Meditation is a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the conditioned, thinking mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. Meditation often involves turning attention to a single point of reference. It is recognized as a component of almost all religions, and has been practiced for over 5000 years. It is also practiced outside religious traditions. Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and psychophysical practices which may emphasize different goals, from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
Evidence of the origins of meditation extends back to a time before recorded history. Archaeologists tell us the practice may have existed among the first Indian civilizations. From its ancient beginnings and over thousands of years, meditation has developed into a structured practice used today by millions of people worldwide of differing nationalities and religious beliefs.
Meditation has been defined as self regulation of attention, in the service of self inquiry, in the here and now. The various techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field or background perception and experience, also called mindfulness. Others focus on a preselected specific object, and are called concentrative meditation. There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.
In mindfulness meditation, the meditator sits comfortably and silently, centering attention by focusing awareness on an object or process such as the breath, a sound like a mantra, koan or riddle-like question, a visualization or an exercise. The meditator is usually encouraged to maintain an open focus.
Some shift freely from one perception to the next to clear the mind of all that bothers them, so that no thoughts can distract from reality or personal being. No thought, image or sensation is considered an intrusion. The meditator, with a no effort attitude, is asked to remain in the here and now. Using the focus as an anchor brings the subject constantly back to the present, avoiding cognitive analysis or fantasy regarding the contents of awareness, and increasing tolerance and relaxation of secondary thought processes.
Concentration meditation is used in many religions and spiritual practices. Whereas in mindfulness meditation there is an open focus, in concentration meditation the meditator holds attention on a particular object such as a repetitive prayer while minimizing distractions, bringing the mind back to concentrate on the chosen object. In some traditions, such as Vipassana, mindfulness and concentration are combined.
Meditation can be practiced while walking or doing simple repetitive tasks. Walking meditation helps to break down habitual automatic mental categories, thus regaining the primary nature of perceptions and events, focusing attention on the process while disregarding its purpose or final outcome. In a form of meditation using visualization, such as Chinese Qi Gong, the practitioner concentrates on flows of energy in the body, starting in the abdomen and then circulating through the body, until dispersed. Some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions or occur outside religious contexts.
Krishnamurti used the word meditation to mean something entirely different from the practice of any system or method to control the mind. He said that in order to escape our conflicts, we have invented many forms of meditation. These have been based on desire, will, and the urge for achievement, and imply conflict and a struggle to arrive. This conscious, deliberate striving is always within the limits of a conditioned mind, and in this there is no freedom. All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation. Meditation is the ending of thought. It is only then that there is a different dimension which is beyond time.
For Krishnamurti, meditation was choiceless awareness in the present. He said that when we learn about ourselves, watch ourselves, watch the way we walk, how we eat, what we say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy, and are aware of all that in ourselves, without any choice, that is the meditation.