Meditation has been used for thousands of years primarily as:
- a spiritual practice of quieting the mind and turning one's focus inward
- shutting out the worries of the world, and
- entering a substantially relaxing, trance-like state of unity with God and / or all that is.
It is highly regarded as a discipline of self-mastery on all levels: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.
Meditation develops self-mastery by focusing the mind on:
- a mantra or prayer,
- sound, or
- word, and
- consistently coaxing the mind back to its focus whenever it wanders or returns to its habitual chatter.
Occasionally, the mind becomes quiet, with peace, happiness and clarity replacing mind chatter and negativity.
Where did meditation originate?
Meditation originated long before mankind ever became "civilized" — if you've ever stared into a campfire and experienced the altered state thought about by the hypnotic dance of the flames, you can understand how early man came to use these altered states as religious practices developed.
Even today, many meditators still chant rhythmic, repetitive mantras in order to enter the lower brain activity states of meditation or alterred states of consciousness — a practice that also originated in prehistoric times.
Archaeological evidence points to yogic practices within the Indus Valley in India dating back 5,000 years.
Written evidence that meditation was firmly established as a spiritual practice dates back to the Indian "Vedas." By 500 years BC, meditative traditions had taken hold in China and the Zen tradition develped. Both Hindu and Buddhist meditative traditions have since spread to all parts of the world.
Meditation and religion
Meditation is central to all major religions (Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity). But as a religious practice, it was called by a different name — prayer. Many of these traditions involve breathing techniques — much like the Indian yogic traditions — as well as chants, specific postures, and scripts.
Western Christian traditions differ from the rest in that they do not require audible repetition of a phrase.
In the 12th century, Benedictine monks developed formal steps to meditation — "read, ponder, pray and contemplate" which, if you look across the boundaries at all meditative traditions, is the same everywhere. One learns, thinks about, requests for guidance, and listens to intuitive guidance by going within. At the same time in Japan, Zazen, or sitting meditation, was becoming the norm among Japanese Buddhist monks.
Meditation and the West
Yoga and meditation hit the big time in the West in the 1960s. Some secularized versions of the ancient traditions appeared to those looking outside of formal religions. Today, both yoga and meditation are used for stress reduction, as a personal growth tool, and for relaxation.
Perhaps the best known meditation icon is the Buddha, which statues adorn homes and temples through the world — almost always kept in his custom lotus position, eyes closed, the picture of tranquility and enlightenment.
Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as more and more people are reaching for something to take away the stress and negativity so prevalent in modern life — so it looks very right and natural to return to a practice directed in mankind's earliest beginnings.