The following is based on a conversation with Sensei, Ven. KC this morning -
Buddhism sprang from Hinduism. The culture already had centuries if not millenia of meditation practice under its belt when the Buddha came to be. Today Buddhist teachers are failing to teach meditation well and popular psychology is promoting a shallow and short sighted picture of the purpose and path of meditation. They are bringing the methods of attaining concentration into the mainstream but fail to emphasize the importance of cultivating virtue before concentration leaving people vulnerable to grave harm.
Cultivating noble speech, action and livelihood begins at birth for the fortunate. These people are exposed to fine examples of impeccable behavior and thought processes in friends and family from infancy. The value of appropriate and honorable behavior is praised and sacrificed for, it is held in the highest esteem. But these people are not common in any time period or location. Every little bit of this helps, one might say it develops good karma. Even one incidence, one person can make all the difference in the course of a life. One random act of kindness is sometimes all it takes to set a new pattern in motion. Often the doer has no idea of the impact they have had until much later. That is why doing the practice is so enjoyable, the results of the practice can be sensed as the sound of fine grained snow falling is heard on a winters night, so soft.
Also not taught by popular meditation courses is the fact that concentration is not meditation. Many methods are promoted to achieve concentration but that is only the beginning. Concentration is only a tool required to be able to begin to meditate. It certainly brings some benefits by itself but is not what the Buddha was talking about when he included meditation in the noble eightfold path. The strength of the mind must be balanced by kindness, a combination of generosity and compassion and some introduction to wisdom, discernment should have been practiced for a lengthy time before more muscle is added.
Similar to counteracting a pathogen in traditional Chinese medicine, the true or normal healthy Qi of the body should be strengthened by diet and lifestyle as a regular thing, then when a pathogen attacks it is important not to tonify because the pathogen might take that boost, instead we help the body/mind expel it. Cultivating virtue is supportive of our normal optimal function, concentration practice is tonifying the mind. If our concentration is directed by greed, anger or delusion the detrimental effect is strengthened.
Also semantics interfere with popular understanding. Concentration is not a forced, directed, precise laser beam of the mind, rather it is quiet, non judging, open and flexible. These are not at all the words commonly associated with concentration in our culture. This is why we have Awakening Stillness Qigong. Concentration is stillness of mind, it is often called one-pointedness. Those who are taught to sit in a certain posture, to suffer in pain as part of meditation, to correct thoughts with harsh discipline are practicing unkindness toward themselves and this is then transferred toward others.
True meditation begins when we step off the platform of method, whatever that may be - a mantra, an element, a color, and enter what are called the jhannas or the measureless spaces, the brahmaviharas. This is where we encounter being. Here is where the barnacles and crusty accumulations of life drop away and we are renewed. Move from the object of meditation into this most wonderful state. This is indeed safe and natural for everyone, kids often have the ability but then lose it in the process of living, so you may remember a time you experienced this before. If so you know the wholesomeness of it. And you can return to it, it takes time because it is a gradual path, it cannot be forced, but is ready for you to welcome it back as it welcomes you.