Meditation: Aspects of the Journey Within
We live in a very unique time—in an age of skepticism, discovery, robotics, clones and other confusions, concepts and contraptions. In the west social-Darwinism continues to prevail, in Eastern Europe military and might remain on the agenda; in the Mid-East political/religion still dominates like a Mad Hatter. In the United States, we have an overabundance of products keeping us buying a vast amount of stuff we desire but don’t need. This is among the major reasons why the two-income family evolved—desire plus debt equals financial struggles for most couples so their kids grow up in the absence of the loving attentiveness they need. Also, in the U.S., the people are feeling more alienated from their government than association and as for world religions—in many instances they have lost their spark in the human heart. As for the planet itself—its rivers, streams and oceans are polluted to one degree or another; its wild life and indigenous peoples are being shoved further and further out of their natural environments to make room for the advancement of so-called civilization. And finally the gap between rich and poor has become such a chasm that it can no longer be denied by the elite. As a result, the unnecessary suffering of hunger and extreme poverty are escalating worldwide.
Not an attractive picture for a pin drop planet in a galaxy that is splashing its way into the rest of an expanding Universe. Not an attractive picture for a thinking species that still believes in war as the path to peace, in conquering as opposed to cooperation and dictatorship in the manifold guises of righteousness.
We are a species gifted not only with the capacity for intelligence but also for empathy and understanding; for seeing the beauty in the world and in others. Yet, by and large, we persist cruel, greedy and spiteful as if our history has nothing to say and nothing to teach.
In view of all this I am convinced that the way to change the outside is to change the inside. I mean this for both public and private life.
This article sets out to inspire those who have never practiced meditation and are seeking the truth. The truth, it is said, is what sets us free and so freedom becomes the major reason for penning this material. As food for thought I quote Dag Hammarsjold, oddly enough a politician, a secretary general of the United Nations and believer in Christian spiritualty who said:
The longest journey
is the journey inwards
of him who has chosen his destiny
who has started upon his quest
for the source of his being.
With this in mind we will begin.
Reasons to Meditate
Common or ordinary reasons why people meditate are to relax their minds through the process of non-thinking. Non-thinking seems to relax our entire being and can lead to greater or rather, a more abundance of theta waves—this abundance occurs during meditation as opposed to simply relaxation which, beyond all else, gives our brains and so our bodies a (real) rest.
I suppose this could be called the practical reason to meditate (the cause and effect reason) and these days you do not have to fly off to India to find centers for it—Indeed, as I understand it was even taught at West Point—some schools, hospitals, prisons and even in some government buildings offer meditation rooms or spaces for the purposes of meditating. And, some large, Western corporations are recognizing that a rested mind is a far more proficient mind. As a result the historically Eastern art has, in many ways, been seriously adopted by the West.
But extended relaxation is merely a natural benefit for making the smallest effort. In fact, for most people five or ten minutes a day of meditating will deliver peace of mind and a relaxed body. (I’ll be talking about how to medicate a little later). In any case, a major benefit however is the long term goal of enlightenment. However, meditating in search of enlightenment gets wrapped around ego and is therefore impossible to obtain.
As an aside, I will explain the above in terms of Buddhism as best I can: Ego-consciousness is what separates us from all else because it gives us the illusion of being an isolated “I” or self. (This too is what the Jewish philosopher was indicating when he spoke of an “I” and “Thou” reality). Anyway, desire—even desire for enlightenment—is ego connected since desire and ego feed off one another—no desire, no ego…no ego, no desire. Incidentally, I am talking about pompous, self-serving ego here not natural (good) ego that gives us the will to live and to live in compassion, tolerance and safety. Anyway, the major desires of (bad) ego are attachment and control of the attached. Both are mere illusions but harmful nevertheless!
A major reason to meditate is to become aware of universal unity or, in other words, to experience oneness with the universe. If you happen to be a Christian reading this, you will recall that Jesus taught that the “kingdom of heaven” is within. Meditation is a path to the kingdom of which he spoke. Meditation after all can lead to awakening in the here and now and it is in the here and now where the kingdom is always found…or realized.
Meditation also leads to love, peace and joy in your life which is to live in a constant state of non-judgment and so non-stress. Remember that the most common stress-makers at least in the west are anticipation and expectation—after a time of dedicated meditation these depressing traits simply go away.
In view of all this a most common question asks does meditation really work. We will attempt to answer that question next.
