Meditation can mean different things in different spiritual contexts. In the Buddhist tradition alone, there are many different kinds of meditation.
One simple definition states: “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”.
When we talk about meditation we are often referring to one particular meditation technique, such as being mindful of our bodily sensations or of our breathing.
At a more profound level, we could say that real meditation is what happens when we start to drop our ambitions for obtaining some kind of special meditation experience, simply resting in an un-contrived way within our natural state.
At our Manchester meditation classes we teach a practice called Formless Meditation. Formless Meditation is a very profound practice and has its roots in the Dzogchen and Mahamudra meditation traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
This meditation begins by helping us to feel more relaxed, free and concentrated. By resting our awareness lightly on the out-breath we begin to see our thoughts and emotions more clearly. As we begin to rest in the gaps between our thoughts we experience the simplicity and joy that this peace can bring. This type of meditation is called “calm abiding meditation” or Shamata in Buddhist language.
As our practice of Formless Meditation 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 – not a problem or hindrance.
With practice we become more stable in our meditation and we find that we are able to meditate without concentrating on an object (such as the breath) and begin to open to our experience. Using a light curiosity we can begin to question the nature of the things we take for granted – 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).
Meditation is an exploration. To avoid the many pitfalls and dead-ends that we can find ourselves in, meditation is best carried out with the friendship and support of a community of experienced meditators.