Practitioners use meditation to suit their individual purposes and interests

People approach meditation with different levels of interest and with diverse aims and ends in mind. This has been true throughout its history. In the clinical context a person may be satisfied with learning to direct their attention to the sensations of breathing or a mantra in a way that interrupts attention’s preoccupation at times of stress. Or through something like the body scan, hatha yoga, or tai chi they may discover greater delight in everyday life as a result of attention being less preoccupied with the vigilance-based cognitive process and more attuned to their bodily/sensory experience. Still others will make skillful use of the associational cycles of thoughts, sensations, and feelings to cultivate a preferred suite of these as in metta (loving kindness) practices, affirmations, and prayer. Most people probably use some combination of these. Some also are interested in ideas of enlightenment, transcendence, and spirituality and this leads into the second sense in which meditation practice is used in the working definition.

Being vigilance-based, the cognitions associated with seeing are often associated with some degree of arousal. But occasionally, circumstances are such that we find ourselves in a situation where the thought associated with vision stops, such as when a beautiful sunset or the face of a child captures our undivided attention, and wonder and awe naturally come to the forefront. These were always available behind our preoccupation with the cognitions. Meditation then becomes about bringing curiosity to the everyday process by which this occurs so that the experience of awe and wonder is less dependent upon random circumstance and becomes part of our everyday experience. Both the exercises and the curiosity are needed; without the exercises, the curiosity tends to become once again preoccupied with cognitions about the process and so more of the same. And without the curiosity, the exercises become an end in themselves with little spill-over into everyday life. This brings us to meditation practice in the second sense.

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