Flickr: The Wandering Angel
a) Being able to sit still with your legs crossed for hours without grumbling?
b) Clearing your mind of all thoughts?
c) Wearing white and looking spiritual?
The answer is none of the above, despite the impression we have of meditation.
In fact, meditation - also more fashionably known as mindfulness, though not necessarily the same thing - is the art of being totally in the moment. Of accepting everything just as it is. Right here. Right now.
Ultimately, meditation is not something you "do". It's what's left when you stop doing, thinking, or trying to do. It is a state of pure being, a sense of serenity, wisdom and peace. Practitioners believe we're born with this sense but are taught to ignore it in a Western world that values the brain above the heart.
Some Buddhist forms of meditation do train you to focus specifically on a fixed point, but it can be quicker and more interesting to take a wider approach. This is called watching or witnessing; instead of forcing your mind to calm, you allow it to settle on its own accord.
But how can you do that? The first step is start making yourself of aware of what you're doing right now. What are you thinking? What can you smell? How does your right foot feel? Practice this awareness several times a day to build up the jigsaw of your reality. Practising in different locations can give you some surprising answers!
This may seem like you are thinking about things more, not less, but by "distracting" your brain from your worries with mindfulness, something in you will start to relax.
In witnessing, there there is no goal. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. You're just watching yourself. This conscious inaction is incredibly relaxing for our over-stimulated brain.
When you start to relax, this is when meditation takes over. Your mind's usual "chatter" will fade out and is replaced with a deep, sweet silence.
Watching or witnessing is just one path to meditation. You may find group sessions, breathing or chanting, or dancing more effective for you. But try to find something that works - meditation can be wonderful, life-changing stuff.