Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involves turning the attention inward to the mind itself. Meditation is often recognized as a component of Eastern religions, where it has been practiced for over 5,000 years.It has also become mainstream in Western culture. It encompasses any of a wide variety of spiritual practices which emphasize mental activity or quiescence. Meditation can be used for personal development, or to focus the mind on God (or an aspect of God).
The word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio, which originally indicated every type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation." The use of the word meditation in the western Christian tradition has referred generally to a more active practise of reflection on some particular theme such as "meditation on the sufferings of Christ". Similarly in Western philosophy, one finds, for example, Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, a set of six mental exercises which systematically analyze the nature of reality.
"Meditation" in its modern sense refers to Yogic meditation that originated in India. In the late nineteenth century, Theosophists adopted the word "meditation" to refer to various spiritual practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions. Thus the English word "meditation" does not exclusively translate any single term or concept, and can be used to translate words such as the Sanskrit dhyana, samadhi and bhavana.
Meditation is usually defined as one of the following:
- a state of relaxed concentration on the reality of the present moment
- a state that is experienced when the mind dissolves and is free of all thoughts
- "concentration in which the attention has been liberated from restlessness and is focused on God."
- focusing the mind on a single object (such as a religious statue, or one's breath, or a mantra)
- a mental "opening up" to the divine, invoking the guidance of a higher power
- reasoned analysis of religious teachings (such as impermanence, for Buddhists).
Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts, such as the martial arts. Beginning with the Theosophists, though, meditation has been employed by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga and the New Age movement, as well as limited use in Christianity.
From the point of view of psychology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness. The goals of meditation are varied, and range from spiritual enlightenment, to the transformation of attitudes, to better cardiovascular health.