March 11, 2011

An Introduction To Meditation— The How And Why Of It.

Our Divine Right To Kingship.

We are setting off on a path which leads us back to where we are… A place we have not been for quite some time.

The spiritual journey suggests we take a seat; that we start where are. Buddhist spirituality looks to unravel our problems, not by blaming them on our past or planning for the future, but by investigating the causes and conditions which give rise to our dissatisfaction… Right here-right now. The process of unraveling this confusion is called the practice of meditation.

In meditation, we unlearn all of the ego’s non-sense, thereby discovering the inherent common sense that is present within each and every one of us. This process of undoing begins with the two most consistent threads in this web, discontentment and speed.

No matter how out of control the situation appears to be, it is still quite workable. The whole thing arose on the foundation of confusion, and this confusion can be shattered with a single moment of insight. Furthermore, all of this confusion forms a web or a pattern, and a pattern is pliable… A good knot can be a mess, but it is not impossible. It has a pattern, and observing this pattern enables us to work with the knot. We can follow the thread, and begin to loosen it up.

As we begin to untie this knot, the two loose ends we have to work with are discontentment and speed. The entire web seems to be shot through with the both of them. Before we begin to work with these two loose ends, let’s take a second and develop a better understanding of what is meant by these two terms.

Discontentment is referring to the fundamental feeling that some-thing is missing or not quite right…

In order to establish and validate its existence, the ego had to create division; a sense of being apart from or other than life. This need to be unique or apart from gave off the impression that we were disconnected or cut-off. It was this separation that left us feeling chronically discontented— divorced from life or content. Life had no real meaning, no real purpose; we felt other than life and therefore lifeless…

Discontentment is nothing more than a type of neediness, and it was this neediness that fueled our obsessive search for self-confirmation. We saw ourselves as broken or incomplete, and spent the majority of our time and energy searching for some-thing to repair or complete our tattered self-image.

The concept of speed refers to the chaotic flow of events that life appeared to be…

The introduction of some centralized observer- the ego- created the concept of time. Time, then transformed impermanence- the unceasing ebb and flow of life– into millions of events swarming around us all at once… Life seemed to be attacking us from every angle— life seemed personal. With a sense of insufficiency already firmly established, these personal attacks only reinforced the belief that we needed someone or something to defend us from life’s persistent attacks.  We ran around like chickens with our heads cut off, in search of some answer— something that had the power to shield us from life’s rough texture. Since a suitable answer was never found, the speed continued to increase, until at some point the whole structure came crashing down on top of us.

This entire operation is dependent upon us remaining in a state of catatonia. That’s why enlightenment consists of nothing more than waking up. In the same way that darkness is immediately dispelled by light, illusion cannot persist in the midst of insight. The common path of practice begins by working to deconstruct this sub-conscious state of mind. This is accomplished through the discovery and cultivation of mindfulness. Like a virus, meditation infiltrates consciousness and short circuits ego’s operating systems with basic awareness.

We needn’t bother ourselves with creating some alternative state of mind. Neither should we worry about becoming enlightened or peaceful. The enlightened Mind is already present. All we have to do is learn to trust this enlightened mind, which consists of nothing more than unlearning our neurotic paranoia. This paranoia— the belief that life is happening to us— is forgotten the moment we realize that the common denominator or the sense of self which life appears to revolve around is a figment of the imagination.

We are setting off on a path which leads us back to where we are… A place we have not been for quite some time. In this respect, the path of meditation maybe best understood as a return journey… A return to naturalness.

In reality, we are whole. We are complete. There is no-thing that is broken, there is nothing missing. The whole bit is a gimmick. It is nothing more than a persistent misunderstanding. Within the realm of theory, this maybe an idea that makes sense. It may even be a philosophy that we can intellectually grasp. Nevertheless, it is merely an idea, and ideas never changed anything. In fact, ideas do nothing more than contribute to the policy of misinformation. They become just one more story to be consumed. Ideas are part of the process. In order to know true freedom, it is necessary to step beyond the realm of processes and strategies, and into the sphere of immediate experience.

