Despite meditation being the current hot word (along with wellbeing, mindfulness and Brexit) most of us would be hard-pressed to give one definitive answer of what it is.
We can start by looking at the different forms of meditation. What they all have in common is that they aim to slow down or still the mental chatter, so we are able to observe more completely and objectively the incessant activity of our minds.
Breath meditation uses the breath as the focal point, japa meditation uses repetitive chanting of a mantra, tratak or gazing meditation involves fixing the gaze on a physical object, usually a candle, or an image or symbol. The physical practice of yoga itself is a form of moving meditation.
But when you try to specifically practice meditation, you sit there with your mind going hundred miles an hour and the question that might come to mind is, “Am I really doing it right? If I’m thinking about whether I’m doing it right, surely I can’t be doing it right.”
We tend to live our mental lives in 2 extreme states of mind: high-energy mental turbulence on one hand, for instance while zooming along in the course of a work-day, executing this and that and constantly thinking about the next thing on your to-do list, and low-energy inactivity, dullness or boredom on the other, like when you just zone out after a long day, maybe in front of the telly. (On really challenging days, it might not even be switched on).
There is a middle state, one of being relaxed yet fully alert and aware. It is this middle point that can be said to be the goal of meditation.
But here’s the rub – it’s a moving goal. Trying to remain in this state of equilibrium is just like someone trying to remain upright on a bicycle – you’re just going to have to keep pedalling! Is the state of equilibrium, relaxed awareness, what we call “the meditative state”? I don’t think so. The meditative state is the attitude which you are in as you continuously attempt to reach the state of equilibrium.
Just gotta keep pedalling.
“Every meditation practice moves you closer and closer to your inner centre point and is never done in vain, regardless of how unfruitful it may appear. Even if you spend most of your time trying to locate this equilibrium, pulling yourself back from distraction or boredom again and again to your chosen point of focus, rest assure that your time is not wasted.” Nikhil Gupta, the Art of Living
When you’re at the gym lifting weights, you don’t count your success by whether you’re able to achieve a bicep curl and hold it there the whole time. The purpose is to build the muscle, and you do this by both flexing and releasing. In meditation, every time the mind wanders away, you gently draw it back to the breath (or whatever is your chosen object of meditation). With this continuous effort, you are strengthening the muscle of your attention and awareness.