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What is meditation?

When we understand the key truths of meditation, and we master this art of inner stillness, then we are in control of our own happiness. The power to end our suffering is in our own hands, to the degree that we are able to bring ourselves into the meditation state.

The meaning of meditation

What is meditation? When we say ‘meditation’, we can refer to either meditation techniques or the meditation state. The meditation state is the stillness of energy within us, which is our true nature, our highest self. It is a state of deep relaxation and freedom from suffering. Meditation techniques are tools that help us to experience the meditation state. There are many effective meditation techniques, such as breath meditation, guided meditation, walking meditation, sound meditation, mindfulness meditation and mantra meditation. You will find many helpful videos and articles about these in our free meditation resources. So meditation techniques are used to bring you to inner stillness. When the energy within you is still for an extended period, suddenly everything comes from that. Lightness, joy, wisdom, love, laughter—even good health comes from that.

How does meditation work?

By using meditation techniques properly, we are able to achieve the stillness of the meditation state. This is based on one essential truth. That is, that stillness of energy within us happens when our awareness or our inner focus is outside our thoughts, outside our mind. Our mind is like a forest of thoughts, and when our awareness is not attached to our thoughts then we are in the present moment. Meditation techniques are based on that truth. When our awareness is not focused on thoughts, then we are in the present moment. When we are in the present then stillness happens. Now, when our awareness goes to our thoughts and latches onto them, emotions will always follow. Emotions follow thoughts like a shadow. The thoughts may be, ‘I am not loved,’ or ‘You should not do that to me,’ or ‘I have to achieve success.’ Whatever the thoughts may be, if you are experiencing negative emotions, the origin can be traced back to thoughts. So, if thoughts lead to emotions, what exactly are emotions? Emotions are really energy in motion. And that is the opposite of stillness, isn’t it? That is the opposite of the meditation state. Imagine if I have a glass of water sitting on a table in front of me. The water is very still. But if I tap the glass, then the water starts to move—energy is moving. Tapping the glass is like a thought. Each tap is a thought that moves energy. It is critical to understand that when trying to understand what mediation is. Because meditation techniques are based on another truth, whenever our attention is focused on one point, we can’t think at the same time. The one point might be the breath—that’s called breath meditation. You focus on the breath, your awareness is on your breath. But as soon as you think, you haven’t focussed on the breath anymore. It’s like if I look at your face, I can see your eyes and your nose and your smile. But if I start to think about how to install a water filter under my sink, I suddenly don’t see your face anymore! So when your attention is focused on one point, you can’t think at the same time. You must be clear about that. That’s the second truth about meditation.

Meditation is used to still our energy The good news is that when our emotions start to move, we can still them. Movement is caused by an outside event because that outside event triggers thoughts. For example, if you lose your job this will trigger thoughts like, “My God, I haven’t looked for a job for 30 years.” It triggers many, many thoughts. Emotions then follow those thoughts like a shadow and this creates movement, which is the opposite of stillness. So we use meditation techniques to focus our attention on one point. Then thoughts cannot arise and our energy stills. It’s like the water in the glass if I stop tapping it. When we master this concentrating with a one-pointed focus and remain there for long durations, we’re literally free from emotional suffering. However, anchoring your attention and leaving it there for a long time is not easy. If you’re able to anchor your attention on one point for five minutes continuously, a sense of freedom will arise. It must be continuous, not wandering off into thoughts after one minute, and coming back for 30 seconds then wandering off again. If you can hold the focus of meditation continuously for five minutes, then you’re free. You’re free from suffering.

Meditation is freedom from suffering When events trigger thoughts and the emotions hit you, if you don’t have another thought about it, the residue of that emotion will subside in two or three minutes. It’s like if I knock the glass of water, in ten seconds it comes back to its natural stillness. So when emotions move in us and we anchor our attention to one point, it usually takes around two to three minutes to come back to a stillness of energy. When we anchor our attention, we don’t think, and the emotion will subside to stillness. Which is peace. You don’t have to be able to anchor your attention for hours, only five minutes continuously, but that’s not easy. Because you’ll do it for one minute, and then suddenly you wander off into your thoughts for three seconds or another two minutes, and you come back. It’s not easy, and sometimes you may feel you just can’t meditate, but it takes practice to be good at it, that’s all.

