For example, meditation can be used for the benefit of the ego: concentration for the mind and vitality and self-awareness for the body. Or, meditation can be used to attune oneself to the higher Mind of the soul.
Most of what is taught and most of those who practice meditation are seeking ego-oriented benefits such as calmness, inner peace, and mindfulness. Their meditation practice begins with the intention of "I want.....this or that result." Since this intention is the basis for practically all ego-directed actions, few ever consider an alternative.
Let's pause for a moment to consider this "ego thing." Paramhansa Yogananda, the now-famous author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," defined the ego as "the soul identified with the body." Since ancient times and in the highest spiritual teachings of all great civilizations, our true nature and the goal of our existence is to "know thyself" as greater than the ego: as a child of the Infinite! As from the Vedas: "Tat twam asi." ("Thou art THAT!)
Admittedly, the details of what THAT is and how we realize THAT may vary in the fine print of scripture, commentary, and intellectual permutations. But beyond THAT there is no argument!
Returning now to where we left off: "devotion." As devotion is, in an energetic sense, the equivalent of dedication, a meditator (aka a "yogi") may not think of herself as being of a devotional temperament but the intensity of her focused dedication to meditation amounts to the same thing. A meditation intention and practice that seeks to still the mind by way of one-pointed focus on a mantra, sound, or other "meditation-object," and which essentially seeks to dissolve the ego-identity and sense of separateness, can be said to be a form of devotion, albeit more by concentration of the mind than by focusing upon expanding the heart's "natural love," though in fact the latter may be, and ultimately must be, the consequence.
We see this transformation taking place in the lives of meditators who truly go deep into the practice. We even see amongst some of those who practice yoga postures a certain level of awakening that can rightly be called "spiritual" even if, initially, unintended.
By contrast, the ego, that part of our consciousness which identifies with the body, personality, and the seeming separateness of all created things (physical and mental), isn't so much watchful but wholly engaged. The difference between the ego's desires and emotions and itself simply doesn't exist. As a result, the ego experiences the ups, downs, boredom, and occasional peace in an unceasing and ultimately exhausting and monotonous inevitability. In short, we suffer, for no pleasure can be known without fearing and later experiencing its ending or its opposite. Pain, by contrast, feels "eternal" when we are overcome by it.
Paramhansa Yogananda's famous poem, "Samadhi," flows in and out of creation even if it is also understood that Bliss stands apart and whole from the creation and serves as creation's Father-Mother.
The challenge of watching our thoughts is that our thoughts are the basis for our separateness. Our emotional response to our perceptions, moreover, cements our identity to those so-called realities. Like the oft given image of perceiving a snake in the dim light of dusk in the path ahead when in fact it is only a rope, we make our share of false conclusions and all too often proclaim, "That's my story and I'm sticking with it." The sense of separateness and its cocoon of beliefs, memories, opinions, desires, impressions, and fears is deeply embedded into our the matrix of our sense of self-identity.
In the East, the mind is considered the sixth sense: separate and apart from the Self. In the West, we think, as Descartes declared, "I think, therefore I am!"
Other reasons for watching the breath include the observable fact that in the effort to concentrate deeply, we naturally hold or quiet the breath. It is the last obstacle to complete concentration. It is also, ironically, an excellent "object" of meditation for the reason that focusing on the breath can quiet the mind and when restless thoughts subside, the breath becomes quiet. Anyone who is given even a modest amount of training can demonstrate these facts and benefit from this practice immediately.
Thus it is that the breath has become (and likely always has been) the most common focus for meditation throughout time and the world.
But, it remains an "object" until or unless our sense of separateness begins to dissolve. One can say, intellectually, that we enter the breath or the breath enters us or anything else you want to say. But nothing that can be said can truly describe the experience of oneness. (All words require subject, verb, and object and this very logical necessity is inadequate to describe the state of being that is actually experienced in real time.)
The experience of oneness can occur spontaneously and does happen to many people, whether as children or adults. It can happen in meditation even when not held out as a goal or a possibility. But mostly it is best if the meditator seeks the state and has some training and intuition in the possibility.
Nothing is lost in such a state even if on a profound level the ego-mind suspects that it is an existential threat to its separateness. In this, the ego is both correct and incorrect. Testimony of the ages and the sages is that nothing is lost in the realization of the state of oneness and everything worthwhile in life (happiness, that is!) is found. But such is the price of the pearl of great price: the very real-seeming threat of extinction.
No wonder some teachers and traditions describe this state in negative terms: "nirvana" (no vanas, or no mental activities of the ego-construct). Buddha gave no description of the undescribable. The yogis, however, describe the state as satchidanandam: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss.
Some aver that bliss is a passing phase on the path to nirvana; some say (as Yogananda does) that samadhi IS the state of bliss. Well, no matter because all who have achieved it say it is the end of all striving, the end of suffering, and the summum bonum of existence. Let us not split the hairs of Holy Grail!
In this, there is neither yin nor yang. Nor is this state the annihilation of our functionality in the human body and in this world. Quite the opposite: freed from the delusion of the limited ego-self, we are free to act in harmony with the divine Self.
The awakened Mind then participates freely in the swirl of creation's eternal flux. Stability at the center; movement at the periphery. A dance choreographed by the Higher Mind of God.
Yogananda stated "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He."
And why not? Is not both the outer world and the inner world a ceaseless flux inextricably linked in both energy and form? We only separate ourselves in the limited realm of the five (six, actually, including the mind) senses? Our sense of separateness is an illusion, one not difficult to unmask by paying attention, even by reason, and certainly by intuition: for those courageous enough to enter a brave new world.
For those who might benefit from several excellent videos on this subject (and much more, both science and metaphysics), I direct your attention to the movie Inner Worlds Outer Worlds. It can be viewed in four half hour segments for free on YouTube or the entire move for $3.99: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1LtuE8zRMo
Aligned with this is another movie called simply Samadhi. It is followed by four guided video meditations. Although these are strongly influenced by Buddhism terminology, Vedanta, Sankhya and Yoga terminology are also included. References to Egypt, native American, Christian terminology are also presented.
In YouTube.com search for "Samadhi." The two-hour movie is in two one-hour parts and in various languages as well.
Similarly, four guided Samadhi meditations are excellent and are based on watching the breath. Search on Samadhi meditation.
While I personally and most of the readers of this blog practice the techniques taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and therefore don't "need" the resources above, they are well done and in their essence are not contradictory to what Yogananda taught, though their emphases and terminology may differ in parts.
Joy to you!