In this article you will read everything you should know about Meditation. Meditation is enormously popular these days. If you consult a psychologist, chances are that he or she will suggest you start meditating. But what exactly is meditation? Why would you want to do meditation? And if you want to get started, how?
After reading this article, you know exactly what meditation is and how you can use it to get more insight into your own mind. Meditation is a complex subject, but I have done my best to describe it as simply as possible.
What is meditation?
More and more research has been done into meditation in recent years. In scientific research often the first question is: “what is meditation?
Two definitions can be used:
Definition 1: Meditation is spiritual training
Definition 2: Meditation is spiritual training leading to non-dual insights
You can see that these two definitions are very similar. The second is only a bit stricter than the first, because it says that meditating is only actual meditation when it leads to non-dual insights.
(By the way, if non-dual doesn’t mean much to you, don’t worry, I’ll come back to that in more detail later. For now, let’s assume for a moment that it is a spiritual insight).
Both definitions are useful as far as I am concerned. The first mainly applies to mindfulness, the second is more applicable to Buddhist meditation. You can see that as two different movements.
On the next pages I will explain more about these two currents.
Current 1: Mindfulness meditation
By mindfulness we mean a large number of spiritual exercises. The number of exercises is in principle unlimited. You can always come up with new methods to train your mind. Below I describe a simple insight meditation exercise. If you know a little about what such an exercise may look like, it will be easier to understand the rest of this piece.
Sit in a quiet place. The way you sit is not so important, although it is nice to sit up straight.
Close your eyes and take a moment to relax. Then start the exercise.
This exercise involves naming what you perceive. This can be a thought, a feeling in your body, something you hear, or something you see (even with your eyes closed, you can see a lot).
You will see that your attention wanders from time to time. If you notice this, acknowledge it and continue the exercise.
Whether you use the exercise above or any other exercise, you are always training more or less the same. Mindfulness is always about training the following 5 factors:
When you meditate for the first time, you are often startled by how much is happening in your head. During meditation you notice that there is almost always some kind of narrator in your head who comments on what is happening. Moreover, you are constantly worrying about what has already happened and what is to come.
Once you see what’s going on in your head, you can also learn to put it into words more efficiently.
The advantage of this is that you are more aware of what you are doing at all times.
After you have been meditating for a while, you will see that the voice in your head goes into the background. So it’s less of a hindrance to you. This helps you to concentrate better.
A distinction is often made between insight meditation and concentration meditation. In practice, however, you will see that almost every exercise trains both your insight and your concentration.
Many psychological problems arise when you don’t accept what you’re going through. Not wanting what you have or not wanting what you don’t have are the origin of a lot of problems. With the help of meditation you can learn to accept things the way they are right here and now. In this moment you will see that your resistance is often much more unpleasant than the situation itself.
I always compare it to complaining. If something unpleasant happens to you, you can complain about it all day long. However, you soon notice that it doesn’t get any better. In fact, the complaining always keeps the wound open. If you stop complaining, the problem often seems to get lighter in time. In other words, complaining about the problem became disproportionately more bothersome than the problem was itself.
5. Do not react
If you meditate regularly, you can distance yourself more from certain feelings. You learn that an unpleasant feeling does not always require an immediate reaction. With the help of meditation you can see that you can let that sadness be just there, without reacting to it directly.
If you read this, you may be able to imagine that this training is psychologically very useful. Many psychological complaints are caused by a lack of insight into your problems and by clumsy ways of dealing with those problems.
Mindfulness is therefore welcomed with open arms by the psychological world. The only problem is that it takes a lot of time and effort to master these skills. In that respect, meditation really is spiritual training. Only with a healthy dose of dedication and perseverance will you see the results.
Buddhist meditation goes a step further. It uses the development of your mind to come to spiritual, non-dual insights.
Current 2: Buddhist meditation
There is a lot to discuss about Buddhism and I am by no means an expert. So here too I give a mere overview. You don’t have to believe in god(s) to be able to benefit from it.
In Buddhism there are four noble truths:
- There is suffering
- Suffering has a cause
- The cause of suffering can be eliminated
- By following the eightfold path the suffering is ended
Below I will elaborate on these four principles:
1. There is suffering. Suffering may sound somewhat pessimistic, yet it is clear that there is a core of truth in it. In the Western world we have more and more possessions and experiences. Yet there is always pain, sadness and adversity present in our lives. Sometimes that pain is terrible and unbearable, sometimes it’s bothersome and just annoying.
2. Suffering has a cause. According to the Buddha, the cause of our suffering is that we see ourselves as separated from the world. We see ourselves not so much as part of a greater whole, but as a separate “something”. There is nothing wrong with that way of thinking.
However, it causes a lot of sadness and pain. Loss means you lose something. Pain means you’re in pain. Failure means you’re a failure.
3. The cause of suffering can be eliminated. By realizing that you are part of a greater whole, the suffering becomes less personal and therefore less painful. Pain, sorrow and loss are then things that happen and not necessarily things that happen to you.
Back to non-duality
By non-dual we mean the insight that we are all part of a greater whole.
That may seem like a fairly simple insight at first glance, but if you really feel and experience it, it can have major consequences for the way you experience the everyday world.
4. By following the eightfold path the suffering is ended. Within Buddhism you can do a number of exercises to come to the understanding that you are part of a greater whole. Meditation is an important part of it, but doing good is also part of it. If you cheat, steal and cause chaos during the day, it is difficult to meditate at night.
Buddhist meditation is largely similar to mindfulness meditation. Often the same kind of exercises are used. However, Buddhist meditation continues where mindfulness stops:
In general more time is spent in meditation. Meditating 1 to 2 hours a day is not uncommon. In addition, many people who meditate for this purpose often follow retreats where you have the opportunity to do nothing but meditation for days.
The concentration part of Buddhist meditation is aimed at being able to concentrate on one particular thing for a longer period of time.
The insight part of meditation is not only about your daily life, but also about more fundamental aspects of your existence. It provides insight into the “big questions” of life.
Often used is the term: “metta meditation”. A method to consciously cultivate compassion for others and your environment.
You could say that mindfulness meditation helps you to function better within the dual world view. So if you assume that you are an individual who functions separately from the rest of the world, mindfulness meditation can help you to become more relaxed, concentrated and loving.
Buddhist meditation helps you to develop a non-dual view. It needs no explanation that a non-dual view of the world can help you enormously to function better in daily life. Moreover, unlike regular meditation, it can provide insights into existential questions.
It is probably useful not to see these two forms of meditation as fundamentally different. Rather, they are an extension of each other.
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