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I am really, really confused about what meditation actually is

Sam8Sam8 Hamilton, NZ New
edited July 2 in Meditation

Hi all,

I'm new to this forum and would really appreciate your learned opinions on something that has really, really confused me about meditation.

Simply put, is meditation about emptying the mind, or not?

I thought this was a simple question, but apparently not. Google "meditation empty mind" or some variant thereof and you find a bewildering array of articles confirming both sides of the question. You have the Mahabharata defining the meditator as one who "does not think." You have Lao Tze saying "empty your mind of all thoughts." And Buddhist Jhana meditation is supposed to lead to states where discursive thought ceases.

Then there are numerous articles that declare quite emphatically that meditation is "not about emptying the mind" and which seek to "bust the myth that meditation is about emptying the mind." Instead, they declare, meditation is just about "watching thoughts come and go." It's not just a few articles, either- in fact it seems to be the universal consensus among mindfulness advocates.

Personally, I am skeptical of the idea that it is possible to truly empty the mind of all thoughts. However, I took meditation to be essentially about grounding yourself in the present moment and emptying the mind of all OTHER thought. And it really worked. I felt degrees of worry, stress, fear, insecurity, anger, envy, ego etc. that I wasn't even aware of before just melt away. My mind felt like the sages described it should feel: vast, expansive, the "mirror of heaven and earth" that just non-judgmentally reflects the world rather than filtering it through the veil of conceptual thought. I was so content in the present moment that I truly felt like I didn't need anything more- the idea of needing to achieve worldly status, wealth etc. seemed pointless, even comical. Even the need for vacation or travel seemed almost superfluous, as I already had the state of mind that I would otherwise be seeking through such external conditions.

But according to many, many meditation teachers, this is all wrong... so here I am, asking what you fine people think about it. What am I missing?

Comments

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited July 2

    As you have said it is controversial. And some problems come from finding words to express what you or I have found as a meditator. My tradition is in the camp that says that it is NOT a task of stopping thought. However at the same time my teachers have said that our running comments with our own self is not necessary. No need to stop our comments to ourself but notice that it is not needed to always have that stream of chatter in order to function. The 'chatter' can sometimes be judgemental of our self or many things. We don't have to stop the chatter completely though as some kind of project that will result in happiness after the chatter is gone.

    howlobsterDavid
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Hey @Sam8 - Hamilton hey? Not a bad town.

    As a lay person, I've found that my life is far too busy and chaotic to get much out of meditation.

    So I'm not gunna be much help to you.....

    All the best!

    AlexlobsterDavid
  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran

    For me, the word meditation encompasses a lot of different things, but all of them grow out from the basic and essential practice of stilling the mind. It's not so much about stopping thoughts, more about freeing oneself from them, gaining a little distance from them, viewing them more objectively and not identifying with the blasted things.

    "Watching thoughts come and go" is one strategy for gaining distance, but not by any means the only one.

    Emptying the mind is the starting place, the gateway to what later in its depths is likely to become far more complex. Nice and simple, three words. You want to learn math, you don't start with calculus.

    Keromelobsterhow
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I once read:
    "You know that tiny gap of 'not much happening here' that arises, between the end of one thought process, and the next thought process? It's a tiny little bit of calm, a fragment of silence, a little gap of non-thought...
    Meditation is trying to widen the gap."

    You're not supposed to deliberately work hard at eliminating every single thought you have. Your brain is wired to work, and to think.
    But you are trying to cultivate a Peaceful Mind. And 'Mind' is different to 'Brain'.

    The two need not be in conflict.

    Allow thoughts to arise, as arise they must; but do not add to them, or let them 'snowball'... Don't add additional commentary.... Just observe the thought, acknowledge it, and let it pass, returning to a calm, silent, non-thinking gap.

    This is my take on it, and I will leave it at that.

    lobsterAlexhowFosdick
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I thought @fosdick captured it nicely. Meditation is a wide range of techniques for quieting the mind, and they are not all identical in approach or execution. The theory, the goal, is nice to know but the steps you are actually going to take are more useful.

    federica
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    As someone who has never reached very deep states of meditation it has seemed to me like the stopping of thoughts is a sort of far off state that is really only achievable to someone who devotes most of their life to meditation.

    An analogy that makes sense to me is that the stopping of thoughts in meditation isn't like hitting the brakes or stopping an engine, its more like putting the car in neutral and disengaging the gears. The engine still runs and its gears still spin, but we are constantly reingageing the engine when we get caught up in thought. It will take a long time of being able to sit with our active mind until it finally settles down and comes to a stop. And if you're living a life in the world is essentially impossible.

    So the goal, IMO, should be to learn how to watch thoughts and emotions arise and not get caught up in them. So we are better able to respond to our lives instead of react.

    WalkerhowlobsterBunks
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited July 2

    Wellcome to NewtBuddhism - yes tea can be meditative, see tea ceremony for details ...

    What am I missing?

    Experience. Then you can answer the question for us ... with all the confusion required ... :)

    If we sit and think more but without too much effort, that is OK. In Sufism, ascetic sleep deprivation can lead to drifting ... (or dream meditation - also used in Vajrayana).

    We can generate thoughts along disciplined pathways, so metta meditation.

    ... meditation is a viewing of everything changing.

    Yep. Nothing changes. Good answer from @how

    Perhaps if we ask a Cohen, a Judaic imponderable:

    How do you know you are thinking of not?

