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The Purpose of Meditation

The Purpose of Meditation

          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.

The Looking Glass

This piece was adapted from a post by Fred Davis

You are always awake, but you are not always consciously awake.

What matters is simple recognition [that is, of when you’re consciously awake], because however you display yourself to yourself, you’re almost surely going to have to come back to fresh conscious recognition over and over again. This is the discipline part. This is the process part. Awareness colonizes the body one bit, one seeing, one unconscious pattern at a time.

In every moment that you ally yourself with thinking, which includes every activity of the mind, you are voting for thinking. It’ll take some work to shift that default position. It’ll take a lot of willingness. Thinking isn’t a bad thing, it is just that most of us do too much of it when it isn’t necessary. When your car is stuck in mud, you need to think about how to free it but when someone cuts you off in traffic there is nothing to think about.

Again and again, as you touch truth through actual experience–as you discover truth through continuous inquiry–that touch will bring a longer, stronger, more profound experience of what you always already are–that which knows what you are. Your true essence is pure awareness of what is now, not what you think about it.

Be relentlessly aware of and skeptical about your thoughts. You won’t always have to take your thoughts through a process of formal inquiry. In the beginning inquiry is necessary to purge your mind of pointless chatter. Ask yourself again and again, “Is what I’m thinking really true, or is it a belief, an opinion, a judgment or even a delusion? Even if what you’re thinking is true, do you really need to be engaged in this line of thought right now? The veil of thought arises, it’s questioned, penetrated, and it parts. Repetition is the mother of clarity. Eventually, the inquiry becomes less formal and more spontaneous. Life itself becomes constant inquiry. Like everything else, you don’t have to do a thing. It just happens effortlessly.

You may tell yourself, “It can’t be that simple.” It is.

Liberation is all about right now, this moment.

Freedom is now or never, here or nowhere.

[Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Mark 4:9]

A simple demonstration exercise follows below:

 

Exercise

This exercise based on a Buddhist meditation practice called rigpa (being aware of awareness).

Find a quiet relaxing spot where your visual awareness can be spacious. Examples of the type of setting that I have in mind might be sitting or standing on a peak gazing out across a beautiful wooded valley, sitting on a dock in the early evening gazing out across the waters of a quiet, undisturbed lake or whatever works for you. The essential feature is the relaxed mood the setting evokes, not the setting itself.

Now, just enjoy the feeling of relaxation that the scene evokes in your body, take in the spacious view before you, listen to the subtle sounds arising from the scene, feel the air move about your face and body, smell any odors carried by the air you breathe. Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the totality of the moment. When you are fully settled into the exercise you will be acutely aware but your awareness will be free of thoughts (i.e., words and images) but full of sensations and feelings — pure experience. Fully present.

This is you as an awake consciousness or in your natural mind. It is always available. It can be brought to any circumstance under any conditions. You merely need to learn to stay in this state of consciousness as your normal or habitual way of being. Practice the use of thinking as a tool for accomplishing a specific task and then put it away and become present with your immediate experience.

There is probably no end to the depths of this state of awakened awareness but you first have to learn to live in it before it can flower.