obtain a clear mind, we can use one or all methods to help us achieve that.
There are certainly more than three principles of your mind. As one progresses in meditation, the ego can slowly fade away. As the ego declines, the way you meditate may change, and you will discover more aspects of the mind. There are myriads of meditation forms, but we will focus on three significant aspects concerning its’ effect on our minds.
Awareness is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of our minds, yet so many of us lack it. As we can all imagine, the more distracted we become less aware we become. Just imagine, when you go for a walk, do you notice the sounds, plants, and animals around you? Or are you so lost in your mind that you don’t even see them?
Walking meditation is a great way to work on your awareness, especially when around nature. Notice the aromas in the air, the sounds of birds chirping, insects buzzing, the beauty of the plants and trees around you. Let go of your thoughts and be aware of all that is around you; at times, you may focus on specific aspects or objects of the environment. Feel the warmth of the sun and the freshness of the clean air.
One of the predominately used methods for increasing awareness is body-scan meditation. While in a meditative sitting position, you will bring your awareness inwards. You may begin with the toes on your left foot; be aware of all the sensations and energy flowing through them. Then you will expand your awareness to the whole foot, the leg and eventually your entire body. At this point, your body and the energy flowing through you will feel connected as one. When you notice any discomfort, acknowledge it, send warm thoughts to the area and allow any trouble to dissolve. Repeat the process if you still feel a little disconnected in some areas.
Observation is to examine carefully and especially with attention to detail. Although it is closely linked with awareness, it takes it a step further. In meditation, carefully examines any thoughts that arise, rather than only being aware of the thoughts and letting go. Observation of our thoughts leads to more self-awareness.
Rather than merely being aware of thoughts as they arise, you can choose to observe them with closer detail. There is no judgement in self-observation; you are only learning more about yourself. While meditating, some of the images or thoughts that may arise can give you insight into your subconscious. There may be deep-rooted issues affecting you that you haven’t realized yet. Instead of ignoring or setting them aside, you can take notice and reflect on them later when your meditation session is over.
Concentration meditation is used to keep the mind in continual focus. It is in the presence of distraction when we realize the need for concentration. Imagine a warrior on a chaotic battlefield. He may feel tired or be injured and perhaps even afraid. Everything he is enduring must be pushed aside so that he may focus on his goal. Many times, meditation can feel like a battle. We continuously fight with thoughts and impulses of the body. Over time, though, you may learn to stop fighting and start letting go of those distractions. Concentration meditation is broader than focusing on only one aspect or object. One example is using it in body-scan meditations, where you eventually focus on the entire body; you will sense the energy flowing through the whole body.
Focused meditation narrows down to one aspect or object, often used in breathing meditations where one gently focuses on the breath alone. It can allow you to slice through or push aside the distractions that your body presents you with. The focus allows no room for thoughts or distractions. That is not to say they won’t arise, but it becomes more difficult for them to gain a foothold in your mind.
What is contemplation? Contemplation is deep reflective thought on any subject matter. It is to think thoughtfully about something for an extended period.
In terms of meditation, contemplation is often intermixed as if they are the same thing. While it has many similarities, contemplation is not quite the same. Let’s say you are troubled by a problem in your life, and you decide to dedicate a lot of time going over it in my mind. In this way, you are actively engaging with your thoughts and examining them. Whereas with meditation, we may allow ourselves to become aware of thoughts, perhaps even observe them, but after a short while, we let go of it.
How is contemplation practiced in philosophy or religion? Various faiths and philosophies have differing opinions or techniques on how to practice contemplation. In this case, I prefer to stick with the definition rather than a particular practice.
The study of meditation and all of its’ intricacies go deep. There’s not a full consensus on the fundamental principles and proper methods of meditation. The information I’ve provided is merely my current, humble understanding. If you’re interested in learning to meditate, you can read more about it here: Learn to Meditate the Hard Way.