I was listening to “Back to Work”, a podcast with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, and they were talking about meditation. Here’s what I took away from it:
The goal is to be able to watch yourself think. You probably can do two things at once, for instance talking and walking, or doing dishes and listening to the radio. In this case, you are going to be allowing yourself to think the things you normally think, but for your second action, you are going to watch those thoughts. At first, all you will do is acknowledge that you are having a thought. It will take practice because you will fall into your normal patterns, which is why you want to be sitting comfortably, with time to do nothing else.
With practice, you will be able to stop, and think about thoughts which just passed.
Phase two is when you can be in this state all the time, that is, able to stop after, or even during a thought, and examine it. This will also take practice. The hardest will be thoughts which are triggered by external stimuli, such as a car passing too close. If you feel in danger, it’s hard to keep the fear from overriding your control. This is why it’s important to practice this sort of thinking.
When you have gained some ability to interrupt your thought stream, then you may be able to consider each thought as to whether it’s useful, accurate, or in some way optimal. Importantly, you might get to turn aside useless or harmful thoughts, such as internal voices telling you to doubt when the reasons for doubt are weak.
This is only one aspect of mediation, but I suspect it might be the most useful one for most people.