Why Meditate?

Meditation, which is thought directed by will, can bring many benefits. Most people learn how to think as very young children, and throughout their adult lives, they do not think any differently than they did as children. That is to say, most people use their minds in a manner not essentially different from when they were six years old. Through meditation, we can control the thought process and learn to think in new ways, thus gaining new and richer mind experiences. More advanced modes of thought and states of consciousness on the other hand are referred to as adult thought We learn these methods of adult thought, through meditation, one develops the ability to transcend the ways of thinking one learned as a child.

For example, you might want to concentrate on the task at hand., but at the same time other concerns pop into your mind, disturbing your concentration. While one part of your mind is trying to focus on a problem, other parts maybe drawing attention to different ideas. As long as this is true, concentration is not complete.

For this reason, people usually use only a small portion of their minds. As much as we might try to concentrate on a thought or task, parts of our minds are engaged in other activities. Sometimes the rest of the mind is merely passive. At other times, however, other parts of the mind may actually be acting in opposition to ones concentration. Unless we are able to control the entire mind, we cannot develop full concentration.

People often think of concentration in terms of problem solving. It can also involve the most basic of experiences. Suppose, for example, that you are trying to experience the beauty of a rose. At the same time, thoughts about your business may be pushing their way into your mind. Your attention does not stay focused on the rose, and you cannot see the complete rose, in all its beauty. No matter how hard you try to focus your mind on the rose, the image of the rose is competing with the self-generated images in the mind. It is as if there were a screen of extraneous imagery between you and the rose, preventing you from seeing it with total clarity.

In a meditative state, however, it is possible to turn off the interference and concentrate totally on the rose. With practice, you can turn off the spontaneous self-generated images and thus remove the screen. The beauty of the flower, when seen in these higher states of awareness, is indescribable to someone who has never experienced it.

Another important goal of meditation is thus enhanced awareness and perception. The greater the portion of the mind focused on an experience, the more the experience will be enhanced. When every cell in your brain is tuned in to experiencing the rose, the experience is indescribably different from what you would see in your usual state of consciousness.

The self-awareness generated by meditation can also strengthen the ego when needed. Thus, people with weak self-image and feelings of inadequacy can earn to be more self-assured. They can examine their motivations and learn to become more inner-directed doing the things they desire, and not simply what others expect of them. They can look objectively at their relationships with others and learn to improve them.

One of the most powerful uses of meditations to gain an awareness of the spiritual. Although we may be surrounded by a sea of spirituality, we are not usually aware of it. Spiritual sensations are quite faint and usually over shadowed by the world of the senses. However, if a person can quiet down all extraneous thoughts, he can then tune into the spiritual. This tuning-in is what is known as the mystical experience.

On its highest level, meditation can provide a person with an experience of G-d. This is certainly the highest possible spiritual experience. Our perception of G-d is often clouded by ego and anthropomorphism, so that we tend to G-d as a mirror image of ourselves. By freeing the mind of these encumbrances, meditation can help us to open our minds totally to the experience of G-d. In many religious traditions his is the highest goal of meditation.

--Aryeh Kaplan