Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Mind-Full is Mindfulness Meditation?

My son-in-law is a transpersonal psychologist and a certified meditation teacher. He's taken training in several forms of meditation from kriya yoga to stress reduction, and in teacher training in several others. We had a conversation the other day about the effectiveness of different forms and styles of meditation. Any time-tested form of meditation is helpful, let me say from the start. Nor is any one form or technique the BEST! Always it's what works best for the individual at any given time.

That understanding having been expressed, I want to share some comments on a popular form of meditation commonly known as "mindfulness" meditation. For my purposes I am referring to the technique of "sitting" while "watching" one's thoughts. You see: the essence of meditation is a fluctuation or an oscillation between what "IS" and what really "IS!" (Of course I am being facetious, here).

In other words, should we simply rest in what we are now: our thoughts, feelings, and insights, or should we aspire to a different (translate: higher) state of Being? Are we just fine or even perfect now, as we ARE? Or, do we have a higher potential that requires transcending, or leaving behind, our present reality? This has been debated down through ages in a myriad of forms.

Another way of putting it is: self-acceptance vs. Self-acceptance? Well, let's put aside abstruse philosophy (for a moment, at least) and look at meditation techniques.

The problem with what I am calling "mindfulness" meditation is that, far from "watching" our thoughts, the beginning meditator, as yet far from detached from his outer nature, simply finds himself totally engrossed in his own thoughts. Yet, at the same time, the beginning meditator never having before become particularly self-aware, might find his train or flow of thoughts rather revealing!

Yet for all of that, in the final analysis, our train of thoughts are not especially inspiring or life transforming. If nothing else, they are a bit discouraging, revealing, primarily, our own pusillanimity (pettiness).

Thus I conclude that this kind of "mindfulness" can be helpful, perhaps in the beginning, but, in the end, takes us nowhere in terms of higher consciousness. Now, some would say that with persistence these random, petty thoughts begin to subside and a higher awareness is revealed. Well, maybe: over time and with persistent and consistent effort and commitment to longer, deeper meditations. In short, in my experience training hundreds of students, I say, and I say simply and plainly, it doesn't work that way!

Our society is too overly stimulated and not sufficiently peace-filled, non-toxic, and mind-full to ever really get to such a space except in fleeting glimpses. This brings us to the "other side." Instead of indulging in one's own random thoughts, why not use will power, concentration, and inspiration to ascend to a higher level of consciousness?

The use of a positive image, mantra, word formula, or energy to take us "higher" is, in fact, the path of Self-realization as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. Without denying some of the positive benefits of self-awareness provided for by techniques of mindfulness, I have long ago concluded that by combining will power with concentration, right attitude, and right technique we can make faster meditative progress than by simply steeping the tea of our consciousness in the dregs of our own subconscious mind. Ok, now I've said it plain and simple, like.

I admit we need a little of both but too much of the mindfulness philosophy represents a bias against articulating and accepting a higher state of consciousness beyond mere negation of thoughts. Why not just chloroform the mind with alcohol or drugs or sleep? Is not happiness what we seek? Untrammeled, unassailable joy? Must we settle for what simply is? Must we only "chop wood and carry water?" Is that all there is? I say, and with the testimony of the masters of all paths: NO! We are much more than the mundane existence of daily life. OK, so let's accept mundane realities, but then let us move beyond them in joyful aspiration!

I began with the Buddhist paths but moved to my "home" in India where "bliss" (satchidanandam): ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss was offered as the summum bonum of life's destiny. Sadly, much of Buddhism has fallen into atheistical attitudes, though its true masters reflect the joy and compassion inherent in higher consciousness. For this, regardless of dogmas, is the truth behind all seeming and striving. It is joy that we seek.

I say, then, that with this day and age of overstimulation we need to use the frenetic energy we have to focus upon a higher reality as our truth and not merely stew in the soup of our subconscious. Sure, spend a few minutes getting "real." Then go to a higher and truer reality through chanting, visualization, watching the breath, feeling the pranic currents, and setting one's sights upon the Guru's presence, or the divine Presence as peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, Aum, Light, or Bliss!
Aim high lest we fall short!

Nayaswami Hriman