It’s almost funny how people learn meditation from a book or a teacher, and all their efforts are simply aimed at mimicking their teacher. You can try with all your heart to perfect your teachers ways and techniques, but not until you understand how meditation works, will you see dramatic results.Most people find the benefits of meditation elusive, and in this short article I will show you what meditation is and what it isn’t. And once you understand how and why it works, suddenly all your efforts will be magnified a hundred fold.
It’s as though someone wanting to learn about God walks into a church and does not leave, all the while thinking that what they have found is the totality of wisdom. Few people realize that there are 100s of ways to meditate, and when you finally do discover how to make meditation work for you, there will be 101.
All meditation falls into two categories. You’re either meditating on a single object, to the exclusion of all else, like a candle flame, your breath, the inner light, or a mantra. In this way, by focusing on a single element you block out everything else, and are left with the experience of your true self, where all regrets and expectations melt away and you find yourself in a state of peace and bliss… one with everything and everyone. Or… at the other end of the spectrum, you may choose not to focus the mind but to let it run as it may, but establish yourself as an observer. Let all your thoughts and emotions appear and disappear. Watch them all come and go and eventually under the vigilante eye of the observer, you’ll experience a great sense of power and purpose and you too will be at peace with yourself and everyone else.
Those are the two extremes. And though you may be able to see how your meditation technique fits into one of these broad categories, you still don’t see how meditation works. You still don’t understand why. We’ll get to that.
A bull in a china shop will invariably make some mistakes. We, born into these human bodies, similarly cannot help but make mistakes. We’re completely out of our element here. We are in fact, not physical beings who have a spiritual life, but spiritual beings who have a physical life.The mind controls all. And even though we speak coherently, walk and talk, and fulfill all our daily responsibilities, we… our minds, are as out of control as the bull in the china shop. All that stuff we do. All those skills we know–those are nothing more than learned behavior that we can repeat on command. In that way we’re very much like a trained animal.
Our minds are out of control, and rightfully so, for as we are spiritual beings born into a physical body, the very nature of this union brings us to a comfortable state of dazed sensation. The sensation of the physical body and the sensation of the emotions we experience. These are pleasant… Even the painful ones are pleasant in their own way. These physical and emotional sensations are everywhere, from the moment we awake in the morning, until we close our eyes at night. No effort is required. Whether you’re doing one of your trained tricks, watching TV or simply sitting alone in thought, we are always filled with these sensations. These sensations often overpower us, and for many, they can easily keep us from accomplishing our goals, for why work to achieve something great, when just being is so pleasant.
I met an acupuncturist who had lived in a Tibetan monastery for 12 years. After a few short words it was obvious to me that this was an enlightened man. It’s so rare and refreshing to meet these disciplined individuals who have taken control of their mind and their lives, and no longer subject to the whims of sensation. I told him, I have a lot of important work to do, but I’m not getting anything done. That without deadlines, I seem to be endlessly procrastinating. I told him I felt guilty and asked him if he could help me with my procrastination. And he said, in the typical Buddhist vein, that I did not need to achieve anything, that I was already perfect, and I was exactly where I was supposed to be, that my procrastination was simply a self imposed burden that I could simply discard. And so I did, and I felt a lot better.
And here lies a great problem with meditation. It is a great calming tool, and it opens us up to a universe of knowledge–inspiration–but it is not known for it’s motivating effects. Kind of like the man who searched for happiness and could not rest until he learned to maintain his happiness 100% of the time. And so it came to pass that he found his state of perpetual happiness. In this instance… what was originally conceived as a great and noble challenge, once reached, became a burden, for if you can set your mind to be happy all the time, then there is little need for doing much else.
And so it is with many spiritual endeavors. Success becomes defeat. The wisdom of meditation; the ability to control ones mind, can easily become a great oppressor. So often, with our meditation, we strive for inner peace, happiness, but these are personal goals and once achieved easily become self defeating. So I say to you, as you practice your meditation you should modify your discipline so that your efforts do not paint you into some blissful corner. No. Understand what meditation is and focus your efforts in a way so that it will energize your goals and dreams.
All meditation is simply a means of controlling and subjugating the mind. Most people who practice meditation work very hard trying to perfect the technique they were taught. And when they finally make enough progress with their new found ability, to alter their consciousness and enter into a heightened state of calm and well being, they accept that as being the realization of their goal and there by proceed no further. And why should they. Their teacher taught them that if they follow these instructions, they would experience these results. And so they did. But all altered states become boring, so look for teachers who know enough to guide you from one to the next, in a slow directed progression, moving your consistently on to new horizons.
I know it is not easy to find such a teacher, but you should know they do exist. Most teachers are simply promoting their favorite discipline. Read the book. Listen to the lecture. It’s all the same. The best teachers will listen to you and design an endless stream of little assignments, each one aimed at bringing you to a new horizon. Remember Carlos Castaneda? Don Juan was always giving Carlos all these tasks and assignments.
