Meditation has become something of a buzzword as people look to detach and unwind from the stresses and strains caused by modern life.
But have you ever asked yourself, what is the purpose of meditation?
We asked a selected group of experts to answer this very question and share some of their valuable insights on the subject.
Here’s what they said.
Meditation Is A Tool For Navigating The Waters Of Life
Nita Sweeney, Writing Teacher and Author of ‘You Should Be Writing’
One of my favorite opening lines comes from the book Mindfulness in Plain English by the Sri Lankan monk, Bhante Gunaratana, Why bother? he asks.
I would answer, It depends.
People who seek me out for coaching often have emotional symptoms that prevent them from living a fulfilled life. Many are writers and artists, but everyone struggles.
Meditation practice offers tools to help navigate the treacherous waters we all face. My clients may lack a sense of purpose, be unable to focus and complete projects, or struggle with relationships.
While meditation rarely cures all ills, much evidence supports meditation practice, especially mindfulness, as a tool for overcoming these types of challenges.
In their extremely well-researched work, Altered Traits, New York Times bestselling authors Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson document physical, emotional, and creative benefits of various types of meditation.
These altered traits include increased focus, a greater sense of well-being, improved relationships through compassion, and possibly even the potential for a longer life.
So, when someone asks me why I meditate or, more importantly, why they should, I often ask about areas in which they feel some lack.
Those desires and deficiencies bring people to the practice. Once they have begun to experience the results, a curiosity develops which leads them to want the additional benefits as well.
Meditation Is A Practice Of Mindfulness We All Need
Marisa Donnelly, Founder Of Be A Light Collective
Meditation offers a powerful reset to both the mind and body.
As each and every one of us faces shifts and pivots with Covid-19, taking time to think deeply and purposefully about intentions, goals, and rest time is invaluable.
Over the past six months, everyone has been asked to change their routine, schedule, and way of life.
Students, in particular, have been impacted as their day-to-day is not only vastly different, but they are now asked to attend virtual lessons and learn through a screen.
With this increase of screen time, using technology has become a way to fill the void during break time, especially with activities (like sports or clubs) being canceled.
What meditation offers is a moment of rest. When students engage in quiet, self-reflective moments, they are able to see be in tune with their emotions, understand why they are feeling or acting a certain way, and perhaps shift away from frustration or discontent into peace and purpose.
For people of any age, meditation is a practice in mindfulness that we all need. Mindfulness is all about recognizing your place in the world and the value you can offer yourself and others.
When we meditate, we allow our minds to see situations through different lenses, perhaps offering closure on difficult situations or alternatives to roadblocks.
Meditation is often seen as a self-care ritual, and while that is true, it doesn’t have to be pigeonholed.
Whether five minutes or 30, mindfulness is a break in the flow of the day to reset, re-center, and realign with your inner desires, hopes, and perspectives.
Meditation Is A Process Of ‘Un-doing’
Benjamin Irons, Certified Advanced Meditation Guide
“Purpose” implies reason, logic, order, and organization which are expressions of the ego-mind.
The ego-mind imposes a variety of delusional filters onto your “sciousness” (pure being) which we use meditative focus to skilfully transcend.
Asking “what is the purpose of meditation?” puts pressure on quantifiable results, and is a major pitfall of a capitalist society.
The question sets up an expectation from the get-go, which will either align with a preconceived notion, inflating the ego; or contradict your expectation, resulting in disappointment and perhaps a negative feeling-tone putting your off from further exploration or trial.
I see this type of question frequently: “What do I gain from meditation?” Honestly, you gain nothing. However, you free yourself of fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, worry, and restlessness. Let that garbage go! It’s not serving you.
To paraphrase Jack Kornfield, meditation (as a practice toward Mindfulness) is a practice that empowers you to connect to the present moment, with open observation, free of judgment, expectation, or attachment.
The discussion of quantifiable “purpose” and “result” resurfaces often among my peers, and the negative impacts of such a mindset are being seen and felt during the cultural transition to a virtual platform in response to the global pandemic.
People are noticing their value and self-esteem is measured in and deeply tied to units of productivity. We’re in a quintessentially zen period of “do you best and let that be enough.”
One of the primary misconceptions regarding meditation is that you have to “do” something.
