What is meditation?

Many types of meditation

Meditation is a reflective or contemplative practice that takes many forms. The form I teach and outline below is mindfulness meditation.

Training our minds

Many people think that to meditate, you have to stop thinking or make your mind go blank. That sounds like mission impossible. Others think meditation is about relaxation. That’s not quite right either. Though meditation does quieten the mental chatter, and that does help us relax.

Meditation is about learning what our minds are like. And it’s about training the mind so we’re not always lost in thought, unaware of how our thinking creates our reality.

Regulating our attention

Meditation helps us become aware of what our minds are doing and what we’re experiencing, as it’s happening. We see our thoughts and mental habits for what they are. And we learn to train our attention so the mind becomes steadier and more spacious.

Of course, this takes practice.

Formal practice

During formal meditation practice, we learn to quieten a busy mind. We do this by giving it something to focus on. The usual starting point is to pay attention to our breathing. And when we notice we’ve become distracted by our thoughts, we direct our attention back to our breathing.

An important element of mindfulness practice is to accept whatever arises during meditation. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Of course, we learn to be with our discomfort gradually. A lightness and kindness needs to permeate our practice.

Being present in our lives

Developing this mindful awareness helps us function better in daily life. Instead of having knee-jerk reactions to situations, we can develop a presence of mind that lets us stop, breathe and notice how we’re feeling before we respond. Instead of being lost in the past or worrying about the future, we can be here now. And we can bring a mindful presence to our relationships with others.

Finding freedom

Over time, meditation and mindfulness help us see and overcome the conditioning and thinking patterns that cause our anxiety and suffering. Our minds become more peaceful and pliable. We become more loving and compassionate. And we can rest in the stillness that our mindful awareness allows us to access.