There are three main forms of meditation.
The first is called, in the Indian tradition, bhakti, meaning devotion. It is for those who reach out to a Supreme Being, whether that is called Allah, God or Brahman. It usually involves the use of a mantra, a sacred word or phrase which is mentally repeated over and over. In India it may be Om or Ram; in Islam it involves chanting the 99 names of Allah, while for the Russian Orthodox Christian it is the repetition of the Jesus Prayer: ‘We may all be one, as Father you are in me, and I am in you, so they are in me and I am in them, that we may all be one.’
For the agnostic or atheist, or those who find that religion gets in the way, there is a simple form of meditation taught for centuries as part of the Buddhist tradition, which consists in observing the breath as it comes in and out. Simply following the breath is a means of reaching an inner centre, psychologically and spiritually, without any religious commitment. By concentrating on the breath at the tip of the nose the breathing becomes finer. Gradually the breath slows and the mind goes towards the heart, to the very centre of our being. It heightens what Eckhart Tolle calls ‘the Power of Now’, a deepening awareness of the present moment and of a centre within that enables us to withstand the ebb and flow of emotions. It is called Mindfulness Meditation, and it is easy to see why it is so popular in our present culture in the West.
The third form of meditation is that practised by Quakers. It consists of centring down into the silence, gently dismissing all wandering thoughts, focusing on the silence within. During such silence an insight or an image may arise from the unconscious and float to the surface of our consciousness, where it might provide the answer to a current problem, or deepen our understanding. Sometimes in a Quaker Meeting an individual may be moved to speak aloud and share such an insight. But some of the most powerful Meetings I have experienced have been sixty minutes of vibrant silence.