The word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio, which originally indicated every type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation." The use of the word meditation in the western Christian tradition has referred generally to a more active practice of reflection on some particular theme such as "meditation on the sufferings of Christ". Similarly in Western philosophy, one finds, for example, Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, a set of six mental exercises which systematically analyze the nature of reality.
"Meditation" in its modern sense refers to Yogic meditation that originated in India. In the late nineteenth century, Theosophists adopted the word "meditation" to refer to various spiritual practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions. Thus the English word "meditation" does not exclusively translate any single term or concept, and can be used to translate words such as the Sanskrit dhyana, samadhi and bhavana.
Meditation is usually defined as one or more of the following:
1. a state of relaxed concentration on the reality of the present moment
2. a state that is experienced when the mind dissolves and is free of all thoughts
3. "concentration in which the attention has been liberated from restlessness and is focused on
4. focusing the mind on a single object (such as a religious statue, or one's breath, or a mantra)
5. a mental "opening up" to the divine, invoking the guidance of a higher power
reasoned analysis of religious teachings (such as impermanence, for Buddhists).
From the point of view of psychology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness. The goals of meditation are varied, and range from spiritual enlightenment, to the transformation of attitudes, to better cardiovascular health.