This complete guide to is going to pull back the curtain and reveal everything there is to know about meditation, quickly and clearly.
Let’s start by getting right to the heart of the true goal of meditation practice – it’s probably not what you think.
What is the true goal of meditating?
When most people think of meditation and what they’ll get as a result, they generally think of things like increased mental clarity, being less prone to distractions, mindfulness, stress reduction, and an increased sense of well-being.
But this is far from the true goal.
Meditation is actually meant to allow one to achieve what is best called “Satori”, and to have a direct experience of oneness.
Satori is loosely defined as “awakening” or “understanding”.
Oneness is directly experiencing a state of perception beyond the usual confines of duality.
Next let’s explore these related states of Satori and Oneness so that we can uncover the true goal of meditation practice.
Separation is an illusion
We perceive separation our entire lives.
It seems as if separation is an undeniable fact – you are not me, I am not a tree, a tree is not a river, a river is not a stone, a stone is not a bear, a bear is not a squirrel.
Everything, evidently, is separate and distinct from everything else.
In Hinduism there is a term “Maya” which loosely translates to “illusion” – separation is, ultimately and in the highest or deepest sense, an illusion.
How can things that are clearly separate actually not be separate? Isn’t this a contradiction?
I could answer that question, but that would be the same as trying to describe what mango tastes like: if you have never tasted a mango, all the best explanations in the world mean nothing compared to having the direct experience of tasting a mango. When you have the direct experience you don’t need explanations to understand.
It’s the same with experiencing Satori and having a direct experience of Oneness; I can explain it and elucidate expansively, but that will be just a description.
Which leads us to a very important point:
How our perception & language creates separation
Wherever you are right now, look around you. You see separate distinct objects, don’t you?
Maybe you see a table, maybe a lamp, maybe a book?
If you’re indoors, you can see the floor, the walls, the ceiling.
And language is a large part of how we label everything we can perceive.
This labeling process started when we were very young and our parents pointed out various things in the world around us, providing us with their names: “chair”, “keys”, “nose”, “eyes”, “Mama”, “Papa” and so on.
Very quickly our perceptions and language create a “map” of reality, and then a very subtle shift occurs: we mistake descriptions for the things themselves.
It’s very much like mistaking a menu, a description of food, for the actual food itself. Yes, we often “eat the menu” mistaking it for the food.
These maps of reality are quite useful, for example every time we encounter a door we don’t need to learn how to open it – we know it will pull in or push out and there will be a lever to press or knob to turn.
But it’s also true that we will tend to operate on those maps rather than on the world itself as we associate certain traits with our present experiences based on our past experiences.
The true goal of meditation is not to find inner peace or mental clarity or stress reduction.
The true goal of meditation is to have a direct experience of Satori – when all labels and distinctions fall away and you perceive with “raw awareness” without labels or descriptions getting in the way.
Next let’s review another goal of meditation no one talks about.
What no one will tell you: the “scary” goal of meditation
A number of past cultures were obsessed with the mysteries of existence, time, life, and death.
For example, the ancient Egyptians & the ancient cultures of North & Central America, among many others.
Pharaohs were a cross between king and spiritual leader, and considered the emissary between the visible and invisible worlds, the messenger between life and death.
Part of their training involved using what we would call meditation in order to train their awareness such that they could “stay awake” when falling asleep.
Maintaining consciousness when passing between waking and sleeping states was considered a major and necessary step leading to the ability to maintain consciousness when dying, and beyond.
Scary stuff, really – especially if you layer on the practice of human sacrifice to harness the life force of the sacrifice, to build up huge energy reserves considered necessary to transcend from this life “to the next life”.
Most people don’t start a meditation practice to achieve Satori & experience Oneness, or to train their consciousness to remain aware between waking and sleeping states and to transcend death.
So now that we’ve exposed the true goals of meditation. let’s move on to the more “mundane” benefits of meditation – the kind of benefits people expect to get from meditation practice.
What are the benefits of meditation?
- Increased mental clarity
- Improved concentration
- Better mental functioning
- Decreased anxiety
- Stress reduction
- Increased attention span
- Promote states of peacefulness & calmness
- Better ability to navigate life’s ups & downs
- Reduce negative emotions & undesired reactions
- Increased patience
- Control addictive behaviors
- Better sleep
- Increase happiness
Generally speaking, meditation promotes good mental and physical health by decreasing or eliminating negative emotions and tendencies and by inducing mind and body relaxation.
What are the different types of meditation?
Meditation practice types can be categorized in several different ways.
Active vs. passive meditation
Passive meditation is what most people think of when it comes to meditation – being in a quiet place, closing your eyes, and concentrating on a mantra or one’s breathing.
