Meditation began moving westward from Asia in a serious way in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An early example that has persisted to this day is the work of ParamahansaYoganada. As early as the 1970s, the eastern process of meditation was being westernized. The Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson transformed eastern meditation into the The Relaxation Response about which he said, “We claim no innovation but simply a scientific validation of age-old wisdom.”
Eastern meditation was thus on the slippery slope that led from a phenomenological way of directly experiencing alignment with the source of all being to a medicalized, objectively validated way of managing stress and anxiety. Today it can be found under “scientific” scrutiny in universities and employed as an intervention procedure by clinicians. Western science has turned a spiritual practice into a scientifically validated health procedure and redirected its age-old wisdom from transcendence to stress management. For those who prefer dancing with shadows, I will leave you here with the sanitized version made “safe” for western peoples.
What I will now do, in a generic way, is introduce you to how I see the true purpose of eastern meditation. To begin with, let’s examine the worldview that lies at the root of meditation. In the origination stories of eastern traditions we find an explanation for the world that runs more or less along the following line. The material universe is a manifestation of a source state from which everything arises. This is often described as a primal vibration, frequency or sound. Interestingly, this has a parallel in western science by way of string theory in physics, which posits that everything in the material universe arises from vibrating stings of energy.
The source sound is often represented by the Sanskrit symbol for the sound “Om.” While everything that manifests has its own unique sound or frequency expression, at its core or root is the primal vibration of “Om.” The source state has many descriptions and names, which can include: The Ground of All Being, All That Is, The Unified Field of Consciousness, Nothingness, Emptiness, Universal Mind, God, and so on. Let’s just call it Source.
Mystics throughout the ages, including some western mystics, have taught that a direct knowing of Source is available to each and every human being. To know Source one should look for it within. First one should “tune in” to one’s own unique vibratory pattern and then follow that inward to its core expression, which will be the primordial vibration of Source. In short, the way to Know Source is to come into harmonic resonance with the Source frequency, which is within yourself. Mystics often describe resonance with Source as a merging with absolute and feeling unconditional love. The only other way to Know Source is to experience it indirectly through the personal expression of Source by one who is in harmonic resonance with it.
Looking at meditation from this perspective suggests that the purpose of meditation is to turn within and silently listen for one’s unique connection to Source. If one has “ears to hear,” then one will begin to move into harmonic resonance with one’s underlying vibratory nature. The greater the state of resonance the purer the reflected expression of Source.
Mystics describe several states that can be thought of as changing levels of resonance. To illustrate these states two charts adapted from two different perspectives are provided. Assuming that one begins in the ego state (fictive-self) where one is identified with the body/mind, then the state prior to Self-realization is what I have called the natural mind and others have described simply as I AM. One is on the cusp and in a state of consciousness in which the dominant mode of being is presence, a state in which one has recovered the state of resonance with the natural self into which one was born. Such a shift moves one away from using the enculturated top-down perception learned during development to the bottom-up perception of a young child. In other words, you can see the world clearly as it is and unencumbered by beliefs, stories and conceptual schemes.
While meditation can be made into a complex subject, it is simplicity itself. It is not a doing but a being. It is not had by mastery but by surrender. Transformation, when it comes, takes one. It is not an achievement. Or, in the words of Michael Valentine Smith, “With waiting comes fullness.”
The essence of meditation, inclusive of its many variations, can be thought of as a doorway into presence. Or, as I sometimes say, “meditation is presence on training wheels.” It is not surprising then to find that there are teachers who de-emphasize formal meditation and advocate for immersion in presence. In other words, life becomes your meditation. Meditation isn’t something you add to your life and engage in daily at 7 am. It is not another of your activities. It is not a search for something that isn’t here. It is your way of being in the world.
When life becomes your meditation, you become a state of present awareness, observing your life unfold in the moment. You monitor to learn when your awareness is no longer focused on the moment, that is, when you have left a state of presence. Where can you go, you might ask? One teacher, Richard Moss, answers this question through the Mandala of Being. A mandala is often described as a circle. Think of yourself as standing inside of and in the center of a circle. When you are fully focused and centered in the circle, you are present. You are fully aware of what is right here, right now. If your focus shifts to the rear you, you are focused on the past. You are engaged in memory. If your focus shifts to the front, you are focused on the future. You are engaged in imagination. If your focus shifts to the left, you are focused on your personal story. You are engaged with your identity or fictive- self, that is, who you think you are. If your focus shifts to the right, your are focused on narratives about the external world. You are engaged in your beliefs, opinions and concepts, that is, explanations you’ve created or adopted about the nature of things in your world.
