There are many answers one could provide to such a question.
Every time I run a meditation course, I put to those in attendance, "What is meditation?"
and over the years I have had answers from the obvious such as "Meditation is practicing
mindfulness" or "Meditation is finding peace", to the more interesting answers that indicate the many ways that meditation can be applied to each individuals life.
After hearing what ideas are on offer, and the room falls silent in wait of my answer, I always say the same thing... "I cannot say what meditation is."
Every time, this catches a few people off-guard, and I imagine them thinking
"well what am I doing, sitting in a class, to learn meditation from this guy for!"
But it is true. Of course, I do quickly explain myself before everyone gets up and leaves.
I explain that, to try and define what meditation is, is to limit the experience of what it can be. I know this to be the case because when it was first defined to me, it had me looking in the wrong direction for quite some time.
I was told that at the centre of a meditation practice is the experience of bliss.
Sounds ideal right? Not to mention it was entirely what I was seeking after years of mental health issues. And so, I set off searching for the bliss of meditation!
The problem was, it was nowhere to be found. In looking for bliss,
all that I discovered was regular feelings of impatience, frustrations, physical
and emotional discomforts, and the list could go on. In fact, possibly every feeling one
could feel could populate that list... except for bliss! The very thing I was looking for!
I did not recognise this idea was my distraction until I heard a few simple words that
changed everything. "Go to the point of your experience."
Seven simple words, and suddenly there was a tectonic shift that had everything
falling into place. I should not be seeking for anything other than what I am
experiencing in any given moment!
If you are being taught how to meditate, then you should not be told what meditation is.
If this is given to you, it is like having a multifaceted crystal put right up to your eyeball. You will only see an unclear fragment of the many dimensions that the practice has to offer you.
There are many things in this life that are unknowable, only available through direct experience, and meditation (I am sorry to say) is one of those things.
You could know of every style of meditation, have read all the scriptures
and the modern texts, spoken with every teacher and guru,
studied the neuroscience and seen every cerebral scan on earth,
and you will still have no understanding of meditation.
You have to sit and practice.
This may be hard to digest for some. But consider this...How does one sleep?
It cannot be answered. Sure, you can explain how to go to sleep, all the steps
involved that may lead to one falling asleep, but the act itself cannot be explained.
When one is ready, it just happens. It is not something that can be done.
It is the same with meditation. All that a meditation teacher can do is guide you towards
setting up for a meditation, and what steps to follow to prepare to drop into a meditation,
but the dropping in is something that can only happen when one is ready.
How can one be ready to drop into a meditation?
That is a question we will have to explore another day 😉