Many people ask what the difference is between meditation and prayer. Though both practices seek communion with the divine, there is a primary distinction between the two. Prayer is often considered the act of talking to God while meditation is the art of listening to God. Meditation is difficult for many because it requires the stillness of thoughts and emotions. Asking the mind to rest in stillness is challenging as the ego often prompts us to dwell in the past or poke at the future.
The Undisciplined Mind
Buddhists have a name for our overactive thoughts and emotions. The term ‘monkey mind’ is used to explain how our minds swing from limb to limb or thought to thought from the distant past to the unknowable future. We can literally touch dozens of ideas a minute through our undisciplined human minds. Those who are just beginning to meditate initially feel a range of emotions such as boredom, anger, depression, anxiousness or any combination. Our emotions are slaves to our thoughts and we are the slaves to our emotions.
The Overactive Ego
The first thing to realize is that it’s perfectly normal for the ego to try and distract the mind. This is easy to do since the human mind enjoys constantly being engaged and preoccupied. The ego is always trying to remain ‘in charge’. Its goals are to instill feelings of separateness, to maintain a sense of duality and to convince us that we are disconnected. The goals of meditation are to stay centered and present within the moment so as to connect with the divine. Sensing this movement towards unity, the ego begins the quest to fight for its ‘life’.
Simple Meditation Techniques
There are many techniques to help keep the mind still, focused and present. When you first start meditating, it’s important to choose a simple technique to help minimize external diversion. Limit focus to your breathing, a repeated word/phrase/mantra, the use of an object like prayer beads or even your body. Breathing meditations are often very suitable and can be used as the basis for more advanced meditative practices. Whatever method you choose to start with, just remember that there is no right or wrong. Try out a few practices and use those that work best for you.
What meditation practices work best for you? Share your thoughts below!