Every time I sit down to meditate, I feel like I am conducting an experiment—a human experiment; an experiential experiment; a spiritual experiment.
I sit down on a cushion on the floor in Japanese pose—butt on my heels, hands on my knees, I close my eyes, and I practice going deeply within.
Deeper and deeper, peeling through all the false layers of myself—the pains that are not me, the fears and desires that are not me, and all the random associations accumulated throughout my day that are not me—and I approach my innermost self, my true self. I shun the past and the future, directing my attention to one present activity—digging a hole deeply within.
I sit down and I focus my mind on one object, one thing among the Ten Thousand Things.
Sometimes I meditate on the breath. Inhale, exhale…one. Inhale, exhale…two. Inhale, exhale…three. I count the in-breath and the out-breath until I reach 10, and then start from the beginning again.
Thoughts arise and distract me, but I gently return my attention to the breath. Like air bubbles from within a lake, they arise—and I allow them to come, and I allow them to go.
Other times, I meditate on a mantra. Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya. I recite this mantra again and again for a set duration.
Images arise and distract me, but I gently return my attention to the breath. Like leaves atop a river, they float—and I allow them to come, and I allow them to go.
Other times still, I meditate on the body—my head, my neck, my heart, my stomach, my genitals, and my legs.
Aches arise and aggravate me. I hold my awareness on these sensations, knowing that if I can remain with them long enough, if I can observe them without judgment, then they will dissolve.
Sometimes when I meditate I feel like a scientist.
While a scientist applies his powers of observation, as a meditator I apply my powers of introspection. A scientist takes an object, something outside of himself, and examines it deeply; a meditator takes a subject, his own self, and examines it deeply.
Just as a biologist peers into a microscope and views some tiny bacteria on a petri dish, I meditate by peering into my mind and viewing my thoughts.
Just as an astronomer peers into a telescope and views a star in some far-away galaxy, I meditate by peering into my mind and viewing my internal images.
Just as a chemist arranges liquids in tubes and vials in his laboratory, wondering what kind of reactions will occur, I arrange myself in a posture during meditation, wondering how energy might flow through the subtle channels in my body.
I study these channels, knowing that doing so will promote well-being. When energy flows freely through our system, we are vital and healthy; when it doesn’t, we feel weak and congested, and we struggle with poor mental and physical health.
I have come to learn that subtle channels in the body are called nadis. Nadi is a Sanskrit term, which translates to tube, pipe, nerve, blood vessel, and pulse. According to traditional Indian medicine and spiritual science, 72,000 nadis exist within the human body. The three primary nadis are the ida and pingala, which run along the left and right of the spine, and the shushumna, which runs along the center of the spine.
When I meditate, I try to keep my nadis in alignment by exercising good posture—that way the energy can flow straight along the shushumna.
Sometimes when I meditate, I feel like a naturalist and an explorer.
Like an astronaut voyaging outer space, like a diver descending an oceanic abyss, and like a climber ascending mountainous heights—in spirituality I am probing the limits of myself, testing how far I can actually go.
I ask myself, what adventures lie beyond the mind?
What will it feel like to connect with that transcendental aspect of myself?
When we meditate and seek to stop the mind and transcend it, we are following a path of disintegration. By disintegration, I mean that we are systematically disidentifying from the concrete and sensory realm, which consumes so much of our daily existence.
When we follow the path of disintegration, we move through subtle levels of experience within our minds, subtle experiences of our thoughts, images, and our objects of focus.
Eventually, if we concentrate hard enough for long enough, we transcend all objects within our mind field. This leads to an experience called Samadhi.
Some people can remain absorbed in samadhi for long periods of time. Yogis throughout the ages have often experimented by burying themselves underground for many days at a time while absorbed in this state. Sadhu Haridas remained underground for 40 whole days. Yogis like Haridas are able to lower the need for the functioning of their nervous systems so that they require little breath.
Watch a video of a yogi burying himself alive here:
While I have never personally buried myself underground for years, or even achieved the superconscious state of samadhi, I nevertheless always need at least a few minutes to reintegrate into my everyday experience after a long meditation.
After I meditate, I take at least two or three minutes to observe my surroundings and acknowledge my presence in the room.
I have come to feel that this process of integrating back into daily life is just as important as taking a trip in which you disintegrate from it.
When we leave our seat after a meditation session, we are following the path of integration. As a result of the time we spend purifying our minds during meditation, we can be more focused and alert throughout our regular activities.
The process of becoming more focused and alert, more in tune with all our senses and surroundings, is called mindfulness. As a result, we are more aware, we are more awake, and we are more alive.
A very diligent practice of mindfulness leads to an experience called satori.
While I always appreciate a good experiment—sitting down and meditating for up to an hour, testing the limits of how much I can transcend—I remind myself that integration is the true purpose of life. This is what is meant by the spiritual philosophy of nondualism.
The purpose of life is life itself—being here right now, just as we are.