The Dalai Lama has stated that meditation is not easy for many people.
He engaged in brain research after his retirement and made the radical suggestion that perhaps a technology can be developed to help many people with meditation. It turns out at least one such a technology has been with us since the 1940s!
I struggled with Buddhist, Sufi, and yogic meditation techniques involving breathing and mindfulness before the age of 30. Sitting and walking meditation did not usually come easily for me. Classical music like Chopin was calming and settled me into a warm, heart-centered state. When I was agitated, this helped fine-tune me for meditation.
After listening to a short five minute piece, I could sometimes meditate easily or do bodywork healing. However if I was feeling depressed, it was not a good idea to listen to Chopin because it would increase the depression. Music was sometimes helpful, but I could not rely on it. I knew I was on the right track, but I needed something else.
In the late 1980s, Swiss/German meditation workshops were being presented by Martin Muller and Georgette Krummenacker in Del Mar, California. The technique they offered changed my life. I signed up for a weekend workshop in 1989. The new method, called “Presence Meditation,” used classical music and was remarkably effective. My meditation after that class became an easy process. I am no longer dependent on the music approach, but I still enjoy doing it when music is available.
Martin and Georgette offered workshops where you could learn to use classical European music blended with modern psychological tools that helped to make silent meditation easier. Presence Meditation was a fully evolved European meditation technique on its own. Developed in the 1940s, it combined music therapy and a technique borrowed from psychology called “visual flooding.” It was a simple and effective way to introduce meditation to the general public.
Martin Muller was a psychologist and yoga instructor with a background in Eastern traditions and was quite versed with Rudolph Steiner’s work. He was also knowledgeable about current developments in psychology and quantum physics. In the 1940s, he integrated the esoteric knowledge and practices of both Eastern and Western traditions into a set of exercises to assist with meditation.
Martin pointed out that the personality is always moving through a set of dynamic changes such as sadness, joy, depression, anxiety, calm, and many other states. Their technique was intended to stabilize the personality through the magic of Western classical music and modern psychology.
The technique was developed in Germany, but in the early 1940s, the meditation movement left Germany through fear of the politics of the time, and it emigrated from Germany to both Switzerland and Sweden. A few practitioners like Martin Muller moved to California where the development continued until his death in 1990. His work is not well known in North America.
The Music Therapy Component.
Presence Meditation uses classical music to bring balance and harmony to the mind, emotions, and body. The music is selected by the meditator to bring themselves into balance. The recommended music for beginners is by Chopin, Mozart, and Paganini. There are three main types of music used in the introduction to Presence Meditation.
1. Music by Paganini uses many high frequency notes on the violin which are felt in the top of the head. Some theorize that this music stimulates the crown chakra. One would use this music if feeling confused to bring clarity of mind and balance.
“Guitar and Violin Duet—Cantabile, Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840)”
2. Music by Chopin, especially the Piano Nocturnes are felt as being deeply emotional. Some theorize that this music stimulates the heart chakra. One would use this music if feeling cold-hearted in order to open the heart and bring balance.
“Chopin—Nocturne op.9 No.2”
3. Liturgical music by Mozart, such as, Laudate Dominum is also recommended. Almost anything by Mozart works. Some therapists theorize that this kind of music brings one out out of the head and into the body. One would use this music to feel more “embodied” and to move forward in life. It counteracts procrastination to bring balance.
Cecilia Bartoli, Mozart, “Laudate dominum”
We can use these pieces of music as pre-meditation. Once we feel settled, we can then begin our primary meditation practice.
The first step is to select music which will bring one into balance. The above selections are just a starting point for your own experimentation. Classical music is not essential, but it should be music that is free from understandable words. East Indian Music by Ravi Shankar has been used, for example. Gregorian Chants in Latin and Buddhist Chants have also been used.
The Visual Flooding Component.
The music brings you into balance, but the mind may still be overly active. If while sitting with eyes open, you take in the whole visual field, this is called “Visual Flooding.” It stops the mind because the mind likes to focus on something specific. On its own, Visual Flooding is a powerful technique that will assist any meditation practice. It’s like a visual Zen koan!
The Complete Presence Meditation Exercise.
This exercise is done while sitting in a straight-backed chair or meditation cushion with spine straight, the hands palm down on your lap, or knees, and the feet flat on the floor if sitting on a chair. Across the room, six to eight feet away, arrange for a plant to sit, so that part of the plant is exactly at your eye level in front of you. Perhaps you may want to look out a window at a tree.
While listening to a piece of music, look at a specific spot on the plant which is at eye level. At the same time, pay attention to your peripheral vision, expanding your attention as far as possible to the sides, above, and below. Optionally, at the same time, pay attention to the space eight inches or so above your head, getting a sense of “seeing” from there.
Maintain all these areas of visual attention at once while relaxing and enjoying five minutes or so of the music. Do not strain to do it, just try gently to maintain the awareness of everything in the visual field at once. This will become easier with a few sessions of practice.
Allow yourself to blink freely as part of relaxing. If thoughts come, gently let them go, and return to the vision-awareness. Just relax and enjoy the music totally while also remaining attentive to the whole visual field.
When the short piece of music is finished, continue paying attention to the visual field in silence for a few minutes and gently drift into your standard, daily silent meditation practice.
That’s all there is to it!
A variant method for groups involves sitting in a circle and looking between the people across from you. This led to a remarkable feeling of energy or “presence” that was shared by the group and it is where the name came from. I ran a few small group workshops for Quakers in British Columbia and Ontario. Canadian Quakers rely on meditation as their main spiritual practice. Almost everyone found that the Presence Meditation tool made silent meditation effortless.
In London Ontario, in the late 1980s, the school board experimented with Presence Meditation in public school classrooms. The experiments were carried out by Dr. Sandra Seagal of Los Angeles. Half the classes in one school started the day with Presence Meditation. The student’s marks were significantly higher in the classes who worked with the meditation every morning. Almost all students were able to meditate easily.
Even if you don’t think you like classical music, give it a try. Classical music has been proven by therapists to have predictable effects on the personality. It’s about using it as a tool to prepare you for meditation. Classical music is an ancient and powerful technology that modifies our mood. In the meditation groups I was associated with, everyone came to appreciate its beneficial effects prior to meditation.
For further information, along with music examples from YouTube and historical details about Martin Muller, please click here.
Presence Meditation is a simple tool that often makes meditation more accessible. Give it a try if you have difficulties with classic meditation approaches.
Author: Ian Faulkner
Editor: Travis May
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