If I attempt to define meditation, it will end up describing how it calms, brings clarity, uplifts mood and energy, produces feelings of joy and contentment among others, with miniscule moments of stillness. While these point towards the outcomes, they still do not express what the word meditation categorically means. Struggling to find the precise words to define meditation I reached for the dictionary curious to see what I would find about this mysteriously popular word.
Cambridge 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.”
Oxford Dictionary states “the practice of thinking deeply in silence, especially for religious reasons or in order to make your mind calm” is meditation.
Merriam Wester explains meditation as “the act or process of spending time in quiet thought;an expression of a person’s thoughts on something; the act or process of meditating”.
The scope of these definitions seem narrow and finite. Meditation is – much, much more than that. But first, peruse what ‘meditation is not’ before reading further.
Ancient yogis say if you quiet the mind, the soul will speak. They indicate the possibility of expansiveness, infiniteness and connecting with the soul or Pure Awareness. It’s better to then use the words of a few ancient seers, saints and yogis to tell us what they think meditation is.
“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there.” Deepak Chopra
“Meditation is a practical means for calming yourself, for letting go of your biases and seeing what is, openly and clearly. It is a way of training the mind so that you are not distracted and caught up in its endless churning. Meditation teaches you to systematically explore your inner dimensions. It is a system of commitment, not commandment.” Svāmi Rāma
“Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness we know what to do and what not to do to help.” Thich Nhat Hanh
“Meditation is one of the ways in which the spiritual man keeps himself awake.” Thomas Merton
“You have to meditate often on the same themes, keeping on until you rediscover an old discovery.” St. Jose Maria Escriva
“Keep silent, because the world of silence is a vast fullness”. Rumi
“I meditate so that I can inundate my entire being with the omnipotent power of peace. Only in my deep meditation do I come to know who I truly am.” Sri Chinmoy
“It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process. It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher. And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty. That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.” Osho
“In the inner stillness where meditation leads, the Spirit secretly anoints the soul and heals our deepest wounds.” St. John of the Cross
“Meditation is the practice of training the mind to dwell on a single interior focus at will, until the mind becomes completely absorbed in the object of contemplation and is stilled.” Éknāth Eaśvaran
“When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called Dhyāna. Meditation means the mind is turned back upon itself. The mind stops all the thought-waves and the world stops. Your consciousness expands.” Svāmi Vivèkānanda
Do these words of the ancient seers, saints and yogis capture the core of meditation? Did they reveal the possibility of expansiveness, infiniteness and connection with Pure Awareness? If you are unsure, you are certainly not the first, and will not be the last. It has been established that meditation cannot be confined to words.
Try explaining the taste of sweetness to a person who has never eaten sugar or anything sweet. How would you do it without giving them a spoonful to taste? What words would you use to tell that person about the sweetness you are experiencing? Challenging is it not? Then, shouldn’t it be more challenging to describe Pure Awareness? Now, give this person a small amount of sugar, watch her taste it and viola! Does she say anything? By her thumbs up and sweet smile you know exactly how she feels. Not a single word needs to be said.
Similarly, how would you describe a sunset, a meadow or the ocean? Here are a few words I might use. A glorious sunset displays majestic beauty after daily brilliance. An enchanting meadow reflects tranquility and gratitude. The ocean waves resounds perpetual change with its unceasing appearance and disappearance. Do these words do any justice to the sunset, meadow or the ocean? Not really. Each person captures these snapshots with their senses and feel their magic in the depths of their being. Not a single word needs to be said.
If a sunset, meadow and ocean can speak so eloquently without words, what good are words? Yet, we try to put our experience into words. Trying to squeeze the mightiest truths into them – rather unsuccessfully as in the examples above. Maybe now, it is sinking in that this Pure Awareness cannot be captured by words no matter how hard the ancient seers try. Nevertheless, the sages will keep on trying their best to elucidate the essential nature of Pure Awareness until you and I make a sincere effort to seek It.
Regardless of how many books I read or techniques I practice during the course of seeking, I am convinced this Pure Awareness can only be experienced. All there is left to do then, is to walk the spiritual path patiently and diligently.
Time will come when you will experience Pure Awareness, and I too will experience Pure Awareness. The moment we are touched by this Pure Awareness, instantly the senses turn silent, words go dumb and the ego disintegrates. The mind quietly merges into Pure Awareness. Only the heart mutely declares volumes of supreme bliss. At last, we have come face to face with our true selves. We finally know what the sages have been trying for eons to communicate to us.
Now, we simply sit still, together, in perfect yoga and let the soul speak.
Eaśvaran, Éknāth. 1978. 3rd Edition 2012. Passage Meditation. Nilgiri Press, Blue Mountain Center of Meditation. Tomales, CA.
Schiffman, Eric. 1996. Yoga: The Spirt and Practice of Moving into Stillness. Simon and Schuster, NY
Stephens, Mark. 2010. Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley California.
Bell. Charlotte. 2007. Mindful yoga Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice. Rodmell Press, Berkeley California.
Vivèkānanda, Svāmi. 1956. 2nd Edition 1982. Rāja Yóga. Rāmakrišna-Vivèkānanda Center of New York, NY.
Ādhiśvarānanda, Svāmi. 2003. Meditation and Its Practices. Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont.