What is Meditation?

Meditation can be considered a solitary practice necessitating isolation from the rest of the world. For those of us who are not mastered yogis in the retreats of sacred meditation caves, we need to take the time to understand how meditation works within the circumstances of our current world. Completely controlled environments which are conducive to undistracted meditation practice may not always be available to us, nor the circumstances by which we may escape to a more conducive retreat space.

I agree, when first learning how to practice meditation, it is important to provide a quiet and calm environment. This gives us a chance to begin practicing in peace so that we may learn how to train the mind to focus on whatever meditation support we use. Practicing in undistracted circumstances gives us the foundation we need in order to continue building our capacity to focus the mind.

A meditation support is anything upon which we place our attention to practice lessening the power of distraction. Some examples of supports are candles, photos or statues, the breath, mantra, or a mental image. When we sit, we rest our attention as light as a feather upon our support and allow the natural flow of thoughts to arise and disintegrate. We try not to follow these thoughts, but rather see them as appearing vividly yet insubstantially, like a rainbow.

This practice trains our minds to remain focused despite the myriads of thoughts that arise and distract us. Any time our minds stray from focusing on our support, we observe the break in attention at the hands of distraction. Then, we gently bring our attention back to our support. Again and again and again. Like exercising a muscle, we need to exercise our minds to create a new habit of clear, grounded, and unbroken attention.

Retreat into a quiet and calm environment can provide an opportunity for good practice and allow us a respite from the stimulus of life. However, after some time practicing in the absence of distraction, it can be helpful to give ourselves the challenge of practicing in a more stimulating locale. Tempting sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations are like thoughts. They come and they go. If we sit in meditation without distraction, these sensations loose their power over us. This is very helpful for we do not always have the opportunity to allay distractions. So learning to work with them can greatly strengthen our ability to choose how we use our minds.

We can start by sitting in a not so quiet place, say the living room, where kids are coming and going. Or maybe we practice meditating while on a walk or taking a shower. There are plenty of distractions out there to challenge us. It may be difficult at first, but becoming practiced at remaining focused amidst distraction allows our meditation and every day life to converge. The purpose of meditation is not to sit in bliss while on the cushion and then throw it all to the wind when we get up. It is to experience ‘one taste,’ one experience of the meditative state, whether on the cushion or off.