2 Explanations of Meditation
A classic, from the 6th Patriarch of Buddhism, Hui Neng:
Sitting means with any obstructions anywhere, outwardly and under all circumstances, not to activate thoughts. Meditation is internally to see the original nature and not become confused.
My take: I like the "under all circumstances." Makes it more global and all-encompassing. I would, however, change "not to activate thoughts" to "not to attach to thoughts." Perhaps that is what the dude meant. If not, it is a significant difference because we have no say whether or not thought is "activated." It has its own schedule. And anyway, thought can be fun (when there is no investment in it).
A "modern" explanation (1995) from Joan Tollifson (taken from her first book, Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up From the Story of My Life):
Meditation is not merely a quest for personal peace of mind or self-improvement. It involves an exploration of the roots of our present global suffering and the discovery of an alternative way of living. Meditation is seeing the nature of thought, how thought constantly creates images about ourselves and others, how we impose a conceptual grid on reality and then mistake the map for the territory itself. Most of the time we aren't even aware that thought is taking place. Meditation is realizing, on ever more subtle levels, that it is. When conceptualization is seen for the imaginary abstraction that it is, something changes.
Meditation is listening. Listening to everything. To the world, to nature, to the body, the mind, the heart, the rain, the traffic, the wind, the thoughts, the silence before sound. It is about questioning our frantic efforts to do something and become somebody, and allowing ourselves simply to be. It is a process of opening and quieting down, of coming upon an immediacy of being that cannot be known or captured by thought, and in which there is no sense of separation or limitation. Meditation is moment-to-moment presence that excludes nothing and sticks to nothing.
Meditation is not dependent on a method or program. It questions any attempt by the mind to construct any program or goal. It relies on no techniques, special practices, costumes, or body positions. It is utterly simple and available to everyone at every moment. Meditation is that which we are, when all that we think we are is not in the way.
Meditation is a powerful antidote to our purposeful, growth-oriented, war-mongering, speed-driven, ever-productive consumer civilization, which is rapidly devouring the earth. In doing meditation work we do not, as is commonly imagined, retreat from reality, but from our habitual escapes from reality. Meditation is a social and political act. Listening and not-doing are actions far more powerful than most of us have yet begun to realize. But meditation is much more (and much less) than all of this.
Meditation is not knowing what meditation is.
My take: This is my personal favorite. I haven't found an explanation that is more spot-on. If you like Joan's approach see more of her at: http://home.earthlink.net/~wakeupjt/index.html.