If you ask ten people what meditation is, you’ll probably get ten different answers. And if you ask those ten people if they meditate, most will probably say that they fail at it. Most will say that they just can’t quiet the mind in order to sit and think of nothing. But is thinking of nothing meditation? Can a person think of nothing?
In yoga we practice focusing attention. It could be while sitting, it could be while in a particular pose. It could be focusing attention on breathing – counting inhales and exhales. It could be closing the eyes and looking at the inside of the space between the eyebrows. It could be looking at a picture, or a candle flame. But whatever brings focus, the mind will wander. Thoughts come into the mind no matter how hard we try to keep focusing on something else. They don’t stop. What we do in yoga is lovingly bring our attention back to the breath, or the flame. Every time the mind wanders, simply bring it back. Then we can train the mind to hold that focus longer and longer, and learn not to follow thoughts as they come into focus, but to let them go out of the mind without dwelling on them. At some point this sustaining of the focus of the mind becomes what we call meditation.
But not dwelling on what meditation is, let’s talk about why to do it. Pausing in our daily activities to sit and focus brings a wealth of benefits. It’s refreshing. It helps the pulse and blood pressure to lower. It can help us to weather the stormy times. It helps us to reset, defragment, and recalibrate. When we sit with just ourselves doing nothing to distract us from ourselves, we cannot hide from ourselves. It may be the only moment in the day that we are nothing more than ourselves.
What are we when we are not ourselves? Perhaps during the day we try to become things that we are not. For example, the person who says, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that with you, I’m too busy,” really might mean, “I’d rather not commit to do something with you in case something better comes along.” Or does “Look at the guys I’ve dated,” really mean “No one would love me if they knew me, but I can keep trying?” Perhaps “This food is cold,” really means “People don’t like me. This waiter intentionally served me cold food.”
You get the idea. We want people to think we are the people we really aren’t. We lie to ourselves and try to distract people from the truth. When we pause during the day to sit and quiet ourselves we have no one to be with but our true selves. We are forced to confront the things that we are trying to hide behind. We look deeper and deeper into ourselves to see past all of the distractions and misconceptions and we find that there is a serene, honest, unhurt center to ourselves that need not be hidden. We imagine what a day would be like if we were that person in the center, and what we would do in a day’s situations as that person. If only we could be that person.
Even deeper inside than this fantasy of daily life there is a root consciousness in us unaffected by the outside world, and not needing to respond to the daily distractions. It is in sitting and pausing, in breathing and focusing, and in being alone with ourselves that we discover this root existence. Allowing ourselves to experience this being, even for a moment, enables us to better weather the stormy distractions that a day can bring. It gives us the opportunity to choose truth over lie. It gives us the confidence to be ourselves.