It is good to have your mind full of meditation.
This Journal entry contains some information about meditation, why it is a vital life practice, and is a sort of natural extension of the 3 prior Journals on shadow fear. The practice of meditation is an antidote for shadow fear. It is also an antidote and a remedy for all of the incessant illusory things in life which throw us off of our center and our grounding point in spirit.
There are no forced disciplines or outer trappings of meditation which have to be rigidly applied in the practice. You don’t necessarily have to sit down to practice aspects of meditation. You can practice degrees of meditation while you are doing anything; from walking around, to cooking, to falling asleep and waking up, and anything…really. It all depends on how immersed you are able to be in the activity with a quiet brain. However, for the deepest meditative experience, it is best to get completely still in a sitting posture. A supine posture may also be used.
When I was a child I used to unknowingly practice a form of meditative immersion inside of my day dreaming activity. All children have been so engaged. As adults, we should allow ourselves to maintain this simple healthy practice. When I grew up a bit more I would sometimes slip into a version of meditation while doing surgeries if the situation was conducive to a relaxed immersion into one-pointedness with minimal need for thinking activity. These days I just have to get out of the way of this natural process of life, which is another way of saying what meditation really is.
One can consider the Universe, or the field of Divinity as a meditation. This Divinity has the qualities of: creative, kind, loving, beautiful, expanding, abundant, and receptive.
In contrast to these Divine qualities we have various fire insurance religious dictums around the globe to “fear God.” This dogma is pointlessly disempowering, and only serves to create more fear and separation inside of our own being and more fear and separation in our world. Humanity has projected the illusion of its own sense of retributive justice onto Divinity. Is God vengeful, or is God graceful?
In contrast to the 7 qualities of the Divine, please consider the contrasting 7 deadly needs below and begin to apply a forgiving focus to their presence in your life. Some of these needs have a very retributive quality. Some have a quality of scarcity consciousness. These addictive patterns of thinking and behavior are some of the common saboteurs of good living, enjoyment of life, and deeper spiritual engagement:
- Need to know
- Need to be right
- Need to get even
- Need to look good
- Need to judge
- Need to keep score
- Need to control
In the mindfulness and meditative experience, we allow ourselves to release (kenosis) all such forms of past conditioning through the spiritual practices of forgiveness, non judgement, compassion, and self love. These states are developed and enhanced through meditation.
Because we have developed an ego conditioning and structure around all of the life trappings that we feel that we must continue to defend and uphold, we unknowingly allow ourselves to slip more deeply into our own self imposed identity crisis. This ego dynamic is purely fear based, and it usually becomes the ongoing ambient continuum of our life. The structure of the ego must be reconditioned and softened in order for us to experience peace and connection with our deeper inner self, and all of life.
In developing a meditative practice, one always discovers just how intrusive one’s ego can be. Upon discovering the intrusive intransigence of your ego, you simply want to learn how to disengage and become the observer of its process and dynamic in your life. How does your ego work? How does it continue to intrude in your life? Where does the fear come from?
In meditation, we are moving from being driven by the fragility of an ego consciousness into being drawn by the stability of a spiritual soul awareness.
It is healthy to consider all of the things in your life that have you firmly trapped in their clutches. We allow ourselves to become very protective and defensive about all of our accumulated life trappings. Sometimes we continue doing certain self destructive activities out of blind habit. Furthermore, there is a connection between violence and the need to protect one’s possessions, perks, privileges, and all other types of accumulated status symbols. What you own really just owns you. This kind of consciousness becomes the source of much of our confusion, our identity crisis, our anxiety, our depression, our sleepless nights, and our illnesses. This is also a source of human violence.
As Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr explains it…”As we observe our minds in contemplation, first we recognize how many of our thoughts are defensive, oppositional, paranoid, self-referential, or in some way violent. Until we recognize how constant that dualistic mind is, we have no motivation to let go of it. Contemplation teaches us to say, ‘That feeling is not me. I don’t need that opinion to define me. I don’t need to justify myself or blame someone else.’”
An example of one simple way to contemplate meditation is to just observe the activities of a cat. It seems to me that cats are in meditation more often than they are in curious or playful mode, and even those 2 modes may be forms of their meditation. They sleep for about 16-18 hours a day. Their purring is still not well understood.
“Arise from sleep sweet cat, and with great yawns and stretchings…amble out for love.” This haiku statement is about cats’ display of effortless behavior and seeming absence of judgment about their process.
