Any discipline or practice of the mind and/or body that enables the individual to alter his consciousness or achieve a higher state of consciousness. Meditation is principally employed toward obtaining self-improvement and spiritual growth.
There are two general types of meditation: the mystical and the secular. The mystical is considered the highest form of meditation because the person practicing it is usually thought to be attempting to reach the Absolute or Divine. It is usually practiced in a nonsecular setting, such as a monastery, where the practitioners also practice withdrawal from the world, asceticism, strict diet, and other regimens. However, there are exceptional individuals who independently choose to live this life-style.
Secular meditation helps practitioners improve their health, creativity, self-esteem, success, and relationships with others and the world around them. It can also improve the individualís psychic powers and accomplishment of self-knowledge. Meditation by itself will not achieved these goals, but will help the individual to achieve them. Generally the person practices meditation twice daily about twenty minutes at a time. Some scientific research has shown meditation improves health.
Meditation is universally practiced. In the East it has became more formalized into a spiritual discipline in which various techniques are used. Concentration is more involved with the Eastern tradition, especially in yoga, it attempts to transform consciousness through mental control, and go beyond the absence of thought. While some goals of meditative concentration is the achievement of mystical states posture is very important. The concentration is on a single object such as breath control, a mantra, a yantra (geometric shape), a candle flame, a koan (Zen puzzle) and so on. Detached awareness meditation also is more characteristic of the Eastern methods, especially among the many schools of Buddhism. Of the various methods, the best known in the West is zasen, or sitting meditation, of Zen.
The prominent Eastern religions or philosophies using meditation are Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, and Taoism, and others. The primary objective of the practice of meditation in all of these religious philosophies appears to be the release from the material world into the spiritual. This chiefly means release from the body, its concerns and functions. Also, there is a lessening of the ego. Meditative experiences are continued until the individual reaches a nirvana. Beyond the nirvana is the nirodh (cessation), which consists of the absolute cessation of consciousness and the quiescence of bodily processes. This is an extremely difficult state to obtain because the bodyís metabolism drops to minimal level for existence; thus the state can be maintained for no longer than seven days. The meditator is required beforehand to determine the length he or she will remain in this state.
Meditation in the Western methods focuses more on contemplation. This includes practices of thinking about meaning, such as prayer, concepts, and questions. Generally contemplation does not quiet the mind or effect bodily rest.
The Western tradition begun with Christian monks in the Egyptian desert around the fourth century who lived as hermits. The discipline which they practiced was one of purification and meditation to obtain union with God. It is suspected many of their techniques were borrowed from the East or rediscovered from there. The repetition, verbally or silently, of phrases from the Scriptures served as the Desert Fathersí mantras. Steadily in the Catholic tradition the path to God was characterized by purification, asceticism, prayer, and contemplation.
Meditation also is practiced in the practices of Judaism and Islam, the Kabbalah and Sufism. It is included in the practices of neo-Paganism and neo-Witchcraft also.
The following is based a section of the study of neo-Witchcraft. To fully understand the purpose and functioning of meditation one has to observe the human as both a physical and spiritual or psychological being. Meditation helps to connect the physical and spiritual levels of the human being. This connection is brought about at the vital centers within the body known as chakras. During the process of meditation psychic energy known as Kundalini or ĎSerpent Powerí builds up and flows through the chakras. As it does, the chakras open in a successive order.
This psychic energy as it increases influences or controls different areas or levels of the personís mind. Generally, three levels of the human mind are recognized: the conscious, the subconscious and the super-conscious. The conscious usually pertains to or governs the voluntary actions which the person performs during his waking state such as eating, speaking, walking, writing, etc.; the subconscious usually controls all of the involuntary functions of the body such as breathing, the heart rate, etc.; while the super-conscious, which also is frequently referred to as the Higher Self, when developed may control the other two mental levels. For example, there has been incidences where through meditation individuals have voluntarily controlled their rate of breathing.
There are several techniques by which practitioners can meditate. The failure of a practitioner to be able to meditate may rest in the choice of the wrong technique, the technique not being suited to that particular individual, or not completely mastering that particular technique. Many masters of Eastern philosophies recommend the technique of focusing attention upon what is called the personís "thousand petaled lotus" or the third eye which is located in the middle of the forehead. When doing this the individual focuses on the seventh and highest chakra in the body to re-orient the physical self to the mental self, thus forming a transcending association between the gross physical self and the personís mental identifications, to discover the "true" self.
The proof of the re-orientation process may been seen within the personís physical and psychological well being, or the lack of it. When the person feels good, or is in relative good heath, his attention more aptly focuses on his environment, the things and persons around him. However, when a person does not feel good, or is depressed and/or moody, his attention may be referred to as subconscious, he tends to think more about himself. His attention narrows being focused more on his own troubles or concerns. This is the reason why it is recommended that an individual keep his mental activity as high as possible to always attain his true self.
Popular Western interest in meditation began the be sparked in the 1960s and most of the adopted techniques were derived from those of Buddhism and Hinduism. During the 1950s Japanese scientists begun studying yogis and Zen monks in meditation. In the 1960s Western scientists began to study the practitioners of Transcendental Meditation(TM), at the invitation of the TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although study results vary, there were similar findings: meditation lowers bodily metabolism, slows brain waves, and induces relaxation. Persons who meditate regularly tend to show more resistance to stress and illness, and claimed they felt better psychologically. Also, meditation has been shown to be a help in treating addition.