Friday, November 20, 2009

What is Meditation?

Put simply, meditation is the experience of the limitless nature of the mind when it ceases to be dominated by its usual mental chatter.  Think for a moment of the sky.  If the sky is continually covered by clouds, we are never able to see its true nature.  Roll the clouds away, and magically we experience the blue vastness of the sky in all its beauty.  If the mind is continually clouded by thoughts, we are never able to experience it in and of itself.  All that we experience is the cloud-cover of its contents. 

Why should we want to experience the mind in and of itself?  The answer is that it represents our true nature, a nature that is naturally calm and serene, unclouded by the various anxieties and wishes, hopes and fears that usually occupy our attention.  To experience the mind in this unclouded way is to experience the sense of being fully and vitally alive, yet at the same time deeply at peace within ourselves.

Meditation brings with it many other benefits for body and mind, but all of these depend upon the ability to experience this central state of alert yet peaceful being. 

A way of understanding this is to imagine the mind as a pool of water that for years we have been busily churning into mud with our mental chatter.  Once the churning stops, the mud settles to the bottom, and the pool becomes clear.  Not only can we now see the limpid, pure water itself, but also we can enjoy other pleasures, such as quenching our thirst, and bathing.  Its clarity and cleanliness allow us to see through to the bottom of the pool, and discover there a new world of interest and wonder.  When the mind becomes calm and still in meditation, we come to a much deeper understanding of ourselves and of our own true nature.

By stilling and calming the thoughts, meditation also stills and calms the emotions.  Thought and emotion are inextricably linked in our everyday lives.  The mind goes over painful memories, current worries and concerns for the future, and as it does so it sparks off emotions such as regret, anger and fear.  When the mind enters into meditation, the emotions experience a new sense of peace.  Even if troubling thoughts arise, much of their usual power is lacking.  The meditator is able to observe them objectively, without becoming lost in them and identifying with them.  As a result, his or her ability to rouse unwelocme emotions decreases.  At the centre of everything, the tranquillity of mind and feeling remains.  Potentially disturbing thoughts pass through the mind like clouds across the face of the sun, and are replaced by an equanimity only possible when one is at peace with oneself.

Meditation should never be thought of as an external technique that we impose upon ourselves, much as we might learn a foreign language or master a computer.  It is in essence a re-discovery of something that has always been within us, an opening of half-familiar pages in a book that we once loved but have put aside.  This does not mean that in meditation we return to the mind of a child.  Meditation does not ask us to relinquish our life experiences nor to distrust the power of thought.  It also does not ask us to become different or less interesting people than we are now.  Once the meditation session is over, the mind returns to the plans and concerns that are its usual way of being - but now with an added clarity and power in its thinking, and a greater ability to meet both the challenges and the frustrations with which life continually confronts us.

Meditation does not take us away from the world, but helps us to become more clear-sighted and effective people within it.  It also enables us to become more sensitive and compassionate toward other people and toward the natural world, because it develops within us a sense of the unity and inter-dependence of all things, and an awareness of what it means to be human.  With this greater sensitivity and awareness comes an enhanced feeling of self-awareness and self-acceptance.  For the first time, we really sense the deep mystery and the precious nature of life.

Source from Learn To Meditate by David Fontana