We often conflate meditation with concentration or contemplation.
Briefly, we can say that concentration is primarily objective. It is the focusing of attention upon sense stimuli.
When you are listening or reading intensively you are focusing your consciousness upon a certain set of vibrations coming to you through a particular receptive organ, such as the eyes or ears.
Contemplation is by contrast subjective.
The consciousness is focused in reason, recollection, imagination, in other words, on ideas already in the consciousness or being reassembled into a new arrangement.
Both in concentration and in contemplation the will is necessary. They are not passive states.
True meditation is often erroneously interchanged as a word with these other mental processes but actually is quite different.
The objective in meditation is not to focus the attention on anything in particular. In meditation you are endeavouring to change the level of consciousness.
You are attempting to use another state of consciousness but you do not anticipate what shall manifest. In meditation you hold no limited thought definitely in mind as in contemplation.
Consciousness may be likened unto a piano keyboard. It consists of a series of octaves or levels, one merging into the other.
At the lowest level is that form of consciousness which we most commonly use, namely, the objective.
Just above that is the subjective with its various processes—reasoning, memory, and so on—which we have mentioned.
Beyond these two levels are many more.
Psychology has assigned to the whole stream of consciousness beyond these many names, such as the preconscious, unconscious, and subconscious.
True meditation is the purpose to reach one or more of these other levels of awareness.
Another analogy can be used for better explanation, that of a staircase. Ordinarily in our consciousness we alternate from the first step – the objective, to the second step – the subjective, on this staircase of consciousness.
In fact, we have learned that there are many more steps above these two which we perhaps have not yet experienced.
Meditation is the desire to attain and to experience these subliminal states of mind.
The images, the sensations that may be had would be quite different in various ways than what we ordinarily perceive objectively and subjectively.
In fact, so-called intuition, or insight, is flashes of realisation coming from one of these other levels of consciousness.
So, consequently, the purpose of meditation is to bring about a transition in consciousness so that through that change we can reach into the higher levels of the mind.
How is this transition of consciousness, or meditation, to be attained?
There is no universal, precise formula. There are numerous methods which can be practised and which may often have origins in various Eastern religions, mystical and metaphysical systems. No matter which technique is used, true meditation has nothing to do with self-hypnosis or a trance-like states.
A Subjective Process
Contrary to what was said above, meditation can begin by a form of contemplation, that is, by first resorting to a subjective process.
We may hold in mind for a time a thought, an experience, visualise something that is particularly inspiring.
It should be this which calls forth our higher emotions and sentiments.
When we feel the sensations of such a visualisation, then we should let it gradually become dismissed from our mind. The purpose here is to try to draw an affinity between such a thought and a higher state of consciousness.
By such a method we are trying to attract the deeper levels of consciousness, or the psychic self.
Sometimes listening to a musical composition that is soothing and has a tranquil effect will help induce meditation.
Must one lose awareness of his or her surroundings? Yes.
If one is quite aware of things in his or her environment, he or she is still objective, not meditative.
You must have an inner not an outer awareness and this comes with true meditation.
However, this does not mean that one cannot easily return to objective awareness. For analogy, there may have been situations where you have been so engrossed with some thought that at the time you were not aware of what was going on around you.
Such was deep concentration, that is, concentration on some particular idea.
It is similar to meditation only in that one is not conscious of his or her surroundings. But the difference is that in meditation, there is no continuous focusing of the consciousness on any single impression.
Obviously, relaxation is necessary for successful meditation. It cannot be a success under any form of stress.
There are numerous postures that have been recommended by Eastern systems for meditation.
However, whatever position one can assume that will cause the body to be relaxed and allow for one to realise a sense of euphoria is quite proper. Clothes should not be tight or binding so as to impair circulation or to cause one to be aware of them.
There is a theory that the feet must always be placed on the ground so as to discharge into it certain nerve energies and vibrations from the body that would prevent meditation being attained. However, this is not substantiated as true or essential to meditation.
Deep breathing prior to meditation is helpful. However, there is nothing mysterious about it.
For example, stand before an open window and breathe deeply ten or fifteen times. Each time, the breath should be held as long as comfortable and then exhaled slowly. This cleanses the lower chambers of the lungs, vitalises the blood, and stimulates the psychic centres. It makes the mind clearer and relaxes the muscles from tension.
Rosicrucians have been given vowel sounds to intone, in conjunction with such breathing, which are found conducive to further preparation for meditation.
As said, meditation is not a forced state, or condition.
Consequently, no long, tiresome period of meditation would ever be successful. When one feels in a relaxed state and in a proper mood of well-being, he or she should hold the desired thought in mind as stated.
He or she should then remain passive, waiting for the consciousness to be taken over by whatever impression should come forth if he or she is successful in the whole procedure.
Of course, the individual should not presume to know what the impression will be—you do not use will in meditation, you do not command an experience of any particular kind.
As soon as one begins to feel fatigued, that, then, is the signal to discontinue your meditation.
To attempt to force the state defeats the purpose.
If one is successful in meditation (not a trance state), the whole period of preparation and result would be but a few minutes’ duration.
The experience will be like an intuitive influx, a flash of illumination in the consciousness.
By contrast, a trance state or one of hypnosis could last for a great length of time and could be dangerous.
But then again, such is not meditation.