There are many meditation methods out there. From the repetition of a word (or mantras) to fix the mind’s attention to an object. The idea is to calm the mind and to avoid thoughts and feelings. Most people are taking up meditation to attain a calm mind. Some think meditation is about zoning out in the present. But that is a misunderstanding.
What exactly is meditation?
Cambridge dictionary explains meditation to mean “giving your attention to one thing” either as a religious activity or as a way to become calm and relaxed. This is the basic understanding most people have of what meditation means. However, this is a shallow understanding of meditation and is not what it really is. Meditation is a science of the mind, not a religious activity. It is also about looking inwards. If you think meditation is about being concentrated on a thought, such as one’s breath or being hooked to a mantra, that is not meditation. While meditation helps to provide relief from one’s incessant and uncontrolled thoughts, to anchor your attention on another thought is not much of a solution as well. That is because this method helps to control thoughts with a thought, and control invariably brings about distress. Meditation is an exercise to understand the phenomena within you, as observed by your mind, rather than to control.
Where is the mind?
Our education system has taught us to look outwards and to learn to analyze outer events and observations with our minds. But it has hardly questioned what is mind? When I asked my nephew where is his mind, he pointed to his brain. Some people point to their hearts. It is difficult to point out where the mind is since where our hearts want to go, our rationality usually loses. My nephew for example definitely goes with his heart. When inflicted with boredom, an unease in the heart, he is driven to find solutions to avoid this unease. So, is the mind in the heart or in the brain?
We have a brain, which takes up the activity of thinking. Then, there are sensory activities that happen so quickly and are translated into emotions. Our brains then interpret sensory input into a thought. For example, we feel the sensation of breath in our bodies. This sensation is what our brain thinks of as breath. In truth, we do not really know what is breath except via our perception supported by the senses. When there no meditation, we cannot discern the relationship between sensory input in our bodies, emotions and our thoughts. The lack of understanding of what happens within brings about a lot of stress. If we can become conscious of these unconscious activities within, there is a chance for us to experience sustained calm. Sustained calm supports rationality. Calm overcomes agitation and fear.
Meditation is not zoning out
As seen above, meditation is more complex than the simple activity of fixing our attention on an object to zone out. Meditation is to free the mind from emotional agitation. A mind free from agitation and fear is a happy mind. But it requires effort. The effort is worth it because such calm and happiness are more lasting than elusive sensual stimulations. Meditation is an active activity. Meditation is not a mental state of zoning out in the present moment. Attending an 8-week mindfulness practice helps provide the support of meditation in our daily lives.