The purpose of meditation is to transform the mind. The first step is to achieve a quiet and serene mind.
We address the issue of meditation from a religious perspective, but you can also understand this practice as a natural tool to develop good qualities of mind and heart.
The first step is to “remove” from the mind the compulsive attraction generated from sensory stimuli and conceptualization. However, this must not lead to a kind of dullness. Our mind must be alert and aware, in this way the natural state of consciousness may appear spontaneously.
We call “natural state of the mind” one in which consciousness is not troubled by memories and thoughts of the past, neither by afflictions and thoughts about the future. The mind in its natural state remains in a neutral condition.
This natural state is a kind of absence, emptiness (disturbing emotions and thoughts would not affect us). However, it is a state characterized for its underlying clarity or luminosity. When we finally discover this emptiness and this co-emergent luminosity, we begin to appreciate the nature of the mind.
There are other techniques and meditative practices. What is important is to know how to combine them in an adequate balance with studying and learning. Our path should be a middle way between excessive intellectualization and excessive technical application that go in detriment of an authentic comprehension.
Contemplative retreats aim for the withdrawal of the individual from the usual distractions of his or her everyday life. These allow the person to focus in specific introspective work. There are different kinds of retreats. They can be solitary or in group, religious or secular. Essentially, retreats provide an opportunity of silence and stillness, offering a provisional refuge to expose consciousness to relevant spiritual and personal questions.