Meditation is actually a process of un-doing. We practice meditation as training to reconnect with your pure be-ing, the cosmic core of your vibrational existence.
We tend to think of ourselves as noun-beings, fused pieces of flesh and bone separate from our environment. When in fact, at a quantum level, we are all active verb-beings, shimmering in and out of existence at a rapid rate.
I’m aware that’s a profoundly “woo-woo” statement, but the sensations and transcendence from fear, anxiety, worry, anger, doubt, and restlessness leads you to an ineffable calm, compassionate center of observation, sometimes referred to as the “silent witness.”
The ego-mind tends to pull us into imaginary time streams: the past and the future. As humans, we’re extremely adept at reliving the past, attached to unwanted outcomes and unforeseen situations.
We’re also incredibly skilled at living the future, most notably though creating lists: what to do, what to eat, who to text, what to stream, etc.
The issue is those timestreams are delusions in the present moment, causing us to miss out on LIFE.
The past is already behind you, and grim as it sounds, there is no guarantee of a future.
I may not even make it through this sentence!… whew. I did make it through that sentence.
Meditation helps us connect with the present to savor our experience in real time, as it unfolds before us. You cannot think about the present. You can only feel into it.
Mindfulness is meditation in action, our homebase free of the judgement, attachment, and expectation we have superimposed on ourselves over a lifetime of experiences.
Meditation is an informed, laboratory practice to get hands-on experience working with the mind and ego-delusions so when we get out “into the field” (our lives) we have the opportunity to incorporate those lessons.
Mindfulness creates space so you can skilfully respond to a situation, as opposed to react, to it. The primary tell of the ego-mind filters is simply that you can observe them in action.
When you have a heated reaction to a gnarly situation, being cut-off in traffic, for example. The mere fact you see that reaction means that it’s not the “true you.” You exist at a layer further back yet.
Another benefit of meditation is prioritizing your own self-care by creating a habit of rest-and-digest in a world steeped in instant gratification designed to trigger decisive fight-or-flight responses to our media and social feed.
In that space of practice, you have the opportunity to simply be, free of judgment or expectation.
In the words of Joseph Goldstein, “If you want to understand your mind, sit down and observe it.”
Meditation Helps You To Accept The Here And Now
Jennifer Branstetter, Licensed Psychotherapist
As a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, I use meditation with my clients all the time.
The purpose of meditation is two-fold. The practice of meditation provides a moment in time where you are focused on the here-and-now.
It’s a time to take a break from the busy day or to set your intention for the day.
It’s time to notice and accept reality as it is right now.
The secondary benefit is you’re more aware throughout the day. You catch yourself earlier if you’re getting tense. You’re aware of your emotional state or physical pain.
The more often you meditate, the more self-aware you are. This helps immensely with what’s happening in 2020. You notice when you’re watching the debates how your body feels.
You’re aware when you read a Facebook post how your heart-rate is picking up, how you’re starting to get stressed.
It’s really helpful as a parent. You’re more aware of your reaction and can take that pause to decide how you want to react regardless of how you’re feeling.
Meditation Gives You An Opportunity To Step Back From Your Thoughts
Jacob Aqua, Co-Founder and Chief Mindfulness Officer at Source Wellness
One key purpose of meditation is to create a healthy space between you and your thoughts and emotions.
We often don’t realize that we have repetitive, negative, and unwanted thoughts and emotions in our minds and bodies; however, when we practice meditation, we have the opportunity to watch what is occurring internally from a place of clarity and equanimity.
We have the opportunity to take a step back, create some space, and watch as thoughts and emotions rise and fall.
When we consistently practice with a sense of tender-heartedness, we can learn to dis-identify from the thoughts and emotions that often rule our lives.
In that space between ourselves and our thoughts/emotions comes a sense of peace and stillness.
All Meditation Offers Connection
Ali Duncan, Founder and Yoga Instructor at Urban Sanctuary
There are so many different purposes of meditation.
It really depends on the individual and their intent of what they are looking for when they enter into the practice of meditation.
Some may look for a guided meditation to practice moving energy through the body, some may focus on quieting the mind, and some may focus on the breath and observe as it transforms their experience.
There are so many more different types of meditation that are well known and not-so well known.
