Every individual interested in self-improvement, wellbeing, and pastoral care or self-help methods to free oneself from the hell of unwanted addictions is bound to run into meditation sooner or later. Despite its increasing popularity amidst spiritual seekers, peacemakers, and lovers of harmonious communion with the inner self and with the greater cosmos there appears to be a surplus of incongruent opinions in wider circulation about what meditation actually is. Some equate it with fantasy, visualization, and self-reflection; some with orthodox schools of Hindu yoga; and some fall into the trap of confounding it with practices of “going walkabouts” prevalent in indigenous shamanism. While meditation may incorporate or inaugurate the said practices as well as many others, the orientation of its overarching objective is inimitable. I remember asking one rather boisterous middle-aged woman who I met while perusing the New Age and History categories of a local bookshop what her idea of meditation was. Without bothering to mull things over in her head she inaptly declared that, “Meditating is a huge waste of time because you do it in your sleep anyway.” Wretchedly, her deplorable perception of meditation is an inflated picture of the ignorance that pervades the wider community about esoteric spirituality. Why else would retail outlets like bookstores, academic institutions like universities, and communal repositories of knowledge like libraries misappropriate a multidisciplinary approach to knowing that has existed for time immemorial by slapping pejorative titles like “New Age”, ‘Speculative Philosophy” and “Religion” onto it?
So how might the practice of meditation be defined? We might begin with a disclosure of its primary characteristics. We know for a fact that it’s intimately connected to the exploration of the inner realms, that there are shallower and deeper levels, and that it involves a confluence of awareness at one single spot. Some words that come to mind when we think about the technique are focus, concentration, silence, stillness, congruence, void, quietude, and stasis. Can you guess what the common denominator underrunning these qualities might be? It’s obviously inertia of mentation, right? As brilliant and phenomenal as it is the human mind has a major flaw; it can never be stopped. In this way it mimics a frontward-moving torrent where the water itself is the field of waking consciousness and the debris that is being swept along the internal projections that account for experience. Trying to stop it is about as futile as endeavouring to sabotage the trajectory of the sun’s path along the sky or the moon’s rotation around the Earth. If you don’t believe me just take a seat and see what happens each time you attempt to go blank like a sheet of A4 reflex paper. Jettison one thought and another is there waiting for you. Block off one sense–sight, smell, taste, touch, or hearing–and another will augment to balance the sensory distortion. Even when you lapse into the nocturnal physical repose called sleep, your mind continues to flash visual and auditory symbols of thought-desires at you in the form of dreams. Discounting some phases of sleep in which the activity of the mind might slow to a near stop and even stop completely, there is never a time when mentation is not occurring. I suppose this is why sensory deprivation is so detrimental to an integrated and healthy personality. Block off all possible avenues of experience and the mind will find other ways to entertain itself, usually by invoking unconscious contents into consciousness and triggering “madness”. If the inertia of mentation is not fully possible, then the next best thing would be the slowing of mentation. Quintessentially this is what meditation is; a conscious attempt at decelerating the mind.
For a novice the idea of training the mind in such a way may seem ludicrous and irrational. How does one slow an express train with no brakes? The obvious answer would be to tilt the ground so that our runaway train has to ascend a slope. For the mind this would entail funnelling self-awareness to include only those sensations detected by the same sensory faculty, or focusing the mind on a specific stimulus or point. The best way to begin any meditative practice is to splay oneself out on the floor or sit cross-legged with both hands folded into one’s lap. Zen Buddhists call the latter zazen. Naturally the position assumed should be comfortable and conducive to relaxation, but not so comfortable and relaxing that you end up falling asleep! Once the individual is contented with their choice, he or she should close his or her eyes and focus on a specific part of the body. Two of the most popular regions are the space between the eyes (the position of the third eye) and the solar plexus (the position of the third chakra). Shutting out visual stimuli by closing the eyes is not mandatory, though it does help some in shutting out distractive aspects of the environment. Others harbour a preference for auditory methods of attaining focus like rhythmic breathing interjected by words like “in-out”, or slowed breathing accompanied by repetitive mantric resonances like “om”. Each manner of inducing deep concentration has found a home in the variant esoteric schools that have evolved to embraced meditation.