But for now–for the moment–all you have is this article. So I will give you a solution. Something concrete. Something valuable that you can walk away with. A new understanding that will allow you to proceed on your own: three key points you should focus on.
You meditate. You’re spending the time, making the effort, so don’t be caught in this major pitfall of meditation. When you find a rose, realize that you are making progress, but that progress is just the beginning. Continue looking for other flowers. Don’t stop until you have a complete boutique. Each altered state is just a single scenic viewpoint. It’s so easy to become enchanted with that view and continue to return only to that place, forgetting that the road continues on, with new spenders at every viewpoint.
Now. I’m going to give you a simple technique that will prevent you from getting stuck at any of these view points. Understand that meditating is like exercise. Normally when you exercise, you are exerting your will on your body–moving and strengthening your body. When you meditate, you are exercising your soul and spirit, exerting your will on your mind.
This technique can be summarized in three points:
1. Remember, the purpose of all meditation is simply to quite and focus the mind, which otherwise runs wild 24 hours a day.
2. To avoid being overwhelmed by, any thereby stuck on any single success or experience, don’t accept idle bliss as success. Make sure your meditative efforts affect your physical life in some way.
3. To allow your efforts to have the most positive impact on your health and daily situations of your life, find a center and try to hold onto it 24 hours a day.
It all comes down to this: The Mind… Remember, our minds are running wild, out of control. Your existing success with meditation will give you a quick spring board to new horizons. It is good that you can stop and take a breath–that you know how to look within, to find that peace and inspiration when needed. You use meditation to relieve stress and clear the mind. And this is good, but know there is so much more.
Most people sit quietly and meditate 20 minutes or a half hour. You must learn to meditate while you do all your other activities! Then you’ll be meditating 6, 12 or even 24 hours a day. You want to see benefits? Do you want to put all your goals on the fast track? Continue with your half hour of quiet meditation each morning, but don’t stop there. Find a center and try to carry it with you all day long.
Finding and using a center: this third point is the magic that you can take away with you. The secret is simply using your meditative skills to keep a center. We take the two extremes of meditation, focusing on a single element, and watching ourselves, and combine them together, taking the middle path. Start by using your breath as your center, throughout the day, while working, playing and relaxing, anytime your mind becomes idle return to the sensation of your breath. At first it’s difficult but if you take the time to experiment, you’ll see quick progress.
You see, even in our most, active state, the mind finds time to wander, and bathe in some unproductive intoxicating sensation. If you want to build maximum momentum towards your goals, you must take that wild mind and harness that power–transmute that energy. Understand that you are not attempting to hold onto your center to the exclusion of all else. If you were to do this you would not be able to get anything done. All you want to do, is continually come back to the center during your idle moments. and you’ll find that all your activities are full of idle thoughts. Your center–your breath, becomes your companion and advisor.
Learn to distinguish between productive thoughts and idle thoughts. During productive thoughts you are doing something, making a decision, or designing something in your mind. During idle thoughts you are simply dazed by some irrelevant physical or emotional sensation. Replace that idle rambling of your mind with a focused center.
Experiment with different centers. Try combining a goal with your breath. For example, each breath you take brings you closer to your goal. The more breaths you watch the quicker you’ll arrive at your goal. This is one of my favorites. Do all your normal activities. You should not be away from your center for more than a few minutes. It’s difficult at first because you’re kind of doing two things at once. Not really. You’re switching back and forth. You, your soul is in control of your mind, and your soul willfully lends itself to the activity at hand, but always resumes the reins. It’s like any other habit. After enough repetition it becomes automatic. You’ll know you’re there or getting close when you see your mind wander and as your mind flutters about in it’s little orgy of sensation you suddenly hear those reins snap. It’s your center calling out to you. When this happens you know you’ve found your grove. Continue. Strengthen that experience and soon you’ll begin to see the many positive effects of your new mind power.
You have dreams and goals. I’m here to tell you that finding and keeping your center is the way to get there. Everything else is a diversion.
One last note for advanced users: Remember, Your main objective is keep your mind from running wild and becoming a victim of sensation. Once you make some progress with one center experiment with others. Personally I switch centers often. Once you have a few centers at your disposal, you’ll notice that given the choice, for any situation, one will work better than the others. Soon you’ll learn which centers are most appropriate for what situations. Sometimes I find myself using more than one at a time. Or more accurately switching back and forth in a harmonic or musical fashion. You’ll have fun with this. Try experimenting at restaurants or other public places and see if you can discern the effects of your unspoken center on the strangers around you.
Paul is a software author by profession with an active spiritual life that includes sharing his experiences with others through his writings. We were fortunate enough to cross paths with him and let our readers benefit from his delightful insight.
©2001, Paul Townsend, P.O. Box 1000, Poulsbo, Washington 98370.