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Introduction to Meditation
It is important to clarify what is meant by meditation, as the word has two distinct English-translation meanings. In one, to meditate means to think deeply and deliberately about a specific question, often of a philosophical or metaphysical nature. Although the IONS Meditation Bibliography does not specifically aim to cover the thinking form of meditation, there may be articles related to this meaning on the site, as this form has a rich philosophical tradition.
The second meaning of meditation is based on the contemplative practices of nearly all major religions and indigenous traditions of the world, and is the focus of the IONS Meditation Bibliography. This broad usage of meditation refers to practices typically designed to modify the typical, everyday states of consciousness through disengaging from the thinking process – going beyond normal discursive thinking. Although the forms and objectives of meditation vary widely across cultural and religious traditions, the practice of meditation aims at mental, spiritual, and/or physiological development.
Meditation techniques can be generally categorized as a) remaining in a state of alertness with no particular focus; b) maintaining a single-pointed focus on an object; or c) somewhere on a spectrum of combined alertness and focus.
Today, a variety of meditation practices have been adapted to the Western lifestyle and are practiced for religious or spiritual development or to attain health and well-being. Contemplative meditation techniques are being emphasized in such practices as Centering Prayer and Kabbalah. Eastern spiritual practices, including Buddhism and Vedanta, have been adopted by Western spiritual seekers. Many individuals practice forms of meditation outside of the context of any organized spiritual framework.
Researchers are studying the physiological and psychological effects of a variety of traditional meditation practices and are discovering significant beneficial results. Meditation techniques have also been extracted from their religious context and incorporated into a wide range of successful programs designed to address specific needs.