Discovering Meditation

  “I’ve just come back from a weeks mediation with a Tibetan monk. It was great.”

“What was great about it?”

“He just gave of a feeling of peace.  He could sit for hours without moving.”

“Well, I’ve felt peace in a wood, and a lizard can sit still for hours too, what’s so special about that?”

“You’re just a sceptic.  You’d have to see this man to understand. He is always so calm and at peace all the time.”

“Maybe his Mum never let him run around and make a noise when he was a kid, and this quiet stuff has grown to be a bad habit.  Ask him to make a noise sometime, maybe he can’t.  Anyway, what’s all this meditation stuff for?”

This type of conversation must go on somewhere all the time, especially now meditation is so popular in the sceptical West.  We could let our sceptic speak on a bit more and voice some of our other questions by saying “Okay, so he sits there for hours, but what’s he doing on the inside?  He might be quietly and peacefully counting up the money people like you are paying him to do his trick of sitting still with a Mona Liza smile.  Did he tell you what the point of meditation was?  I don’t mean some mystic distant goal, but any practical benefits?”

Well, they are good questions.  What is all this meditation stuff for?  Is it a ‘trick’ used to impress others, or to escape the world into an abstract peace?  Or are there any practical benefits?

Let us not quote authorities, let us simply look around for ourselves.  Or at least, let me see if I can put a few observations -together which are not merely authoritative

The results of some forms of yoga are fairly obvious.  A doctor who was practising yoga told me he had observed several of his patients who used yoga postures over a period of three years. He noticed that the basic signs of physical ageing were reversed. He pointed out that most people begin to fold inwards as they age, walking with a stoop, and losing mobility of limbs and trunk.  The yoga postures led people to physically open out and increase mobility of the body.  That was why he practised the postures, he observed an actual physical change in his elderly patients.

The mind may seem a more abstract area to observe and the results of meditation less distinct.  Yet our consciousness and its experiences are an everyday fact to us. Whether we want to or not, we are involved in just as real a way with our thoughts and feelings as we are with our body.  Perhaps the involvement is even deeper for many.

Okay, our thoughts and emotions are as real to us and as powerfully influential as our hands and feet.  Maybe more so.  If you don’t believe it, look around.  The cars, furniture, buildings, books, clothes you see are all expressions of somebody’s ideas, plans and desires or feelings.  The reality of war which continually rages somewhere in the world is an expression of these intangible feelings and thoughts.  Social changes, changing fashions, the television and cinema scenes, are all expressions of this inner world of thought and feeling.  It is out of this inner world that everything uniquely human arises.  If an ape had this inner world, it too could write a book, build a church, drive a car; but lacking it none of these can it do.  That much we can observe.  The chimpanzees who have been taught human language, and so have gained that much of our inner world, begin to acquire human characteristics and abilities.

So what else can we observe about this inner world?  We can look at some of its commonly experienced functions.  For instance the most fundamental is simply awareness.  Not awareness of any particular thing, just awareness.  Or we could use the word consciousness.

Next we have awareness of certain things, such as –

a)    Awareness of our present situation and condition through our senses of sight, hearing etc.

b)    Awareness of past experience – memory.

c)    Awareness of our present internal condition of energy and mood, i.e. whether tired or energetic, whether happy or depressed.

d)    Awareness of manipulating memories, words, ideas in various ways which we call thought.

The four basic ways of thinking are deductive, inductive, intuitive and observative.  When we use deductive thought we might say – All the buses I have been on have expected me to pay a fare, therefore on this approaching bus a fare will have to be paid also.

Inductive thought would be – This robin I am watching is fighting off other robins from its territory.  From that I induce that all other robins do the same.  In deduction we reason from the general to the particular; induction is when we reason from the particular case to a generalisation.

Intuition is arriving at a conclusion without using other observations or memories or deductions or inductions to get there.  We might also call it lateral thinking, like de Bono. We achieve it when we step outside of the old pathways of thought, or old conclusions, so it can be very creative, or merely ridiculous.

Observative thought is when we find two pence in one pocket, five pence in another, and realise we have seven pence.  We do not need to reason, we only observe what exists.

e)    Awareness of states of consciousness, such as sleeping, dreaming, waking.

Having said these things about awareness, perhaps some of the questions can be considered.  For instance, “What is all this meditation stuff for?”

In some ways meditation is, for the mind, what the yoga postures are for the body.  We may have become stiff and immobile in the body and stretching changes this.  Mentally and emotionally we way become set in certain patterns of thought, emotional response and behaviour.  Some types of meditation ‘stretch’ us out of this inner rigidity.  It does this be setting us into completely different patterns of inner experience, just as the postures get us into positions we may not have used before.

