What is meditation and what happens?

By John Brant | 14th June 2018
meditation on the terrace at La Crisalida Retreats

Here at the retreat we are often asked questions about meditation, in particular: what is meditation? How do I know when I am meditating? And what actually happens? So, this month John decided to share his thoughts on this topic. He explains what a meditative state is, and how you might feel when you are meditating. At the end of the article we share links to techniques you can try at home to experience meditation for yourself.

What is meditation?

Meditation has been described a special state of being. This special state is associated with balance, understanding and awareness and just like love, a state of meditation can be its own reward.

In our previous article Meditation techniques explained: Try one! we explained that there are three requisites of a meditative state:

  1. A state of being non-judgemental
  2. A state of (relaxed) openness to what is
  3. A state of self-witnessing and associated “higher” levels of awareness

Most of us can’t go straight into the meditative state because we are identified with the judgements of the mind, characterised by thoughts and thinking. Therefore, meditation techniques are necessary to help us to access a higher form of awareness. We can access these “higher” states if we can understand that we are not our thoughts and can become detached from their affects. We also become meditative if we allow the identification to drop with our emotions too.

Meditation happens once we turn our energies and awareness from the outside world into our inside world. Meditation then becomes an experience of the inner laws of being.

How do I know if I am meditating?

When we are using meditation techniques, there are times when we move towards the meditative state and times when we move away. If we are new to meditation, it can be surprising just how much thinking we do and how random it can be. We also discover that we easily become identified with our thoughts – and often they are about our meditation experience (e.g. “ooh this is uncomfortable”, or “my thoughts keep coming”!).

Meditation techniques therefore commonly include a statement that when you become aware of identification with your thoughts, you let it go and take your attention back to the subject of your meditation. The more aware you become of your identification with your thoughts (through meditation practice), the easier it is to move towards the meditative state.

Clues for knowing if we are becoming more meditative include:

  • You feel calmer and more relaxed.
  • You get more mental clarity.
  • You get a different/higher perspective on life.
  • You are more in touch with the present moment.
  • You get more sensitive to our experiences.
  • You become more accepting of things.
  • You embrace change of the form of things.
  • You connect to an inner world of consciousness, the inner cause of experience.
  • You get to know and understand ourselves better.

Conversely, you will be moving away from a meditative state if you are:

  1. Judging events or people as right/wrong, good/bad
  2. Identified with your thoughts or
  3. Focussing more of your attention outside of you

What happens in meditation?

I explain below the technical aspects of meditation and the mind as it can help us to understand more deeply what is happening experientially. I also comment briefly on the science of meditation which can also help us the understand some of the physical benefits.

We observe and experience the outer world and our inner world through our physical senses to create an experience.

The experience is however not “out there”, like it appears – it is constructed in the mind. The thinking mind is also associated with the part of our mind that constructs space and time – creating an “out there” and a past and future. Through the thinking mind we can identify with the past based upon our memories of what we have already experienced, and this is who we “think” we are. We can of course, anticipate future memories through the mechanics of the mind too.

In other words, the components within the mind include the experiencer and the experienced (the experienced refers for examples to sensations on our body or the breath that we might focus on in meditation techniques). Part of the mind has the quality of awareness of the experience and part of the mind has the quality of being the experience. Most of the time this distinction is not important, but with meditation this distinction becomes important and very useful.

Normally (without the help of meditation) we become identified with an illusion because we forget we are both the experiencer and the experienced. The experiencer within us normally believes it has no control over the experienced (“experiences just happen”) except through trying to control things though the outside (physical world).

However, once we become aware of the experiencer and experienced we can start to drop the illusion that we have no control over how we experience things. We can start to see that the experiencer does not have to identify with the experienced.

For the things in life where we have absolutely no control, we can then start to let these things happen in the outer world without the need to control them. Once we become the master of our inner world or master of how we experience our inner world we can become more detached, less judgemental, and less emotional.

Meditation is a journey into the self – to understand who we truly are.

Quietening the mind

A meditation technique is anything that helps us to quieten the thinking mind and turn our attention inwards. When the technique involves turning your attention to your inner experience (e.g. observing sensations on the body or breath) the thinking mind is not required. In fact it is the thinking mind that helps us to forget that we are both the experiencer and the experienced.

If we are busy thinking about something that captures all our attention we forget the distinction between the experiencer and the experienced.

When you become meditative, you realise that the essence of the experiencer is outside of space and time. In fact, the experiencer only knows here and now. There is no such thing as the past or future – these are illusions of the thinking mind. Therefore, through quietening the mind meditation can also help us to become more present and in the moment.

The Science overview – what are the benefits of meditation?

A huge amount of research has now been done on meditation. The main findings include:

Meditation affects the brain’s function. It has been shown that certain parts of the brain become more active during meditation. These parts of the brain are associated with calmness and objectivity. It has also been shown that brain waves shift during periods of deep meditation.

Meditation also affects your disposition. People studied consistently report feeling happier, calmer and more peaceful after a sustained period of meditation. Other studies show that there are physical benefits too – a reduction in stress levels and associated hormones.

The most interesting debate in the scientific community is about consciousness itself. Conscious experience is not well integrated into traditional scientific principles. However, through quantum mechanics we know that the physical world interacts at a fundamental level with consciousness. Objectivity is a bedrock of science and scientific techniques – consciousness and meditation are by their very nature subjective. A description of an experience is not the experience itself.

Final tip: Forget the theory and just meditate!

The key purpose of using meditation techniques is of course to quieten the mind. Therefore, understanding intellectually about theory and the techniques will not give you the benefits of meditation itself. Meditation is experiential – so why not take 10 minutes out right now to stop, check out some of our articles which explain different meditation techniques or what meditation can do, and reap the meditative rewards:

What is meditation? Try it for yourself at the retreat

If you are still unsure of what meditation is, or how to experience a meditative state, then the best thing is to practice. Here at the retreat we offer a morning meditation, with a different technique to try everyday, so you can experience meditation for yourself. Maybe you can find a technique that works best for you. Read more about meditation at La Crisalida Retreats here.

Headshot of John Brant - Retreat Founder at La Crisalida Retreats
John Brant

John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.

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