There are many different types of meditation for different purposes. In the past, the word meditation referred to specific practices in various spiritual and religious traditions. The goal was to help a person grow spiritually. This could mean anything from experiencing the presence of the divine to becoming more compassionate to realizing one’s true nature as consciousness. The goal and type of meditation would vary according to the tradition. All of the major religious traditions developed meditative practices, and continue to have them to this day.
In current times, the term meditation is used much more broadly to refer to many different practices meant to bring about a variety of results, and meditation is no longer always associated with spirituality. Different meditations have different goals, and people meditate for many different reasons — relaxation, health, personal growth, spiritual development. Often people meditate simply to become more relaxed, or because their doctor advised them to meditate to lower their blood pressure. Being clear on why you want to meditate will help you in your search.
Meditation vs. a “meditative state”
Often people use the word meditation to refer to a “meditative state”. For example, someone might say, “I watched the sunset and went into meditation.” Hours of difficult meditation practice may not result in a significant change in one’s way of being, but suddenly spotting a deer in a sunlit meadow can instantly shift our awareness into a place of peace. The best meditation practices help to evoke an experience that is very natural to the mind, and people often find their own ways to set the stage for the mind to shift.
Meditation involves a shift in the focus of the mind
In meditation, we are shifting our awareness from the usual focused, outer-directed activity of the mind. In activity, the mind is engaged in observing, discriminating, deciding, analyzing and accomplishing. Meditation gives us an opportunity to shift gears, let go of this focus and experience a more peaceful, silent state.
Learning to Meditate
Learning to meditate is a very individual matter. Some people do best learning from a teacher or structured course, while others discover how to meditate on their own. You might try several methods and eventually find your own style. There’s no one right way to meditate!
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So often people give up on meditation because they tried a method that was totally unsuitable for them. We encourage you to explore until you find a way to meditate that works for you.
We invite you to use the How to Meditate pages on our website, or use our meditation CDs as an easy way to get started. That may be all you’ll ever need! To learn in a more structured way with more support, try our Online Meditation Course. It’s available on our website and also as an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app.