In general, meditation is to mobilise and expand awareness.  In the grand sense it is to bring awareness to its most basic experience – awareness – that is, self awareness, without awareness of something other.

“Is it a trick used to impress others, or to escape the world into an abstract peace?”  Obviously it is.  For thousands of people, meditation is a means of shutting out life’s difficulties and existing in a nicely controlled, peaceful womb inside themselves.  Some yoga teachings mention bodiless awareness.  That is, awareness existing without consciousness of our body.  I recently had a letter from a man who experienced a flight of consciousness outside his body.  What interested me most was that it occurred – and he had sought it for years – only after he bad been attacked by thugs.  Lots of people who have told me about such times of inner experience, asked when it occurred, have described times of great shock or stress.

 To find such peace, ancient peoples and saints recommend fasting, penances, and other forms of stress.  This makes it appear likely there is some connection. The last defence against intolerable stress and pain in the world is inside us, in states of mind to meet our need.  When we cut ourself the body defences produce blood and infection fighting cells.  When we meet intolerable stress, our system produces visions or a sense of being away from the painful sensations to heal the damage; or more usefully releases the stressful emotions and thoughts. See People’s Experience of LifeStream

But we can use water to burn us, cool us, or wash with.  Meditation can be used as a defence against stress, or as an advance into it and beyond it.  So let us ask the last question and explore it.  “Are there any practical benefits?”

Yes, there are,  There is as much benefit from exercising and improving the mental emotional body of experience we live in, as there is with the physical body.  If we consider some of the basic forms of meditation we will see this.

The forms of meditation are based on the different functions and states of awareness.  Some mediations exercise and improve these functions.  For instance as a) I listed – awareness of our present situation and condition through our senses.  The basic meditations based on this are –

1)    For a few minutes, while sitting, standing or walking, give as full attention as possible to what you are experiencing through your senses.  Do not just look, listen, feel, smell and taste, blankly.  Bring all your faculties to your impressions.  If there is a sound, what direction is it coming from, is it moving, what is making it, what can you tell from it?  If a taste, what can you taste, what things combine to make it, is it bitter or sweet?

2)    Explore individual senses.  Feel a variety of surfaces in different ways (i.e. with fingers, face, body, softly, by hitting, etc.).  Smell different things, people, rooms; look at objects and colours.

3)    Sitting or standing still, live in your senses, but without any attempt at evaluating, gaining information, or comparing.  Just look, listen, feel, without thinking or considering what is experienced.

4)    While sitting or standing, or confronting someone, switch from giving deep attention to your own thoughts, feelings and images to giving attention to your senses and what impressions are coming from outside.

These meditations help us to improve the ways we use and experience our senses, and to widen our range and approach.  We may be stuck in a thinking evaluating approach, and need to just look sometimes.  Also, we may not have learnt to cleanly switch from inner looking to outer looking.  Or else we hover and do not give full attention to either.  Also, some people are stuck in an outward looking awareness, and seldom really live in their own thoughts and feelings – or vice versa.

In b) I listed – awareness of past experience – memory.  meditations based on this are as follows.

1)    Sit where you will be undisturbed and from the present moment begin to remember backwards through your life.  This may take more than one session, so do it over a period of time.  If possible, do this with a partner, and instead of simply remembering, tell your partner your life, and then swap roles. It is probably best to work forwards if with a partner.

2)    There may be blank areas in your remembering, or you may remember events which were so powerful they deeply influenced the rest of your life, negatively or positively.  Choose a positive one to start with and alone or with a partner imagine yourself going through the experience again.  Go through it several times, each time concentrating on a different aspect – i.e. what you could see at the time – what heard, what smelt, what felt emotionally, what your body was doing.  Let yourself experience the sight, sound, emotion, as fully as possible. This may bring about great depths of feeling and experience, because memory is not just a word or image thing, memory is also emotional, physical and linked with a thousand associations and results.

3)    Each night we dream.  Perhaps we remember, perhaps not.  Sitting quietly, try to remember a dream.  If you have already remembered one on waking, try to remember another.

4)    If you easily remember dreams in that way, see if you can remember your sleep experience other that dreaming.

These meditations open up and improve our faculty of memory. The life remembrance helps us to see the sequence and development of ourselves, as we may never have looked at ourselves as a whole before.  The event remembrance helps to enrich our remembering because most of us only use memory partially.  Sight, smell, feelings and realisations of results of the event are not usually entered into deeply enough to extract the full understanding out of the event.  We can extract enormous amounts more of self understanding by re-playing these past events.

