What is meditation?
Meditation is a mental exercise that strengthens your capacity to remain connected to the present moment of experience. It does this by strengthening and stabilizing your attention. There are many different meditation disciplines. They all have in common:
- Stable resting of the mind, typically on an object, sensation, or thought
- Emphasis on remaining connected to the present moment of experience
- Nonjudgmental attitude
Meditation is usually thought of as a mind-body contemplative practice, with an emphasis on breathing, posture, and self-awareness.
For many meditation traditions, the object is to develop a habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness can be described as an open or receptive and nonjudgmental awareness of and attention to what is taking place in the present moment. This “observant stance” of our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior creates space for us to choose our actions. And when we choose how we will react to events and our feelings about them, we are likely to be happier.
Different contemplative practices with a meditative component include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Centering prayer
- Mantra meditation
- Zen meditation
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Transcendental meditation
- Tai chi
- Labyrinth walking
- Qi gong
- Walking meditation
Many meditation practices came out of Eastern spiritual traditions. In fact, every major world religion has some form of contemplative practice with a meditative component. However, meditation also can be practiced independent of a spiritual tradition.
People who practice meditation regularly report that the habit of open-minded attention carries over throughout their day, and they are able to be mindful during many of their activities. It also cultivates a habit of savoring the moment. Savoring is awareness of and conscious attention to pleasure. Savoring is a positive emotion that can contribute to increased happiness.
Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky writes in The How of Happiness: “People who are habitually mindful of their current experiences are more likely to experience frequent and intense positive emotions, to feel self-sufficient and competent, and to have positive social relationships.”
The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph. D.
Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society