Featured image: The Thoughts Machine by Federico Zanetti
One evening before the lockdown, I was chatting to my yoga teacher after class.
At that time I was busy with a house move and my attendance at class was pretty low, so I was telling her how in spite of that, after closing my business a couple of months earlier, I had changed my routine to include more meditation and I was feeling great as a result.
The 12 months before that had been very difficult and all that regular meditation was helping me to reset completely, after all that stress.
All my patterns were returning to normal and my ability to socialise and communicate with others was back to normal, an aspect that normally takes a beating for me, during and following a protracted period of stress.
As somebody who’s not too familiar with the subject of meditation and since it’s been part of my routine for a long time, she asked me to tell her what meditation was all about.
That night, I tried to give her my best possible answer, but meditation is difficult to explain.
Trying to explain meditation with words is as difficult as trying to explain karate or ballet to somebody who’s never seen it.
However, unlike ballet and karate, meditation is completely invisible, so you have no chance of watching somebody doing it to get a better idea.
The real understanding of what meditation is all about can only come with practice, preferably with the same dedication of a ballerina or a karateka.
I was satisfied with the answer I gave her and she was listening with interest so I think I did an alright job, but as it’s often the case with my writing, the back of my mind went to work and a couple of days after that, after a morning meditation session, I felt that I had the complete clarity I was seeking that evening earlier that week: an introduction to what meditation is all about for those who are not too familiar with it and want to understand something about its healing properties and benefits on the quality of life. This is what I wrote that morning.
The subject of connecting one’s waking awareness with the hidden layers of their inner energy with meditation, could easily fill a whole manual.
Rather than repeating the perfectly valid information contained in the many existing guides to meditation available out there, that focus on the basic techniques and their value as potential ways to calm a busy mind, with this article I want to try to expand on that.
I suspect you’ve probably been through a few guides and articles on this rather unfathomable discipline and found them to be all useful but perhaps a bit samey.
If you haven’t, they’re out there.
What I want to do is to help you to frame meditation as a very powerful tool that fits into your modern and perhaps urban life, rather than something you’ll try when you move to the foothills of the Himalayas and have grown dreadlocks.
I also want this article to be useful if you have done plenty of meditation, meditated with various groups, but perhaps feel like you’re simply scratching the surface.
I feel a bit like that in meditation groups.
I feel that their practice can be a little anaemic and as somebody who wanted to go as deep as possible, I found that you don’t really come across the sort of pushy teachers that help their pupils go deep in other disciplines.
So buckle up, as this is an article that talks about going to the depths of your inner world to poke the holy weirdness that lies in the deep and ask it to rise to the surface, to invade and take over your waking life.
What is meditation?
The term “meditation” can be misleading. It suggests that it’s a psychological activity, some form of thinking perhaps.
In fact it’s more of a physical/psychosomatic activity that has a strange affinity with travel.
You visit, you witness, you interact, then you process.
Just like on a road trip, looking at the landscape going by and the sun shining on the sea, the hills and the church spires, meditation is like that, but the landscape is that of the little universe of electrical impulses inside you.
Perception begins to sprout like grass blades over both inner and outer stimuli, like little eyes that appear over a gradually appearing landscape that straddles the inner and the outer.
Sensations and emotions are at the centre of one’s awareness rather than working in the background.
Likewise for the endless thoughts that appear and disappear like little clouds of smoke.
Eventually the tireless thoughts production stops, if you don’t engage with them.
The original word for meditation is the Sanskrit word dhyana. I’m not sure what the English word “meditation” actually translates in Sanskrit, but I would guess jñana yoga is a lot closer. Definitely not dhyana.
As I had the opportunity to find out for myself during the 6 months I studied it a few years ago and failed miserably to balance the study with running a business, Sanskrit is infinitely richer than any modern language I know of, such as the romance languages and English.
So much so that when dhyana was exported from India to the Far East, even the Chinese and Japanese people, who have rich languages, resorted to adapting the original word, morphing dhyana into chan (China ) and zen (Japan).
Consider meditation as a journey that your consciousness undertakes inside the physical energetic reality that is you.
Dhyana is not something that is intrinsic to sitting with your eyes closed. In fact, the sit down varieties are harder than they look as the body is very still and it’s difficult to see your inner energies.
I found that distractions are much better at sneaking around in sitting meditation, so a bit of experience is needed to make the most of it.
Other activities that cause dhyana include dancing, chanting and many more. These two specifically are in my opinion, better meditation techniques for beginners as I consider them much more likely to give them a profoundly moving experience.
The session is like a journey and as such it’s not done with your mind, instead you are bringing awareness to all the dark corners, flowing down every cavity, observing all the energies that rise and fall inside.
Your mind comes with you but it doesn’t lead. In this case the breath does.
The journey within
Pull and release your breath as if it were the ores of a boat you were rowing across a big lake. Meditative breath sort of reminds of rowing, with its cyclical and propulsive quality.
Likewise, the rower can fully immerse herself in the journey, without getting lost in unnecessary thinking and importantly, she has to let go of tensions, optimise her physical effort and let go of haunting thoughts of tiredness, giving up, and of the “Are we there yet” type.
When I was new to meditation, I found that this was only possible for me when I was in a good mood, my mind was relatively calm and I was somewhere peaceful and quiet.
That frustrated me. I knew there was a place of calm and awareness inside me, but I felt it was as fragile as a bubble, liable to burst easily and as it turned out it did, both during meditation and generally.
In those early days, whether I was meditating or not, that bubble could be burst by just about anything.
Sometimes it would just burst for no apparent reason.
Getting to a state of dhyana, requires a few things to come together: serenity, focus, detachment and clarity.
