Everyone seems to have a different idea of what meditation is. For some, it is clearing the mind of all thought, finding an empty state of mind. For others, it is focusing on achieving an emotion, such as finding a peaceful state of mind. For others still, it is focusing on a single object or thought, blocking out all other patterns, finding a singular state of mind. The unifying trait, however, is focus of thought. The most common approach of hardcore practitioners seems to be the third, focusing on one pattern. Have you ever tried doing this for an extended period of time? It's far more difficult than you might expect.
The problem I have is this. My mind wanders. The only way that I can remind myself to maintain focus, is to remind myself to maintain focus. And of course by doing so, I distract myself from the thing I attempt to meditate on. Regardless of what subject I choose, it's always connected to a large number of others things. Even something simple like a dot on the wall will remind me of paintings I've seen, imperfections on a piece of fruit, the hole on a retracted retractable pen, and so forth. These thoughts then immediately connect to other thoughts. The more I practice, the better I get at ignoring the flood of thoughts, but I've seen no benefit from it. I'm probably doing it wrong.
Update. Fascinating comments so far. @Q's comment reminded me of an Eastern approach that I learned from Alan Watts. The idea is not to control your thoughts but to release control, to simply to observe everything, to separate yourself from your thoughts and your environment. You are supposed to watch, listen to, and feel everything without making any sort of reaction. Not reacting is the hard part. You really realize how much you automatically judge everything that happens to you. Preventing yourself from making judgments allows you to better realize what you are what is outside of you. The intriguing part is that you will catch thoughts as they are entering your mind. Thoughts that you would have previously adopted as your own suddenly appear to be coming from an outside source. So instead of taking everything that is given to you and reacting to it in the way you usually do, now you are only allowed one reaction, to ask yourself, "Where did that come from?" To examine the source. It's a process of becoming more aware of right now. It is not living in the present, but becoming more aware of it, better realizing what exactly the present is, understanding what is happening around you. You find that you are so wrapped up in how you think things are, that you didn't realize how things actually are. It is observing everything without thinking. Usually when I try this I am thinking a little bit because I want to store the new information and remember what I learn. I usually fall out of this meditative state when I have an "oh, wow" moment that I want to think about even more. Regardless, this form of meditation has been the most beneficial for me because I actually learn from it.
Have you tried any sort of meditation? What has your experience been like?