What is Meditation?

There is no single definition of the meaning of meditation. We may use the term to refer to our state of being or to the different means by which we can achieve that state, e.g. the different types of meditation.

Meditation has often been described as a stilling or quietening of the mind.(1) For meditation teacher Christina Feldman, “Attention, awareness, understanding and compassion form the basic skeleton of all systems of meditation.”(2) It is considered by many to be a life skill. Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction programme, explains that meditation is “Living your life as if it really mattered, which means you’ve got to be here for it, with awareness and with a certain degree of kindness to oneself and an understanding of the deep interconnectedness of all life and all being.”(3) Eric Harrison explains it as a “calm and alert state of mind. It is when the body is relaxed and the mind is focused. It is when thoughts drop aside, and we are at one with the sensation of the moment.”(4) Buddhists often refer to the ‘monkey mind’, a mind that is capable of flitting quickly from one topic to another. In this context, meditation can be defined as giving the monkey a banana, providing it with a focus to calm its movement. The banana may be the breath, a mantra, a sound or a visualisation.

Many definitions of meditation have at their core, the notion of nurturing a conscious awareness of the present moment, acknowledging when our attention has wandered and bringing it back to an anchor point, with kind curiosity.  Meditation helps us to accept the mind’s wanderings and to bring our attention back to the present moment without blame or judgment.

[1] Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace, describes meditation as “training the mind to be calmer, clearer and kinder.”

[2] “Calming Your Anxious Mind”, Jeffrey Brantley, reference to Christina Feldman’s work at p.64.


[4] Teach Yourself to Meditate, Eric Harrison, 1993, p.26.

Gill Higgins