Meditation? It is very simple, in theory if not in practice. It's a "the map is not the terrain" problem. Word describe experience, poorly, and we are lost in words. We live our lives, in great part, in the verbal, conceptual mind. This means that our experience is concepts and descriptions, rather than immediate and direct. We are caught in the babble of our minds. So, the various branches of Buddhism seek to pull us free from the verbal mind, to bring us into an immediate experience of our experience, to bring us into "presence". The Tibetans attempt to do this by filling our minds with mantra (sounds), yantra (images), and ritual. Zen seeks to stop the chatter by baffling the mind with imponderables. And Vipassana, "Insight Mediation", tries to bring us into "presence" through focus. Usually focus on the breath. The Buddha achieved enlightenment, became "awakened", by focusing on the rise and fall of the abdomen (which, I suppose, is why some disparage this as "contemplating his navel").
When we still the verbal mind we return to a realm of wordless awareness, and this mature wordless awareness is the gateway to enlightenment. It is pleasant, in itself, and indeed can be blissful. This "presence" leads to insight into the nature of being and to an end of suffering. (And even before we achieve any of these bells and whistles, just the practice of meditation calms us, de-stresses, and brings many health benefits.)
There's a second arm to the Buddhist meditation, a "loving kindness" (Metta) practice, where we wish ourselves and other happiness (loving kindness), freedom from suffering (compassion), a rejoicing in the happiness of others (sympathetic joy), and peace (equanimity). These "virtuous" thoughts bring us peace of mind. My teacher, Phillip, says that with just the Insight work the practice can be quite dry, and that the Metta provides some juice.
Phillip (Starkman has gone away, but/and the "Spring Rain" meditation group continues to meet on Tuesdays at 7 at the Friend's Meeting House on Lowther, just west of Bedford: see springrainsangha.com
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that 'nice' saying, "the map is not the terrain."
words, too, represent and reference, they point...
sometimes to ideas and concepts,
the words are to the thing as the map to the thing, perhaps,
and the words are not the thing...
ahem, excuse me
so the idea is to turn off the verbal/conceptual mind to be in direct experience