Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What is Meditation?

This Saturday, February 4, I begin this year's 8-session Meditation Teacher training program. Not surprisingly, one of our first topics is "What is meditation?" Although most of us know a duck when we see one, I am sure that a specialist in ducks could have our heads spinning with the many varieties and distinctive characteristics among ducks.

Meditation may, therefore, seem pretty obvious, but it gets less so as we peer behind the veil of its outer form and attempt to describe the view from within. There exists a seemingly endless array of meditation techniques, moreover, that only compound the question of "What is meditation?"

One could approach meditation from the outside-in and say it is the act of closing one's eyes, being very still, and focusing within one's own mind. But that gets us close to (ha, ha) "no-where." Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the well-known classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," described meditation as "concentration upon God or one of His aspects." As much as I like the definition, you have to "have been there" to find the nuggets of gold in that mine. I can only imagine the howls of objection to his definition, inasmuch as millions of meditators do not think in terms of "God" and would reject such a definition out of hand. And, in all fairness, how do you concentrate on something unless you can "see" it (feel it, etc.)?

From the outside it looks like a the meditator has escaped reality and is in a purely subjective state of mind. Yet meditation is sometimes described as "not an escape FROM reality, but an escape TO reality!" If meditation consists of silently chanting a mantra or other affirmation, visualizing a light, a diety, or one's guru then one might be tempted to say that meditation is a form of interiorized concentration whose effects (presumably) produce satisfactory results (defined as peace of mind, devotion, lowered heart rate, blood pressure, etc.). Okay, fair enough. But is this enough? "Is that all there is?"

What about altered states? Enlightement? Samadhi? Cosmic consciousness?

From the viewpoint of raja yoga (as so succinctly stated by the sage Patanjali in the famous Yoga Sutras), meditation is clearing the mind of mental images such that awareness is Self-aware. Our sense organs produce mental images which in turn cause reactions (like, dislike, etc.) and our life experiences produce memories, thoughts, and other mental images. The mind doesn't particularly treat any of them differently: a memory can be just as intense as the experience, at least emotionally speaking. Thoughts can evoke even greater internal response as anything going on around us or any objects within our reach, hearing, or view.

Meditation, from this perspective, then is to shut out both the external stimuli of the senses and the internal stimuli of passing thoughts and images (and associated feelings or emotions) in order to view the Viewer; to view the viewing. In this "view," knowing, knower, and known (object, act, and subject) become One and the Same ("Same-adhi"). ("Adi" in Sanskrit can refer to "first" or "original.")

This is not an easy state of Being to achieve, given the talent and predilection of the mind to produce images ceaselessly even (and perhaps especially) when there are not external sense stimuli. Thus most meditators complain of the intrusion of restless thoughts during their meditation. Hence, also, the plethora of breathing techniques, chants, visualizations, and mantric formulae employed like a phalanx of corporate consultants to bring the mind to heel. They each have their place and their effect, far beyond the scope of a simple blog article such as this to pursue.

The pearl of great price remains however this state of Being and, to make things worse, such a state is not even the goal, but is, rather, but the doorway to super-consciousness: to higher states of consciousness too profound, too sacred to utter (although future blog article might try :) ).

Not wanting to attempt to teach a meditation technique in this limited space, let me say, simply, that we can experience moments of this kind of "satori" or mindfulness many times in a given day if we would be open and awake to their appearance: between words, actions, breaths, at a stoplight---indeed at any pause between thoughts or actions there exists a space of Being that can refresh us with, well, being, or "well-Being!"

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman

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