Every evening after work he descended into his small basement apartment, assumed a lotus position in front of a blank space of wall and began counting his breaths, fiercely concentrating on each number until nothing occupied his consciousness but the number … 1 … 2 … 3 … . After each cycle of 10 he started over. And when he had moved through two or three cycles without any wandering of attention, he let go of the numbers and focused on breaths alone. And when after further concentration he was so thoroughly fixed on the breaths that no distracting thought or feeling could enter in, he moved on to contemplate nothing but the emptiness of his own consciousness. He remained in this final state for about half an hour, thereafter rousing himself and going upstairs to dinner.
It was called meditation. He had developed this particular technique with the aid of a book called The Three Pillars of Zen. It allowed him to relax at the close of each work day, and when he returned to the affairs of the external world he saw things in a different way, at least for a little while. Mounting the steps to the kitchen sometimes seemed like ascending the golden stairway to the “celestial city.” The carrots on his plate melted into the french-fried potatoes and vice versa. The wall calendar alternately sparkled and shimmered. And auras, yes, the auras around people were quite distinguishable.
Of course, the ultimate goal was “enlightenment,” attainment of the blissful state of nirvana, deliverance from the wheel of birth and death, total union with the universe. And did he not read that evidence of this achievement was seeing the “white light” during the third stage of meditation? Well, in two of his recent sittings he had done just that! To be sure, these were just fleeting patches of light, but white light nonetheless.
He began to spend a lot of time thinking about whether he had or had not been enlightened; in fact, this became a major distraction during his daily meditation, eventually assuming such importance that he found it very difficult to enter the third phase at all. After several experiences of anything but blissful contemplation, he decided that enlightenment had indeed been attained earlier and that the hour he normally spent meditating could more profitably be spent reading the daily paper.
The principal character in the preceding narrative is, you guessed it, yours truly. Perhaps many reading this article have had similar experiences, for variations on the kind of meditation practice described above have reached great heights of popularity not only among young adults seeking a substitute for psychedelics but also among established professional people seeking a more effective way of coping with the pressures of the rat race than alcohol, tranquilizers and psychoanalysis. Teachers of meditation, some of them with rather dubious credentials, have swelled with the rising tide, making meditation a highly marketable commodity.
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t receive a brochure in the mail or an email promoting a university or free university course in meditation, a conference on the same or a “meditation camp” where it is combined with such things as horseback riding and skiing. And as for paraphernalia, well, there are scads of ads for meditation benches, garments, shoes, posters, timers, charms, beads, special mantras and everything else to streamline the voyage inward. In short, meditation has been pretty well stripped of its Eastern religious trappings and secularized, Westernized, commercialized and otherwise appropriated as a technique by “civilized” human beings to get what they think they want.
And what shall we do with it? Paul Dean wrote in the Phoenix Arizona Republic: “The nice thing about meditation is that it makes doing nothing quite respectable.” While Mr. Dean may be stretching things a bit, such a statement is at least in part justified when meditation is seen as something limited to lotus postures and laborious concentration, as something divorced from the activities of everyday living. I suggest that we begin to see it in a different way: as something expansive and outpouring, as a spiritual dynamic that properly includes the whole of life. Something of this broader perspective was evident in an article I found the other day in one of my old New Age magazines entitled “Natural Meditation: The Bud of Creativity.”
Quoting from the article: “Tens of thousands of Americans are looking for the source in meditation and taking workshop after workshop in search of effective techniques. Yet we are all natural meditators who need no instruction. Self-realization comes from knowing ourselves. We can close our eyes anytime, anywhere, and ask to have something revealed to us about ourselves, or we can drive, sit, lie down, walk, wash dishes, sing in the shower, and all of that is meditation.”
Yes, meditation in the true sense includes everything we do. However, to facilitate this, I believe self-expression rather than self-realization should be our primary concern. We are not particularly interested, as is the case with many meditators, in acquiring self-knowledge; we are simply interested in giving forth the blessing of life in each unique situation that we encounter. As one of my mentors put it: “True meditation might be defined as the direct participation of one’s body, mind and emotions in the spiritual expression of one’s true nature in the field of one’s own particular responsibility. This is God in action on earth.” I might add that when this is done, self-realization is added as a bonus.
In contrast, the popular approach to meditation is often based in getting—getting a victory in the big tennis match, getting “peace of mind,” getting self-knowledge, ultimately getting out of the earth into some kind of inner heaven. But to me, authentic meditation is actually a quality of attunement with the higher vibratory levels of spirit for the purpose of letting what is present at these levels be revealed in form on earth. It is outer-directed, not inner-directed. It is letting heaven come on earth, not escaping from the earth into an imaginary heaven. We truly meditate as we fill the forms of Earth with the substance of heaven by the consistent expression of the truth of ourselves from moment to moment.
Speaking of filling the forms of Earth, how would you like to go “meditate” with me on the heavenly substance represented by a banana split at the nearest Dairy Delight? This reminds me of the young woman who took up Transcendental Meditation to lose weight, and her mantra was “Hot Fudge Sundae.” I understand that she consumed 362 mantras during her first sitting and would not come out of her meditative trance until a real hot fudge sundae was put in front of her. There must be a better way, and if you have genuinely meditated on the words of this article you should know what it is.