One definition of the word 'meditate' is 'to think deeply or focus one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.' This definition may not be the most comprehensive available, but for my intents & purposes here, it suits quite well. It could well be said that the practice of meditation, therefore, is experienced differently by everyone: some people, Christians especially, meditate on things like the Psalms of David, or other passages of the Hebrew & Greek Scriptures, Philippians 4:8, for instance. Others, who do not believe in the 'God' of the Bible ( Christianity ), may meditate on anything from the good earth to their own connection with Divinity. It could be said that 'the only difference between prayer & meditation is that prayer is focused outwardly, while meditation is focused inwardly. True as this may be, it does not quite cover it. As mentioned previously, some will meditate daily on a certain Psalm or other passage of the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures. Some even meditate on other Scriptures from around the world, while others simply meditate on their own Divinity, or just sit in silence, focusing on proper breathing technique. However one chooses to do it, then, the practice of meditation differs, to whatever extent, from person to person: there IS no One, True Way to meditate!
Prayer has traditionally been made to the 'God' of the Bible, or Christianity, although many who do not acknowledge 'Him' as the Embodiment of Divinity direct their prayers to any one of an assortment of 'Gods', ranging from the Great Spirit, to their own ancestors. Whoever one prays to, it may be well said that their prayer is received ( heard & answered )! If the prayer or concern is voiced, those who hear, generally speaking, will do all in their considerable power to answer that person's prayer. Most often, from a Christian standpoint, prayer is made to 'God' or 'our Heavenly Father', even 'Lord'. Not to say this is wrong, or that there is no 'Lord', 'God', or 'Heavenly Father' that hears & answers prayer, but for the most part, the effectiveness of prayer may be found right here on earth, among fellow human beings. Human beings, of course, some being more in touch with their own spirituality than others, may dwell in both realms at the same time, or ignorantly, in the 'hell' of their own choosing! Praying, thus, is most effective when one voices one's concerns to their fellow human beings, especially those filled with compassion.
This is not to say either, that prayer is ONLY effective when voiced to one's fellow humans, for there IS One Ultimate Source for ALL Good! The question might well be voiced at this point, 'is there Someone/Something out there somewhere Who hears our prayers?' Well, yes, there IS, Virginia, but it would be far more correct to say that that Someone/Something is 'in there'. Many or most Christians profess that 'Heaven' is a place, maybe not necessarily a geographical ( 'universal'? ) location, but a 'place' nonetheless. It is a 'place', though, in the sense that it is a different realm, not separated from our own, although it is 'hidden', or 'Secret', for example, as witnessed in II Kings 6:17. In that sense, then, this realm is within us as well, or rather, we are in it. It is our choice to acknowledge it or not, just as it is our choice whether or not to manifest the Christ. With all that said, prayer, whether directed inwardly ( in the for form of meditation ), or outwardly, voiced so others can hear & respond, IS effective, for it serves to voice our concerns, all of which our Heavenly Father ( speaking as a Christian ) knows, but which, when voiced, inspires others to tap into their own resources to help alleviate those concerns!
One might note, then, that one, maybe the greatest advantage ( though many or most do not 'see' it thusly ) of meditation over prayer is that meditation, at least that focused inwardly, forces us to acknowledge our own fault, if fault there be, in our current situation. Prayer, on the other hand, focuses on a Power that is outside us & more often than not, One we have been taught is beyond our grasp unless we approach 'Him' with due reverence & humility! Again, this is not to say there IS no Power outside ourselves ( 'out there' ), for 'It is what It is', no matter what we believe, or think It is. C.S. Lewis might have alluded to this in his 'The Last Battle' when he wrote;
Back to the subject at hand, meditation, while it DOES have the advantage of almost forcing us to acknowledge & accept our own part in the trials & tribulations we experience on a daily basis, also has the distinct grace of allowing us to connect with Divinity & to realize that It is within us, 'It', of course being the Divine Power to better our own situation! As long as we look outside ourselves ( in prayer ), though we may find relief from our current trial, we will continue to experience tribulation as long as we fail or refuse to acknowledge that the Power lies Within! Prayer, in that sense, then, though it does not ( necessarily ) disallow us from realizing our own potential, or the Power Within, more often than not has the effect of almost blinding us to our own responsibility & using 'God' as a crutch for our own failings!
The Purpose of Meditation, of course, is not to nurture a feeling of guilt within ourselves, but to realize who we really are, to still our ego-driven Mind & focus instead on the Self that is Divine & One with the Divinity! Like prayer, meditation is simply a tool, a tool that we use to commune. or communicate with Divinity. Whether we believe the Power to be Within ( ourselves ) or Without ( 'God' ), most, if not all of us employ one or the other ( sometimes both ) of these tools to improve our situation. Again, meditation; or inward focus, usually has the effect of helping us to realize our own potential, while prayer, even though it often has the effect of alleviating our current symptoms, usually fails to illuminate the true cause of those symptoms!
Meditation, in the sense outlined in the beginning of this relatively short blog, that of focusing one's thoughts on 'whatever things are true, whatever things [ are ] noble, whatever things [ are ] just, whatever things [ are ] pure, whatever things [ are ] lovely, whatever things [ are ] of good report' ( Philippians 4:8 ), has the effect ( much-needed ) of helping us to train our thoughts & thus actions on what is good & right, although it still fails to help us realize our own Strength to better our situation. True Meditation, especially as popularly defined earlier, cannot but lead us to the realization that it is within ourselves that we must look if we would do more than ( temporarily ) alleviate our current symptoms!
As we read in the first part of Psalm 46:10, 'Be still, and know that I ( am ) God'!
Charles Haddon Shank