The main thread that can be found in all meditation is a connection of some sort – connection with silence, with the breath, with the divine, with the quantum field, and with nature.
This is what people are looking for when they sit on their mats, meditation pillow, lay down or go for a walk: connection.
Meditation Is Not About Grasping For An Outcome
Diane Chrestman, Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Authentic Life Counseling
It is a great topic, and one that is not discussed enough.
Because meditation has become quite trendy, the purpose of the practice is often obscure. Not too long ago, one might have to travel to a temple in a remote area of the East to be exposed to meditation instruction.
Now, one only needs internet access to find up to 16 types of meditation practices and many new-age meditation techniques. If one does not understand the purpose of their meditation, the practitioner can misunderstand the spirit of the practice, lose perspective, and end up feeling frustrated or confused.
I am a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Suwanee, GA. I have an area of expertise in mindfulness and meditation.
All my clients learn some form of meditation. The purpose of their meditation is to improve their mental and emotional health.
As you can imagine a lot of issues manifest in a therapist office. Many of my clients have an anxiety disorder.
The initial purpose of their meditation is not to gain existential insights. The initial purpose of their practice is to bring a sense of ease, stability and calmness into the physical body.
Once the body is calm, the purpose of the practice is broadened to include calming the mind, and noticing intrusive and anxiety producing thoughts.
Generally speaking, as a practitioner experiences improvement in their mental and emotional health, the meditation itself evolves to accommodate a different purpose.
Meditation practices are progressive in nature, beginning with simple practice, such as guided meditation.
An example of a more difficult practice is a Koan practice, where access to a Zen master or meditation teacher is recommended. To investigate the purpose of meditation identify the most beneficial personal outcome.
Keep in mind that meditation is not about grasping for an outcome, which one never does in meditation. The purpose of my mediation has many, many facets.
On some days, I would be best served by relaxing my body. On these days, I do walking meditation. On some days, the purpose of my meditation is to calm my emotions.
On these days, I might do a loving-kindness meditation. On other days, the purpose of my meditation is to gain insights about my true nature.
The purpose of meditation is to identify what would best serve you in the present moment, meditate in a way that cultivates that outcome, without grasping for the outcome.
Mindfulness Can Open Us Up To Genuine Contact And Communication With Others
Simon Cole, Psychological Therapist and Author of Just Be Here: The Guide to Musicking Mindfulness
What is the purpose of meditation? In a sense this is not a question, for if we associate purpose with meditation then the fundamental premise of mindfulness is defeated.
Put slightly differently, I have to allow myself to be nowhere in order to be where I am.
This might sound rather zen but in fact it is rooted in Western psychotherapeutic discourse (as well as Zen).
I am a psychological therapist (counsellor/psychotherapist) with some 35 years of practice in the UK, France and online and have been senior-accredited by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy.
I have also been leading group meditation retreats for around 20 years. The most prevalent presentation of psychological distress results from barriers which we erect between ourselves and the reality of the world in which we live.
They arise from the way in which we say ‘I’. There is an ‘I’ implied behind every sentence we speak and every wisp of thought which goes through our head.
It determines whether the rest of the world (in our perception) is an object (which we try to manipulate), or made up of others like ourselves with whom our primary function is to relate.
Any negative emotion you can name is linked to this distinction.
The resolution of human stress on an individual, community, national or global level, is contingent on our being able to genuinely relate – as the person we actually are and not the idea of ourselves we anxiously cling to.
This is the contribution which mindfulness, as a way of being and living, can make to anyone’s quality of life.
It enhances our sense of the immediacy of our surroundings (physical and psychological) and is a discipline which can release us from the judgements we make and which start to erect those barriers. Thereby it opens us up to genuine contact and communication with those around us.
Meditation, which predicates mindfulness, if it is a regular practice, is the means which is available to us to develop a sense of ourselves as simply a deep awareness of being in this way without a ‘doing’ of anything.
It is metaphysical and spiritual and may for some link to religious belief (though that can be problematic), but it does not have to. For myself it does not.
The result – and this is as close as I can come to your suggestion of ‘purpose’ – is a flow in living, which responds to the changes that arise and present themselves, incorporating within our own being their true reality… a kind of ongoing metamorphosis.
