What is Meditation?

Meditation means different things in different spiritual traditions. Indeed, there are many different kinds of meditation in the Buddhist tradition alone. One definition says: “meditation is what we say we are doing when we set time aside to become aware of our experience, so we can deepen our understanding of it”.

We can talk about meditation as being a particular technique, such as being mindful of our breathing. At a more profound level, we could say that real meditation begins when we drop any ambition of obtaining some kind of special meditation experience and simply rest in an un-contrived way within our natural state.

At our meditation classes in Leeds, we mainly teach a practice called Formless Meditation. This meditation can help us to feel more relaxed, free and concentrated. By resting our awareness lightly on the out-breath we can begin to see our thoughts and emotions more clearly. We begin to rest in the gaps between thoughts and experience the joy that this peace can bring. This is called “calm abiding meditation” or Shamata in Buddhist language.

As our practice develops we learn to open into the natural space and clarity of the mind. We begin to see thoughts as being like clouds passing through the clear blue sky – no problem.

As we become more stable in our meditation practice we are able to meditate without an object of concentration (such as the breath) and begin to open to our experience with a light curiosity – what are thoughts? where is my mind? At this point we begin to enter into the realm of insight meditation (called Vipashyana in Buddhist language).

Formless Meditation is a very profound practice and has its roots in the Dzogchen and Mahamudra meditation traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.