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..:: Enlightenment X / Meditation ::..

07/16/2010

- Alan Schneider -

                              

              What is to be done about the world of Newtonian physics in which we seem to be entrapped – the so-called 3D Universe?    The philosophy of Yoga calls this world the Mind Trap, a reference to the role that our perception plays in its creation.   So, are we trapped in the Body, the Mind, or the World?    The answer is: all three, but it is only through mental adjustment that anything can be done about it – the body and the environment remain fixed in physicality, whatever their ultimate spiritual nature may be.   This essay describes the mental means needed to effectively counteract the Yoga Mind Trap on all of its levels of manifestation. 

            The body is the anchor of physicality in perception: this happens through the combined action of the physical senses, the mental perception of those senses, and the sentient interpretation of that perception – its perceived meaning to the ego, the personal focus of sentience present in the human condition.    The ego, in turn, is ultimately an acculturated phenomenon – it has no real existence apart from the cultural contexts in which it occurs.    We are, above all, and after all, social creatures whose self-perceptions occur in comparative contexts – in this sense, we are all mobile difference engines, constantly evaluating ourselves against each other.    This is the essential composition of the Mind Trap – an interactive combination of neural sensory activity (as occurring in the central nervous system), higher neurological events taking place in the brain, and social sentience – with these elements all feeding back into each other in an incredibly complex structure of psychophysical events that “I” know as “me” at any given point in Newtonian time and space.   If we remain in this state of being, we are little more than rats on the rat-wheel in the “laboratory” known as life, and this without regard to how well we perform – the wheel is the wheel is the wheel, and the only real alternative is to get off.    Yoga and meditation are two primary means of doing this.   

            The origins of these two activities are lost in time, but they have certainly been in existence for several thousand years in one form or another.    In fact, to simplify things here, Yoga, whether postural and physical or contemplative and mental, is a form of the larger practice of meditation.  The conceptual underpinning of the various Yogas (the Yoga historian Patanjali identified eight fundamental varieties) is geared in all cases toward interrupting the closed feedback loops of cultural conditioning to establish the possibility of non-interpretive perception of the flow of experience.  This flow is universally present in the stream of collective consciousness originating with the Self referred to so often in these essays.  

            A prior discussion of the significance of life in general is probably in order at this time, before we proceed to the specific techniques of release from the Mind Trap afforded by meditation in its many forms. The Greek philosopher Socrates once observed that “The unexamined life is not worth living!”, yet this is precisely the kind of life that the vast majority of human beings lead today – thoroughly embedded in their cultures of origin with little or no awareness of any alternatives at all.    The meaning of this type of existence is exclusively culture dependent, and necessarily transitory, passing away with the death of the body that existed as little more than the individual unit of cultural expression.    Occasionally, certain individuals move away from this functional sleep-walking existence and begin to awaken to the presence of something beyond acculturation, but often implicitly realize the extent to which they are caught in the Mind Trap in the process, and retreat into the rationalization or denial of their condition – the “vital lies” mentioned in Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck as the motivating principles of life.  While there is certainly more “vitality” in this mode of existence, it still falls short of the real mark of liberation from the Mind Trap, because it relies on reactive thinking for its substance.    What is required is the full perceptual extrication from culture rendered attainable at the immediate wish of the individual.    This quality of experience is what meditation affords to us when practiced faithfully and correctly – the full freedom of consciousness provided by disciplined perception.   

            The question can, and should, be asked whether this freedom is a denial of social responsibility, or even a psychotic denial of external reality.  I would counter with another question: “What, after all, are we here for?”   Is the meaning of life found in the unthinking collection of financial and social objects?   Is it found in addiction?    Is it found in senseless suffering?  Boredom?  Apathy?   At least in the experiment of meditation we are making a conscious decision to explore within and look for the answers to meaning where they are most likely to be found – the mechanism of consciousness.    If anything, this is an ultimately responsible activity and an ultimately sane one as well – responsible because Socrates was absolutely correct in his observation – we must examine life to give it worth – and sane because inner peace is the core of all sanity, and meditation reliably produces this condition as the experience of spiritual bliss.   The unadulterated exposure to the Newtonian condition is toxic by its very nature, and requires the appropriate application of an antidote – a psychological countermeasure – to neutralize this toxicity.   Meditation is just such an antidote.  