While there are no exact ways to practice meditation, there are certain processes which have the capacity to awaken and deepen meditative awareness. From my childhood meditative musings, I evolved a more formal inquiry into meditation in my college years during the early 1970’s. This study continued through medical school, surgical residency training, and onward into my life. My experiences with various teachers of yoga and meditation helped me understand that all good meditation practice involves 3 common practices:
1) The Relaxation Response is created when we relax our abdomen and pelvic diaphragm, draw in a deep measured belly breath; allowing the breath to fill the lungs from the bottom to the top of the thorax while expanding the belly and chest in a coordinated sequence. Such a physical process creates an induction current in the vagus nerves which then flood the body with parasympathetic nervous system toning. This nerve energetic creates calm, and is relaxing. Thus, such breathing is called the relaxing breath, or the calming breath, and this helps set the stage for…
2) Witness Consciousness. This aspect of meditation allows you to simply witness your thoughts and feeling states without becoming more involved than such an objective presence, or consciousness, would allow. Because we identify with our thoughts, feelings, and addictive compulsive patterns of perception and behavior, we do not practice developing the appropriate kind of disengagement from our own ego process. In witnessing your state, you are consciously disentangling your left brain from the ongoing and further endless processing which sounds like the voices of Judge, Critic, Skeptic, Pusher, and Victim. As you detach from how your brain has habituated itself to judging and embellishing your own process, your brain begins to become quiet. Such a quieting of brain chatter helps set the stage for…
3) Mindfulness. This aspect of meditation is not about the brain mind being full of thinking. It is about the primacy of the heart mind being the central organizing intelligence of our lives. The heart’s composition is 65% neural cardiocytes. These nerve cells are knowing, feeling, and longing, but they are doing so from the heart’s fractal and multidimensional energetic…not in words. Aside from the sounds created by the neuromuscular pumping heart in the closure of its 4 valves to make the first and second heart sounds, the heart is a silent organ. In mindfulness our brain mind assumes the identity of the heart mind and can know and participate in its mysteries instead of overriding them. In meditation we are engaged with getting the normal activity of the mind to become silent. The brain mind becomes quiet, and is then said to be full of the silence of heart mind, or…mindfulness.
When you are in your brain mind, you are never at peace, and when you are at peace you are never in your brain mind. However, you are in a much larger unified field which is synonymous with the deeper function of the heart. Indeed, sages of all paths have taught us that the mind has various layers. The surface layers are very active, but the deeper layers become increasingly quiet and still. Meditation might be thought of as a sort of vertical process…a dive into the mind’s depths at the level of the heart…not an entangled struggle at the surface of more brain thinking and confusions.
The 3 aspects of meditation more fully merge into each other when one has found the intrinsic pause between breaths and thoughts, described by many teachers as the Gap. Find that and you may simultaneously experience the Gap elongating and expanding as the dimensional distraction of time falls away. This silent Gap between our thoughts and our breath serves as the window of entry into the deeper levels of our mind. The awareness is developed that all of creation is really a composite meditation… one that is fused into an elongated moment of expanded awareness of its own unfolding and enfolding. Creation is playing itself out in our very lives. In truth, the Universe is breathing us more than we are breathing It.
A Buddhist practitioner friend of mine describes these moments of immersion as “short moments, many times.” He is referring to the message given by his own teachers which emphasizes that ongoing practice is needed to allow the meditative experience and immersion in the Gap to unfold and elongate.
There are natural mantras which occur on the in-breath and the out-breath. These mantras assist meditation and are going on all of the time one is breathing. I’ll explain 2 such mantras.
If you listen inwardly to the sound of the in-breath, you can hear the sound Ham. This Sanskrit syllable means, “I am.” On the out-breath you can hear the sound of the Sanskrit syllable sa, which means “That.” This special teaching from Kashmir Shaivism informs our consciousness with every breath with the Hamsa mantra…”I am That.”
Another mantra of the breath which has existed for millennia is YHVG which is the classical abbreviation for Yahweh, the name of God. Jewish people did not speak God’s name. They breathed it by inhaling Yah and exhaling weh.
If you listen to your in-breath and your out-breath, you will hear these sounds. You can hear Ham on the in-breath, as well as Yah. On the out-breath you can hear weh, as well as sa. The practice of hearing these sounds from different spiritual paths, even in a simultaneous fashion, will assist the meditative immersion experience. At some point, mind noises begin to fall away into stillness and complete quiet.
If you find yourself thinking about using 2 different mantras from 2 different paths at once, then you are too much in your thoughts. The purpose of using mantras is to assist your peace when you find yourself tangled up in thoughts. Use your witness observer…the thoughts begin to dissipate and fall away in this practice as mindfulness begins to emerge. The Gap between thoughts and breaths begin to widen into a deeper stillness.
By our very breathing we are experiencing the name of God and we are also participating in God’s breath by affirming “I am That.”
The in-breath and the out-breath co-exist in the space around the heart, where breath and blood reside in confluence. In your observation of this confluence you can learn how to do your thinking from this space. The 3 steps of meditation explained above offer the keys to your new way of mindfulness consciousness.
