What is meditation?
Meditation is training the mind. Training the mind to become what? To become still. In the stillness, all the ripples are gone, the mud in the water settles down, then the mind becomes like clear water. In this clarity, we can see things as they are, transparent, and we are at home with our own true nature.
There are many methods of meditation, but they all can be grouped into two types: focused attention meditation & witnessing/observing meditation.
Focus means anchoring our attention to one thing (or things). It can be an energy center (eg chakra), it can be a body part, it can be breath, or mantra, or movement. Or it can be an external form, for example a candle light (trataka), a sound, a deity, a flower, a picture of someone you love dearly, a representation of God, etc.
The point of this meditation is not the anchor itself, but the act of anchoring our attention.
During the practice usually our attention will wander away from the anchor. When we notice this happen, just gently bring the attention back to the anchor. By focussing our attention to a thing, our other thoughts become less gripping, our mind becomes more calm and spacious.
Example of focused meditation is breath awareness meditation, where we just sit and anchor our attention to the breath. We can observe the air coming in and going out through the nostrils, we can observe the area between the nostril and the upper lip. We can also count the breath, or just follow the breath without counting it.
Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out
~Thich Nhat Hanh
The second method is witnessing, observing, contemplating. Here what we do is we just sit, become still, and observe the mind space. It’s like watching a movie in a cinema – just sit back and observe. At the beginning we may become overwhelmed because there are so many thoughts. Just acknowledge that we have many thoughts and just watch the thoughts, like watching clouds in the sky. Notice that your thoughts, like clouds in the sky, forming, and disappearing – such is the nature of thoughts. They appear and disappear. Just observe, don’t follow the thought.
What usually happens is a thought come, triggering other thoughts, and we forgot that we are just observing, instead we follow that one thought that generates many other thoughts and we’ll start either (a) worrying/planning about the future or (b) regretting/relishing about the past. The sky of mind space then become darkened with many thought clouds and then here comes rain and thunder (emotions such as anger, guilt, apprehension, etc).
Example – a thought of banana comes. It triggers other thought: empty pantry. Oh yeah I didn’t buy it last time I go to the market. Because prices increased and with the same grocery budget I couldn’t buy banana. Because of the inflation and bad economy situation. Because of the unstable political situation. Because of the world is not at peace. And humans are destroying it’s only habitat through global warming. And so on and so forth.
If we could just observe the first thought without letting it triggers other thought, it’ll move on and disappear on its own. Like a cloud in the sky – appearing, moving on, and disappear. As we become better at just observing the clouds, we’ll get glimpses of clear blue sky. Of calm, clear state of mind. And as we practice, the frequency & duration will increase. But it comes with practice, there’s no shortcut. We have to practice. Practice intensely, or practice little but consistently, it’s up to us. If we practice, we’ll progress. And we’ll see the clear blue sky more often. The mind is clear and calm, like a clear day.
With this clarity, as we go about our daily life, we are not as reactive. We have control of our mind. And we can choose to response to the outside stimuli appropriately. When the mind is calm and clear, our inner wisdom (buddhi) becomes more accessible. We start seeing things as they are, without colorings, without conditioning.
Here are some resources from where I learned meditation from:
- Om Swami – search for ‘meditation’.
- Plum Village home of Thich Nhat Hanh
- Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin
And many more I can’t list here. And although I just list the resources above, I would like to emphasize the importance of practice. I’m blessed to be able to join the meditation retreat of Om Swami, Plum Village, and Vipassana before, and I can tell you from my experience that it is the practice that makes the difference. Practice, practice, practice – there’s no shortcut. As Morpheous said to Neo in The Matrix:
There’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.
Image source: Crystal clear and loving it by Tim Shields