What is meditation?

In the last post: ” Why meditation? we shared:

 Why meditation is beneficial, why you should do it and what changes you may expect in your life from this practice.

 That you will know the results directly, scientifically – by observing your own experiences.

 That the initial benefits discussed only scratch the surface of this journey of meditation: The impact of meditation

Yes, meditation will prove to be a journey. I’d be delighted to share what I have come to understand and love. Lets share our mutual experiences onward from our beginnings to the far reaches of where this journey may lead!

meditation

That’s all very good, you say. But what IS meditation?

Meditation is a state of consciousness in which there are no thoughts.

When I say that ‘Meditation is the state of no thoughts.’ I usually get 2 responses in quick suggestion.

One response:

“…But I thought I needed to ‘think’… think in a focused, one-pointed way.”

Many words come up here!

Contemplating, thinking, musing, pondering, considering, reflecting, praying, deliberating, studying,cogitating, brooding, mulling over…

Please notice – all these words are verbs, active ideas about thought.

As I said earlier, meditation is not thinking. In fact it is not having thoughts.

The same question can be put another way – Is meditation concentration?

Concentration, or ‘one-pointed, focused’ thinking, what is called in Hindi/Sanskrit – ‘ekagrata’ (one pointedness). That is still a kind of ‘thinking’. Concentration is a wonderful, essential, admirable and required quality for thinking. But thinking is not meditation.

Meditation is not a trance, either.

A trance is a particular type of altered state of consciousness. It is a half-conscious state. There is an absence of response to external stimuli. This has more to do with hypnosis, or a medium.

Meditation is NOT a trance state.

Meditation is also different from hypnosis.

Hypnosis is a state of consciousness in which one temporarily agrees to surrender the power of voluntary action and may become responsive to suggestion or direction. Many of us get mixed up between meditation and other, different states of consciousness. Yes, meditation is a state of consciousness. It is characterized by…? No thoughts!

Are you ever free from thoughts?

We seem to be thinking throughout our waking life. Even our dreams seem like some kind of thought process! When we are falling asleep, when not yet quite awake, even those half awake moments seem to be full of thoughts and thinking. Allen Ginsberg put it beautifully: ‘Mind is shapely’. And Douglas Hofstadter calls the mind ‘a pattern seeking machine’.

The mind is forever looking at things, thinking back, comparing, seeking and making trends and patterns in everything. Some of these seem to make little sense, but that does not seem to stop the mind. It is quite incessant!

We hear often these days about ‘the monkey mind’, suggesting a playful mischievous, tireless, inexhaustible animal, probably with far more energy than real discrimination, going on and on and on… It gives us the image of a relentless activity, and that seems quite utterly tiring! But it’s a fair image for many of us. It seems we cannot stop – even if we wish it so.

Our wonderful, exquisite, refined tool is not quite in our control. It seems to pursue an agenda, not easy to reign in or to direct. In India there is an interesting word for ‘mind’ – ‘Mana’ (pronounced ‘mun’). This immediately suggests mind as willful, a self-directed thing, with its own desires, agenda. Quite disobedient, really!

You may have tried to reign in your fiercely active mind. You may have tried to sit down, calm down, and ‘meditate’ – the mind, if anything, is even more active in such a situation!

It seems very hard to do – stopping your thoughts. Every conscious attempt seems to fail. The more I try to control my mind through conscious auto-suggestion – ‘I will now calm down, and lets my thoughts drop away…’ the more I am assaulted by the sheer energy of the ever active mind.

As long as I am alive, it seems thoughts will accompany me everywhere!

At this point, question number two comes up:

“No thoughts? Impossible. It’s just not possible. It can’t be done!”

Well, thankfully, it can be done.

What we need is a technique, a process, a method by which we guide ourselves to a state where we are able to let our mind ‘fall away’.

Meditation remains meditation – it is a state of no thoughts.

What we need to do is to find a way that will lead us into meditation.

There are many ways.

meditation

Have you sat in a forest or a garden, and your mind has spontaneously gone silent. It was quite refreshing. I have been on treks where I have truly forgotten a part of my journey, even though I was awake, and walking, and was surrounded by beautiful sights…

These are situations in which the mind has gone quiet, without our willing it so. This is spontaneous meditation. And yes, it is meditation. You may have encountered other similar scenarios in which thoughts fell off quite completely. It was great – restorative, healing, refreshing… Now if only you could will such a state upon yourself!

So what we shall learn is a process.

A process we can follow and do.

And if I may be poetic again – through this process we can approach the kingdom of no thought when we wish.

There’s only one requirement here: You want to meditate of your own accord.

Mr. Amitabh Sinha