Why meditate? It is up to us. Meditation offers us many different benefits, both inner and outer. We can choose one, some or all of the rich rewards of meditation. We can start simply and then grow and go deeper. Meditation’s rewards are open-ended. We will always find that the practice of meditation leads on to new discoveries and new kinds of fulfillment.
Meditation is a practical way to enter the dimensions of our own consciousness that exist beyond our usual level of thought. It is now well known that meditation can reduce stress and significantly improve our physical and mental health. Meditation can be an amazingly powerful means of gaining insight into ourselves and the meaning of what is happening in our lives. Meditation is also a way to find not only understanding but also real strength to do whatever we need to do on our life journey. Finally, meditation is first the gateway and then the ongoing path into the limitless inner world of spiritual experience, progressing towards the ultimate goal of illumination or enlightenment.
How to meditate? All spiritual traditions have their forms of meditation, and these all share certain basic methods. A straight back is needed for regular, calm breathing which relaxes our whole system. But it is not necessary to sit on the floor or cross-legged; sitting in a chair is fine as long as our spine is straight. Then, to move beyond our usual level of thinking, we must quiet our mind, which is constantly active by its very nature. While our thoughts cannot be stopped all at once by pressing an “off” button, we can still them by concentrating on a single object. We can choose the object of concentration that works for us. This might be a candle flame, a picture or symbol, a word, our own heart, our breath or some combination of these. When thoughts arise, we just gently bring our attention back to the object of concentration. With practice, we gradually and steadily increase our concentration capacity. Concentration is the foundation for all types of meditation. When it is solidly established, concentration can work wonders in our lives.
In meditation, with the base of concentration, we move into an expanded state of consciousness. Again, we can choose what we will meditate on. If we need peace, we can access peace through our meditation. We can seek intuition of truth and self-knowledge. If we wish, in inner silence we can pose a question and receive an answer. When we move beyond the activity of thoughts, we can enter the heart, which is the abode of love, joy and compassion. When we meditate regularly, we will be able to bring the joy and light of our meditation into our day to day lives. When we live more and more in the heart, we can increase love, peace and kindness in ourselves, our relations with others and all that we do. In this way, through meditation we make our own spiritual progress and also help to create a better world for everyone on earth.