What is Meditation?
by Marcus Antebi
Article at a Glance:
People try to understand meditation and what it really means.
Yoga and meditation are both simple but misunderstood concepts. I’ll explain both.
To practice yoga is to practice becoming awake and conscious and to learn to live in the present moment as we did when we were children.
The practice of meditation is a straightforward mental practice, not something strange or otherworldly such as trying to communicate with spirits or understand all the secrets of the universe.
The mental practice of meditation entails learning to either sit quietly with ourselves or become mentally and physically focused during an activity such as yoga, chopping wood, dancing, or one of an endless variety of other things. While doing so, we are attempting to create metal stillness. We practice stopping the obsessions that continually swirl around in our minds.
Consider the following illustration: When you’re walking, you’re paying attention to your footsteps when you walk down the street or how close you are to your destination before you arrive there. But while you’re walking, you’re also thinking about all the different things that are happening in your life. If you’re doing this, you’re not thinking about crossing the street and making sure that there’s no traffic coming. Instead, you’re multitasking.
Most of us have been multitasking for most of our adult lives. That’s usually because we don’t like the quiet, and that’s often the case because in the quiet we feel anxiety and emptiness. When we are without activity, without obsession or some type of stimulating distraction, we feel discomfort.
Meditation is the practice of creating stillness and feeling OK with emptying our minds of all but one thought or one particular focus. It takes a lot of time for most people to learn to do it, and it’s very difficult for certain personality types. But it’s imperative.
If we want to bring ourselves to contentment without wanting to be rich, famous, or more beautiful, we have to learn to create calmness within ourselves. We can do so when we see all of our practices, all of our activities, and all of the events that we become involved in as opportunities to meditate and focus.
Physical exercising creates many such opportunities. This is true of a great many types of physical exercises, such as yoga, tai chi, basketball, and boxing. They are all physical activities that require 100% focus so that we can push out all the obsessions and just be completely invested in the thing that we’re doing with our body. In this way we have an opportunity to focus on our breath and make a conscious choice to be nowhere other than where we are at. Eventually after practicing this for a long enough period of time we come to the place where we can create the same type of focus while we are sitting and not moving or laying flat on our back.
If we’re lying down, we must remain awake. Otherwise we will be going into a different type of consciousness change when we fall asleep and dream.
Meditation can begin with the contemplation practice where we can think about a particular event in our lives. We can focus on it for a short time. But if we are unable to shut that off and direct our attention to something other than that thought then we are likely caught in obsession.
An obsessive thought is one that controls our mind. When our minds are in control over our thoughts then we are in a state of equilibrium with ourselves. We are the masters of ourselves when we attain this equilibrium. And getting there takes lots of practice.
Remember that at one point in our lives we were in the present moment and our emotions just flowed naturally and rose and fell without any difficulty. If we were happy we felt happy, if we were scared we felt scared, and if we were sad we cried. We were as if we were in the Garden of Eden.
However, when we were children we didn’t have adequate knowledge and we didn’t really have full control over the circumstances in our lives. So things happened to us that distracted us from having pure consciousness. Those things shifted us from the reality of being in the present moment to being anywhere else in our minds. So what meditation is is the healing process to help us return to that wonderful state of mind we were in as children.
Most of us are familiar with yoga exercise practices that look like very flexible and difficult postures. But the real practice in yoga is the meditation that is engaged in while going through the movements. It’s the focus on the posture. It’s the focus on where we’re supposed to be in that posture and how we’re supposed to get into it. It’s the evaporation of all unnecessary thought processes as we focus on our postures. This is why yoga exercise is so compatible with meditation.
The same thing can be achieved in other activities. Hang gliding could be an example. When you begin to practice it, you see that it causes adrenaline rushes. You see that those who get into it can bring themselves into a meditative state of mind. It could produce the exact same effect as what one would have if in a triangle pose while practicing yoga.
Meditation should be a part of a comprehensive system to keep the body healthy for as long as possible. But there are other people throughout the world that have lifestyle practices that are basically identical yoga. For one thing, yoga is centered on compassion, which has been practiced to certain degrees since the beginning of human history.
Compassion at its highest level is the practice of non-harm. It entails overcoming our animal impulses to do whatever it takes, no matter what the cost, to survive. Non-harm is not a way that every creature might be able to adapt to live. Some creatures must take the life of other creatures in order for them to survive, but human beings don’t have to.
We can make choices to abstain from harming other creatures for the purpose of enlightening our minds. But it’s difficult to do so in the modern world. We have so many distractions from the present moment. Such distractions started somewhere in our journeys when we were young, and as a result our minds became dysfunctional.
Many of us carry emotions from the past and behavior patterns that shaped our character in undesirable ways. We have to spend years undoing such damage. There are a tremendous number of paths available to help us do that. Some may be akin to dangerous paths along the sides of mountains, and others will be like direct straight flat line paths. The questions that will help you determine which path you take are how much time do you have and how much do you want to cease your own suffering.
Yoga in essence is us becoming aware of the thoughts that flow through our minds and learning how to control them. You can walk through the forest and be mindful of every step that you take and be in the present moment and not drift somewhere in your mind. You could watch a butterfly sitting on a flower moving slowly and gracefully. You can watch as the clouds roll through a summer sky.
In fact every activity you’re involved in there’s an opportunity for you to practice being present in the body with that experience in that moment. When you find yourself drifting, work your way back into a breathing exercise. The breathing exercises are designed to keep you in the present moment. The longer you can practice being in the present moment, the more you’ll become adjusted to it. The present moment, what is happening now, contains what can be considered the primary ultimate truth.
Everything that has happened is just something in the past. It only exists in our mind, so everything that will happen must be considered to be our imagination or a fantasy. And so there’s really nothing to focus on unless we are engaged in planning for our survival. But even when we’re planning, we cannot become attached to being in the future in that plan before it happens. If we do so, we risk losing the present moment once again and surrendering our bliss.
Yoga is any activity that you do that you set your intention to do as long as it’s compassionate and it does not harm others, chopping wood, dancing, being engaged in and maximizing in your work, walking, running, painting, sitting still with your eyes closed, lifting heavy weight, martial arts, driving, swimming, vacuuming, picking your kids up from school—all of these things are just variations of yoga postures. Each one of them can be made into a perfect shape.
Yoga is the practice of trying to better ourselves. It's trying to expand our mind. Yoga is the practice of compassion to the outside world. Yoga is the concept that everything on the outside is connected to us; we are all one great big organism. Although it feels as if we’re separate, and there are things that we do separately, we are really one giant collective organism with a collective consciousness.
Feeling the oneness and trying to reach it entails a number of things. We strive to clear the wreckage of our lives through improving our character and our behavior, taking the right actions, using the right words, and filling our minds with the right thoughts.
Meditation practice is crucial in connection with this. Meditation practice should become a continuous flow from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep. We can try to practice to meditate in everything that we do. You will learn to meditate correctly by totally being in that thing that you’re doing. As you get closer to successfully doing so, you will be getting closer to self-realization and self-awakening.