In a world where the hustle-and-bustle of commonplace living has contributed greatly to innumerable panic attacks, nervous breakdowns, neuroses, and psychoses, meditation has become a saluted sanctuary, an inner temple of healing, and a transitory repose from communal chaos. There’s much to like about it and all available evidence suggests that it improves both quality of life and personal sensitivity. Those that spend a small portion of time meditating daily usually notice a marked improvement in their overall temperament. Habitually noticeable are the abeyance of angst and confusion and the augmentation of inner-peace and harmony. In communing consciously with the archetypal contents of the inner world, one becomes far more sensitive to subtler aspects of their own natural leanings, the phenomenal world, and experience in general. The newfound acumen empowers the individual in a great many ways: it opens up the intuitive pathways of self-reflection and analysis; it broadens the emotional scope of all possible experiences; it promulgates definitive feelings of peace and autonomy; and it allows the individual to embark upon smoother and much more balanced modes of operation. From a phenomenological perspective, meditation offers a much more intimate accessibility to experience and self-knowledge that the five sensory modalities in that the states entered are in themselves kernels of experience and self-knowledge. Meditation is a portal created by our own consciousness that beckons us to walk into the many worlds beyond.
The desire to return to such an enchanting realm once you become acquainted with it is very overpowering. Amity and pleasure are essential and desirable to a human species which more often than not revels in disparate and deplorable conditions; hence when one finds it, he or she is inclined to return there again and again. It’s not uncommon for one to become addicted to meditation. Moreover, by turning inward and plunging into the wellspring of our own being we become aware of realities coexisting with our own. To experience them is to understand that our everyday contracted and narrowed state of semihypnosis offers only a limited, superficial, and subjectified view of reality. This insight is usually the ammunition needed to jettison any serious perceptions of the phenomenal world. Somebody who meditates may soon come to the conclusion that the former is an illusory plane unworthy of emotional investments or serious consideration. The predisposition for Tibetan Buddhists and many other Eastern schools of religious philosophy to view attachment to gross matter as the primary cause of pain, anguish, and disillusionment may indeed be entrenched in insights garnered from the meditative state. In such a condition, one is also likely to apprehend that our spatiotemporal notions of the cosmos are somehow flawed. The state of being becomes Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” where Western clock-ticking constructs of time dissolve into oblivion and leave behind an undisclosed, boundless space of eternity. Here there are no explicit boundaries of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, centuries, and millennia. There is no rectilinear motion of cycles pertaining to planets, solar system, and galaxies or an inflexible progression from past to present and present to future. Everything distorts, blends, and runs into everything else like a surrealist painting that has been violently ruffled up before the colourful paints have had any chance to dry. Once an individual penetrates the inner realms through meditation and develops an understanding of existence based on what is encountered and experienced there, he or she begins to see the phenomenal world as a competent scientist sees his own laboratory; as an experimental space in which intuitive conceptual novelties can be tried.
The first thing I became conscious of on my initial attempts at meditation was my mind’s resistance to uninterrupted concentration. Many people don’t quite realize how hard it is to restrict the trajectory of your thoughts to one thing and hold it there for extended periods of time until they try it for themselves. For instance in a candle meditation one’s focus can vacillate between inward cognizance and external sensations, between the subject (the candle itself) and everything in the periphery (the background), or between two incongruent subjects that mentation has become fixated upon. Unsympathetic to your cause and seemingly untameable in the beginning, the mind will frolic about bringing one object into its field of view, scrying a certain aspect of it for no more than a few seconds, and then troubling you by shifting awareness to a different feature. No one point remains the subject for too long and even when it does our inner diagnostic equipment plays little tricks on us by drastically altering its shape and colour, moving it, garbling it, and even wiping it from our field of vision altogether. The same usually applies to images, symbols, and other pictograms evoked inwardly. Their guise will last for all of a few seconds before morphing into something else. Passive observation of these mutable images may seem pointless and time-consuming but anybody attuned to inner processes would affirm that the opposite holds true. Everything unfolding along the rich, multifaceted corridor of one’s mental eye is symbolic of the current psychic state of that individual. Hence the mental enactment might reveal an unprecedented aspect of self or a life direction that was hitherto unconscious.
Meditation can be used as a technique to gain entrance into several levels of being beginning from lower common states like relaxation and rumination and ascending to much rarer ones like enlightenment or transcendence. Experiences of the latter usually involve the complete dissolution of the personal ego and the amplification of consciousness so that aspects of creation usually perceived as disparately related are gathered back together under the aegis of a single numinous and unifying force. Eastern tradition ascribes a great many names to them like bodhi, kensho, satori, prajna, and buddhahood. This level of awakening and insight is not readily attainable and becomes almost impossible when consciously sought. Higher levels only open up when the requisite understanding of inner processes and of reality have been attained. For a neophyte, the best approach to meditation is probably one that sees it as a means of withdrawing from the inexorable stresses of day-to-day life and inducing a state of deep relaxation and introspection. The respite one gets from the ravages of the external world is reason enough to do it.
Below I have fabricated a meditation that incorporates fantasy and visualization. Its chief purpose is to raise the energy levels and vibrations of the body which should in turn keep nasty little illnesses at bay.