A goal is to recognize who you are in the supreme reality of your heart; a spontaneous recognition of the divine nature hidden in each human being. By embracing your true Identity, all of the inhibitory and problematic trappings of the false Self will begin to fall away.
There are also many helpful texts on the subject of meditation and mindfulness. Some of my favorites include:
- Wherever you Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Conquest of Mind, by Eknath Easwaran
- The Cloud of Unknowing by an unknown author, a late 14th century treatise on Christian contemplative prayer…a tradition lost by the Christian church, and should be revived…”Here beginneth a book of contemplation, the which is called the CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, in which a soul is oned with God,” says the author as the writing commences. The principles written in this text mirror the principles written in all of the texts on meditation.
- Meditate by Swami Muktananda
- The Heart of Meditation: Pathways to a Deeper Experience, by Swami Durgananda
The second sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states the purpose of all yoga, or meditation: yoga chitti vriti nirodha.
The translation of this phonetic Sanskrit is: “The purpose of yoga (meditation) is to still the thought waves of the mind.”
Thinking is the universal addiction which all people practice. Our addictive thinking is usually obsessive, self-referential, self-absorbed, repetitive, and self-justifying. We continually repeat and rehash our old story line. Meditation helps you to unpack, unclutter, and unlearn the old ways of thinking which have served to keep you stuck in the old story lines of your life.
In the 2000 movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance, the protagonist, a mystical golf caddy named Bagger Vance describes meditation (golf) as “how to stop thinking without falling asleep.” This movie is a loose interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, with portrayal of the characters Bagger Vance as Krishna, and Rannulph Junnah (R. Junnah) as Arjuna. Meaningful and amusing life quotes abound in the script of this delightful production, and are just as salient as any of the writings and references which you will discover in all of the various readings about meditation.
Aside from the health benefits covered in the first article in the suggested reading list below, meditation has another end point which is more complete. It ties us back into our true Identity with Source when the thought waves of the brain mind are stilled. This stillness imbues a uniquely individual inner knowing of our authenticity, and eludes description. This state can only be known through the hub of all holy places, the heart.
We can relinquish the convolutions and distractions provided by our ego, and we can refine our ego force to serve our health and our higher knowing.
The word religion comes from the Latin term re-ligio which means to re-ligate, or tie back to Self, or God Source. Meditation is a technique which allows us to practice true religion. Meditation is a foundational process of all true and great spiritual paths.
In the words of Richard Rohr, from the Center for Action and Contemplation, is a daily writing entitled Fragile Dignity:
“…Without healthy religion, you have no internal or inherent source for your own dignity and positive self-image. You have to find your status and your dignity externally by what you wear, by your title, by how much money you have, by what car you drive. That’s a pretty fragile way to live. You are constantly evaluating, ‘How am I doing? How am I looking?’ And your dignity can be taken away from you in one moment of loss of public status. This is the insecure post-modern world we live in. It is a moveable famine grounded in a sense of scarcity and ‘zero sum.’ Only true religion inhabits the world of abundance; it even draws upon an infinite abundance.”
In this 20 minute TED presentation, famed Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, “the happiest man in the world,” explains the essence of consciousness, our mind, and happiness. This view should prove to be worth your time and effort. Please come back to it when you can.
Practice meditation now. You don’t have to strive to get it right. You just want to get it started.
Put your body in a comfortable posture. Let your gaze soften and focus on nothing in particular, as if you were going into a day dream. Close your eyes. Settle in to the immediacy of your breathing and your body. Take in slow and measured relaxing breaths. Use an affirming mantra on the in-breath and the out-breath as you wish. Become quietly attentive to thoughts and feelings that arise, last a while, and then pass away. Try not to augment the thoughts and try not to push them away. Ongoing practice brings more quiet. A quiet mind is more important than any other types of mind states with which we may be familiar.
And remember, you don’t have to get it right. You just want to get it going. You can begin a practice in as little as 3 to 5 minutes a day.
As we practice witness consciousness we find ourselves more and more able to attain mindfulness and a deeper connection to all that is. We are able to get past (transcend) the inner noise of thoughts and feelings in order to experience what the silent witness inside is really like. Upon arising from meditation, our ordinariness returns, but we have developed a deeper and more intimate connection (re-ligio) to the Divinity which pervades and sustains our lives.
Meditation makes it highly likely that your view of the world will change from fear based reactivity to one of a deep and positive connection. In meditation, you move from your ego awareness to your spiritual awareness. Being less driven by ego, you become more drawn by Spirit.
Watch your thoughts and feelings like you watch clouds float by in the sky. Like the clouds, the thoughts drift away and you see the clear sky, empty, yet full of Light.