    I like to not think of thinking.
    So far so good ... 🙏🏿

    how
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @Sam8 said:
    I am really, really confused about what meditation actually is

    In simple layperson's terms meditation means familiarization, to become familiar with

    One familiarises oneself with the workings of self, which in turn one becomes familiar with other selves...

    In Tibetan Buddhism a word often used for meditation is 'Gom' which means to familiarise

    "The most essential method which includes all other methods is to behold the Mind...The Mind is the root from which all things grow...If one can understand the Mind...Everything else is included"

    ~Bodhidharma~

    lobsterhowWalker
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    I am really, really confused about what meditation actually is

    I really, really like this thread.
    I like the settling @person mentions and the many facets that others add. We are in a sense unsettled, confused and running wild.

    So we sit or focus or observe or unfold our turmoil. We kinda accept our confusion. And gradually confusion dissolves and melts into a sold being ... that flows and ebbs ...

    Tee hee. Confusion? Accepted. B)
    ... and now for a musical interlude ...

    https://cundi.weebly.com/meditation.html

    howShoshin
  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited July 2

    "I am really, really confused about what meditation actually is"

    Who wouldn't be confused going on google and hearing a variety of competent speakers espousing contradicting versions of what meditation is or is not.
    Here, this state of chaos can be as easily found within the mind as without.

    When the common mind self-promotes its mentality into a leadership position over the collective inputs of all the other senses, it achieves this usurping at the cost of its own potential equanimity.
    This describes what meditation is not.

    When a common mind, allows its own mentality to surrender its leadership position and return to a collegial management, level with all the other senses, the potential arises for a manifestation of equanimity.
    This describes what meditation is.

    at least for me, today.

    personlobsterAlexShoshin
  • Sam8Sam8 Hamilton, NZ New

    Thank you for all the replies, everyone. There seems to be a consensus here that it's not about stopping thought.

    No one commented on the idea of being in the present moment and merely emptying the mind of all other thought (which still allows for thinking in the present), so I guess this was just something I inadvertently made up through my own misunderstandings.

    Anyway, thank you all for your input.

    lobsterShoshin
  • Sam8Sam8 Hamilton, NZ New

    That said, my way really did work, so "real" meditation will have to live up to it...

  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran
    edited July 5

    @Sam8 said:
    Hi all,

    Hamilton, eh? I'm in the Canadian version of the Hammer in Ontario.

    I'm new to this forum and would really appreciate your learned opinions on something that has really, really confused me about meditation.

    Simply put, is meditation about emptying the mind, or not?

    Sometimes. It can be about being more or increasingly aware of the nature of mind and training accordingly. There are pauses in thought and places we can put a pause and just STOP.

    .
    .
    .

    But the pause doesn't last too long before we start to wonder what to have for dinner or how we should go about fixing our glasses.

    We can work on expanding that pause but to do that we can't think about it, Haha Haha.

    I thought this was a simple question, but apparently not. Google "meditation empty mind" or some variant thereof and you find a bewildering array of articles confirming both sides of the question. You have the Mahabharata defining the meditator as one who "does not think." You have Lao Tze saying "empty your mind of all thoughts." And Buddhist Jhana meditation is supposed to lead to states where discursive thought ceases.

    The first two seem like different variations of the same practice and Jhana meditation is like reconditioning the mind so we can notice and change our thought patterns. To become more aware of our conditioning is to take responsibility for our own conditioning.

    Or that's how I see it anyways.

    Then there are numerous articles that declare quite emphatically that meditation is "not about emptying the mind" and which seek to "bust the myth that meditation is about emptying the mind." Instead, they declare, meditation is just about "watching thoughts come and go." It's not just a few articles, either- in fact it seems to be the universal consensus among mindfulness advocates.

    When somebody says what meditation is "just" about, it makes me feel as if they take great pride in their way to the detriment of progress. I mean, sure, we watch thoughts come and go. But that observing leads to Insight on how to use the tool we are practising with.

    That insight is the fruit of our practice... our finger pointing to the moon. We make skillful use of it or squander that opportunity and perhaps even miss the next.

    Personally, I am skeptical of the idea that it is possible to truly empty the mind of all thoughts.

    You can though. Just not for very long. For instance while you're reading this, there is

    a
    .
    .
    .

    pause
    .
    .
    .

    between

    .
    .
    .

    every word you read or think otherwisewewouldjustbelikethisallthetimelikemysixyearolddaughter.

    On another note, I never have complete silence (chronic, constant and loud tinnitus) unless I get it during my dreaming. Still have yet to have the clarity of mind while lucid dreaming to consciously choose to do dream meditation but that would be nice.

    However, I took meditation to be essentially about grounding yourself in the present moment and emptying the mind of all OTHER thought. And it really worked. I felt degrees of worry, stress, fear, insecurity, anger, envy, ego etc. that I wasn't even aware of before just melt away. My mind felt like the sages described it should feel: vast, expansive, the "mirror of heaven and earth" that just non-judgmentally reflects the world rather than filtering it through the veil of conceptual thought. I was so content in the present moment that I truly felt like I didn't need anything more- the idea of needing to achieve worldly status, wealth etc. seemed pointless, even comical. Even the need for vacation or travel seemed almost superfluous, as I already had the state of mind that I would otherwise be seeking through such external conditions.

    Awesome. Just don't forget that not everybody is working on the same stage of their practice and what works for you may not get the best results for me right now.

    But according to many, many meditation teachers, this is all wrong... so here I am, asking what you fine people think about it. What am I missing?

    That these fine teachers don't quite get that not everybody is working at the same stage of their practice and what works best for them may not get the best results for you right now.

    And that's ok.

    Sam8lobsterAlex
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