What is Meditation
There are many definitions of meditation. There might be as many definitions as there are traditional, cultural, and religious histories of the practice. We’ll explore several of these definitions together and draw on similarities and common threads in an effort to find a useful understanding.
Definitions of Meditation
According to Merriam-Webster, to meditate is “to engage in contemplation or reflection.” Also, to meditate is to “engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.”
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines meditation as “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.”
In a 2009 article from 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.” In that same article, Buddhist meditation is defined as “a way of taking control of the mind so that it becomes peaceful and focused, and the meditator becomes more aware.” And a definition for Zen meditation is “living in the present with complete awareness. Which is mindfulness.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR), describes mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Since 1979, he has offered training in mindfulness, or meditation, in the form of MSBR at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
In a 2016 article from Military Medicine, the authors tell us that “Neuroscientists define meditation as a combination of emotional and attentional training regimes developed to cultivate well-being and improve emotional regulation.”
Mindful Helpdesk Definition
In our efforts to find useful understanding, the Mindful Helpdesk defines meditation as the practice of mindful focusing, through quiet relaxation or contemplation, to strengthen the mind in an effort to gain a higher level of awareness and understanding of our mind, body and soul.
Types if Meditation
As there are many definitions of meditation, there are quite a few versions of the different types of meditations as well. Some popular meditation practices include Guided, Reflective, Visualization, Body Scan, MBSR, Yoga and Transcendental Meditation.
Mindful Helpdesk Types of Meditation
To simplify the different types for a better and more useful understanding, Mindful Helpdesk narrows the many types into three basic categories: attached, detached and active.
From the Christian Meditation website, “in the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה), which means to sigh or murmur, and the other word for meditate, and sîḥâ (Hebrew: שיחה), which means to muse, or rehearse in one’s mind.” By our definition, these could be considered as an attached type of meditation.
Mindful Helpdesk recognizes that making sounds such as humming, reciting prayers, repeating mantras, or affirmations are all methods of attached meditation. Attaching your thoughts to the powerful meanings or sacred practices can help energize our mind, body and soul.
Chanting “Om,” for example, may be a sound as well as a mantra. “When you chant Om, a vibration sound is felt through your vocal cord,” according to The Times of India. The benefits of chanting Om include reducing stress from the mind, clearing and opening up the sinuses, improving cardiovascular health, reducing stress, and relaxing your body. Additionally, according to the Hindu scriptures, “Om connects all living beings to nature and the universe. Om is not just a sound, it’s a wave of the universe.”
If you ever signed up for any one of the many Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra 21-day challenges, you are familiar with Sanskrit phrases, which are also mantras.
I’m defining detached meditation with a term that may not exist: still-mindedness. Detached meditation would be quiet, calm, tranquil, undisturbed breathing while detaching from any thoughts. Just focus on breathing to find the stillness of your mind. You may have heard a comparison of thoughts to clouds. During meditation, if your mind wanders from thought to thought, just let the thoughts float by like clouds. Don’t analyze or react to these thoughts. Don’t attach any meaning or judgment to the thoughts, or to yourself for having the thoughts. Simply let thoughts float by like clouds in the sky. Then, return your focus to your breathing. Detached from your thoughts, you can still your mind.
The third Mindful Helpdesk category of meditation is active meditation. Active meditation is when you’re using mindfulness with daily activities or chores. Tai Chi and Yoga can also fall under the Mindful Helpdesk umbrella of active meditation.
In the book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about a book he had to memorize as a young monk. This book was called The Essential Discipline for Daily Use by Doc The, which contained thoughts used to awaken one’s mind while doing any task. The goal was to assist beginning practitioners to take hold of their own consciousness or mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh refers to the Sutra of Mindfulness which states that, “When walking, the practitioner must be conscious that he is walking. When sitting, the practitioner must be conscious that he is sitting.” Thich Nhat Hanh states that “meditative mindfulness can be used with almost any task” and extrapolates this idea to his task of washing dishes and to his relaxation of drinking tea, or even eating a tangerine. “While washing the dishes one should be completely aware of washing the dishes.” He explains that if he were to wash the dishes while thinking about the cup of tea he’d drink later; he is not in the moment. He explains that when washing the dishes to wash the dishes, he is “completely myself, following my breath, conscious of presence… thoughts and actions.”
You might find a similar meditative state of mind when exercising, doing yoga, or even while gardening.
Whether it’s just breathing without attaching to thoughts, praying, repeating mantras or affirmations, or being in ‘a zone’ with your exercises or chores, I strongly encourage you to try one or all three meditation practices. Make it part of your daily routine. Benefits of meditation are far-reaching.
Benefits of Meditation
There are many benefits to meditation, including scientifically proven health benefits. Other benefits may be classified as spiritual, mental, physical, psychological, and emotional. The most commonly listed benefits are reducing stress and anxiety.
According to the Mayo Clinic, emotional benefits of meditation can include:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions
- Increasing imagination and creativity
- Increasing patience and tolerance
Mindful Helpdesk is not a medical website, and I would never suggest meditation as a replacement for any medical treatment. I strongly suggest that you consult with your medical or health care provider before beginning any new breathing and meditation techniques.
This blog will be permanently posted on the Meditations and Mantras page of the Mindful Helpdesk site. Please continue to look for additional methods, mantras, and affirmations you might want to incorporate into your daily practice.