Now and Zen

What is meditation?

For those who aren’t familiar with meditation, it can come off as mysterious and is sometimes misunderstood. Meditation is defined simply as contemplation, or the act of going into deep thought. This can be true, though it can also have more spiritual elements as well.

Before we decide on a definition, let’s take a look at how it has been defined before us.

Meditation originated prehistorically as mantras that were used in religious rituals. People would rhythmically chant phrases, usually for protection.

The earliest documented evidence of meditation is from 1500 B.C India. Associated wiith Hinduism, this meditation was known as Dhyana. Later in time, Taoists (China) and Buddhists (India) developed their own forms of meditation. In these religions, meditations were said to have many states that led to salvation.

Eventually, this developed into the concept of Zen, which is now formally used to describe a type of Japanese Buddhism. However, its more general definition is a way of being – a complete state of focus which integrate complete balance of the body and the mind

Every religion has its own form of meditation, and it all derived from early religion in Asia, though there are many variations and interchangeable elements. The history of Christian meditations vary between the east and west.

Starting in the Byzantine period, Eastern Christians used mantras a specific physical posture. Western Christian meditation is the most different form as it uses neither mantras nor posturing. Monks in the 6th century followed four steps in “divine reading”: read the Bible, meditate, pray aloud and contemplate.

Let’s fast forward a bit. Since the 1700s, meditation has become a topic for philosophers, has blossomed into new forms of yoga and has not completely retained its religious affiliation. There are scientific reasons why meditation is right for everyone, regardless of religious inclination – stress relief, relaxation, thought processing, and so forth.

“Spirituality is an important, multidimensional aspect of the human experience that is difficult to fully understand or measure using the scientific method, yet convincing evidence in the medical literature supports its beneficial role in the practice of medicine. It will take many more years of study to understand exactly which aspects of spirituality hold the  most benefit for health and well-being. The world’s great wisdom traditions suggest that some of the most important aspects of spirituality lie in the sense of connection and inner strength, comfort, love and peace that individuals derive from their relationship with self, others, nature and the transcendent.” –Anandarajah (2001)

So, how should we define meditation?

It is a practice of mindfulness.

Other than that, its definition depends on you. What are your goals? Do you want to be closer to the spirit realm? If you don’t believe in that sort of thing, is it just a way to improve your concentration and calm? How can you use this practice to benefit you?

Further Reading

Tomorrow we will talk about the benefits of meditation and how to get started. If you are already someone who practices meditation, I strongly suggest you check out The Meditation Podcast.

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