A form of introspective contemplation, meditation is the act of relaxing and clearing the mind through balancing mental, physical, and emotional states, getting rid of all thoughts about the past and present and focusing on the present. This is done by shutting out the outside world and focusing within, often with the aid of sounds, words, images and/or breath.
According to H.A. Slagter of the University of Amsterdam: “Meditation is a process by which an individual controls his/her mind and induces a mode of consciousness either to achieve some benefits or for the mind to simply acknowledge is contents without being identified with the content, or just as an end in itself.” (Slagter, 2008).
According to the BBC: “Meditation is a mental and physical course of action that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware. It plays a part in virtually all religions although some don’t use the word ‘meditation’ to describe their particular meditative or contemplative practice. Meditation does not always have a religious element. It is a natural part of the human experience and is increasingly used as a therapy for promoting good health and boosting the immune system.Anyone who has looked at a sunset or a beautiful painting and felt calm and inner joy, while their mind becomes clear and their perception sharpens, has had a taste of the realm of meditation. Successful meditation means simply being – not judging, not thinking, just being aware, at peace and living each moment as it unfolds. [Source: BBC]
Meditation is very important in Hinduism, yoga and Buddhism. It has also been incorporated into Chinese traditions such as T’ai Chi and Taoism. Meditation is thought of as a mental exercise that helps one tap into the infinite force of the universe, explore the true nature of existence, gain insights into true reality, see the insufficiency and unreality of sensory experience, and develop correct thoughts and actions. Meditation is usually taught by a meditation master and the methods vary from sect to sect and person to person. Some methods of meditation are based on discourses in the Pali language.
Some people practice meditation for it health benefits. Others do it for spiritual reasons. It is also a valuable tool for developing self-knowledge, improving concentrate and dealing with stress. The Dalai Lama said, “The very purpose of meditation is to disciple the mind and reduce afflictive emotions.” Others call it a form of mindfulness that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment. For centuries Buddhists and Hindus have used meditation as a tool to focus their energy inward to explore the mental state of joy, get rid of negative emotions and develop wisdom, compassion and improve well being on a individual and societal level.
Some of the earliest references to meditation, dating back perhaps as far as 5000 B.C., have been found in India in Rig Veda, one of the oldest Hindu text. In between 6th and 5th century B.C. meditation was developed in Buddhism and Jainism. References to meditation are found in Torah of Judaism (Verman, 1997). Members of the Islamic Sufi sect (Lating 2002) engage in activities that have a lot in common with meditation. In Christianity meditation is used as a form of prayer to help believers concentrate upon the revelations of God. Today, meditation is practiced in many parts of the world without religious contexts using techniques that have their roots in methods used thousands of years ago by ancient Hindus and Buddhists.