The History of Meditation
No one can say for certain when meditation began but an educated guess is for as long as people have existed. Even the Neanderthals, who are a distant cousin to Homo sapiens, had rituals that indicate a belief in a spiritual world. I am also personally convinced that the cave paintings—long before our kind left the wilderness—told the story of shamanic journeys into the spiritual world. Indeed, the very realization that those ancient minds conceived of a spiritual world, even in the subjective sense, is thought provoking enough.
What we do know is that around 3,000 years ago meditation is described in the ancient texts of the Hindus. Certainly the human experience had probably been passed down by the oral tradition for (perhaps) a great many millenniums.
In 588 B.C. Prince *Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment after meditating under a banyan tree for, we do not really know how long but some say 48 or 49 days. However, remember too that Siddhartha had been meditating for years before sitting at the banyan. It was while meditating at the banyan, however, that he became the enlightened one; the Buddha. He began teaching others and soon enough Budd1hism was founded.
In the 2nd century A.D. a kind of Christian mysticism arose and meditation became a path to knowing God. Around 1000 years later the Jewish mystics, known as the Cabalists evolved. It was around this same time that some of the Muslims were also embracing a mystic view of life and created a sect known as Sufis.
The (Muslim) Sufis ironically came to many of the same conclusions as the Jewish Cabalists—God was—In fact the great principle of Sufism is “ishq Allah, Ma’bud Allah.” This means, “God is love, lover and beloved.) They also believed that there were three ways to seek God in the human heart.
(1) Recognize the divine in everyone.
(2) Practice having empathy for those far away and close to you
(3) Recognize God’s feelings in oneself.
An interesting realization arrives from the great Sufi poet, Rumi, who told us: Every thought has a paralleled action. Every prayer has a sound and a physical form.
Meditation was basically rejected in the west after that. In the 1500s pious Martin Luther actually enticed the Catholic Church to forbid the teaching of meditation by the monks that practiced it. Then during the 1960s meditation began being popularized by intellectuals and teachers such as Alan Watts who virtually introduced Zen Buddhism to the U.S. but then the incredible recording stars, the Beatles, began meditating and advocating a Yogi in India by the name of Maharishi Matesh. Their interest perked the interest of countless youth around the world and that popularity has basically remained ever since.
How to Meditate
I can only share my personal way of meditating but at the end of this article I will also recommend a safe haven to connect if you wish a greater guidance than mine. (I say “safe haven” because there are scam-artist gurus just as there are bad priests and hypocritical preachers so if you want spiritual leadership you need to know that you are dealing with sincerity).
First of all understand that meditating is absolutely not concentrating, it is the opposite of thinking and seeks being in a state of non-thinking.
The most favorable way for me to reach this state of non-thinking is to sit cross-legged The ideal is to sit in the traditional lotus position as seen here I’ll talk more about this a little later—but, at my age, I sit cross-legged like this young lady is sitting. or you can even sit in a chair.
I also find it extremely advantageous and helpful to face a blank, white wall. However you can meditate outside or anyplace else you choose. I love meditating in the mountains for example. Nevertheless, I can more easily get into the meditating mode of empty mind by focusing on a blank wall. Actually I focus on a certain spot on the blank wall.
As I understand it from friends and others who meditate, I am quite fortunate in that I have never found it difficult to cast all thoughts out of my head and to sit mindful of nothingness sometimes called emptiness. If a thought does pop into my mind, I quickly send it away but a lot of people cannot do this as readily. I have one friend of mine who has been a meditating for over 20 years and he still has a difficult time maintaining a state of empty-mind so if you do, do not feel bad. Everything takes practice!
Many people who find empty-mind difficult to achieve will count their breaths which is also a meditative practice. When I first started meditating I used this method: What you do is focus your mind on your breathing counting each breath out and each breath in to reach the necessary relaxed state that you are seeking.
If you are very new to meditation you probably should start by practicing once or twice a day for between five and ten minutes. You can slowly increase the time that you give to your meditation. For example, I know one person who can meditate for hours but I have never been able to do that. When I meditate, I typically meditate for 30 to 90 minutes and that keeps me in my own comfort zone—you will find yours after practicing for even a few days but this will change over time.
Depending how far you decide to take your meditation—there are different levels—you will (or might) someday reach states of deep trance or altered states. This I believe is the greatest journey into the spiritual; an unfolding into connectedness with the entire Universe.
Note: If you prefer to have spiritual guidance and meditation instruction along your way, I most highly recommend:
You can find them on the web or write them at 3880 San Rafael Avenue in Los Angeles 90065-3219.
If you do, you can be assured that you will be greeted with the utmost sincerity and given all the loving help that you’ll need to get started.