The last two meditations help to deepen our remembering into areas of self which are usually unconscious, therefore unknown to us.

As c) I listed – awareness of our present internal condition, of energy and mood.  Meditations based on this function are –

1)    While sitting, standing or walking – i.e. in any daily situation – bring attention to how you are feeling inside.  Notice whether you feel tired or alive with energy, or somewhere in between.  Notice your mood, whether calm, depressed, happy, disinterested, enthusiastic, withdrawn, etc.  Notice any body sensations.  Not just the pain from ones varicose veins, but perhaps the lump in the throat, tension of shoulders, or facial expression.

2)   While sitting upright but comfortable and with eyes closed, give as full attention as possible to the condition of one’s energy.  Notice whether tired, energetic, restless, confused, and go along with it.  In other words, if tired, accept your energy is low and relax the whole body until you feel your energy itself wishes to move.  That is, we often do things because duty, ideals, fear, hope, move us.  In this meditation we are waiting for our own energy and it’s enthusiasm to move up.  If the energy is restless, let yourself feel it without actually moving from the meditation.

3)    While undisturbed and sitting, notice your internal mood or emotion and give yourself permission to experience it deeply. It may be you are led to laugh or cry.  Or sometimes we say we do not feel anything inside.  If so, recognise that you are actually experiencing emotional emptiness or deadness, and let yourself feel that.

4)    Sit, with eyes closed, if possible with a partner, and give a moment to moment account of what is going on inside you, frankly.  Include thoughts, emotions, body sensations and energy conditions.

These meditations help us to get into contact with ourself.  It is amazing how many of us really are out of touch with our body and how it feels, what it is doing.  And the same applies to ones energy and feelings.  If we do not know how we feel about things, or bow we react to situations, but accept ready made social reactions and feelings, we are not really a person in our own right.  These meditations are the beginnings of correcting this situation.

In d) I listed various ways of thinking, and there is not space to give more than a sample of meditations or explanations here.

1)  Choose a problem or situation which confronts you, or one which occurred in the past.  State the problem in words or writing, in as few words as possible.  Now review past experience, information or ideas which apply to the problem. See if these offer a solution and state it, or state why not. Now carefully note how you feel about the problem.  Notice whether your solution is out of your thinking or your feelings.

2)    With the same problem now try playing with it.  Do not try to think it out, say any silly idea which comes.  Try approaching it in different emotional moods, depressed, confident, carefree, failure, success.  Notice the old ways you thought would solve the problem, and try in thought, completely different, even if seemingly impossible ways.

These two meditations are exercises in logical and intuitive thought, and learning to recognise what is thought and what emotion.  We must remember that logical thought proved heavier than aircraft could not fly, iron ships could not float, etc. Our past experience and information has led to certain conclusions which may have helped in the past, but might be hopeless in solving a present problem.  If we do not worship ideas, but recognise them as tools we use in problem solving, we can put down the old and seek new if need be.  Intuitive thought is the means whereby we step over the old patterns of thought and explore new ones.

In e) I listed – awareness of states on consciousness.  Meditations developed out of this are many.  Three classics are –

1)    While sitting, gradually, help the thoughts and feelings to subside without use of force.  Bring them to a still responsiveness.  That is, still, but ready to respond. Remain in the stillness without seeking or hoping for anything but the stillness.

2)    While sitting, mentally repeat the word OM (AUM) as you breathe out.  On the in-breath be silent as if listening. Repeat over and over, keeping aware of the breathing, the body and the state of listening.

3)    At first while sitting, but later at any time, ask the question – Who Am I?  That is – what is this that is born, lives, changes, and dies, and is there something which does not change?

These last meditations are sometimes considered less practical than the others, but this is not so.  Conscious, personal existence emerges daily from the unconscious, impersonal (we -are unaware of ourselves) level of being we know in sleep. Separating the two is like cutting a tree off from its roots. The flow of life energy, growth, pleasure, emerges from the dimness of our inner world we sink into in sleep.  The three meditations are all ways in which the conscious self becomes quiet and responsive to the flow from our roots of being.  This flow does not emerge from the root as rational thought.  We can observe it’s action in sleep in the form of dreams.  But even a dream is only a coat for the flow, which itself takes the form of urges, streaming feelings, impulse to exist and explore being.  And behind the stream of life impulse is simply awareness, what is.  If that flow is cut off, we are lifeless, loveless, and without enthusiasm in existing.  Helping to unblock the flow is to experience more of ourselves, and to become more alive.  The flow is not thought, and it is not will, or effort, so we cannot think or will more of ourselves into expression. The meditations quiet effort, just as sleep does, so the fundamental flow and experience or our being can exist in it’s own right.

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