Meditation, contemplation, and prayer have similarities, but the are not the same. Contemplation starts off with a distinct thought or theme to be thought or meditated about. Prayer starts with wish, coupled to the praise of the God who is to grant he wish. Meditation starts with emptying the mind. While a question may have been posed at the conscious level - it is to be left there, and not consciously carried into the meditation. The objective is to stop the mind from thinking, guessing, feeling, wishing, and instead to open itself to listen to the sound of silence.
Insights gained through meditation often come later, while getting out of the 'trance' or even hours or days later. Yet, these insights are undoubtedly related to the visions encountered during the meditation.
Learning to meditate effectively takes time. Initially, we need a rather elaborate routine to get to 'level', but after practice, we are able to snap in and out in seconds. The time to practice depends on the individual and on his/her level of excitement. e.g. When the system is full of adrenaline, it is harder to quiet down, and the more elaborate technique is needed. When already in a serene state of mind, much of the preparation can be skipped. Novices may require to use the full routine for at least a dozen times before any abbreviation is recommended.
The traditional eastern way requires sitting in 'Lotus position' (in Japan
The more modern western method lets one sit on a kitchen chair, feet flat on the floor, back straight, head straight in line with the back, hands on the knees, eyelids closed, eyes looking up at a 45 degree angle. Breathing slowly, deeply, regularly, and quietly.
Begin with 'progressive relaxation'. It forces the mind to relax by relaxing the body muscles first:
Start with tensing the muscles of the toes and letting them consciously relax. Follow with the muscles of the feet, tightening and relaxing, then those of the ankles, then the calves, the thighs, the lower body, the upper body, the fingers, the hands, the wrists, the lower arms, the upper arms, the neck, the jaw, the scalp, the eyelids.
Next, follow with a visualisation routine while counting down slowly from 10 to 1, visualizing each number in any way you like. e.g. 10 dancers dancing, 9 geese flying, 8 ducks swimming, 7 dogs running, 6 cats jumping, 5 white mice running, 4 mocking birds mocking, 4 puddings jiggling, 2 turtle doves loving, and 1 partridge in a peartree.
Tell yourself that you now will be in a very quiet place, where everything is fine, and that when you come out of it, you will feel fine also, in fact you will feel better than before, and wide awake. Tell yourself that you will not fall asleep but be observing a new environment.
Then, visualize a pleasant place - any place you like and enjoy - and start roaming around discovering things. Enjoy the peace and quiet of the place, recognize yourself and put others in that same place and talk with them. Find some wise people you know and ask them questions, find some other people that bug you and settle your differences. Remember, in this place you are 'in control'. It is your thought, your vision, enjoy every minute of it.
At this point you can do one of several things to really empty your mind and become receptive. e.g. You can 'put up' a TV screen in your vision, and have 'them' show you a movie that you watch passively. Or you can bring on a problem or question you had before you started and ask your advisor for information. Then follow by listening, not arguing, not begging, not suggesting, just listening and being receptive. Or you can imagine that you are on the WWWeb and watch things appear on the screen of Yahoo.
When you feel you have done enough, thank your councillors, and tell yourself that you will remember all that you experienced. Then, count yourself out from 1 to 5, and repeating that you will be wide awake, feeling fine, feeling better than before.
How does meditation lead to enlightenment? It probably won't, but it may. For this to happen, you need to develop your ability to meet yourself, to see your true spirit, to clear yourself of all your old programs and negative thoughts, feelings, fears, and anger. You need to learn to be truly non-judgmental, to be able to shut down your conscious mind and thoughts, so you can listen to your own internal voice.
That requires also that you can stop listening to your prejudices telling you that this is nonsense - which it is. It is nonsense, it is irrational gibberish. It has no cognitive meaning, because it excludes the rational mind! It uses only the brain's ability to visualize to allow you to re-program yourself and bring you to the level where you ,can find your true inner self. That is the level where you can meet what really drives you, your spirit.
It will also teach you what is really important and what isn't. It will show you your karma and what it is supposed to teach you, and ultimately your quest and what your task is in life,....if you are willing to accept it.