Expanding our Ideas of Meditation

When we think of meditation, we might picture someone sitting cross-legged with eyes closed and hands on the knees with the thumb and forefinger touching. But the definition of meditation is much broader, as Amma has said:

“Meditating doesn’t just mean siting in a lotus posture with your eyes closed. Meditation also means to selflessly serve people who are suffering, to console those who are in distress, to smile at someone and to say a few loving words.”

Many well-known Eastern spiritual teachers refer to other practices, such as pranayama (breath work) or walking in nature, as forms of meditation. How can that be? The answer comes from looking at our goals for meditation. Meditation is intended to quiet the mind and bring us to a relaxed and peaceful state in which we experience the joy of simply being, rather than doing. Amma says the purpose of meditation is to “become love, to experience that Oneness.”

When you have the experience of being in a peaceful and contented state, where errant thoughts have disappeared and time has been forgotten, you have been in a meditative state. This often happens when we are in nature, such as sitting by the ocean, walking in a forest, or gazing at a serene lake. The result is the same—we forget life outside of that moment and experience a connection or oneness with everything and come away feeling refreshed and renewed.

According to Amma: “By changing the common misconception—that our problems are in the outer situations of life—we can remove our problems once and for all. Understand that the difficulties are within your own mind. Once you become aware of this, you can begin the process of removing your inner weaknesses. Meditation is the method that is used to achieve this. Only the inner silence, stillness and relaxation that we gain through meditation will help.”

Also, meditation benefits both our own self-improvement as well as that of others. Amma says: “Any spiritual practice you do benefits the entire world. The vibrations from your japa (repeating a mantra), chanting, and meditation, purify the atmosphere as well as your own mind. Without even being aware of it, you spread peace and quietude to those who come in contact with you.”

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