As result of discussions with hundreds of experienced meditators, training thousands of novices in our own research projects and related initiatives, and, of course, my own experience, the authentic meditative experience boils down to five essential features:

  1. The meditator has a heightened awareness of the present moment.
  2. The experience of meditation is ‘located’ in the space between any two thoughts. In meditation that space is expanded until it becomes essentially infinite and all encompassing. You can think when you want to or need to, but when thinking is not needed it can be stopped. This leaves you with more mental energy, better focus and an improved ability to think clearly when it is needed.
  3. The focus of attention tends to move naturally towards the top of the head or just above the top of the head, where it rests without much effort.
  4. One’s mood is pleasant and positive, and there is a sense of equanimity or balance. (It is important to distinguish between the quietly joyful state of meditation and an extreme of manic happiness, for example.)
  5. Importantly, the meditator is fully alert and aware, and therefore in control of both themselves and the experience. Although meditation necessarily involves, at first, the reduction of mental activity and then, ultimately, the elimination of it to enter into the state of mental silence, the meditator does not experience a loss of personality, emotion, perception or ‘sense of self’. In fact, many meditators report that the mental peace and emotional equilibrium of meditation allows them to feel and experience their own personality, and themselves, more fully than ever before.

These features converge into a single experience that is best described as occurring when one focuses on the cool, silent space that exists just above the head. Feeling silent, cool, calm and collected is a great way to summarise it.