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What is meditation?

For the purposes of this short post, I would like to clarify what I mean when I say the word meditation. Meditation is an umbrella term. It is massive. Maybe a better word would be canopy term because of just how large the field of meditation is. There are endless practices that could fit under this heading. All would be different in their scope, intensity, and results. If this still seems a little vague, let’s use an example. Think about the term sports. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different sports. Some are played with equipment like rackets or bats, while in others you may ride a motorcycle or stand on your head. Basically, even though they all fall under the term sports, they could not be more different from one another. If you were proficient at tennis, you would not expect those skills to transfer over to motocross or gymnastics. The definition of sports is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Our definition of meditation will be “any practice of the mind.

Beyond that, each practice is different and offers different results. If you’re anything like me, when you first encountered meditation you may have had your own idea of what you thought it was supposed to be. You may have thought it was all about quieting your mind or stopping your thoughts. These definitions, however, do not offer enough room for growth, expansion, or personal inquiry. You wouldn’t expect all the people in the world to enjoy playing or watching the same sport. In much the same way, you shouldn’t expect everyone to enjoy the same form (or any form) of meditation. People are different and require different practices to live in harmony with themselves and the world around them.

When I first started meditating, I was fascinated with Vipassana meditation and monks. I began to set up my life in a very structured and disciplined way. I would meditate every morning, I ate a strict vegetarian diet and did my best to control all my desires (monetary, material, sexual, and otherwise). After a few months of this schedule, I definitely noticed a change in my life. My awareness was certainly heightened, but there was also a sense of apathy that I was developing to the world around me. You could even go as far as to say that I was becoming a bit nihilistic.

Now, some might argue this is just the beginning of the practice and you need to keep going. It will get better. I’m not going to knock that logic. I had experienced these types of growing pains in other areas of my life. An easy example would be working out. The beginning was torture, but slowly my body became stronger and eventually began to genuinely enjoy the movement. I became a stronger, happier, and healthier version of myself.

As I was moving through this phase of confusion in my practice, however, I happened to meet my current meditation teacher. He seemed so… normal. He didn’t wear robes, or burn incense. He owned a house, had a family, and lived a seemingly normal life. There was one rather large exception, however. He has been meditating consistently for almost 40 years. This really got me thinking. Despite my romantic view of living a monks life, maybe not all meditation practices are for all people and/or circumstances. His sense of normalcy completely resonated with me. I thought, “I should give his practice a try.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me here. I am definitely not knocking Vipassana meditation. I received a ton of benefit from this practice. In my experimentation, however, this practice did not offer me what I needed in my life. I wanted to live a relatively normal life, but still enjoy the benefits of a meditation practice. I mean, who wouldn’t love increased energy, focus, and concentration with less worry, fear, and doubt? The problem was… how do I find that? The answer was easy. Try something new. What was really nice, was those 3-4 years of learning to focus on my breath and body had greatly enhanced my concentration and awareness in general. There were a few hiccups as I transitioned my practice to something new, but ultimately the practices were able to feed off one another.

So what is meditation? Well, we can say for sure that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to meditation. There is no single form of meditation that is meditation. We can say that meditation generally is any practice of the mind. People then use these practices to derive a specific result, such as enhanced concentration, happiness, well-being, etc. Because the field of meditation is so massive, however, it may take some experimentation to find what is right for you. Experimentation followed by good guidance are essential to deepening your practice. Play around a little. See what you enjoy. See what draws you in. When you’ve found the right practice it will call you back. You won’t feel pressure to sit and meditate. You will just naturally want to do it. Enjoy the path and let it continually guide and inspire you.

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