The premise of meditation is that inner freedom arises from inner stability, not the gyrations of our emotions. By strengthening the mind in the proper way we can create the inner momentum to transform our experience and gain new levels of clarity, awareness and joy. We can break the inner patterns that create hardship and stress; engage life with spontaneity, serenity, and insight; and release our potential to become a positive, compassionate force in the world. Meditation comprises a rich collection of practices that cultivate this inner stability and experience.

We can think of meditation as exercise for the mind. Just as physical exercise strengthens the body, meditation strengthens the mind. Similarly, just as reading about the benefits of physical exercise will not make us physically fit, intellectual knowledge about meditation will not make us inwardly fit. Meditating, and putting what we gain in meditation to work, is the springboard for enhancing inner serenity and growth.

We define meditation as the act of concentrating on an object that enhances the mind.Concentrating” describes the act of focusing the mind and bringing inner distraction and agitation under control. “On an object” means that meditation is not about turning our minds off or spacing out but is about anchoring the mind on a particular object and keeping it there. “Enhances the mind” means that in meditation we do not pick just any object but use objects that enhance our strength of mind and free our inner potential. These objects include the breath, visualized images, or insights gained from reflecting upon specific topics or ideas.

Meditation can be a beautiful space that we carve out each day in which we let the world around us recede, just for a little while, so we can enjoy the experience of turning inward. It is important to follow meditation instructions that are clear and precise, but we do not have to be too rigid. We can develop a way of practicing that suits our own lifestyle and schedule. The length, frequency, and objects of meditation, for example, might vary from one person to another and will evolve as we gain experience.

Meditation tends to yield its benefits gradually. We may not notice its effects right away, but one day we will look back and see that we have changed. We may find that we have a new perspective on the world, or a clearer sense of direction. We may notice that it takes more to trigger stress, anger, or other emotions that agitate us, or that when such emotions are triggered they do not last as long or go as deep—they may even disappear entirely. We may find that we have more patience and sensitivity to others, and more energy, joy and peace of mind, or we may experience other kinds of changes as the mind becomes more serene and our inner potential unfolds.

(adapted from Juniper’s Awakening the Mind, available at www.juniperpath.org/resources/)