In very simple terms, meditation is the practice of observing the mind. The mind is constantly conversing with itself, replaying past events, planning for the future, analyzing whatever’s going on. If we are able to slow this mental process and start to become an observer of our thoughts we can gain some control over them. Yogis refer to the habitual thoughts we have as samskaras. We can develop samskaras that are helpful to us and ones that are detrimental. It’s important therefore, to slow the mind down enough to be able to observe what’s going on. When we label our thoughts without judgment we can sometimes let them go or change them. So a person who thinks of themselves as stupid, for example, might slow their mind enough to observe the constant chatter of “I’m so dumb, I’m so stupid, I’m not smart enough etc” and label it negative thinking. Then whenever they name that pattern, they likely will stop it, even if only for a few moments. They can also change those statements, the samskaras, to develop new ones- “I am capable, I am smart, I am able etc.” This kind of observation of the mind is referred to as mindfulness. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere- while driving, while doing the dishes, while with people or alone- and it’s a form of meditation. True mindfulness meditation is the act of observing who you are and what you do- essentially to become present in every moment of your life. If you were able to truly achieve this, you would not need any meditation technique, as you would be living in a way that makes every act, every situation a meditation.
We all have moments when we’re able to be truly present. In those moments we stop identifying with our own selves as something separate from the world that surrounds us. Then we recognize that there is no separation, there is only God or whatever term you use to define God. In those moments we lose our identification with ego, with time, with space and we just be. When we have moments like these we feel really good, blissful. Of course, being human, we want to get that feeling again and sometimes become attached to feeling that bliss. As soon as we develop an attachment to it, though, we are no longer being truly present and we don’t feel it.
Mindfulness will allow us to have more and more moments like these. So the goal is to just keep coming back to observing our emotions, witnessing our samskaras without judgment rather than mindlessly repeating them. When we are able to keep coming back to observing our thoughts with detachment our thoughts become more behaved and we see less looping of thoughts, less going back over things that have happened and less trying to control what’s going to happen in the future.