I don't remember how we met online, and we've never met in person. Someone gave me Jody's e-mail address, and my life was never the same. Thank you Jody. By Jonathan (Jody) Boyne Meditative experiences occur spontaneously and naturally as an inherent part of our psychosocial-spiritual life as peak experiences brought about in moments of insight, breakthroughs or physical challenges, in settings of natural beauty, or simply gazing at the ocean horizon or out a window. Someone also called these peek experiences. Kurt Vonnegut called them leaks. Meditation traditions distinguish between the focused task-oriented activity of looking and the wide-open receptivity of gazing and seeing, and use metaphors like a grasping hand or an open hand. In focused activity in consciousness such as looking, our attention can be illustrated as converging lines, which is why we use an arrow as a symbol to direct awareness > and why two eyes are required for binocular vision, and why a mind capable of dualistic rational thought is required for measuring and comparing. An experiment found that when an object is focused on without interruption, the image disappears from perception. This is why we continually move our eyes. With the 3-dimensional body's physical senses, we can only perceive change in stimuli while a continuous stimuli eventually is tuned out. Without constant changing stimuli, we may begin to feel disoriented—as in sensory-deprivation chambers or tanks, or in the perceptual white-out that can occur in blizzards. Peak and beginning meditation experiences may also feel disorienting, as familiar physical and mental landmarks are deautomatized. One experiment used half ping-pong balls taped over the eyes to induce what was called a “ganz field” from the German ganzfeld for “entire field,” and the Zen practice of gazing at a wall accomplishes the same result. This progression of attention from focusing into opening of attention can be intentionally used in meditation disciplines, as the one-pointed focus of converging dualistic mind and lines > imply the continuation of these lines >< in the same way a manifest pyramid /\ implies its mirror image above \/. Formal meditation for limited periods of time produce this opening of awareness that then generalizes into all our experience, allowing focus while retaining awareness of the whole. ESP experiments found that successful company CEOs were able to collect widely varied information with the rational mind, then make useful intuitive leaps. Such experiences can be both spontaneous and fostered in a variety of ways.
Meditation practice is a discipline. Inasmuch as everyday life requires disciplined awareness, such opportunities abound. In one meditation class, the instructor noticed the peaceful poise of one woman and asked her if she had previous experience with meditation. "I knit," she replied. An important point is illustrated in a parable about the difference between the stork and the meditator. Each have great concentration, but the stork gets fish while the meditator gets enlightenment. You attain what you concentrate on. I like to say that we pay attention, so what have we bought? What we spend our attention on is what we gain. Survival, social acceptance, love, wisdom, peace—Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in psychology, and Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development. Meditation develops an ability to accomplish focused tasks while remaining aware of the whole, to be consciously and usefully functioning cells in the universal body. As described in the Visuddhimagga—the Buddhist map of consciousness and meditation manual—traditional meditation involves a learning and application of specific practices and an understanding of the natural developmental stages that we all go through. Such educated practice is like the parent who knows the natural developmental stages of their child's life, in contrast to the parent who does not know what to expect or when, and goes forth in some degree of faith for better or worse. A teacher-mentor-jungle guide (Wall Street term) can be of great help, but all learn eventually, one way or another. To become progressively still and centered allows a greater and more consistent conduit of power, for whatever purpose one chooses. It all boils down to either service to self or service to others. Eventually, waffling and rationalization about this polarity is pushed and shoved to a crux by life circumstances, and all eventually choose one or the other. My father read and practiced Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson's The Relaxation Response, in which he deculturalized the TM (Transcendental Meditation) practice to a simple internal repetition of the word “One” in a comfortable position. This carries the same meaning as the Sanskrit word OM (AUM)—the important point being a conceptual resonance with unity. The Sanskrit does have a more direct vibrational congruence with that of the natural creation, ie the Word, but to Westerners “One” will carry the idea more accessibly. I think this is why the word Home feels so welcoming (it might be used as a mantra also). Swiss researcher, Hans Jenny, found that the Sanskrit mantras— traditionally associated with specific yantras or visual pattern designs or mandalas—are indeed related. He set up steel plates covered with a thin layer of sand and connected them to microphones. When each mantra was accurately intoned by an experienced practitioner, the associated yantra pattern formed in the sand. The point of this was to show that our expressions—our Word—has literal and direct effect and meaning in the real world. So one's word is indeed a responsible and creative act.
One sits and meditates, but then one must continue with worldly life to gradually generalize the meditative state into all of one's life. Just as we take any specific learning and make general use of it, so the meditation practice becomes one of maintaining balance or equanimity and peace, regardless of outer circumstances. The saying is “praise and blame—all the same.” Easier said than done, so we practice. I like to say “the impossible gets easier the more we do it.”
Two Basic Meditation Practices
- Samadhi and samadhi meditation—absorption into unity, a unifying meditation, useful for one-pointedness and peace. It is what most people think of as meditation, and involves any kind of one-pointed focus, whether on a mantra, a mandala (visual image picturing unity), breathing, candle, etc.
- Vipassana meditation involves the practice of noticing or awareness. It is a complementary counterpart of samadhi meditation to develop the ability to be aware, yet not be caught up by everything. One remains aware of the mundane world, and practices by saying internally: “noticing, noticing ...” to all contents of perception—noises, bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts—everything.
Tibetan meditation manuals outline three approaches to these events or contents of consciousness as psychology puts it. First, we can assertively and aggressively cut off awareness of them at their root, or secondly, once they are noticed, or thirdly, let them play, as we do a car engine with the clutch pressed to disengage the transmission. The engine can be idle, but isn't transmitted to the wheels. As in sleep when we have experiences, but don't act them out physically. This third is by far the easiest and most benign, and least apt to become problematic. In any meditation practice, the evolution is from the formal practice of posture and time, to what psychology would call a generalization of this state of mind into and throughout all our day and life areas. Like riding a bicycle or any learned skill, at first we self-consciously focus on the practice, then gradually the ability to balance becomes second nature and without thought. Our grasp on the wheel is less white-knuckled and more a light touch, like an experienced driver, and we try less to stay off the sidewalks and simply aim down the road. Even after we have become a skilled bicyclist, we can lose our balance, and regain it, get up if we've fallen, and ride on. In meditation, this road is toward infinity, as when we gaze into the distance and our eyes un-focus, each eye's line of sight become parallel to the other (=) rather than (>). I used a variety of formal practices when I began to meditate, and occasionally did so in a group of others. This can be powerful and encouraging to others in this often contentious society. Mostly, I meditated alone, and less often in formal sitting form. There are practices that lend themselves to use during the midst of daily activities, such as simple mantras, focusing on breathing, etc. There is a very humble book, The Way of a Pilgrim, an unnamed journal of an 18th-century Russian monk. It is about his attempts to find out what the Bible means that we should pray without ceasing, since he can't understand how this could be done. If you don't mind the Christian bent of the book, it is an illustration of how to maintain a focus all the time regardless of our inner and outer activity. OM SAI RAM