We are the "stuff" of the Universe.
COSMOSIS By Michael Dean Cook - circa 2016
What is the purpose of meditation? In my mind, I associate the practice of meditation with an image of bearded Indian gurus sitting around cross-legged and droning some mantra. Ooohmmm. From what little I know of it, the objective is to reach an altered mind state. I have seen movies where American Indians reached an altered mind state by smoking peyote, or by hanging by ropes with hooks in their chests, or by just going out into the wilderness and sitting on a rock until some life vision comes to them. Monks seeking spiritual connections also come to mind as meditators. In modern days, there are people who "trip" on drugs.
Now what is an altered mind state? What is the purpose of it? Why is it desired by some people? It's not easy to answer these questions. Recently, I listened for an hour to an expert trying to explain the concepts of meditation and "self". I don't know if this is the best answer, but in my experience, an altered mind state is one in which there is an enhanced awareness of oneself. By this, I don't mean becoming focused on the shape of your nose. The focus, or attempted focus, is on that somewhat elusive mental part of you that interacts with and perceives things. It just may be that we simply need to break away somehow from our "normal" state of being that has been imposed upon us, or that we have adopted from society.
You might say at this point, "It's not hard to be self aware". For example, one might say, "I am Bob, and I am thinking about a donut". This is level number one, as far as I know. So what's the big deal? Most people would be done with the whole exercise at this point and go on to more pressing concerns. But there are others who are not satisfied with just the mundane, and for the purpose of expanding their experience, wish to transcend to other levels of self awareness. Just as philosophers like the challenge of defining "Truth" or "Justice", others may feel the urge to seek new realms of the mind, or different interpretations of existence. It's either your thing, or it isn't. In the example of Bob, his altered mind state might be that he thinks he is a donut. With any luck, however, maybe he can leave the donut behind and reach a new understanding of his relative place in the universe. That is what we might hope to achieve through meditation.
In order to illustrate a "mind trip", I have an exercise I call "Cosmosis", which is simply the blending of the words cosmos, or the starry universe, and osmosis, or absorption. In this flight of the imagination, it helps to have a little familiarity with the science of physics and astrophysics. That is to say, matter and energy and celestial bodies. You won't need a PhD. If you have ever seen a TV show about interstellar space, and have some grasp of atomic structure, that will be enough to provide the images you need. Interestingly, scientific knowledge has only recently become advanced enough to provide these images. Ancient man would not be able to make this trip.
Now let's fasten our seatbelts. All you need is a little imagination. Project yourself out into space and try to feel like you are floating free, unaffected by the cold or lack of oxygen. Observe the asteroids, planets, solar systems, stars, and galaxies. Try to feel the immensity of the universe. See yourself as a tiny speck, of fleeting duration, in an infinite and eternal cosmos. The cosmos is not concerned about the who, or what, or wherefore of your existence. Feel that you are an insignificant piece of dust, which at any moment could be flicked into a star and vaporized. You have only this precious moment, whereas the universe will go on forever.
But yet, realize that you are a conscious living being. You are a part of this vast universe, with an ability to observe it, even if only for a relatively short time. You exist here and now. Marvel at your incredible opportunity to exist, and at being able to experience it with wonderfully evolved senses. Don't confuse mind with matter. It's said that matter can't be destroyed, but there is a back and forth transformation between matter and energy. Your mind, however, is a unique and one-time deal.
Prepare now for a journey inward, to examine the being that is capable of sensing its own existence. You. The acting entity that is doing this observing of the universe, and seeing and sensing of things, and thinking of things, is you. Your self. You have abilities that stars and planets do not have. You are indeed rare in this universe. Examine yourself. See the body, the hands, the skin. Continue deeper - imagine the organs, the fluids, the molecules and the chemical processes that provide life to your cells. Delve deeper into the cell to see the mitochondria, and the nucleus. Watch the electrical charges acting in the muscles and the brain. Descend further. You are now gliding through a mini-universe of atoms. At this level, there is no care or distinction of the particular platform hosting these atoms. They simply exist. Sound familiar? These atoms don't care if they comprise a piece of dirt or a human cell. Collectively, in this time and place, they constitute a foundation upon which you are somehow allowed to exist. By your breathing in and out, you are able to exchange your atoms and molecules for "outside" life-giving particles, and to expel harmful ones. Marvel at the idea that all "stuff" in the universe is composed of atoms - carbon atoms in your body are indistinguishable from carbon atoms in a brick, or a piece of wood, and so on. It is said that atoms and electrons are mostly composed of "space". If all the atoms in your body were gathered together, there would barely be a handful. Yet, these atoms have collected with other atoms into molecules that compose an entity which is uniquely "you" and, very importantly, is capable of self awareness.
At this point in your meditation, you may want to return to your usual dimension, and hopefully you will have a new and different perspective of your place in the universe. That was the point of the trip. A new perspective. Seeing yourself from a different angle, accomplished through your powers of imagination and visualization. After this mind trip, if you're anything like me, you will be stunned and amazed. A lot of things had to happen and come together just right to make it so you are YOU, and not just a clod of dirt. What a wonderful and amazing thing!