|Featured Columnist – Meditations
Living in a cultural desert, as we do in the West, and as more and more people do in this vapid global society, what is our response? Is it to just “go with the flow” as we used to say in California, and become part of the
In a dead zone like America, where zombies are now celebrated, adaptation is not an option for the dwindling members of the inwardly living. In such a desert, one has to find one’s own sources of life-giving water, metaphorically speaking.
Meditation is the art of digging one’s own well every day. As I see it, methodless meditation has become a matter of spiritual and emotional survival.
Eliminating techniques and methods, indeed being done with the whole retreat industry, one also has to negate the motivation to meditate. Why do so then?
If one is hungry, one eats; if one is dirty, one bathes; and if one is inwardly out of whack, one sits still and passively observes.
In short, there is no purpose or goal in meditation–not stress reduction at one end of the silly spectrum, or religious experience at the other. To be sure, meditation provides these and many other benefits, but they aren’t the reason one makes the space for it.
Then what compels one to take time out from one’s busy life, full of so many demands and interests, the pressures of work and pleasures of play, to sit still and passively observe?
For me meditation has a very physical analogy. Having torn ligaments in both ankles playing sports when I was young, I recently began having trouble with them. Not only were my ankles causing some arthritic pain, but I also kept spraining them slightly with physical activity. The weakness and pain not only limited enjoyments like hiking and running, but I began to feel like an old man while still in middle age.
I found a good physical therapist that not only provided an easy set of daily exercises, but gave me some useful knowledge as well. It turns out that my youthful injuries had damaged nerve cells called proprioceptors, which are the kind of cells in the joints that allow you to know where your arm is when your eyes are closed. The proprioceptor cells in the ankles perform the delicate trick in bipeds ( except for Sasquatch, we humans are the only bipeds left in the primate line) of two-legged locomotion.
In short, my body wasn’t placing my feet properly when I walked or ran because the proprioceptor cells in my ankles had been damaged. To repair them, one of the exercises (good for anyone, by the way) is to stand on one leg with your eyes closed for twenty seconds. Try it; it isn’t easy at any age. (As we age, we gradually lose our sense of balance, and many of us have known an otherwise healthy older person who has taken a bad fall and quickly gone downhill afterward.)
If I skip my standing exercise for a few of days, I notice a decline in my general sense of balance. Meditation works the same way. After one experiences the deep inward balance that occurs during methodless meditation, one feels, almost proprioceptively, when one is out of alignment.
There’s a natural urge to maintain a balance between mind, heart, and body.
That inner sense prompts one to sit quietly for at least half an hour each day and do nothing but listen and observe without interference, letting one’s stuff flow by.
At the deepest level, meditation means effortlessly and spontaneously going beyond thought. Since methods and techniques are rooted in thought, they prevent true meditation from occurring. (Trances and other self-induced states don’t count.)
But if meditation is a spontaneous event, what initiates it? The brain has the capacity for both concentration and attention. Concentration is what we generally know. It is a single-pointed, intentionally focused action arising from effort and will. Attention, on the other hand, is an inclusive, undirected gathering of awareness in the mind/brain, arising from passive observation.
Attention is directionless, and is gathered without effort. When sufficient attention gathers through undirected watchfulness, meditation suddenly, and always unexpectedly, radically shifts the consciousness of the brain.
So attention/meditation is action without a center. Unwilled attention is therefore the essence of letting go of ego and self-centered activity.
To initiate meditation I find it best to sit outside and observe nature, even if just in the backyard, and I feel fortunate to be able to do so year-around in California’s Mediterranean climate.
After sitting down, one simply listens to the sounds in the present. That act in itself quickens and deepens one’s awareness. Then one lets one’s awareness come to the inner movement of thoughts and emotions.
One watches out of curiosity (saying “watch” sustains division and duality) every thought and feeling, every sensation and desire, as they arise. That is, one listens to thoughts and emotions in the same way one listens to nature-with interest and without trying to do anything about them, even label them. This non-interfering action allows meditation to ignite.
Meditation is a solitary action, not a group activity. It cannot be taught, only discovered.