Active meditation is less well known, and a good example is the prearranged forms in Karate called “Kata” which are a sequence of physical movements performed from start to finish (not dissimilar to a dance routine). Kata is often referred to as “meditation in motion” and belies the hidden fact that meditation is not necessarily supposed to be something confined to sitting in a lotus position with your eyes closed and chanting for 20 minutes per day.
Meditation is indeed supposed to spill over into your everyday life. Meditation then is really practice training your mind to experience Oneness during your everyday activities. Many refer to this as “mindfulness”.
How to meditate
If you’re new to meditation, it’s recommended to start with passive meditation.
When to meditate?
Set aside a certain time period each day – think 15-30 minutes – where you can be somewhere quiet and undisturbed to do your meditation practice.
Lying or sitting?
Meditation is most-often associated with a sitting position, and that can be cross-legged, a lotus or half-lotus position, or even just sitting “normally” in a chair. You can lie down and meditate, but that may lead to falling asleep.
What if I fall asleep during meditation?
If you fall asleep during meditation, that may be a sign you’re not getting enough sleep.
How do I meditate? 2 quick & easy methods
Meditation practice essentially involves narrowing your mental focus, and concentrating on a single aspect of your awareness.
1. Focus on your breathing
One of the easiest and most-basic forms of meditation is to simply be aware of your breathing during the entire meditation practice.
Simply notice your breathing, don’t judge or control anything.
Just pay attention to your breathing.
If you start thinking about something, discard the thoughts and turn your attention back to your breathing.
It’s that simple.
It’s also that difficult – if you’re new to meditation you’re likely to experience something called “monkey mind” where random thoughts & feelings keep arising no matter how much you bring your attention back to your breathing.
Each time a random thought or feeling comes up, simply dismiss it and turn your full attention back to simply noticing your breathing.
This type of meditation practice works to strengthen your capacity for mindfulness, which is being fully present in the moment.
2. The witness
This is similar to concentrating on your breathing, but with a twist:
In this case, The Witness simply observes everything without judgement and without indulging in any experience which arises.
The Witness is an objective observer of every sound, thought, and mental image who simply notices all of them without any evaluative process and without any attempt to control anything.
Think of it as sitting next to a flowing river, the flowing water passing by is simply noticed, nothing more.
Again, this can sound simple or even easy, but is much more difficult in practice, but this is another great way to improve being present in the moment, mindfulness.
Meditation essentially is a narrowing of awareness – here are different types of meditation:
- Concentrate on your breathing (eyes open or closed, usually closed)
- Repeating a mantra (a word or short phrase repeated silently or aloud)
- Gazing at a mandala or candle flame (eyes open)
- Chanting (similar to a mantra, repeating a sentence or sentences silently or aloud)
- The Witness (just observe, without clinging or judgement)
- Chakra meditation (concentration on one or more special energy centers in specific body locations)
- No-mind (a tricky & paradoxical form involving ‘having no thoughts’)
- Love & kindness (thoughts of kindness & love)
- Sound meditation (listening to an external sound or music)
- Tantra (sex) – in this form of active meditation, the focus is not on the sex act but on controlling one’s mental & emotional states
- Guided – this is where another person (either in-person or via audio recording) leads you through a session and may involve visualization or controlled breathing or other actions
The bottom line on various forms of meditation
Meditation can come by many names such as Zazen, T.M. (Transcendental Meditation) , Yogic and so on, but all forms of meditation will be either passive or active, eyes open or closed, and always with some specific focus on something you can see, hear, or feel either internally or in the external environment.
What if you actually do reach satori?
It’s possible you might have a direct experience of Oneness and experience perception beyond duality.
If you do, you’ll only notice it after it happens, not while it’s happening simply because in those moments of time your perceptions will function differently than usual and you will not perceive separation between yourself and your environment.
You may experience a sense of falling backwards or a sense that the floor or ground falls away.
If you achieve Satori with your eyes open your ability to make distinctions between ‘different things’ will fall away.
As noted earlier, I can describe what mango tastes like but you have to taste it yourself to really understand – no description can ever encompass what Satori is truly like.
Will I become spiritually enlightened from doing meditation & achieving satori?
A Zen Master once said:
“Before achieving Satori, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. But when I achieved Satori I realized mountains were not mountains and rivers were not rivers. After Satori I realized that mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers”.
Such descriptions can seem contradictory, or even nonsensical.
But these descriptions only seem that way if you haven’t experienced Satori.
Don’t have lofty goals of non-stop peaceful bliss as a result of meditation.
In fact you’re better off not having any real goal for your meditation practice, except to simply do it.
Especially in the West we’re conditioned to believe everything we do must have some goal or outcome – allow the regular practice of meditation to disabuse you of this conditioning.
Doing something simply for the sake of doing it is unfamiliar for most and even uncomfortable for some – press ahead anyway without expecting benefit or reward.
Do you have questions, concerns, or comments?
Let me know below or feel free to contact me, thanks!
If my article was valuable to you please click the image below to say “thanks!”