There are a number of different meditation traditions around the world. The word actually comes from the Catholic tradition- to “meditate” originally meant to deeply ponder the spiritual meaning of a sacred text such as the Gospels, and Christian mystics also practice a type of meditative prayer they refer to as “contemplation.” Jewish mystics meditate through the practices known as Kaballah, which involve complex symbolism and imagery. Taoists also use symbolism and imagery in their internal alchemy meditations, but some types of Zen meditation emphasize clearing all conscious thoughts from the mind completely. Others emphasize observing thoughts as they arise and then letting them go.
The important thing to understand about these different types of meditation is that they are more similar than they may appear. No matter what the method, most types of serious meditation aim at the same kind of mental state. This mental state is not “chilled out” or hypnotized, but alert and aware, present in the moment, and attentive but still. The benefits of this mental state are many, including better health and an improved ability to handle the problems of life effectively. Meditation can be practiced within a religious tradition or outside of any tradition. Most people who have seriously practiced it consider it indispensable.