The following questions and answers are taken from a talk by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a way to make the mind more stable and clear. From this point of view, meditation is not purely a Buddhist practice; it's a practice that anyone can do. It doesn't tie in with a particular spiritual tradition. If we want to undo confusion, we're going to have to be responsible for learning what our own mind is and how it works, no matter what beliefs we hold.
The word for meditation in Sanskrit is "shamatha" in Sanskrit (Tibetan: shi-ne), which means "peacefully abiding." Peacefully abiding describes the mind as it naturally is. It means that the mind is able to be present, without constantly leaving.
The human mind is by nature joyous, calm and very clear. In shamatha meditation we aren't creating a peaceful state——we're letting our mind be as it is to begin with..
We all have the ability to realize our naturally peaceful minds where there is no confusion. We can use the natural clarity of our mind to focus on anything we want. But first we have to tame our minds through shamatha meditation.
To do this requires us first to slow down and experience our mind as it is. In the process, we get to know how our mind works. We see that wherever the mind is abiding—in anger, in desire, in jealousy, or in peace—that is where we also are abiding. We begin to see that we have a choice in the matter: we do not have to act at the whim of every thought. We can abide peacefully. Meditation is a way to slow down and see how our mind works.
In shamatha practice, the most simple form of sitting meditation, we are introduced to and become familiar with the simple act of breathing. This is our object of concentration, the place we return to again and again when the mind has run off.
Through shamatha we can train our mind to be flexible and tuned in to what's happening now. We can apply this workable mind in all aspects of our lives, including our livelihood, our relationships, and our spiritual path.
Daily meditation practice?
Personal practice time does not have to last for hours and hours. Even a quick ten minutes is good, and half an hour is excellent. The important thing is that there is a period in every day in which we practice waking up to the fact that we are living, breathing beings capable of developing the qualities of enlightenment.
Excerpt from "The Importance of Personal Practice" by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on http://www.mipham.com/teachings.php.