Another teacher, Leonard Jacobson, points out in his book Journey into Now that, at root, there is only one place you can escape to from presence and that is into the mind. Memory, imagination, identity stories, beliefs, opinions and concepts are all products of the mind. He suggests that most of us, most of the time, are lost in the mind. We become deeply immersed in our memories, imagination, stories and beliefs. We are too self-absorbed to be truly conscious of our life as it unfolds in the moment. Jacobson doesn’t teach abandoning the mind but rather learning to recognize it for what it is — a tool. We use it when it is appropriate and then set it aside. Do you need to plan a trip? The mind is a great tool. Do you need to find an error in a computation? The mind is a great tool. However, we actually need this tool far less frequently than we think. We are susceptible to overusing the mind because we’ve become addicted to thinking and confuse ourselves with our thoughts.
You are not your thoughts. You are pristine awareness or as Ram Dass says, “loving awareness.” One benefit of being fully aware in the present moment is that you become an observer of thoughts arising and subsiding in your awareness. You neither cause them to arise or subside. Typically, you can and usually do focus your attention on them and begin unpacking them, which is analogous to chasing after a butterfly through a tangled forest. You usually spend endless hours lost in pursuit of elusive “butterflies” and become lost in the forest of the mind.
Jacobson simply asks that we learn to be aware of when we are lost in the mind and bring ourselves gently back to the present without self-judgment or self-criticism. For those of us strongly addicted to thinking, it may be necessary to find some way to cue ourselves periodically to monitor our thought. To reconnect with presence, Jacobson suggests that we find something in the moment to be present with to help us focus in the now. It doesn’t matter what it is. It can be a tree, a pet, a child, a spouse, a friend, the feel of bread dough being kneaded, the smell of onions being grilled, the sound of a piano playing, the feel of our body resting against a chair, the unfolding of the road before us as we drive, the feel of our breath moving in and out of our body and so on. Jacobson does not object to using meditation as long as it is focused on presence.
The program that Jacobson offers is first to return to presence any time you become aware that you have left it, other than to accomplish a task. This is continued until being present becomes habitual. The second aspect of his program is to become aware or conscious, if you prefer, of the things that, unnecessarily, pull you out of presence. Of these things, he asks that they be examined for commonalities so that patterns of “seductive” thoughts or escapes from presence can be identified, examined, understood and released. One handy clue about when you’re being seduced by your mind is when you find your thoughts cluttered with personal pronouns. The second activity is an important part of becoming anchored in the present. Once you are at home in presence, Jacobson says that the deepening process begins. The deeper into presence you settle, the greater your resonance with Source. At the deepest levels of presence one’s harmonic resonance with Source may bring you into unity with All That Is.
If you find it useful to begin with a program of meditation, there is no reason not to do this. You should go into a meditation program with the recognition that it isn’t an end in itself. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to being present for short periods of time during meditation, you should consider weaning yourself off of a formal meditation process. If you need a transition between meditation and being present in your daily life, I would suggest that you use a Buddhist meditation called rigpa, for which there is an example at the end of The Looking Glass. From a foundation in rigpa you can begin the transition to being present as frequently as possible in the course of your daily life. This is where the real action is and the sooner you can get there the better.
For me, I AM emerged into this “reality” frame on April 15, 1942.
Me is the “fictive-self” created by the ego that evolved within I AM. Ego helps guide this body/mind (i.e., avatar) through the web of the world (i.e., collective stories) into which I AM emerged. I AM is a “wave” of individuated consciousness and sense of beingness transmitted from a larger field of consciousness (i.e., a seed consciousness) and received by a biological device tuned to it (i.e., a brain). It is also responsible for what we call awareness. For I AM to emerge, its biological vehicle (i.e., avatar) must be born. A reality frame (i.e., the material universe) can be thought of as a complex and dynamic context created within Source Consciousness. A reality frame has both shared aspects (i.e., the generic template), which include “rules of engagement,” so to speak, and individuated aspects that serve to maintain a degree of separation between the avatars (i.e. body/minds) of individuated consciousnesses.
