There are numerous and varied ways to meditate, but the main goal is almost always the same: that of calming the mind, and there are several good reasons why we might want to do this. The first reason is very practical. Our brains are constantly firing off a continuous stream of thoughts. Our attention fixates on one thing, then another, like (as a lot of Zen masters are found of saying) a monkey swinging from one vine to another. A lot of these thoughts can be quite negative, especially regarding ourselves. So quieting the mind grants us freedom to act in a more confident manner, and allows us to connect with and trust our “deeper” selves. The goal is to act reflexively and intuitively, like riding a bike, tying a shoe or even just walking.
Another reason to quiet the mind is a bit more philosophic but none the less important. Our word producing, “logocentric” brain names and categorizes all the things in our world. We take for granted that the world, for example, is made up of things and events (nouns and verbs). But a little reflection forces us to reexamine this stance: is there actually a thingless event? or an eventless thing? Is there such a thing as a person who doesn’t grow old, or a mountain that isn’t eroded by wind and water? Or is there any such thing as blinking, dancing, growing? Or is it always the case that there is something blinking, someone dancing, someone or something growing? Meditating allows us to grasp this truth in a way that goes beyond words. It gives us an experience which is altogether different from logical understanding, in the same way that eating is altogether different from knowing about the digestive system — the latter may or may not be important depending upon the person, but the former is absolutely necessary for survival.
And one well documented outcome of practicing meditation is that it promotes overall good health. The physical benefits of lower blood pressure, lower stress and lower anxiety have been scientifically demonstrated. But also to meditate is to embark upon a journey that typically promotes a very positive mental outlook. And given the fact that if we “change our mind we change the universe” it’s actually quite hard to imagine a more important goal.
In our specific project we use music as a form of meditation, that is we use the making of music to quiet our mind and focus our attention on our present activity. This cultivates a lot of what was said above: we act without thinking, responding to our immediate situation, which is completely improvised and unpredictable…a lot like life can be! We also expand our sense of self when we find that our contributions are forming part of a greater whole.
The paragraphs above should not in any way be taken as a repudiation of critical thinking, or of developing a vivid imagination, or of exploring the world by means of logic. The main takeaways are that (1) there is a reality that transcends our daily, logocentric experience and (2) it is often we ourselves who derail ourselves from achieving whatever our goals are in life. The more we develop a practice of quieting the mind the more able we will be to develop ourselves more fully, and to find how we connect with all of reality.