If we are going to move past this insanity, it’s going to take a whole lot less than some clever belief system. Beliefs are convoluted and complex systems of thought. Basic experience is butt naked awareness. Beliefs are elaborate and contrived, while simple experience is straightforward and precise. We have to see firsthand that we are not damaged goods… That there is no distance between us and life. We have to realize that the apparent separation between us and life is an imagined distance between two make believe points.

We cannot convince ourselves of this by memorizing some doctrine or dogma. The fact that we are trying to convince ourselves of anything, suggests that underneath all of our intellectual speculation, we really doubt whether or not it is true. We have to unearth this truth for ourselves, but this is going to require that we get our hands dirty.

Speculation does little more than add to the confusion, while intimate experience tastes truth…

That’s the difference between belief and faith. Beliefs are ideas, ardent wishes. They are a collection of thoughts that are only concerned with the past and future state of affairs. On the contrary, genuine faith lives in the here-&-now; it is the fullness of Mind. Mindfulness touches truth. It moves beyond ideas and theory. Faith discovers the truth by living in it, by being mindful of it. Such a discovery only comes about through experimentation, by taking certain steps that go beyond our pre-conceived ideas to test our hypothesis. Left untested, our beliefs are little more than ego-centric vices. The first step in such an experiment is the practice of calm-abiding.

Calm-abiding practice is the most basic or fundamental form of meditation. The aim of this practice is to realize the mind of calm-abiding, the un-wavering peaceful mind. It does not create a mind which abides calmly; it discovers the mind which is already resting peacefully. It takes a step beyond all of the chatter and neediness, which serve as the functioning mechanisms of a self-centered consciousness, to discover simple awareness. The two primary aspects of this practice are aligning the body and placing the mind.

The first dimension of meditation practice is aligning the body, or posture. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The 12th century Dominican Priest, Meister Eckhart, said of this, “The first step in inheriting such a Kingdom is to acknowledge our Kingship.” From the outset, meditation practice recognizes this inherent quality in us. Our posture in meditation reflects our kingship.We sit solid, open, and confident. Our posture in meditation is inspired by a sense of nobility, not neediness. As the great meditator Naropa said, “In a skillful posture of the body a vital quality of meditation is to found.”

Sitting Like A King.

In meditation practice the posture is not irrelevant or something to be disregarded. In the words of Zen master D.T. Suzuki, “It is the practice.” When we take our seat we do so with dignity… We assume the throne with a divine right! Sit cross-legged if possible, with both knees touching the ground. If need be, sit in a chair, feet firmly planted on the ground. Slightly roll your hips forward, and gently pull your shoulders back. This straightens the back, and centers all of your weight on the hips, creating a solid and stable base. Place your hands, palms down, on your thighs. Chest, broad and open. Looking straight forward with your eyes opened, place your tongue behind the two front teeth in the roof of your mouth. This will help prevent the mouth from filling with spit.

This posture is dignified… It is open, fearless. It can accommodate anything. It is awake.

In this way we take our seat. Sitting in such a manner, we begin to challenge the doctrine of inadequacy. Body language is a powerful form of communication. In very precise terms, this posture communicates our natural sense of honor. As Lama Yeshe pointed out, “Our home is heaven and everyone you see is God. You are perfect; you just need to recognize it.” This posture point towards that divinity. We have to challenge this view of self-disdain through action. The first step of meditation requires that we act our way into naturalness; not think our way out of neurosis. Inheriting our kingdom begins with assuming the throne or in this case, our cushion, but it does not stop there…

A mind under the dictates of ego is a busy mind… A fast paced mind.

Ego has so many balls in the air, so many relationships to manage. It has fragmented the world into a million pieces. In order to manage all of these pieces, ego is constantly checking in on them… Formulating intelligence reports that serve to explain the status of these relationships. These intelligence reports come in the form of internal chatter. We are constantly walking around with a self-conscious conversation taking place between our ears.