As was stated by Swami Muktananda, a great spiritual teacher of recent modern times, “Meditate on your Self. Honor your Self. Understand your Self. God dwells within you as you.”
It has been said many times in many ways that the discovery of our deepest inner Self and the discovery of Divinity are the same discovery. Meditation is what allows this discovery to unfold in our being.
Signing off from Crestone and Beyond.
Like a cat…with great yawns and stretchings…ambling out for Love…
Other References, a Writing, and a Breath Technique:
- The Science Behind Meditation and Why it Makes You Feel Better…science and health are good, but remember that the the real purpose of meditation is to unfold our inner being. The science of the good physiological benefits is a natural by-product of practiced meditation.
- Meditation–Solace for the Mind and Body…a little more science and comfort for mind and body.
- The Health Benefits of Meditation…Deepak Chopra explains.
- Freeing the Mind when the Body Hurts
- Magical Mindfulness…a nice visual and auditory meditation immersion in the sound of OM…best experienced with earphones.
- How to Stay Calm Among Chaos
- Turning Negative Thinkers into Positive Ones…a nice brief article from the NYT about a noble 8-fold practice to turn automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) into what I term as APTS, automatic positive thoughts…you develop an new and enlivening aptitude.
- Below is a nice and brief writing on witness consciousness and the Gap. This comes from Richard Rohr’s daily email contemplations, again, from his Center for Action and Contemplation, in Albuquerque, NM. This one is written by guest writer Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest, writer, and lecturer, who travels the globe seeking to bring a resuscitation and recovery of the Christian contemplative tradition.
Guest writer Cynthia Bourgeault explores the contemplative practice of Centering Prayer.
“In Centering Prayer, the letting go of thoughts is seen as ‘consenting to the presence and action of God.’ It carries that core sense of ‘Not my will but thine be done, O Lord,’ the words uttered by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. Recent neuroscience suggests that learning to let go of what we’re clinging to, mentally as well as emotionally, actually catalyzes some revolutionary—and evolutionary—changes in our neural wiring.
The usual explanations given for why we let go of all thoughts in Centering Prayer have to do with ‘making yourself empty so that you can be filled with God’ or reminders that a cluttered, preoccupied mind is hardly likely to be fully present—true enough. In my own teaching, I prefer to come at it from a slightly different angle, gently but firmly insisting that one does not release a thought in order to achieve some desired result; the releasing itself is the full meaning of the prayer.
I have attempted to explain this theologically on the basis of kenosis, or ‘letting go,’ which Saint Paul specifies in Philippians 2:5-11, as the very essence of ‘putting on the mind of Christ.’ Each time you manage to disengage from a thought, you are doing so in solidarity with Jesus’ own kenotic stance and in the process patterning that stance more and more deeply into your being until it eventually becomes your default response to all life’s situations.
Have you ever watched really closely what happens when you release a thought? Yes, in most cases more thoughts come rushing back in. But notice how there is a slight gap between them; if only for a nanosecond, there occurs a moment when you are present and alert, but in which your attention is focused on no particular thing. You are briefly in a state of objectless awareness.
This fleeting taste, in the Gap between thoughts, of a whole different bandwidth of consciousness is commented on extensively in the Eastern meditation traditions and in some small pockets of inner work in the Western esoteric tradition. If you stay with these moments of objectless spaciousness, they will open up a whole new approach not only to your own spiritual evolution, but also to understanding some of those more formidable masterpieces of our own Western spiritual tradition, such as The Cloud of Unknowing.”
8) A writing on proper breathing from the Mercola website.
9) The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique…a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. If practiced over a relatively brief time span this technique becomes a complete revitalizer and healing practice for the autonomic nervous system and the entire physiology. The link above will take you to a brief video showing Andrew Weil, M.D. explaining and demonstrating how to do this practice.
This practice will help settle and calm the mind prior to meditation.
To perform it correctly, the key is to remember the numbers 4, 7 and 8. It’s not important to focus on how much time you spend in each phase of the breathing activity, but rather that you get the ratio correct. Here’s how it’s done:
- Sit up straight and place the tip of your tongue up against the back of your front teeth, touching the roof of your mouth. Keep it there through the entire breathing process. Begin by exhaling fully through your mouth, making an audible “whoosh” sound.
- Breathe in silently through your nose to the count of four
- Hold your breath to the count of seven
- Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight, making an audible “whoosh” sound
- That completes one full breath. Repeat the cycle another three times, for a total of four breaths. It’s recommended you don’t do more than four full breaths during the first month or so of practice. Later you may work your way up to eight full breath cycles at a time. The 3 minute video with Dr. Andrew Weil in the link above is very helpful.