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 Kriya Yoga of the now deceased ParamahansaYoganada. Kriya Yoga is rooted in the Vedanta teachings of India and specifically the yoga sutras of the sage Pantanjali that were written around 400 CE. More recently Siddha Yoga (a.k.a. Tantric Yoga) was introduced in the west by the late Swami Muktananda. Tantric Yoga has its roots in the Tantra teachings of India. As early as the 1970s, the eastern process of meditation was being westernized. The Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson transformed eastern meditation into 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 the absolute and a feeling unconditional love. The only other way to Know Source is to experience it indirectly through experience of 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 always using the enculturated top-down perception learned during development to the ability to employ the bottom-up perception of a young child whenever desired. 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 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-self 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.
In conclusion, I should mention that in some traditions that employ meditation there is another goal that should be briefly discussed. This goal is to become so intensely focused on or present with an object of consciousness that one fully merges with it. This can be either an “objective object” or a “subjective object.” By objective I mean an object in the consensus environment that most everyone is aware of or could be aware of, whereas a “subjective object” is phenomenological, private or personal. The meditator becomes one with the object. Development of this level of presence leads not only to becoming one with the object but the realization that there is only one object — consciousness itself. The meditator ultimately becomes one with All That Is.
In western philosophy, this is similar to what Immanuel Kant meant by “knowing a thing in its self,” which he thought was not possible, and therefore, our ability to know anything was always “second hand,” so to speak. If you cannot know a thing in its self, you can only know it indirectly or by inference. To offer an analogy, suppose you were one of those rare people who have no ability to feel sensations elicited by objects. Thus, you would not, for example, be able to feel heat coming from an object and would be susceptible to having your fingers burned, though you would not feel it. In other words, you would not have any sensory awareness of heat. You could infer it by the effect that it has on your fingers, or you could infer its presence from the reading on a thermometer.
Kant argued that we are forever like the person described above relative to the world and universe at large. We can know nothing about a thing in its self. Our knowledge is always limited to what we can gain indirectly through our senses and by inference from data gathered through instruments that extend our senses. Some of the yoga traditions of India would say that this is a mistaken conclusion on Kant’s part and that it is in fact possible to know a thing in its self under the proper circumstances. The knowledge thus gained, however, is phenomenological and not public in the same sense as scientific knowledge. If you are intrigued by this notion, I recommend that you read this free e-book, What is Science?
The discussion of this program is organized around different states of the “self.”
1. The starting point will be with the identity-self, which is the state in which one is fully identified with the body/mind. The “I” that thinks that it is the operative component of the body/mind is generally known as the ego or, as I call it in some of my writing, the fictive-self (see Automatic Programs a sub-topic in Part I of Creative Self-agency) or personal narrative (the “me” story). This is where most people undertaking a meditation program for the first time are coming from. Ego is the subject and everything else is perceived as a separate object. This is the dualistic perspective.
a. Initial meditation techniques usually have one sit quietly and erect, breathing deeply and slowly from the diaphragm. Let’s just call it “sitting meditation.” If the eyes are open, they will be oriented either toward the floor, a blank wall or possibly a mandala. If the eyes are shut, one may be instructed to imagine having the eyes focused on the area between the eyes, or no attention is given to the eyes at all when closed. Some instructions might suggest focusing on an object, e.g., candle, and some may suggest use of a mantra or chant, e.g., AUM. The technique used is less important than its “goodness of fit” for you.
b. This is the point where many meditators experience what is called “monkey mind.” The goal during this phase of sitting meditation is to simply learn to relax and observe the activity of the mind without getting seduced by it. As one gains some experience, the frenetic activity experienced by most new meditators will slow down. This more subdued stage might be called the “hummingbird mind.” The mind still flits about but not as energetically as in the beginning.
2. After things have settled down, one will recognize something of a perceptual shift developing that establishes a division. This shift is the identity-selfmorphing into an observer and an ego.
a. During this phase, one should “side” with the observer and allow some distancing from the ego to develop. One should be a somewhat disinterested observer of the activities of the ego. The goal is to begin identifying with the observer rather than with the ego and its body/mind.
b. As one establishes identification with the observer rather than the ego, it will become apparent that the observer is not to be found in the story that comprises the ego nor can it be found anywhere in the body. Many aspects of “the fictive-self” will come under observation. Some of these may have been buried and outside of conscious awareness. I have discussed these elsewhere as automatic programs or APs (see Automatic Programs a sub-topic in Part I of Creative Self-agency). Some of these APs you may recognize as being the basis for dysfunctional beliefs, emotions and behaviors. This is usually a good time to deconstruct such APs. Often just observing these arise and dissipate will lead to their undoing. However, if you think a more direct approach is needed, I have discussed such methods in Part I of Creative Self-agency. Carl Jung said, “Whatever does not emerge as consciousness returns as Destiny.” That is, you are likely to keep repeating unconscious patterns until they become conscious, are examined and neutralized.
