The purpose of mediation is presence. Eventually any technique that you adopt (particularly one that you have become attached to) will need to be dropped so in some ways you could just skip the main body of this post which will inevitably have to cover some techniques available. The important thing to remember is that there is nowhere to get too. We aren’t trying to clear the mind – it’s already quite still and clear underneath all the usual chatter. It’s just a question of watching and waiting until that is revealed to you. There are times in your life when the clarity and peace that comes from this discovery seems to be a long way away – times of extreme change and stress, such as the death of a loved one. If you’ve been practicing meditation for a while, it means that this clarity becomes a little more available, even when thoughts are crowding in, so it’s worth the effort to practice when the mind is less active.
One of my favourite books about meditation over the years was called “The Every Day Meditator” by Osho. It’s difficult to get hold of but I found some available if you click the picture below…
It’s such a sweet book with nice big full colour photographs and it’s sort of soft and not very serious about mediation – even giving an example of smoking meditation!!!! The idea behind the book is that we don’t need to sit for an hour a day on the cushion but instead can bring ourselves into a meditative state during everyday activities. I think this is a good place to start. However, some would not label these activities as meditation but call the methodology ‘mindfulness’ or conscious living. You can make attempts to avoid being pulled into the next moment and the next (particularly when rushing about) in order to experience the present moment more.
Any focused activity that requires the thinker to have a subject to focus on is called “with seed” according to the Yogic Tradition. In the Christian religion it is known as Contemplative Prayer, in which the pleading and talking at God is put to one side, in favour of listening and focus on one word (e.g. the word Shalom, which means peace) or on a bible verse etc. It’s a very useful way of training the mind. You already know from classes so far that you can listen to guided visualisation; you can count the breath; you can focus on saying a Mantra (either aloud or inside your head). All these things require concentration and an object of focus.
It is said that Buddha taught awareness of breath meditation. What you will have already noticed about this practice is that eventually it gets very boring to meditate on the breath. This is all part of the design… Eventually you pass through the boredom threshold and begin to experience great subtleties in the breath. For instance the end of the breath is a point of great peace.
You’ve probably already discovered that nature is a great place to bring about a meditative mindset. This is especially true if you do more than just glance at a flower, a stone, a leaf etc. If you stop and take in the essence of the thing, as if you are looking at it for the very first time. It’s not about labelling the item, that’s just giving it vowels and consonants, but it’s about noticing the gap between perception and judgement or description in which you can take on the aliveness of the thing. If you can do this, you can experience the miraculous in the every day. Popping a flower or a plant next to your computer can draw you into the present moment from a very rushed mind set if you allow yourself just 15 seconds to look at it. Watch how the mind tries to entangle you with the business and stop you even having just 15 seconds of focused time. You may be able to come up with spaces in parts of the day that seem to have no spaces at all. You become present moment centred instead of story, interpretation and thought centred. In the present moment, in the meditation circumstance of simply experiencing the essence of nature, there is an opportunity to break the continuity of the mind-made identity.
In this there is a freshness, a newness; a lightness and a space as identification with form dissolves and appreciation for the miracle of nature expands which I have found brings about a great sense of peace and calm. It is why I like to be out with the dogs four times a day. It’s why I love camping, being naked in the summer in some private space outside and why I enjoy plants, flowers, even cobwebs in the morning dew, the sun glistening on each of the fragile strands, demonstrating the robustness of even the most delicate part of nature. In all this nature however, I am reminded of the impermanent of all things. There is a time for everything to die, to move on to be reclaimed by nature itself. In all world religions there are lessons regarding the importance of our understanding of impermanence in order to end fear-based grasping which is a cause of much unhappiness.
The ancient cultures were closer to the truth since they recognised the divine in stones and trees and other things. It can be very useful to access a meditative calm state through the senses and looking at nature can be very helpful (hence the use of candle gazing in Yoga) as can listening, smelling and tasting. Further to this, our experience of our Soma (feeling the body from the inside out) is another unique way of concentrating the mind. The more alertness you have to sense perceptions, the more alertness you have within you which is why the experience of meditation is often called an “awakening”
You could argue that attempting to do very mundane tasks in a mindful manner is meditative if you are focused on them without the mental chatter that usually distracts you – like washing up for instance – you just notice the bubbles that the washing up liquid makes, and the feel of the water on your hands or gloves and the effect of bringing an item into the soapy water as you watch the grease and muck dissolve and then of course on the sparkling item coming out of the water onto the draining board where you can focus on the suds sliding down to meet the surface.