We cannot think our way out of this hectic situation, as such an approach would do nothing more than add to the chaos. We must take a totally different approach, one of divestment.

Our internal dialogue is always caught up in speculation, fantasy. We drift off into memories of the past or hopes for the future, all the while remaining totally ignore-ant of the present moment— the only slice of time with any real substance. Trungpa Rinpoche taught, “Everything is right here, right now. We do not have to go any further to prove who we were, who we are, or who we might become.” By placing our minds, the second aspect of calm-abiding practice, we can return to our kingdom— the eternal now!

Touching The Present Moment.

In the beginning, it is necessary to make use of a landmark, something that is firmly grounded in the present moment. Our breath serves as such a landmark. It is securely anchored in reality. The breath is never to be found in the past or future; the breath is always a current event. So, as we take our seat or align our body, we shift the awareness over to the breath. We allow our awareness (not force it) to fall on the breath; inhale, exhale, inhale… Do not recall the past, think about the present, or anticipate the future— simply be here. Do not analyze anything or try to figure it all out. Furthermore, don’t drive yourself mad trying not to do all of that stuff! Just relax. Let the practice take a natural course— simply sit with it. Allow the breath and awareness to mingle— allow the breath to be awareness. Notice the sensation of the breath as it enters your nostrils. Notice the sensation of the breath as it leaves your nostrils. Notice the short gap, the silence between breaths. Simply notice, that is all…

As your practice deepens, allow the awareness to expand with the out breath. Allow it to include sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, and thoughts. This learning to trust your basic intelligence. If there is a distraction, gently allow it to enter the practice through the gateway of basic awareness. Feel your ass on the cushion. Feel the tension in your legs… Your heart beating. Hear the cars racing by. Just be with it. Do not indulge any of them, simply notice them. “Touch and Go.” There is no need to analyze each example of awareness, all the necessary information is contained within basic experience.

When (not if) inbred thoughts arise, simply release them. Like clouds in the sky, allow them to come and go. Do not try to run them off, as that will do little more than contribute to the internal conversation. If you notice that you have drifted off into some fantasy, you are back in the present moment. Noticing insanity is the remembrance of sanity. This is the practice, because in the present moment you were tangled up in thought. You are always where you are… You can never get away from basic intelligence. Now, touch the breath. Nothing more, nothing less. This is the practice of mindfulness. Do not bother yourself with thinking about not thinking, or as Evagrius put it, “Do not waste time thinking about what thinking cannot change.” Simply remember the breath, no more. Do not get frustrated because you cannot seem to quit thinking, simply remember the present moment.

Calm-abiding is not about eradicating thought; it is about moving beyond. Mindfulness. In calm abiding we move beyond thought, in order to explore the depths of awareness. We simply settle into the posture. Discover the union of awareness and the present moment, and settle into it. When thoughts arise, allow them to pass. Thought is natural. It is an aspect of the present moment. When we notice that we have been indulgent of thought or slipped into the past or future (a created world), simply remember the breath. Remembering the breath is remembering reality, at this point, it is the keys to the kingdom or the present moment.

This practice alone is incapable of shedding off all the layers of deception that ego has produced over the course of its many lives. However, this practice does serve as a necessary beginning. By aligning our body and placing our mind in the practice of calm-abiding, we can properly begin our journey backwards through this web of confusion. Simply by sitting in an open and confident posture, and disengaging the self-centered chatter box, we have established a solid foundation, one which will serve as the building block for the rest of our practice.

I suspect this article could be of benefit to a great many people… Anyone interested in rediscovering sanity in the midst of their daily life, which I believe is a lot of people! So, I encourage everyone to use whatever means they have at their disposal to share this article with their friends and loved ones. And may the merit of such activity contribute to a healthier, more peaceful planet!

Here is a video where I go a bit more into the actual practice… Both posture and placing the mind. Big thanks to Hubble and Jack for help with production!


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