I’m reading Matthieu Ricard’s 2003 book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill (English edition, 2006). Matthieu Ricard, as you may know well already, left a promising career in cellular genetics in France to become a Buddhist monk, living today in Tibet and Nepal. He plays a very active role in the Mind and Life Institute annual conference, the most recent being Mind and Life XVI. EDIT: At this writing, the webcast of Mind and Life XVI are still on the Mind and Life website despite the fact the site says the recordings “are available until May 16.” Link to Mind and Life XVI webcast recordings here (scroll halfway down the page).
In his book, Ricard gives one of the clearest (and for me one of the most encouraging) explanations of what meditation really is and how meditation enables the elimination of negative emotions over time:
[T]he mere fact of recognizing the harmful effects of mental afflictions is not enough to overcome them. Having come to this awareness, you still have to familiarize yourself with each antidote – loving-kindness as antidote to hatred, for instance – until the absence of hatred becomes second nature. The Tibetan word gom, which is usually translated as “meditation,” more precisely denotes “familiarization,” while the Sanskrit word bhavana, also translated as “meditation,” means “cultivation.” Indeed, meditation is not about sitting quietly in the shade of a tree and relaxing in a moment of respite from the daily grind; it is about familiarizing yourself with a new vision of things; a new way to manage your thoughts, of perceiving people and experiencing the world. [p. 123]