You may choose to light a few scented white candles, spray some aromatic mist around the room, or burn some incense before beginning this meditative technique which is aimed at cleansing ourselves of negative vibrations and increasing our inner and physical strength, as well as our vitality.
I want you to find a comfortable spot–either on the bed, on a chair, or on the floor–and start taking long and deep breaths. Breathe in and then breathe out. Breathe in and then breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Do it nice and slowly. Do it rhythmically. Try to loosen every muscle in your body. Some will be tight no doubt. Let all the tension seep out of them with each exhalation. Now imagine a red, fiery ball before you. This fiery ball is magnetically charged and attracts to it all the stress and discomfort nagging your head, your neck, your shoulders, your back, your chest, your arms and hands, your abdominal region, your groin, your buttocks, yours thighs, knees, and calves, your feet, and your toes. Soon you should begin feeling completely relaxed as the red ball has sucked all the parasitic tension from your body. You are now like an empty container, or better still like an empty battery ready to be injected with electrical, magnetic vitality; with the vital force that exists in all things around us and which has made all of Life possible.
Now begin the renewal by focusing your attention upon the soles of your two feet. Do not allow your concentration to waver from the feeling inherent in your feet. Your feet connect you with the earth, our Great Mother. From her you sprung forth and it is her duty and honour to rejuvenate all her mortal children with her all-encompassing, mighty, and noble soul. Now try to project your entire being into the soles of your feet. Right now you are inside, around the soles of your two feet which have covered an infinite distance and which deserve all the attention and pampering they can get. Allow yourself to feel a little tingle there, that pleasant sensation that you get when somebody traces a bird feather over your naked skin.
While all this is transpiring you must continue to take long, deep breaths. I cannot stress enough how vital it is that the breathing pattern is not interrupted. Breathe in and breathe out. Continue gulping down air; the breath of life is allowing vital force to manifest. Once you have orientated yourself accordingly allow your consciousness to move upwards towards your ankles, feeling the vital force as numinous warmth that fills the inner space of your own body in the way that natural light seeps through a window and blights out all stygian darkness. The sensation between your toes and your ankles should be one of complete renewal. You now feel this part of your body as a newborn feels and wiggles around his own toes. All the millage in your feet has been spontaneously annulled. Make sure you keep breathing; don’t stop taking those deep, oxygen-rich breaths.
Gradually allow the light to rise up to your knees as the seawater does when you’re stepping into a beach. You are acutely conscious of the space from your toes right up to your knees. Nothing more, nothing less. There is nothing that exists outside of that for the time being. You are the warm, radiant, and conscious light that permeates the space inside the said region. You are immersing yourself deeper in the ever-flowing spring of vital life force that will never and can never be exhausted. Feel it rising through your thighs, your groin, and the area where your legs connect with your pelvic girdle. It rises as the ocean tides rise and evokes tingling warmth in those areas that flood you with a sense of replenishment and relaxation. Your concentration has protracted to encompass everything from your toes to your pelvis. It brims with the energies of the earth.
Your lower body now pulses with a brilliant white light, an incandescence not known to the gross material plane. Without making any verbal utterances, visualize your being within it. You have entered your lower body. Now desire that only health, happiness, and contentment should reign here. Echo that wish throughout your lower body so that it may be heard and heeded to. You do not under any circumstances allow harm or misfortune to befall your lower body.
Make sure that your eyes are shut and that you’re breathing deeply, slowly, and regularly. Do not allow any disruptions to your concentration for it will bring to a halt the cycle of rejuvenation. Now let the vital energy soar higher to your midsection and flood your chest. You feel the warm, tingling sensation from the balls of your feet all the way up to your chest now. You can feel the fundamental harmony that reigns supreme in here and which connects you to others and to the entire universe. Your sensations encompass the said regions also. The inner vibrations of light are working to heal even the slightest glitch in your biological armoury. Travel within the confines of your own chest and abdominal region and see them. They are like nebulous, white clouds but these ones happen to be tinted with a magnificent shade of iridescent blue, the colour of the sky and of the ocean. Blue is serenity. It is celestial. It is the abyssal depths of tranquil being, of peace, and of concord. Your being is attuned to these nebulae which have been created and activated by you for protection; they are sentient and will act on your behalf when your awareness is elsewhere. Without further ado wish that your upper body shall revel in exuberant health and joy. You do not under any circumstances allow external vibrations to infect, possess, or interfere with your mode of being. You forbid it as Mother Nature forbids the transcendence of eternal laws. Breathe in and out; breathe in and out again. Keep the circulation of air going.