See it to believe it So, what is meditation? The essence of meditation is:

  • To constantly bring your attention back to the single point of focus. That might be the breath, the sound of a mantra, the object of your prayer etc.

  • When your attention is focused, then you cannot think at the same time. Whenever you’re not thinking, you’re in the present moment.

  • When you’re in the present moment you can experience all the benefits of that natural state of stillness.

When we doubt these key truths of meditation, then the effectiveness of meditation techniques collapses. Because if you doubt those truths, what will you do? You’ll return to your mental gymnastics—you’ll be thinking, “Oh, next time that person screams at me I’m going to say this…”! When your emotions are triggered, you’ll go to your headspace, which is thinking. That’s what everybody is doing. When a person has a problem, they try to analyse it, solve it, and think it through. And then emotions follow thoughts like a shadow. They’re trying to still their energy with thoughts, which won’t work. To this point, your understanding of what meditation is and how it works is all based on trust. You trust what I’m saying, or you don’t! But believing what I say won’t do anything. It’s important to make this knowledge into your own knowledge, your own truth. How do you do that? By having a go. When a situation happens in your life and your emotions are triggered, use the techniques to focus. Then you will notice the energy inside you becomes still, and you will think, “Oh, I like this! I know how to calm down.” Then you’ll start to understand, “Oh, I see, this really works.” When you come to that realisation, you feel empowered. Any time that a situation makes you think and your energy is moving, and you are feeling trapped in those emotions, all you have to do is the focus. If you aren’t able to still your energy by focusing on that moment, it means that you haven’t practised ahead of time. It doesn’t mean you can’t meditate. You just haven’t yet spent enough time building your muscles of focus and concentration. The solution is to train yourself today to prepare for tomorrow. How does a person win the Olympics? They don’t train on the day of the Olympic tournament, they train for years in preparation. So that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to train today to prepare for the future. We need to train our minds by practising meditation techniques, and then we’re able to control our thoughts and emotions when we want to. The more we build our muscles of concentration, the more we will be able to control our thoughts, and the more we will have control over our own happiness.

Meditation is not outer stillness Meditation is about the stillness of mind, which is inner stillness. A rock may show outer stillness, but meditation is when the energy within you is still. You have no thoughts and you are in that state of meditation. Let’s go back to the example of a glass of water. If you hold a glass of water and move it very gently, without shaking it, the glass of water is moving but the actual water is very still. In the same way, we can have outer movement in our body—like walking or running—but we can have inner stillness. Or, we can have outer stillness when there’s inner movement—you can be still on the outside, but inside your thoughts are moving. And as I said, thoughts are just energy, so when you’re thinking it creates energy movement. You can be sitting down practising a meditation technique and your body is very still. You’re not going anywhere, you’re not moving. But inside your mind could be racing. You’re thinking of what you can put on Facebook! You can’t wait to make a comment on your friend’s post. That’s inner movement. So the goal is to have inner stillness. And from that inner stillness then outer movement or outer non-movement is irrelevant. When you don’t move outside, when you sit still, there’s beauty and magnificence and peace in that. And when you walk, there can be grace in that, when you talk, there can be grace in that—as long as there’s stillness inside.

Summary The word ‘meditation’ refers to both the meditation state and meditation techniques. The meditation state is a state of stillness and deep relaxation, which is our natural state, where we are free from emotional suffering. Meditation techniques are tools that help us to experience the meditation state. There are many effective meditation techniques, such as breath meditation, mantra meditation, guided meditation, walking meditation, sound meditation and mindfulness meditation. We use meditation techniques to practice mastering our thoughts by bringing us, again and again, back to our point of meditative focus. As we bring our focus to this point of concentration or present moment, thoughts cannot enter at the same time. From this, you can see that the more you build your muscles of concentration, the more you will be able to master your thoughts, and the more you will be able to have control over your own happiness. When this is understood, the benefit of meditation techniques becomes quite apparent—if you practice controlling or switching off your thoughts, then the corresponding negative emotions can be overcome. This means the power to end your suffering is in your own hands, to the degree that you are able to master your thoughts.

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