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Is Meditation Just Sitting Quietly?
Is Meditating Simply Sitting in Silence?

Our article on the purpose of meditation provides a more comprehensive discussion about the “goal” of meditation in traditional yoga, including its spiritual and “worldly” benefits.

Is Meditation Just Sitting in Silence (While Thoughts Happen by Themselves)?

Sitting Quietly: the Purpose of Meditating & the Significance of Quiet

Is meditation just sitting quietly?

Yes and no. People “meditate” in different ways: sitting, chanting, walking, lying down, eyes open, breath manipulation, etc. The important thing is not really what you do when you meditate; the important thing is understanding why you’re meditating. Once you understand the purpose of meditation, you realize that what you do is far less important than how you do it.

The purpose of meditation is to become aware of the ways in which your attention is always already pre-occupied. 

This first requires some form of settling your attention. And this can be done in relatively more active or passive ways. Examples of more active forms of focusing your attention include chanting a mantra (mantra meditation) or manipulating the breath. These active forms of focused attention meditation require your active involvement—you have to be “doing” something. Examples of more passive forms of focusing your attention include various forms of mindfulness meditation (e.g., mindfulness of breathing) and what is sometimes called “open awareness” meditation. These passive forms of focused attention meditation require your noticing what is already happening [by itself], including anything happening in the environment/mind/body/state, such as thoughts/feelings, sounds, and even so-called “distractions”. Developing the skill of focused attention is most easily accomplished in controlled circumstances (e.g., when in a quiet place).

Once you’ve settled your attention, you’re able to notice the ways that you become “distracted”; in other words, you’re able to notice some habitual ways of thinking/feeling that you perhaps had not recognized. In fact, you might even be able to notice certain recurring themes in your automatic (i.e., distracted) thinking/feeling—such as thinking about the future, certain people, what you lack, anger, self-criticism, etc. These themes could recur for weeks/months/years, or they could depend on some situation in which you happen to be. These recurring themes reflect particular modes of desire—i.e., the impulse to want to have/be/do something(s) other than what you have/are/do right now. 

 

But meditation is not just about understanding your personal, inner life. Meditation is ultimately about recognizing the ways in which you are determined in and by both personal and universal contexts. You are always already in the middle of existence, so to speak; you are never “outside of” or “prior to” your existence. You are always already in some context. Some contexts are universal: you are embodied, attuned to a particular socio-linguistic-historical culture, you are subject to desire, time, memory, etc. Other contexts are particular: you are reading this right now, because of a question that arose spontaneously, motivated by some interest you’ve had in meditation, perhaps because of some feeling of acute/chronic uneasiness or inner lack, etc. 

And meditation is not about fixing any of this. Wanting to fix it only reinforces the thing that was causing your suffering in the first place. (This is explained in our more comprehensive guide to meditation.) Meditation is simply about becoming aware of the automatic, habitual self and its constituent parts. Meditation allows for the recognition of the ways in which you are determined—that is, of the ways in which your awareness is always already preoccupied.

 

And so is meditation just sitting quietly? You’re probably now in a better position to see how the answer to this question can’t be answered with a definitive “yes” or “no”, how meditation is more than just about details such as what meditation posture one should adopt or whether one should just sit in silence or sit quietly. Once your attention is focused (by means that may or may not be quiet), meditation amounts to a kind of receptivity/passivity (which can be associated with being “quiet”), but a passivity that depends on the activity of remaining receptive to the happening of experience itself—i.e., of remaining receptive to Yourself. (And since meditation is ultimately about seeing how your awareness is pre-occupied, this receptivity can be carried into all areas of life.)

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Further Reading

This article is intended as a short response to a single question about meditation. A similar article addresses the question pertaining to the way one should meditate: can/should meditate with one’s eyes open?

Our article on the objective of meditation offers a more detailed discussion of the role of meditation in traditional yoga.

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