The Ultimate Aim Of Meditation Is A Peaceful Mind
Paul Harrison, Meditation Teacher and Creator of The Daily Meditation
The exact purpose of meditation is truly dependent on the individual who is practising it.
Traditionally, Buddhist meditation would be used by monks to train the mind in the ways of the dharma (Buddha’s teaching), ultimately leading to enlightenment.
That purpose, however, is gradually evolving, and meditation is becoming a holistic practice for general wellbeing.
I personally always think that the ultimate purpose of meditation is to let the body and mind be as they would be naturally if it weren’t for society.
If you think about the amount of noise, the information overload, and the constant stress we are put under today, the human mind simply isn’t designed to withstand such a barrage of information.
The result is stress, which leads to health problems both mental and physical. We need a way to handle all that stress and restore the mind to its natural functioning, and meditation is the best way to achieve that.
While there are more than 100 proven benefits of meditation, and while meditation can help with countless health conditions, the ultimate purpose of meditation is to let the mind be as it naturally should be: peaceful.
Once the mind is peaceful, our body and our health can take care of themselves.
Meditation Can Help You Observe Your Own Life From A Third-Party Point Of View
Leah McCullough, International Wellness Speaker and Author
Beyond relaxation, meditation allows one’s mind to make connections and become aware of insights they may not otherwise be privy to.
Additionally, meditation helps develop the witness/observer perspective over one’s life.
This perspective helps tremendously in being able to remain calm because it allows a person to see their life from a third-party point of view.
The cumulative effect of meditation over time can result in people finding themselves not taking anything personally, being more conscious in everyday interactions, and just feeling a deep, abiding sense of peace.
Meditation Can Help You To Have Compassion And Empathy For Self And Others
Anne-Marie Emanuelli, Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers
People are often attracted to meditation because of a need for emotional, spiritual or physical healing.
Once a person starts meditating, they generally realize the benefits extend far beyond a healing practice. It becomes a state of being and a lifestyle choice.
I was attracted to meditation a couple decades ago at a time when a physical ailment affected my ability to live life with ease. Not ready to accept surgery, a doctor suggested reading Dr. Christiane Northrup’s groundbreaking book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. Through her book, I was introduced to Caroline Myss, a medical intuitive, who wrote about alternative ways to heal.
Meditation was a practice recommended by these authors and it became my path to personal wellbeing. Eventually, surgery became necessary and I was able to make this choice with equanimity, inner strength and the ability to stay grounded in the only moment of existence: the present.
Fast-forward many years to the chapter in which I was a classroom teacher. Our school had experienced three student suicides in the span of about a year; two were just before the start of school.
Needless to say, it was a very shaky start that year. Meditation came back to mind as a way to deal with grief and it seemed my students might need this calming practice as well.
For a number of years after this experience, mindful meditation became a cornerstone of my teaching practice. Students of many ages and backgrounds have shared mindful meditation together and have expressed the benefits they felt from a moment of calm body and peaceful mind.
Whether it is to get through a difficult illness, grief of losing a loved one, or simply to carve out a daily moment of non-doing, everyone can benefit from meditation.
The benefits are plentiful and scientifically proven. A few of these include the ability to stay calm during emotional experiences, to be less reactive to behaviors, to listen more carefully to conversations, and to have compassion and empathy for self and others.
There’s also the spiritual benefit of sangha that comes from practicing meditation with others, whether in a monastery or a virtual community of meditators. There’s no better time than right now to explore mindful meditation.
During Covid-related social distancing and isolation, teachers from different meditation lineages are sharing guidance freely and generously.
Even the Dalai Lama offers Buddhist teachings and spiritual ceremonies online. These practices guide us in navigating difficult experiences with calm introspection and balanced outward equanimity.
Meditation Can Help You Listen To Your Intuition
Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Meditation Teacher
In graduate school 15 years ago, I found the idea of mindfulness silly. These days it has become a buzzword.
Mindfulness is really about learning to focus the mind on something other than your racing thoughts.
In this way, meditation becomes a focusing tool which has the benefit of calming the mind enough so you can listen to your intuition and gain the clarity you need to make change in your life.
Our modern world has us running around without thinking about what we really desire or need.
Meditation is simply a tool that teaches people to pause long enough to listen to their heart’s desires.