Introduction to Meditation
What is Meditation?
For centuries, people the world over have pursued the cultivation of consciousness, and meditation has stood at the forefront of tested and effective techniques. For as long as there has been an awareness of the "Monkey-Mind," our undisciplined, conflicted, distracted day to day consciousness, there has been a desire to find discipline of thought and peace of mind.
An appropriate definition of meditation as a whole should include a broad understanding of both Eastern and Western forms. Essentially, meditation in the Western form is centered around diverting the focus of the mind onto a single topic. In this style, meditation is often seen as calming and relaxing the mind and can also be an aid to a religious practice. Western meditation implies concentration of thought on a specific goal.
The Eastern form, on the other hand, involves quieting of the mind, a cessation of thinking. Focusing the consciousness on the apparent emptiness of silence and non-thought, subtle aspects of the consciousness (and even the universe) become more apparent.
What is Meditation Like?
There are many different ways in which meditation is practiced, almost as many as there are cultures around the world.
Eastern meditation has to do primarily with quieting the mind toward the achievement of enlightenment. Random thought and precise goals are eliminated from the consciousness and, while still awake, the mind is allowed to step above consciousness and beyond distraction to take in everything as a whole, without focus. This approach usually requires calm surroundings, various prescribed postures, working with the breath and, in some systems, chant.
On the other hand, western meditation is an active function where you remain alert and focus on a specific thought or goal. It functions to open the mind to different perspectives and levels of awareness, including many different sensations. Western meditation is less concerned with posture, though specialized breathing and chants can be used. Meditation is often achieved through focus on a visualized scene, object or idea, or on an external source such as a candle.
On the outside, both systems appear much the same, but the inner work is quite different. Some people prefer one approach over the other. Others may use both systems, as appropriate to the situation.
Definition of Meditation
Meditation may be defined as achieving a state of deep reflection within a mental state of strong focus. The word itself is derived from the Latin words "mederi" which literally means "to heal" and "meditari" which means "to think, exercise the mind". The Sanskrit derivation of the word, "medha", simply means "wisdom". The benefits of meditation range from mental to physical, but it is typically used to understand and resolve a certain problem or affliction to enable a clear and reasonable resolution to that issue. In essence, meditation allows for a deeper state of understanding.
This is done in two different ways, depending on whether the meditator is using the eastern or western technique. Western requires a certain line of thinking, while eastern meditation discards thinking, toward a non-thought state that is essentially an awareness of inner silence. This is not an obvious thing to achieve, and can easily be mistaken for a sleep-like or a hypnotic state. Meditation is also not simply a state of calm.
Meditation Vs. Hypnosis
Meditation and hypnosis, while different practices, have a number of similarities, such as the deep sense of relaxation. However, they occur on different levels of consciousness, and their purposes are different.
Outwardly, looking at someone who is meditating and someone who is hypnotized, it would be hard to tell the difference. However, hypnosis requires the guidance of another person, recording or active thought process in order to investigate a specific issue. Meditation, on the other hand, is self-guided and self-controlled.
Both approaches work on the inner self and altered degrees of consciousness, but they are neither the same feeling, nor the same procedure.
Meditation is Very Safe
Meditation, as a self-guided process, is quite safe. Occasionally, breathing techniques in some forms of meditation are difficult for persons with respiratory difficulties, such as asthma, and some cardiac patients. If you suffer from respiratory or cardiac illness discuss your chosen form of meditation with your physician before beginning.
Furthermore, there are some mental health issues, such as attention deficit disorder (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and schizophrenia, that may make meditation difficult and the benefit of meditation may be limited.
Should you be considering using meditation or any alternative therapy with conventional medical treatment in order to treat an illness or discomfort, be sure to first discuss it with your doctor or other medical practitioner.