A seed consciousness is a finite field of consciousness capable of generating individuated consciousnesses. By way of analogy, think of planting a seed that generates a plant that creates leaves (think individuated consciousnesses). A seed consciousness exists within and was manifested by the infinite and eternal field of Source Consciousness. Source Consciousness created seed consciousnesses in its own “image,” which means there is an essential identity between the two. In the same sense, a cup of coffee drawn from an urn of coffee retains identity with the coffee in the urn.
A seed consciousness is too extensive to be “fed” by a single biological vehicle (i.e., a body/mind) in a reality frame. “To be fed” refers to the feedback function between individuated consciousness and seed consciousness. In the plant analogy, this would be the energy for the plant created by each leaf through photosynthesis. Thus, an individuated consciousness is an avatar for a seed consciousness that gains experience in a reality frame, which then contributes to the maturation of the seed consciousness. All consciousnesses that have ever existed arose from and within Source Consciousness. Seed consciousnesses lie outside of a reality frame, which exists within Source Consciousness, but the rules governing the reality frame restrict though don’t completely prevent interaction of consciousnesses within it with consciousnesses outside of the reality frame.
A generic template is the common or shared aspects of a reality frame that are the same for all consciousnesses within the reality frame. For example, all living organisms share the requirement for nutrients, all organisms experience granite as having a hard surface, all organisms experience the effects of gravity and so on. The rules of engagement are the principles that govern the relational aspects of the reality frame. These rules define what the nature of the relationship is between one aspect and another within the reality frame. For example, two combustible materials related by friction produce fire. In terms of ordinary daily experience, these rules can be thought of as very similar to the principles of classical physics.
Individuated aspects are aspects that are relatively unique to each individuated consciousness within the reality frame. On the one hand, you might think of these as variations in physical characteristics that make one vehicle distinguishable from another. On the other hand, you can think of these as variations in psychological characteristics that give rise to differences in perceptions that influence the relationships between vehicles. Individuated aspects are necessary for experience within the reality frame. They give rise to the perceptual duality of me and not me. It is the perceived differences arising from perceptual duality that make experience possible. If no differences were perceived, there would be no experiences, as we ordinarily understand experience.
For “psychological characteristics,” it is necessary to consider the notion of “mind” (see “What is Mind?” a sub-section in Part I). Mind is an evolved psychological construct within awareness that comes to consist of an amalgamation of concepts, beliefs, attitudes and interpretations through which sensations are filtered and become perceptions. Perceptions in turn provide a method by which one creates meaning from the sensations that arise in one’s awareness. When one emerges into the reality frame, perception is what is called “bottom-up.” This is probably what the ancient Indian sage Patanjali meant by “naked awareness.” To infants and young children all events are neutral; that is, no interpretation or meaning is imposed upon them. In short, there is no prejudgment.
As a child begins to acquire experience, ideas, especially about repetitive events, begin to form. This process is greatly accelerated by the acquisition of language. Language becomes an efficient way to acquire, second hand, the knowledge, concepts, beliefs, attitudes and interpretations of those one has relationship with such as parents, relatives, peers and cultural structures such as educational, religious, commercial and political institutions. As this process gains momentum, perception becomes what is called “top-down.” In short, few, if any, events are experienced as neutral. Events are interpreted through the filters represented in mind. Top-down perception is necessary for the emergence of the “world.” To the extent that one shares the top–down perceptional scheme of another, then to some degree, “one lives in the same world” as the other.