Your dhyana may be more or less resilient or vulnerable to thoughts and external disturbance.
If some lingering thought irritates you, or you give in to distraction, those ingredients may come apart and you float back up like an inexperienced diver who can’t swim to the bottom.
Over time I discovered a trick: if I consciously beheld the irritation rather than push it away, and always came back to my breath, my dhyana held up and eventually the distractions fell away.
I made it my job to strengthen that bubble of silence inside me and expand it further within my being, so that instead of bursting, it would have the power to bring light to the dark and unkempt parts of my inner world.
When you have reached the state of a clear minded rower, unhindered by unnecessary thoughts and impulses, you have put in place the conditions for meditation to do its work.
You have pacified the conscious (thoughts) and subconscious (itches, fidgets, irritations, fears, anger, etc.) impulses that normally hold sway over your mind.
The objective of meditation is to clear the clutter from your insides and expand the envelope of your awareness(1).
All this new real estate inside your psyche can be occupied by benign inner energies that fruit spontaneously with subtle insights from your unconscious. They can only show up when the mind is clear of clutter and the heart free of dark clouds.
Like in zen Buddhism, the aim is to clear the control room of your impulses and feelings from any automatism and to allure your unconscious into taking it over, whilst relegating your thinking mind and your subconscious to what they are: mere navigational tools.
I heard once that the mind is a powerful tool but a poor leader and I totally agree.
What I find really interesting is that the unconscious cannot be fully identified as yourself, although it is infinitely more representative of what you really are than both the conscious and unconscious mind or indeed the “character“ that they give rise to.
It is a hidden, wild and unexplainable wisdom that you can invite to your conscious awareness, if you make the effort of clearing your inner space for it.
By doing so, you’re putting in place, through your own will, the conditions for operating in the state known as wu wei in Taoism and as mu shin in Zen Buddhism: a type of behaviour which is fully spontaneous, immediate, innocent, aware, relaxed, taut and infallible.
The key is in the marriage of the spontaneous with the deliberate and the first altar at which they exchange vows is the breath. You’ll notice how breathing stops being spontaneous the moment you deliberately pay attention to it.
In order for the breath to return to rise and fall spontaneously even under observation, you need the kind of total trust and surrender that is necessary for wu wei to arise.
My meditation sessions always begin with settling down my energy and clearing the clutter inside, calming the spontaneous production of thoughts to a halt.
All this always takes a while, around half an hour.
If you manage to row far enough away from the noise of your brain, you have a chance to be swept into a state known as samadhi, which is where the real healing begins and where the real vision arises.
A time to bring your awareness to every far corner of your electrical field, also gently pushing that envelope as far as it’s comfortable.
Before closing the session, if you wanted you could take advantage of that highly receptive meditative state to mindfully develop your Lotus posture if you’re not already there.
Posture deserves a chapter in its own right and perhaps I will write a dedicated article in the future.
With a daily investment of 60 to 90 minutes, within the space of a few weeks or months, the unconscious (but very conscious) inside you should be able to colonise your psyche like a multitude of lush medicinal plants which bear the fruit of wu wei as a 24/7 condition of your ordinary life.
After all, if you have worked hard to reach your inner temple, you cleared it of all clutter and lit a candle of awareness in homage to the divinity, you have made the right sacrifice and it will come and stay, as long as your inner temple is sufficiently clean and clear.
So what’s the return on investment?
It is interesting to think just how foreign the idea of dedicating 60-90 minutes to meditation every day is.
Perhaps 10 minutes is more like what you can spare at the moment, but when meditation enters the life of someone willing to experience a transformation, it may gradually change that life and more time is found to dedicate to what is important.
It is a paradox, because you are technically doing nothing, but it’s an incredibly productive use of time.
The moment you experience the cosmic orgasm that is samadhi on your virtual boat , you will understand that money, holidays, a love life and material possessions are just nice bonuses and can only be enjoyed if your vibe is groovy.
That’s what meditation does, it is a practice that allows a battered old piano, broken and sodden with years worth of spilled beer to turn into a fine musical instrument that Ray Charles would be proud to play on.
Even just setting the intention to bring that in your life, may eventually set in motion the wheels that, not only will give you the chance to do your daily hour of meditation, but will also start replacing all the aspects of your life that don’t belong there, into ones that do and open vast and hitherto unseen horizons.
In that sense, dhyana is the key tool to change your life.
(1)“Expand your awareness” can come across as a fuzzy hippy expression and I’m sure that over the years it has been thrown around a lot as verbal decoration, but it has a real meaning.
There is a hell of a lot going on inside, every microscopic physiological process going on has an energy signature. Moreover, many of those physiological processes are of emotional or psychological origin (for example anxiety or stress related tensions).
So overall you have an energy map, which is in flux and at any given moment has one foot in the bodily and one in the psycho/emotional.
In other words there is another picture of yourself as energy. That picture, your awareness of it, will get to a higher and higher definition through gaining confidence with meditation.
That is the process I describe as expand your awareness.
(2) There are things that no one can control, but we are raised in such a way that even things that are well within our power seem out of control, so much so that mystics down the ages have spoken about free will as something most people never really get to and that must be earned with significant sacrifice. For example in the words of G.I. Gurdjieff:
“A man who sleeps cannot ‘do’.
With him everything is done in sleep.
Sleep is understood here not in the literal sense of our organic sleep, but in the sense of a state of associative existence.
First of all he must be awake.
Having awakened he will see that he cannot “do”.
He will have to die voluntarily.
When he is dead he may be born.
But the being who has just been born must grow and learn.
When he has grown and knows, then he will ‘do’.”
From: Views From The Real World
- The meditator
CREDIT: Federico Zanetti
- The thoughts machine
CREDIT: Federico Zanetti