Do you do silent prayer? Do you think? Do you just do nothing but feel the world around you? Is it a combination of the above? If so, to what degree of each?
I think you are confusing the Christian meaning of meditation with the popular Eastern (Zen for example) practices of what they call meditation. In the traditional Christian spiritual practice of Lectio Divina, meditation is that part of prayer where you reflect on a particular passage of scripture, mull it over in your mind, explore it. In Ignatian practice you would put yourself into the story and use your imagination to meditate on the passage. Simarly, when we meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary as we pray, we think about the particular event as we pray each decade. We can even meditate without using scripture, but thinking about some concept of our faith or about something our spritual director or confessor asks us to meditate on. Meditation thus is very active, it is not emptying the mind and doing nothing but feeling the world around us.
Now, our Tradition also goes further with someting called Contemplation. This sounds more like what you are describing. In real Contemplation, the goal is union with God. It is pure gift and while we can practice silence and stillness, achieving true Contemplation comes from God alone, we cannot force it. Some saints, like Teresa and John of the Cross or Faustina, were able to achieve this easily. The most basic way I have heard it described is that “I look at God and God looks at me.” Nothing else needs to happen. I like to describe it as being enveloped by God. I have achieved it on few occasions. It is not a trance, or seeing things, or hearing things, but simply “being” with God. Contemplation is the final step of Lectio Divina, after reading and meditating on the scriptures and imersing yourself in pray, you just let God do the rest. That is contemplation.
you are gong to get alot of answers to this question, most of which will be very lengthy. here’s the basics:
there are three main forms of personal prayer (there are five forms of prayer total, as the catechism says, but those five forms fall within these three forms):
- Vocal Prayer- Talking to God, oral prayers, etc.
- Meditative Prayer- Thinking about God, reading scriptures or holy books, etc.
- Contemplation- Being with God, Eucharistic adoration time, being aware of God’s presence, etc.
Note: most people confuse these things with each other and more often with eastern meditation- Here is the difference: the separation of each form of prayer is listed above, though one must realize that they sometimes blend together (ie: rosary incorporate each of these things, and so does the Mass).
in regards to eastern meditation- many people confuse contemplation with eastern meditation, the difference is in the object of the prayer. in Contemplation, one is simply benig aware of the loving presence of God and loving Him with his whole heart- usually in silence without words or thoughts. in eastern meditation, one is trying to empty himself of all thought and become nothing, or empty- being one with nothingness. because each of these involve a certain quietning of the senses and mind, they are often confused with one another and contemplation is often attacked by very well intentuioned people. lilewise, some very well intentioned people think that the way to contelplation is to practice zen meditation withing the church walls. both are folly. they are two very different things in thier object and intention, and so the action is different.
hope this helps- its muddy waters for most.