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What Is Meditation?
Jesus did it. The Buddha did it. Mystics, saints and sages of spiritual traditions from around the world, and throughout the ages, have spent countless hours doing it. Why has meditation been at the core of the human search for truth and meaning throughout the millennia? Why meditate? What is it?
Albert Einstein once wrote, “The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” It seems that the attraction of meditation has, traditionally at least, been just this: It offers a window into the mystery of our very existence. Meditation is the Hubble Space Telescope for exploring the vast inner space of the soul. Yet here, no external instrument is required; you can meditate on the shores of a holy river, in the comfort of your bedroom, or even in the bus on your way home from work. Only the mind and awareness are needed, nothing else. Meditation is simply the mind turning within to look upon itself.
So what happens when the mind turns within? There are hundreds of forms of meditation, and each may give rise to a variety of experiences. (As we shall see, the inner space of the mind is vast.) Yet all successful forms of meditation have at least one thing in common: Sooner or later, they make the mind’s activity subtler. Put another way, through meditation you transcend your ordinary mental activity to experience quieter and deeper levels of mental activity that are closer to the core of your being.
There are subtle and gross levels to everything. A book in your hands, for instance, appears to be solid and more or less inert matter, but this is only at the gross level of the book’s existence. Were you to enter into it more deeply, you would discover that a book is not inert at all. It consists of innumerable molecules shimmering with motion. Were your investigation to go further, you would discover that the pages hold inconceivable power at the subatomic level. Transcending even this level, the subatomic particles that compose a book dissolve into a state of pure potentiality. This pure, abstract potentiality is described by quantum field theory as the vacuum state. The book that you hold in your hands is truly a mystery beyond comprehension. The energy it contains is unimaginable, and on the deepest level of the book’s existence it is interrelated with the entire universe.
This is no less true of you and me. We, too, have many levels to our existence. Just as we normally see only the most superficial level of a book, so we ordinarily see only the most superficial level of the body and mind — the gross material body and the conscious thinking mind. Yet just as with the book, the subtler levels hold immense energy and potential, and it is the allure of these deeper levels that has fascinated adepts of meditation throughout the centuries. These deeper levels are much more intimate with our essence and source. Indeed, they hold the very secrets of our existence.
This is why at the heart of all the great spiritual traditions of the world, there are various forms of meditation — spiritual practices that quiet the mind to allow seekers to explore the deeper regions of their being. The mystics of the world’s spiritual traditions discovered that as their vision opened to these hidden layers of life, the presence of the Divine became an immediate, vital experience — and they have universally declared that this experience requires no special talent. It is open to any and all who are willing to dedicate themselves to exploring their own inner depths.
Of course, meditation also offers many practical benefits for mental, emotional and physical health — and because it’s a direct experience, it requires no particular religious or spiritual belief. Whether you are interested for spiritual or other reasons — such as to sleep better; to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; to improve physical health; or to tap your latent creative potential — just regularly meditate. All that you want lies within you, in the depths of your own being. You need only access it.
Ajayan Borys is the author of Effortless Mind. He has traveled the globe exploring human potential practices. The host of Mind Matters Radio on Alternative Talk Radio, he teaches workshops and retreats on meditation and spiritual relationships near Seattle and in the Himalayas. Visit him online at ajayanborys.com.