I read an article recently that drew an analogy of the term 'meditation' to 'sports', a word that describes a large class or family of varying forms of activity such as track, baseball basketball, etc. The general family of meditation was defined as 'complex emotional and attentional regulatory strategies developed for various ends including cultivation of well-being and emotional balance' (Lutz et al., 2008: Cell). (Various forms of meditation might include TM, mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, centering prayer, etc.).
This led me to ponder the reason I meditate. Why? To what 'various end'?
Although meditation has brought me many new insights and led me to act in much kinder ways to myself and others, the purpose of meditation for me is to explore the inner recesses of mind.
The Thoreau quote: "Direct your eyesight inward and you will find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered" sums it all up.
Exploration of mind.
Many people begin to meditate because of the impact such a practice can have on 'stress'; I began that way myself seven years ago. But I quickly discovered that the process of discovery was much more interesting than any stress reduction it afforded.
I liken the process to an archeologist of the brain where each object is examined with complete curiosity, without judgment, until the object is carefully weighed, investigated, and perhaps labeled. At that point, an archeologist might put the object into a framework - it's part of a house, etc. - as we might, through conscious investigation, categorize the thought or feeling as 'helpful' or 'harmful'.
There are many reasons that people meditate. For some, meditation is used in a religious context (e.g. contemplative or centering prayer) and the endpoint is a greater connection to their God. For others using meditation in a non-religious context, the endpoints might be health, stress reduction, well-being, and perhaps compassion. The process of meditation under these two contexts might look very similar or very different depending on how much the contextual framework guides the meditation itself.
Meditation is a process of inward investigation that - depending on the goal or purpose of its use - can be purely religious, purely secular, or both. The 'endpoint' of meditation will depend greatly on the goal of the meditator.
Like sports where people participate for the sport itself, not just to 'win', meditation may be for discovery process itself, where the means is the 'end'.
That's why I meditate.
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