If you are fed up with suffering, with pain, with anxious thinking and dwelling on deep regret, you will be attracted to the stillness offered in mediation. After many hours on the metaphorical (and literal) cushion, you discover a point where you don’t need “with seed” technology any more and are able to sit, possibly ZaZen style, staring at a blank wall, without anything at all to focus on. This is why the lotus flower is chosen as a symbol of awakening and enlightenment. It grows on muddy surfaces. Just like the agitated mind, which is usually a swirl of murky activity, becomes beautiful when allowed to settle.
What is known as “without seed” meditation is simply a technique of dropping the concentration on a particular subject. It isn’t a less focused thing though… One of the best ways to experience free-awareness meditation is by finding a comfortable position to sit in and then attempting to be very still, within and without, making no effort to control, modify, or alter your experience in any way. Just be still, and observe. Witness thoughts coming and going; notice feelings, pleasant or unpleasant, throughout your body; experience distant sounds rising and falling in the vast expanse of your own awareness.
And as you witness all these things within you and around you, let them go – hold onto nothing, fixate on nothing, and don’t pay attention to any one thing. Let it all in, and let it all go, as you continue to remain physically relaxed, at ease, and still. Sooner or later, you’ll come to notice that there is one “thing” that never comes or goes: awareness itself. It is the limitless space in which all thoughts, feelings, and perceptions come and go – and it is the witness of those passing displays. Rest as that pure witness alone, and be free.
What we discover in the still small silence is the Self, capital S. You could argue that each time of meditation is the death of the self, small s… Almost like a rehearsal for your death (as is loss of form) in the sense that you start to realise how unnecessary this ego identification is and you become prepared to become unattached to the structures in your thoughts such that you are able to experience a wordless, formless no=thing=ness in place of your self importance and incessant worry – something eternal and everlasting that is peacefull and spacious. Eckhart Tolle describes meditation in Chapter 9 of The Journey into Yourself in this way:
”Stillness is the the death you enter into voluntarily”
This experience is not something describable – for to do that would immediately limit the formless, limitless Divinity into something that is bound by language and culture, which by definition, it is not… This isn’t about believing in something that is to be found but more a discoverable experience which can only really be manifested if you give up grasping for it. Ironically, having a desperate desire for Enlightenment is a sure fire way to not achieve it, since that grasping desire is coming from ego. Sometimes being on a spiritual quest is a dangerous path to be on since it is possibly easier to hide ego identification whilst on this journey, even from oneself. But the danger of this grasping lurks round every corner. I remind myself that I am only a Spiritual Teacher in the moment that I am facilitating learning in the village hall in Yoga class. After that, I am something else and something else again depending on the moment. If I think of myself permanently as a Spiritual Teacher, in every waking moment, suddenly there is a larger than life identity leaping out, unwarranted!
Many are not ready for the end of the drama of over identification with this form, this body, this role, this career, this ego. Especially if the ego is dense or strong. Then it is worth clinging on to the story of “me” in which others are wrong and you are right. No amount of hours spent on the cushion in either “with seed” or “without seed” meditation; no amount of appreciation of nature or mindfulness practice will lead to enlightenment or more experience of The Light without death of the self / ego. So whilst I find meditation practice helpful, what I find more enlightening is the effect that a reduced ego identification has. I find I am more aware of egotistical behaviour. I am pulled up short quicker when it is at play. I find kindfulness in all areas of life is more apparent. I find I am less engaged in fighting and proving myself right in order to have more peace and harmony in life. Though I am the least patient person you could ever hope to meet, I even find, after time spent in mediation of ANY kind, a tiny bit of patience creeps in here and there!
The alternative path is the road less travelled and for those who have struggled to count to more than 3 without losing attention, when we are focusing on the breath (I include myself in this) you will know that is is not the easiest path when we live in a world obsessed with identity, image, socially accepted behaviour codes etc etc. More of that next week.