The word meditation has recently become more popular in the United States, sometimes used inaccurately and loosely to describe anything from walking in the park to analyzing thoughts to lighting candles and daydreaming. While each of these activities could be done in a meditative fashion, they are in themselves, not meditation.
Meditation is a science with precise steps and processes, and verifiable results. It is not a religion or a New-Age practice; it is in fact thousands of years in the making. While meditation is not mindfulness or awareness, both mindfulness and awareness are tools used in meditation.
At the most fundamental level, meditation is turning the mind inward and noticing our internal landscape. Since we are taught from childhood onward to focus attention outwardly, we generally haven’t cultivated the tools needed for inward exploration and understanding. In meditation we systematically, gently, and precisely begin to work with our own outwardly turned mind, returning it over and over to an inward focus. In this gradual way we are able to get to know ourselves. In fact, we are likely for the first time getting to actually know ourselves, not the other selves.
Having an externally focused view and not knowing our own mind is what leads to so much anxiety, despair, interpersonal strife, and confusion. It is through meditation that we can begin developing a calm presence, clarity, and wise understanding of how to respond in our world. Meditation cultivates the practice of attending to rather than our habitual, and often unconscious reactions. This freedom from outward reactions is what people often describe as peace and calm.