This interpretive structure* can be thought of as a major activities of mind along with memory and ego . Most events are now filtered through and prejudged against the interpretive structure embedded in memory. This mental structure lies mostly outside of awareness and usually operates outside of awareness (for more on this topic see “Automatic Programs” a sub-section in Part I). It is accessed by conscious awareness and becomes active in mind only when conscious attention is required, which is mediated by ego . Some aspects of the mental structure are so deeply embedded that they are not easily accessed and therefore not easily modified. Since most of the interpretive process is outside of conscious awareness, many of the decisions we make happen automatically and without our being aware of the process. The actions we take resulting from these decisions would often appear mysterious to us except that ego creates explanations for them. Some of the more elaborate explanations are what is sometimes referred to as the myths we live by. Ego also is responsible for creating a sense of “self” (I, me) to explain who is performing these actions. Thus, ego serves as an interface between events requiring conscious attention and our interpretive structure and memories. The concept of “self” (a.k.a. fictive-self) created by ego is often referred to as our story or narrative and includes the explanations for or myths about why we do what otherwise might be inexplicable (see also “Pathway Four into the Inner Ego” a sub-section in Part I).
A key concept that is usually a part of the interpretative structure is that of linear time. Time is largely the product of memory. If you did not have a hierarchy of memories from previous events to place current events into a linear context, you would have little or no sense of linear time. Once a timeline between previous events and current events comes into existence, an imaginative extrapolation becomes possible that we call the future. The future is conceived of as potential time in which events not yet experienced might occur. Our concept of linear time is also largely responsible for our concept of linear causation (i.e., A causes B causes C, etc.). We often engage in the practice of trying to cause or at least to imagine and predict what those future events might be.
Many people, past and present, have talked and written about higher states of consciousness such as “Self-realization,” “Christ Consciousness,” “God Consciousness” and “Unity Consciousness.” The occurrence of such a shift in being appears to be outside of one’s ability to deliberately produce (see also “Taken”). Establishing the ability to move between top–down and bottom–up perception may be a useful precondition for being “taken.” Even if one is never “taken,” being able to move between these two perceptual modalities is a less contracted way of living. Many years ago I read a comment by a Yaqui medicine man, Don Juan Matus, to his apprentice, Carlos Castaneda, to the effect that if he wanted to be a “sorcerer,” he had to “stop the world.” For a long time I was somewhat puzzled by this comment because I confused “world” with “planet.” I now understand it to refer to stepping outside of our interpretive structure (world) or to stop engaging in top-down perception. To stop doing top-down perception, for most people, requires disentangling oneself from the world.
The process of disentanglement from the world begins with being present in each moment. To be present simply means that you are consciously aware of what is here, now, and nothing else. If you are having thoughts, associations, judgments or whatever related to what is here, now, or having memories of the past, extrapolations about the future, thoughts about your story or someone else’s story, you are not present. There are certainly times when it is necessary to enter the web of the world but the critical skill is to avoid becoming trapped in the web.
Presence requires no effort. One simply relaxes into the moment and if you observe that you’ve left presence then effortlessly nudge yourself back. As you do this, hold the intention that you want, as an adult, to approximate the mind you had as a young child. Done regularly enough, presence progressively expands until established as your default state. Once you can be present with regularity, you have reached a point that I’ve discussed as the “Natural Mind.”
When you are not present, you are entangled in the web of the world. A twentieth century American mystic, Franklin Merrell-Wolff, described his attitude toward the world as one of “high indifference.” This attitude allows you be in the world but not of the world. This does not mean you don’t care about things in the world or don’t engage the world. It does mean that you don’t act from top-down perceptions or become emotionally entangled in the world.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to presence is a function neurology calls the “default mode network.” This neural network seems to be largely responsible for maintaining our fictive-self and narratives about the world. It does this by becoming active whenever we are not specifically engaged in something that requires focused attention. When this function becomes active it acts a lot like a movie-selection algorithm that throws up titles of movie suggestions based on your viewing history. So, thoughts, images and memories related to your ongoing narrative events interpreted as important pop into consciousness until you engage one of them and start “unpacking” it. This process maintains and reinforces the narratives and interpretative perceptions that keep you entangled in the web of the world. Extricating yourself from this web sets you free from the mental construct that you think of as the world. Learning to be present in the moment (i.e., keeping your attention focused in the moment) dampens and eventually makes the default network become virtually silent. It is now natural for you to just be or relax into I AM. This then may set the stage for relaxing deeper into the mystery of being.
* For anyone interested in a model of the interpretive structure as it might occur within an individual, consider the psychology of personal constructs theory of George Kelly. This is briefly described here (see Foundations sub-section). This is described in more detail here. For an For a complete description see Kelly’s two volume work: The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton, 1955.