Meditation is great for stress relief (I have called it a “hot tub for the mind“), and for calming the annoying chatter from the “default mode” circuitry in your brain. But if you proceed a little more deeply in studying meditation, you will encounter concepts like “enlightenment” and “awakening”, which can be controversial and confusing.
These concepts are well explained in the book Demystifying Awakening: A Buddhist Path of Realization, Embodiment, and Freedom, by advanced Buddhist meditation teacher Stephen Snyder. The book starts with a clear definition of awakening, which I would summarize like this: If we can manage to calm our default mode so that our minds become still for a while, we sense what many traditions call our “true nature” underneath the usual mind chatter: pure, loving, awareness. Further, we feel a oneness with all of life. This can also occur spontaneously, for example, in beautiful natural settings. So going beyond stress relief, meditation becomes a way of cultivating our connection with this true nature.
All of this is described in detail in the book. Stephen starts out with basic meditation instructions and proceeds throughout the book to more advanced techniques for achieving a deeper awakening. He does point out that for the more advanced techniques it is probably necessary to have a teacher that has personally experienced these deeper levels. He himself is such a teacher, offering online meditations and retreats on his website.
There was one theme in the book that I found motivating for my daily lifestyle. The author noted that as people have glimpses of their true nature, due to meditation or spontaneously, they can start to notice when their behavior is not consistent with that nature. For example, if at my core is loving awareness, then if I made an unkind sarcastic remark I made to someone, perhaps that is something I should work on in the future.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in pursuing meditation further, that has not found a transformational path that works for them. The meditation instructions in the book are based on using the breath as an object of concentration. If you are already more comfortable using an alternative technique, such as mantra meditation, you can simply substitute that for the basic exercise, and his more advanced techniques are still applicable.