Now let your being hover about the blue-white nebula that you have created within the confines of your upper body. Let the image of a kaleidoscopic white rose sprout forth from your own chest. Feel its petals branching out and filling every nook and cranny. The blooming of this rose is you in your perpetual state of becoming. You are inside the rose and the rose is inside you. As the rose unfolds and releases its fragrance, so too do vital energies proliferate swiftly within your chest. The preceding avatars of your personality and the potentiality of future transformations are inside this rose-self. You will always carry them with you. Behold this divine flower as a projection of your own being. Desire with all your being that the harmony of the universe reigns eternal inside your chest. Desire with all your being that the harmony of the universe reigns eternal in your thought-desires. Desire with all your being that the harmony of the universe reigns eternal in your psyche.
Let these thoughts gravitate about the rose for a while before shifting your attention to your shoulders. Feel the vital life force coursing up to your shoulders from your chest and back down along your arms until it flushes out into your fingertips. Try to visualize this as a radiant white light illuminating two transparent ampules that are your hands. You can feel the flush, the warmth, and the powerful vibrations. These hands are your own, they’re yours to keep but they were also given to you for the sake of helping your fellow brethren. You must make a heartfelt wish that these hands will be used to hold others lovingly; to assist them in times of need; to alleviate them of emotional and physical pain; and to heal them of their pains when cosmic law permits it. Make a pledge with the Earth and with your own Self. By upholding and honouring this pledge, you are in effect contributing to the raising of vibrations that will free us from the oppression of our own Shadow.
Don’t stop taking those long, deep breaths. As you do allow the revivifying light to creep up and engulf your thyroid. Allow a projection of that light to form into an egg-shaped sphere that glimmers with a carroty-orange incandescence. At the same time allow your inwardly-turned voice to make the following command: “Let the powerful life force now circulating heal any existing impairment in my upper body. The light bathes my thyroid with vitality and will continue to do so even after this meditation is over.” Feel the influx of life force within and around your thyroid. You are inside the sacred space of the cosmos, an animate temple that happens to be your own body. Imprint the most loving thoughts onto it so that it may continue to be of service to you for a long time yet.
Let your pulsating body sink further away from waking consciousness whilst continuing to relax but don’t let yourself slip into sleep. Feel the white light rise further and further upwards until it has filled up your head completely. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the tingling sensation of the glowing warm light. It’s there to heal and protect you from the dangers of the outside world and from negative vibrations sent towards you by others. Embrace it as a mother would embrace her newborn child. Smile with all your heart and soul and let its golden rays infuse you with even more liveliness and strength. This loveliest light now pours out of your head; your head is saturated in it but concurrently contains it, like the foetus which receives nutrients from its mother whilst bathing in the generative waters of her womb. In your mind’s eye you see the light becoming cloudy and nebulous. It phosphoresces with a golden irradiance more brilliant than our material sun or any of the twinkling stars in the heavens. Your entire body is now experiencing communion with the cosmic source that allowed your present incarnation. Make another heartfelt wish in its presence. Desire that only harmony and love shall inhabit your body and mind. To prevent anything else from getting in mentally construct an ethereal force field and infuse it with the sentience needed to tell the difference between the higher vibrations of harmony and benevolence and lower vibrations of discord and malevolence like envy, jealousy, narcissism, hate, and so forth. Wish that it protects you from a collision course with all those unwanted sentiments and then withdraw. By putting these wishes out there you’ll be perfectly safe from negative vibrations even when your consciousness or awareness has turned elsewhere. Desire only the good and the moral in your life. Desire only what is worthy and noble. Desire guidance if and when you might require it.
You are now acutely aware of the life force flowing within and around you. Every cell, every organ, every system in your body has been energized with concentrated vital force. This vital force will be readily available for healing purposes should your body need it. Visualize your body as it is now: your limbs and extremities are suffused in a beaming white light; your midsection and buttocks in a shade of blue; your chest in a rosy pink hue of white; and your head in a golden-yellowish corona. Visualize a second force field around that that throbs with pure white light. You are inside this force field, in the middle of it; you are a divine child of our Earth Mother. You are inside her sacred womb actually. It is her sacred duty to protect her children. Make a heartfelt wish that she protect you from anything and anyone wishing to harm you. She will trap and dissolve any negative vibrations coming your way in the manner that non-synthetic fibres like cotton dissuade static electricity. She will transmute the poisonous arrows that have been shot at you by others into harmless cogon grass seeds that might continue flying about you in a windstorm before finally settling on the ground. You must not under any circumstances deflect these negative vibrations back to their origin. Do not will their return to an individual who suffers from the self-destructive pain of their own ignorance and insecurity. You must exercise love and understanding at all times. What is desirable for you is also desirable for your brothers and sisters. Send positive energy and thoughts of love but do no harm.
You can open your eyes once you’ve finished making your wishes. A most appropriate way to finish the session is by doing a few light stretches and then drinking a glass of water. To get the most out of this exercise I suggest you practice it every night before going to sleep.