Meditation: A Quieting of Thought

Meditation ... the less said the better. Meditation isn't about talking and thinking. I have to tell myself this constantly. Meditation is about doing. Or actually, about not doing.

Meditation doesn't come naturally to me, and probably doesn't to most people. It takes discipline and patience. It's amusing that achieving a radical state of "not doing" takes such doing.

Meditation is ultimately a very simple thing, but getting it started is not. Thus, there are all kinds of complex ways of approaching the subject. There are various schools of thought and technique.

Admittedly, I'm not an expert on the various approaches to meditation. I've read a few books on it and have attended a few lectures. I've tried it in various settings using various techniques. And for me, the background questions fall away rather quickly. Before long, it's just me and .... God? Or the pure experience of BEING? Or both?

Given the above, my own meditation philosophy might be called "transcendent"; i.e. seeking transcendence via the use of focusing and mind-quieting techniques (the famous and expensive Hindu-based "Transcendental Meditation" movement belongs within this school, but should not be seen as its exclusive manifestation). There certainly are other schools and ideas regarding meditation; a well-known technique is "awareness meditation", where the meditator remains "in touch" with his or her surroundings and the on-going thoughts and notions going on in his or her own mind, while concentrating on breath.

But instead of discussing technique and history, I'd like to present a list of what I believe are important issues about meditation:

  1. Why do you want to meditate? What is your purpose? What do you hope to get out of it? Inner peace? Tranquility? Existential reassurance? Closeness to your God? Closeness to yourself? Relief from back pain? A deeper form of prayer?
  2. Do you look at meditation as a religious exercise, or a secular endeavor? Assuming that your technique works and you manage to get deep inside of yourself, where do you think you will be? Closer to yourself, or closer to God? Or both? Or neither?
  3. During the technique stage, do you want to empty your mind, or will you deal with the noises and thoughts that will arise along the way? (I think the latter approach is called "Insight Meditation"; I'm not sure what the former approach is called).
  4. Do you want to tie your meditation with a spiritual tradition such as Zen, or with a holistic body-centered approach such as Yoga ? Or are you more of a lone wolf (like me) ?
  5. Do you want to try the various techniques, such as focusing on your breath, selecting a mental word to repeat in your head, closing your eyes, keeping your eyes slightly open, sitting on the floor, sitting on a couch, walking, etc.?
  6. Do you want to stick with a particular technique, or are you willing to mix and match techniques based on what works for you?
  7. Do you anticipate meditation as something you do in private, or something that you need group support for (so far I've done most of my meditation in private, but I'm coming to see that a "sangha" or support group is important if you're really gonna stick with it)?
  8. How much time are you willing to commit? Meditators often need more than 15 minutes to get beyond the "monkey mind" into a more placid state. Will you do it daily, weekly, whenever you feel like it?
  9. What if you aren't getting what you came for, or only occasionally have a "good" meditative experience? Will you stick with it?
  10. Can you keep some part of what you found during your inner explorations for use during the noisy chaos of daily life?
Well, let me just say this. I think that meditation is very important, and is something that a person should do regularly. I think it is worthy of energy and discipline and faith. I think it should be worked at even when it becomes a chore. I think it "works" in both private and social settings and has both private and social benefits. I think that it is good for both the body and the spirit, both for us and for God. I agree that it does help us to see ourselves in a truer light. Did Jesus meditate? Well, all we can say is 'maybe'. But Jesus prayed like no one else could (see for example Luke 3:21 and 9:28). If we want to ever approach that level of intensity, meditation is perhaps the best way to do it.

POST SCRIPT, 2008: Let me say more. I had been "out of touch" with meditation for several years, due to various distractions and fears. Within the past few years, however, I have become very interested in the question of consciousness. My studies and thoughts on the matter finally led me back to meditation, as a way of better understanding that which might lie at the core of all conscious experience.

In other words, I feel that it is possible that conscious awareness, which is driven by feeling and emotion, is intrinsically related to what is experienced in meditation. Meditation is a rarified state, where the mind focuses upon the "background radiation" of being. But our everyday feelings and phenomenal impressions (called "qualia" by the philosophers), I believe, are just different ways of manifesting that 'pure feeling of being'. That feeling mixes in and enfolds itself within the representations of the world that our consciousness provides, and gives them their "flavor", the flavor of being conscious.

As such, I now feel that meditational experience will someday provide the key to the long-sought "theory of consciousness", once scientists and philosophers finally decide to take it seriously. But of course, what ultimately lies at the heart of that "pure feeling of being" will remain a great mystery. As such, consciousness will be BETTER understood; but it will not be ultimately understood. Perhaps that indeed is the ultimate limit of human knowledge, our interface with the transcendent. Is God the source of this pure feeling of being? Is God the great "I AM"?

Humankind can, has and will continue to say much about these questions. But in this world, they will perhaps always remain cloaked behind a metaphysical curtain. Still, meditation is a gift available to everyone as a way to go beyond everyday life and come closer to whatever might be the ultimate truth.

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that
they will be heard because of their many words... Matthew 6:7