Meditation is a spiritual and philosophic practice that can be done for many different reasons, but it’s most ubiquitous benefit seems to be the tendency for meditators to reach states of peace and understanding in line with ancient descriptions of enlightenment or ataraxia. Both of these states are described as states in which a person is not just completely relieved of stress, but also any sense of worry or despair as they come to a lucid understanding of reality, their existence, and/or the circumstances they find themselves in. Even in its most basic forms, mediation can easily be a way to shift oneself towards this enlightened state of mind. The feelings of peace and understanding are not artificial, nor are they some sort of self-deception. Many people who find themselves practicing meditation will inevitably reach these kinds of experiences and gain a more lucid awareness of their existence. So how does it work?
If it were as simple as making the right logic deductions, there’d be no need for a meditation practice, only a refinement of your rational and analytical thinking, but meditation is fundamentally tied to the experience of the practice. In my understanding, it’s an intentional shifting or manipulation of one’s awareness to achieve certain states of consciousness. These states of consciousness can be described as the awareness of a certain kind of emotion or an energy present in the body, but it can also be described as the perception of a certain truth of being. The ancients believed that enlightenment was full understanding of objective or metaphysical truth, which then relieves the person who’s having the understanding of any illusions that cause distress or worry, such as the illusion of egoic identity, the illusion of fatality in the material world, and the illusion of solipsism. How, practically speaking, do we gain this understanding? Colloquially, we may say we “came to the realization” while meditating, but it would be more accurate to say that it comes to us. Just as the experience of achievement comes when accomplishing a personal goal, or pain comes when burning your mouth on hot food, enlightenment comes when you realize and perceive the truth of reality. It doesn’t happen just once either. Like an emotion, the state of enlightenment can come and go, but if you are lucid enough to maintain a constant perception of truth, then the feeling of enlightenment should persist as well.
Naturally, there is a reason we don’t already perceive metaphysical truth. I would attribute this disconnection from truth to our mind’s dualism, both being a natural structure of knowing and innate understanding, localized in the collective or suprapersonal unconscious, and an artificially linear processing of the conscious mind, of which our conscious ego is emblematic. This is why many meditative practices include or focus on the dissolution of the ego and the distancing of one’s thoughts from oneself. It may be that there’s something about the exclusivity of one’s thoughts that create this impression of identity with our experiences, but philosophers and teachers of this practice emphasize the idea, which can be experienced in meditation, that we do not even make our own thoughts. They seem to come to us based on our experiences and how deep our awareness goes into the experience.
For instance, if you never give awareness to music you encounter, you will never develop an understanding of the complexity or dimensional depth of the art of music relative to the depth of your experience of it. But the more one is aware of and experiences various forms of music, the more intricate one’s understanding of music becomes. But we experience thoughts almost constantly, except when we are the most engaged with life and living that we can possibly be. If you do not give much awareness to the reality outside your thoughts, all you will think about is thought, focusing your awareness on illusions of the egoic mind, keeping you from understanding the truth of reality. However, observing your thoughts as if they are environmental, or a part of experiential reality, thus distancing yourself from them, allows you to have the realization that you are just the awareness that’s left. The idea is that you are only awareness localized within an individual point of perception. Understanding this, that you are not your experience and even your thoughts are just a happening in your reality, is enlightenment.
This lucidity is, in my opinion, the most profitable benefit of meditation. It allows us to better regulate ourselves, and to act and be more authentically, rather than to alienate ourselves based on other’s imposed desires or belief systems. Once one achieves waking lucidity, they are free to express themselves however they like, setting aside the evaluations and judgements as nothing more than circumstantial.