            How does meditation function to achieve this healing result?  First, by establishing a voluntary disconnect from the three agencies of physicality noted in the previous paragraphs – the body, senses, and ego.    This is quite different from the involuntary disconnect of psychoses, or the involuntary confusion and turbulence of neuroses.    It is also fundamentally different from the addictions and habituations seen in many cultures around the world, all of which subject the individual to dependencies on external events and conditions for their practice – usually more or less costly and dangerous ones.   Meditation costs nothing but the time spent in its practice, and generates progressive healing and wellness as its consequence, not any form of external dependency.    The only possible negative to this procedure is that it can be abused by practicing it excessively to the detriment of positive cultural involvement – a balance of time spent in various different constructive cultural activities (e.g. working, resting, socializing, exercise, relaxation, worship, etc.) may be necessary to prevent the onset of “mediholism” in some cases.    The Buddha even said on one occasion that the addiction to Enlightenment was the final one to be overcome, and advocated the practice of the humble simplicity of the Buddhist lifestyle – “chop wood, carry water” – as the goals that would resolve this final obstacle to full spiritual freedom.    

            Although there are many different approaches to meditation, they all involve some form of mild-to-heavy trance induction through some initially external activity – Yoga postures, spiritual contemplation, walking, chanting, singing, prayer, rhythmic breathing, gazing into a light source or at a suitable object, listening to a pleasant repetitive tone – all done to the point where the body, senses, and ego begin to relax their hold on consciousness, enabling the above noted trance state to ensue.   This state is characterized by a defocusing of ego awareness – the normally acutely observant ego is displaced through sensory relaxation by the more diffuse observations of the underlying native consciousness of the observer.   This may be a more or less subconscious or even previously unconscious state of being for the observer, but it is the more comfortable, natural state of observation in any case.    The accompanying condition of this diffuse observation of events (both external and internal) is the highly beneficial state of detachment from the acculturated associations to sense objects of various kinds – sexual, material, monetary, chemical, impulsive, compulsive, and so on.    This detachment is the essence of spiritual freedom from sense objects, and conversely represents the possibility of attachment to spiritual Truth in its legitimate forms existing beyond cultural interpretation, ultimately culminating with the experience of the Self.  

            Bearing in mind the “Addiction to Enlightenment” warning mentioned in a preceding paragraph, and the implied need to maintain the Balance of Consciousness which has been mentioned as a theme of this essay series, how much meditation is too much?       This is a complex and tricky question to answer.    Gurus in India routinely spend their lives in meditative trance of varying degrees of involvement, reflected in different levels of Samadhi (divine union) – sivakalpa, the lightest level, and one that passes quickly, essentially only offering a brief “taste” of the spiritual Self; nirvakalpa, a deeper, lasting experience of the Self that persists after the attendant trance has abated, with life altering implications; and sahaja,  a fully involved state of union with the Self that may or may not be accompanied by further participation in society.   In comparison, here in the hyper-materialistic West, our entire culture is geared toward the concretization of what is considered in many sectors of Indian society as Maya – the sensory illusion masking spiritual Truth.    The West makes little or no room for any practice that does not generate material results, particularly monetary ones.    The wandering spiritual esthetic would quickly be apprehended and institutionalized “for his own good” in our Western culture!    Thus, the spiritual Path is a damn tough road to travel in this part of the world where there is no real cultural support for the activity.   And the fact that Western materialism is currently spreading like a spiritual plague around the world only serves to render what was always a challenging quest all the more so today.   

