Meditation is a completely natural function of the human mind. We are inherently intelligent and curious beings. It is part of being human to wonder about ourselves and about life. All cultures have engaged in meditation and there are many methods of practice. Some are very precise and technique oriented and others are intentionally less precise. So many of the techniques are excellent. Different techniques resonate with different people. In this piece, I am writing more about the dynamics of meditation than about any specific technique. Meditations of all kinds work because they all arise out of the same body-mind-spirit system. They all need to rely on the natural tendencies of the body and mind to experience deeper comfort, happiness, and joy.
The secret of meditation is that when we can get out of our own way we can allow the deepest inner comfort to simply pull us in. It is natural. It is actually harder to resist than it is to do, but we have to understand the situation in order to free ourselves from our own crippling restrictions and inhibitions. Comfort is waiting, even bliss. There is nothing to believe in this at all – no belief is necessary. The only thing necessary is the burning desire to know. It has to be a burning desire because if it isn’t strong enough you simply won’t do it. For most of us, meditation is not effective when not done regularly. And regularly means every day… for many years. You probably do have plenty of time so now is a good time to start.
DEVELOPING CLARITY OF MIND AND GAINING CHOICE IN HOW WE PERCEIVE
Our minds have two basic directions available for movement at all times. We can look outward and focus on the outer environment, or we can move our awareness inwardly and focus on our inner environment. As we explore these realms, we learn more about them. Our experiences of the outer world build impressions, concepts, and ideas that we store within. These perceptions are colored by our inherent personality. Our personality is an intermingling of our genetic and karmic makeup, and the stored impressions of our life experiences. The blending of perception and judgments that we make about perception, creates another level of inner consciousness. We think about things. We feel things. We make decisions – consciously or not – and we act. We perform functions in the world. We relate, interact, learn more, store more, and color it with more of our own story. We build a life based upon our interactions and perceptions, the decisions we have made about them, and our ongoing experiences and relationships.
The key to successfully navigating this process is cultivating choice about how we perceive. We develop choice through inquiry into our perceptual faculties and discovering how they are informing all that we think and feel. Without choice we are simply at the mercy of our personality and our environment. Left unchecked, our stored impressions will color our experiences so thoroughly that we cannot differentiate what is actually present in any immediate event from the qualities and feelings that we are essentially applying to the experience from our own storehouse of impressions, images, and held-to-be-true concepts about life and self.
Worse, we don’t even recognize that it is actually our own impressions and previously made decisions that we are witnessing when we think we are experiencing something new! We tend to believe our perceptions without too much attention to whether they are accurate or not, when often what we are perceiving says a lot more about our inner state than it does about our environment, and importantly, about our relationships with others. This limited and usually inaccurate method of perceiving breeds suffering and confusion.
So often we essentially affirm our previous perceptions and decisions, in order to make quick sense of whatever is happening at the moment. This is an important agility that our mind has. It helps us to respond quickly to danger and ensures that we can take care of ourselves in urgent situations. But in terms of seeing the world as it actually is, making rapid decisions about each experience can block our access to some of the deeper gifts that our awareness offers. When we are so immediately sure that our perceptions and decisions about them are correct – and just in case they are not – we become locked into a response pattern that may or may not be the most useful for us anymore.
Often these immediate responses were important and useful when they first manifested. They were a function of health in that they likely did protect us from an emotional or physical danger. Our immediate reactions to danger can keep us alive through extremely difficult situations. Some of these very difficult situations can continue to persist for years and we need to remain vigilant in our own defense. But later on, in times of safety, our ways of managing these painful situations can actually be inhibiting our active involvement and enjoyment of our lives.
Again, the question is of choice. Do we have “choice” about how we perceive and how we respond to our perceptions? How fully can we trust our perceptions? Can we be sure that we are accurately recognizing what is being presented in a current situation? Or, are we coloring it so quickly with our own expectations that we are actually experiencing our own feelings about the event more fully that the truth of what is happening?
FINDING DEEP COMFORT AND SUPPORT—AWARENESS AND ANANDA
This can be so very tricky to navigate. We need a frame of reference and philosophy in which to contain this investigation. We also need inner comfort and support to nurture us through the process of determining what is true from what is not. Without an inkling that increasing levels of inner comfort may be the fruit of this endeavor, we would certainly not embark on it.
The very reason that this process of investigation ultimately bears fruit is that deep comfort is the nature of the “stuff” that supports the mind. The support of the mind – its True Nature – like the nature of absolutely everything else, is Awareness; Awareness without any object of perception – just vibrating Creative Intelligence.
Pure Awareness manifests. It joins with the stuff – the nature of things – and infuses it fully with its intelligence.
Awareness manifests constantly into the field of manifestation (us) — in waves of bliss. Bliss, or ananda – as the yogis call it – needs some serious definition. Ananda can all too easily be misunderstood to mean some sort of happiness as we normally think of “happiness”. Ananda really has nothing particular to do with happiness. Ananda is better understood as complete and total comfort. There are many ways to expand upon this definition of ananda as comfort but it is important to realize that it is very different from what most of us imagine when we think of “bliss”. Ananda is the deepest embodied experience of profound contentment, the sense of being completely at home.
Using the meditative techniques of serious inquiry, unwavering self-acceptance, and keen discrimination (embodied-inquiry, santosha, and viveka) we begin to recognize for ourselves the subtlest levels of who we are. We come into direct contact with the process of Pure Awareness moving into form… through waves of tangible bliss.
The ancient yogic texts have provided a powerful and all-inclusive statement about the nature of life. They tell us that the nature of the mind is bliss: sat-chit-ananda or truth-consciousness-bliss. It is very important to note that there is no denial of human suffering in this statement. The statement does say that even the worst suffering has the same nature, because all of creation emanates from the same Source – sat-chit-ananda. The implication is actually profoundly inclusive in that it does not hold bliss to be an experience reserved for the lucky. Rather it is saying that no matter who you are, or what your experience has been, there is hope for finding deep inner comfort because it is who you actually are.
Ananda is underneath and supportive of our entire body-mind-spirit system. Ananda and awareness are woven into varying densities and vibrating at various speeds to create our energetic, mental, emotional and physical selves. Awareness and ananda are often veiled at the surface levels of our consciousness. It isn’t that ananda and awareness aren’t present in our structural selves. They are! It is that we have a strong tendency to perceive our thinking processes, our feelings, and all of the matter and the structural stuff of life to be the whole story.
If we were to inquire more thoroughly we would soon notice the underlying nature of all that we are. We would see, touch, taste, and feel, the Essential Blissful Awareness that is constantly present. Honestly, it is a simple matter of attention. Pay attention. No really…pay close attention.