3. Let’s now think of the observer as the mindful-self. At this time, it is useful to begin what is called “mindful meditation.” Mindful meditation can of course be done as part of sitting meditation, but it is most effective when used to carry meditation into one’s daily life. Mindful meditation is simply paying attention, which most of us think is easy enough to do until we consciously begin observing our efforts to do so. Your attention will, by default, slip when it isn’t held captive by an engaging task. This is the way your brain is “wired” and is discussed elsewhere (see Brain and Meditation) as the default mode network or relaxed attention network (RAN).
a. The objective here is to have the observer closely monitor what the body/mind is doing as it goes about its daily activities. In short, your meditation is literally on what you’re doing moment to moment. What you will observe is that many of the body’s routines are run by APs, and the default mode will try to kick in and begin to generate unrelated mental content whose purpose is to reinforce the fictive-self. If the mindful-self isn’t careful, it will get seduced by this content and lose focus on current activity.
b. Losing focus during mindfulness is especially likely when one isn’t engaged in doing something. During such times, the best tactic is to become present with anything that is available in the moment. Be present with or mindful of the sound of a breeze blowing through leaves, your dog, a ticking clock, sunlight streaming in through a window, a flower, a ceramic cup, the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe or whatever is available. Presence is the focus of Leonard Jacobson’s and Richard Moss’s teachings.
c. When one becomes well established in mindfulness meditation and can maintain focus on what one is doing from moment to moment or simply being present with something manifest in the moment, you are in what I call the “Teflon mind.” You are now ready for the emergence of the inquiring- self. The inquiring-self is named for the activity that establishes it, which is called “self-inquiry.” This method is often associated with the teachings of the Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharishi and is discussed under Self-Inquiry a sub-topic in Part Two of Creative Self-agency.
4. The purpose of self-inquiry is similar to mindfulness except that it is not focused specifically on what one is doing or something that is present but on being aware of being aware from moment to moment or being present in the spacious moment. A psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, identifies the medial prefrontal cortex as the part of the brain responsible for experiencing the present moment. This is located behind the area of the face called the brow. No doubt, this is why Kriya Yoga emphasizes keeping attention gently focused on this area during meditation.
a. The basic idea in self-inquiry is to establish a conscious sense of being a field of awareness. Rupert Spira teaches a simple and direct method of finding that sense. He suggests that one ask oneself the question, “Am I aware?” To answer the question, one must note that one is aware of being aware. That is where you want to be. Once you are there, you should try to relax into that state of being and remain there. There is an exercise at the end of The Looking Glass that will help you experience a state of pristine awareness.
b. As the establishment of this state progresses, there will be a perceptual shift. When this happens, you will identify yourself with conscious awareness. You will experience yourself simply as a field of awareness that includes the body/mind. However, you will not identify yourself as being the body/mind.
1. With the shift described above, you have become an aware-self or what I have described as having a natural mind. This is a refined state of duality in which you are clear of most, if not all, dysfunctional APs and are free of making or, at least, taking seriously judgments, beliefs, opinions and expectations. It is a state that allows one to hold a dispassionate view of the world and its events.It is not, however, what some call Enlightenment or Self-realization, which is a non-dual state. Arriving at what some refer to as simply I AM, you have done about all you can do. The rest depends on Grace and what I’ve referred to as being Taken.
2. According to some teachers, Enlightenment has several progressive states. There appear to be at least three states once the condition referred to as Enlightenment or Self-realization is entered. The first of these is accompanied by experiences of what some call Void Consciousness, a state described as Pure Being. It is suggested that many think this is the end state, and thinking this constrains any further progress. This may be followed by experiences of what is called God (or Christ) Consciousness, a state described as sense of Divine-Love. Finally, there may be experiences of what is called Unity Consciousness, a state described as being Love-Bliss (see charts of states here)
This third state is one in which it is said that one comes to the full recognition that one is an integral aspect of an indivisible whole. There is a direct understanding that this whole is Source Consciousness – the ground of all being and unconditional love.