There is no one definition and I think that is a good thing because you can find your own way and find something that works for you, rather than having to achieve or strive for a ‘definition’ of meditation. Meditation is a generic term for a great variety of practices, strategies and techniques; many of which have quite different objectives. Meditation can be different things to different people. Makes sense as to why it is so effective.
If you currently meditate, you probably think of meditation as the specific technique(s) or practices you do. And if you are new to meditation, you too, will have our own views — including your hopes about what you might achieve through meditation, as well as a variety of perceptions coloured by what you’ve read and heard.
In today’s world, meditation comes in different flavours and styles. It’s practiced within religions and is also studied by neuroscientists, doctors and psychologists. For some it’s a sacred or spiritual practice, or part of a personal development program to retrain the brain. For others it’s a way of getting through the day with a little less anxiety or stress. In sport and business, people use it as a performance enhancing tool. This helps to explain that with so many different purposes, it’s not surprising that people think about meditation in all kinds of ways.
As someone new to meditation, all this variety can lead to a great deal of confusion and potentially a loss in confidence that this is the right thing for you to be trying. How do I start? What type of meditation is right for me? If someone can’t give me a simple, straight answer is this something I can rely on? Who do I trust?
There is no one single technique or even state you reach when meditating. There is no best way. What works for one may not work for another.
I hope I am not confusing you more, but I am wanting to simplify it, to help you find what works for you.
Is there an overarching objective to meditation then? How do I get the most out of meditation? A definition can be useful and one that for me that encompasses the objective is “Meditation is relaxing the body and calming the mind” (Eric Harrison). That is not to say that this is what happens every time you meditate but it is a good thing to practice!
Of course, relaxing the body and calming the mind is not the only definition of meditation. It’s just one of many possible and perfectly acceptable definitions. I’m not even suggesting that it’s the best, or right, definition.
I find that the definition has to be flexible to reflect my own reasons for meditation and what I need at the time. Ultimately, you’ll probably want to decide for yourself how to define the practice.
Relaxing the body and calming the mind, for the reasons stated above, is just a useful starting point. Keep in mind that any definition is in some ways limiting. Meditation is not all about relaxation and calm. There will also likely be agitation, confusion, boredom and restlessness. Although we might aim for a peaceful state of mind, this doesn’t mean we try to reject or prohibit the full gamut of physical, mental and emotional experiences from arising during meditation. They will, and we can learn from them all.
Even when people are meditating for the same purpose, they still might choose different meditation techniques or methods. For example, some practitioners associate meditation with breathing techniques, others with chanting, certain postures, guided visualisation, relaxing body part by part. Eyes open or closed, guided or silent, controlled or natural breathing, standing or sitting, moving or still, relaxation or recollection.
Then there are the various recommendations about when, where and how long you should meditate for.
My hope for you is that you can find your own way and find something that works for you.