            So, the first consideration of how much is too much regards what the cultural expectations are that the individual is subject to.    Unless one is independently wealthy in the West (or the East), one must spend at least some time working for a living to sustain the bare necessities of existence – basic food, essential clothing, and rudimentary shelter – and any kind of meditation schedule must be worked into this routine.    At the other end of the spiritual continuum, yes, there are still many ashrams existing in India that will accept new devotees, but their number is steadily diminishing, and entry expectations are becoming concomitantly more stringent.   Thus, a good rule here to be applied anywhere is the personal comfort measure – what are your expectations for your life, and how much adjustment are you willing to make for spiritual growth?   How far out of your comfort zone are you willing to travel in spiritual exploration?   What kind of personal sacrifices are you willing to make to live a spiritual lifestyle?   These are all fundamental questions that should be deeply pondered before instituting a meditation regimen, and they are very personal in nature.   If ones material life will be severely disrupted by spiritual practice, then ones level of commitment must be very determined indeed.   

            Mine was such a commitment – I wanted more than anything else, including preserving life itself, to know the Truth – not merely the spiritual Truth, but the absolute and final Truth of Consciousness, and I eventually found that Truth through meditation.  I practiced this technique in several styles at every available opportunity for many years and lived a very constrained existence while doing so – my regimen was relatively very heavy, a reflection of my level of commitment.    Your level may not be so involved, and probably will not be initially, as you experiment with what works in your life.  I generally suggest beginning with an interval of no more than fifteen minutes of slow, rhythmic breathing in a quite space, preferably with closed eyes.   That’s it, no more until you have a sense of where you want to take the activity, and this sense will evolve of its own volition without any intention or prodding on your part.   Just let it be.  

            Many people take up the practice of postural Yoga as their form of meditation, probably a good idea, since the physical exertion of the postures tends to enhance both physical health and personal psychological grounding – I practiced Yoga myself as my initial introduction to meditation for many years, and still observe many of the tenets of the Yoga spiritual lifestyle – the Yamas and Niyamas.    Bluntly, the postures become significantly more difficult to attain with the advance of age, and I am a young man no longer!   My current preferred form of meditation is Buddhist breath meditation, which can be performed by almost anyone, almost anywhere, and has the added advantage of humble simplicity – one simply finds a quiet, secure space, closes the eyes, and begins slow, deep, regular breathing until relaxed trance is attained, and then allows oneself to pass back out of trance into normal awareness naturally after a short interval.    This is well suited to the Buddhist simplistic observation “Chop wood, carry water”, in fact even these rudimentary activities can become meditations unto themselves, in reflection of the ultimate Buddhist intention in living – constant peace and communion with Self.  

            As progress manifests in meditation, as evidenced in longer intervals, deeper levels of trance, more profound and significant spiritual experiences (in and out trance), and the attainment of more lasting levels inner peace, ones life and lifestyle preferences tend to pass into spiritual transition.   This is probably desirable, with the caveat that the impact on ones material existence should still always be monitored responsibly.   None should sacrifice any portion of hearth and home without the absolute certainty that this is called for and appropriate along the spiritual path!  The spiritual lifestyle exists in inherent conflict with the material lifestyle, and this can be personally disastrous for the individual who does not conscientiously maintain an appropriate balance between the two.    Yes, we should follow our Hearts, just so long as we do not lose our heads in the process!    Such is the spiritual price of this Newtonian material existence...  

            The maintenance of this material/spiritual Balance is fraught with moral and mental challenges.    The Buddha was clearly correct in his observation that desire is the root of all suffering, as was the Christ in his comment that “Easier it is for a camel to pass through the Eye of the Needle than for one of wealth to enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”    Material opulence inevitably blinds us to higher consciousness and moral imperatives, hence the ageless wisdom of the Sages admonishing self control and simple living.   The very unfortunate reality of material acquisition is that it is an enormous waste of the only thing that we really have in this life – our time – if it is not offset by moral conscience and higher consciousness.  The great bulk of humanity is functionally addicted to material acquisition – whether they are any good at it or not – and the really good object and resource collectors tend to be willing to do anything to keep what they have and acquire more – the human consequences are often of little or no importance to them.    Let us learn to live in peace and wisdom, lest we perish in opulent ignorance.  

                                          - With Love, Alan -

                         (Copyright 2010, by Alan Schneider)

 

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