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What is Meditation?

The difference between prayer, contemplation and meditation

In Switzerland there are a lot of meditation groups and meditation teachers. You also may book meditation courses or meditation retreats. Properly most of those events are adapted to the needs of the participants. Even music or sound can take place in those “meditations”. – But what is meditation really?

My retreat


Prayer needs words. It has given words as the Lord’s Prayer or it is a free prayer.

The only prayer in Christianity that was given to us directly is the Lord's Prayer. In particular I love this prayer in its original language in Aramaic (Jesus spoke Aramaic as well).

For me, the prayer of Nicholas of Flue is the most impressive and most condensed prayer of all. In three lines all has been said.

The rosary is a prayer given by the church and may help to focus the thoughts.

In the free prayer we use our own words, e.g. to praise God. The petitionary prayer is very common, the prayer for forgiveness as well.

The quiet prayer, which is done without any words, is actually contemplation or a meditation.


One does contemplate on something. There is an object, an occurrence or a text at its centre.

Typically monks and nuns contemplate on the tabernacle for hours (the Blessed Sacrament in a church). Common is also the contemplation on the Sufferings of Christ.

Contemplation is an examination of something. It is a relaxed thinking-about-something.

To lead a contemplative life means to be totally God-focused and practically not carrying out any actions towards the outer world. As an example, the Saint Nicholas of Flue was leading such a contemplative life.

In Christian mysticism contemplation leads to the union with God through purification as Nicholas of Flue or Meister Eckhardt – beside lots of others – have exemplified.


In meditation one is sitting quietly (typically with crossed legs, in the lotus posture) and one is attentively aware.

That's all.

In meditation one does not think. Because thinking means to be occupied with the transitory or with change. The Absolute, the Truth or God cannot be grasped with the five sense organs nor with the mind.

At the moment you start to think, the thinker appears. As a thinker you are separated from God. When you think about God then God will be on one side and you on the other as the observer. This contradicts becoming One.

The aim of meditation – beside purification (burning karma) – is enlightenment, that means the absolute realization. Or said even clearer: there is no difference any more between the observer and and the observed.

That is the moment when the drop of water is united with the Ocean.