We could say that meditation is the pure experience of consciousness. Meditation occurs when we quieten the activity of mind, ground ourselves in our physicality, centre ourselves in stillness and become aware of the pure state of being that is our essence.
Did I lose you? Here, we encounter the limitation of words when describing experiential phenomenon. My description can only reference the experience of meditation for those who have already had the experience. For those that haven’t been there, the words can only serve to arouse curiosity of might even put you off!
With this in mind, through incorrect usage, meditation has also come to mean ‘any practice or ritual which brings one towards the pure state of conscious experience’. Thus the practice of contemplation to welcome in the state of meditation, has itself been dubbed meditation, as has the ritual of sitting down cross-legged with your eyes closed.
So when most people say they are going off to meditate, what they are actually doing is going to practice the craft of contemplation. This might be breathe-awareness or thought-monitoring and meditation is an experience that sometimes occurs during that practice.
The distinction between contemplation and meditation could be summarised as follows. Contemplation is something you do. Meditation is something you be.
I sometimes intrigue my class by telling them that meditation is something that simply occurs ‘when awareness comes to meet you in the silence’. It is just an idea, but it gives you the sense that meditation is something that arises, it is not something that you ‘do’.