Meditation has nothing to do with prayer, nor is it really about relaxation; it is above all else a spiritual practice, which helps one discover the authentic self. The authentic self is a little like an uncut diamond covered over with dirt and grime, perhaps buried deep within the earth and still needs to be cut and polished in order to see the beauty of the light within. So meditation is one way of clearing the field to get to the diamond itself and then the slow process of cutting and polishing.
The process in essence is simple:
Sitting quietly in a safe place without distraction one steps back from the thinking mind and tries not to pay attention to any emotions that arise. Thoughts and emotions may arise but the ‘observer’ remains unattached, allowing the thought and emotions to pass on as it were. During meditation, we need to learn to be a silent witness of our physical movements, emotions and mental activity, as they occur from moment to moment. We slowly learn to listen to the silence within, rather than the noise of the thinking mind.
With practice the chatting of the mind which goes on even when we are not giving it any stimulation will continue for a while but slowly becomes less of a hindrance. With time it becomes easier to access the silence within. It is here where we begin to discover the nature of the authentic self…within the silence, which is no longer empty but full.
In the fullness of the silent emptiness the nature of the authentic self slowly reveals itself as inner peace and loving presence.
There are many techniques used to try and facilitate this process of reaching deeper. These include ‘mindfulness’ or just watching the mind operate, paying full attention to the breath, being aware of the breath moving in and out of the nostrils, using a mantra (any word or sentence repeated over and over again such as God or love or light), concentrating on a particular part of the body such as the space between the eyes.
A good way to begin meditation is to listen carefully to the sound of a bird outside and then imagine the bird moving further away and still listening to the sound. Let the bird move further and further away until it is lost in infinity and then just stay with awareness. Just the concentration on the sound of the bird quietens the mind. Try it.