The Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) was well-known for his meditation practice. People often related that he would go to the cave in Mount Hira for meditation, contemplation, and prayer. It was during this practice that he first received Qur'anic revelation. Thus, meditation opened the door of revelation.
We are very busy people, and our lives are filled with distractions and stressors. Without meditation, we can be carried along by various influences without ever contemplating anything. That is a very dangerous way to live, because then we can easily lose our way in life, going wherever the wind blows us rather than directing our life course toward Allah.
It seems that children and adults alike suffer increasingly from a constant crisis of inattention, lack of focus, inability to concentrate, and inability to maintain progress toward goals. Students claim teachers aren't explaining things well enough, when in reality the students are not engaging their minds enough during the lessons. Worshippers claim their prayers aren't benefitting them enough, when in reality the worshippers lack presence of heart and mind in their worship – they are merely going through the motions without truly being engaged in worship.
Meditation in Islam can be described as the development of the presence of body, heart, and mind in worship and religious contemplation. It is essential to spiritual development and acceptance of and benefit from prayers. Without meditation, Jihad Akbar (struggle against the self's temptations to make wrong choices) cannot truly take place except in a most haphazard manner.
During prayer (Salat and Du'a), a Muslim is supposed to concentrate and meditate on God through reciting Qur'an, Dhikr (remembering God), and supplication. This meditation during these acts opens and strengthens a connection between God and the human being. That connection helps that person to be guided to Truth and maintain internal peace despite all of life's distractions and challenges. The prayers provide a beginning to the remembrance of God and wakeful meditation and worship throughout the whole day, even while the person is engaged in necessary tasks. Even the sleep of a person who is sincere and well-practiced in Islamic meditation becomes an extension of that meditation.
Meditation has not only spiritual benefit but worldly benefit, and can be a means for healing and finding creative solutions to difficult problems. One form of meditation is called Tafakkur and refers to reflection upon the universe or pondering the creation of Allah. It is a means of intellectual development that awakens and liberates the mind to help it achieve higher levels of growth. Many of the great Islamic scientists were said to engage in a meditative practice of Tafakkur to help guide their intellectual pursuits. Tafakkur is the means by which some people recognize the signs of Allah in the Creation.
There are many styles of meditation that achieve different purposes. All of them can help prepare one for performing Salat or Du'a in a meditative state to achieve better benefit and spiritual connection to God.
Contemplation is a form of meditation. Many people will contemplate by reading a few lines of Qur'an, Du'a, or an Islamic book and reflecting on it, perhaps writing a journal entry about it.
Visualization is another form. Some people will visualize a name of Allah as if hanging in the air, or they may visualize some symbol of a holy personality, focusing their attention on God, feeling love and gratitude toward the Creator. Effective visualization during prayer may be something like a person evoking a feeling as if sitting in the presence of Allah, imagining that He or angels are watching directly.
In a more worldly sense, people have used detailed visualization of upcoming stressful events such as giving speeches, running races, or undergoing medical treatments going ideally in order to ease anxiety and contribute to better outcomes of these events.
Sensating is yet another method of meditation, sometimes intermingled with visualization, that is extremely effective. Sensating often needs to be done before contemplation or prayer to help a person be fully present and engaged in what he is doing. Sensating helps a person to focus, eliminate distractions, and release tension and stress.
Checking In is one of the most basic forms of sensating meditation. This is a developmental practice to help one find focus and presence of mind and help eliminate distracting thoughts, anxiety, and stress. It is done by sitting erect with eyes closed at the edge of a seat, feet on the ground, and focusing on just being aware of every sensation: the way each part of the body feels, searching out tension in any body part and relaxing it, noting thoughts that come and go while not following any of them, being aware of sounds, feeling of clothes against the skin, feeling of the rise and fall of breath, feeling of the eyes in their sockets, etc.
Checking In taken to the next step is meditation in Relaxation Pose. This is done lying down flat on the ground, shoulder blades tucked under. The person carefully lies motionless with eyes closed and senses the entire body, starting from the tips of the toes and slowly moving to the top of the head. For some, visualizing something like golden balls of light moving around the area one is sensing helps the process. When one senses an area, one becomes aware of previously unnoticed tension in the area and then consciously releases that tension, allowing a warmth into that area of the body before moving up to the next location.
Conscious Breathing is another form of sensating meditation. In this practice, a person simply takes a few moments to become conscious of his or her breathing. The person feels the breath and the way it affects the entire body. The person may lay down with eyes closed in Relaxation Pose and place hands on lower belly, solar plexus, chest, forehead, and top of head in turn and feel the movements of these parts of the body with the breath. The person may place two hands in two different places at the same time so that he can sense the movement of air from one place to another. The person feels the pause of breathing between exhalation and inhalation. Then, the person may consciously manipulate his breath to lengthen the pauses, deepen the inhalations, and make the exhalations more complete, but all gently and without strain or force.
Engaging in these sensating meditative practices for a few minutes can help ready a person to perform Salat with increased concentration and meditation, making it a more spiritually rewarding experience. Adopting meditation as a regular practice can help one extend worship to a constant activity rather than a fleeting moment and can help a person achieve power of mind and body and spiritual growth.