So in this second month and looking at what we’ve covered thus far in second step thinking, I’d like to get more specific about what it means to have a “daily practice that develops my body, mind, heart, and soul”. This consists not only of new ways of conducting our outer lives but also, as we have begun to examine in Time for a Higher Power and then Going A Little Deeper , ways of re-experiencing our own inner space at our roots.
I see a lot of references to meditation and it seems there is a lot of general use of the term and a lot of interpretation of what that is. Some people say exercise, lounging, listening to music or even reading is their form of “meditation”. My uncle said he was going to “meditate” before he made his way to the bathroom, rendering it unfit for human inhabitants for hours. Lots of interpretations…
When I use the term I am referring specifically to a state of restful alertness. A state of consciousness not involved in a busy stream of thought. Settled in a subtler functioning state of the mind. Perhaps observing that thoughts come and go while remaining centered and still in pure being. Witnessing pure consciousness in its formless state.
There are, of course, countless techniques and methods. Some of them are part of religions and intertwined with some belief system. Some are offshoots of scientific experiments into brain function. Some are just silly.
I see all of the techniques falling into 3 major and very general categories. Concentrative, Contemplative and Transcendental.
Concentrative techniques being the active intention of holding the mind on a point or object of concentration. The candle flame, the mandala, or the beads all offer a point of focus for the practice. These forms don’t directly access the source of thought. the experience of pure consciousness because they employ the conscious mind directly and activate the cognitive intellect. Keeping the mind on somewhat of the “surface level” which we might refer to as the conscious mind.
Contemplative techniques hold some ideal or concept that is pondered. Usually something quite non-specific and expansive like “Love” or “Peace” or “Infinity”. These techniques offer the mind more room to drop out of conscious thinking patterns and explore more freely but are still constrained by using the thinking apparatus. that is. what we have always thought of as “us”.
Transcendental techniques allow slipping beyond the conscious mind to access the source of thought. The thought we experience with the conscious mind has actually started its journey much earlier in the sub-conscious. It gets formed and processed by the neural pathways we have built (or destroyed) over time until it appears as a conscious thought. Transcendental techniques allow the awareness to move to subtler and subtler levels of awareness to where they are most powerful.
As I said, these are general categories and there is a spectrum of experience across all of these categories. In fact, it is my contention that all of these are leading to the same thing by different paths; this same pure conscious awareness of being.
In concentrative and contemplative techniques, access to this pure state of awareness comes with much practice and what might be called “effort”. Pushing mentally on a conscious function until we are able to “slip past” and glimpse the pure experience.
Transcendental techniques allow direct access without effort because they employ the natural tendency of the mind toward more and more. In this case more and more means more and more pure experience via less and less active intellectual thought.
The Transcendental Meditation (TM) Program is probably the most scientifically studied and has the most evidence based data of any technique. Brought to the US by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and probably made most famous by the Beatles affiliation this technique has had millions of initiates.
As far as generic terms go, when you see an article about “meditation” boosting performance in schools or lowering crime rates it is usually more specifically TM because it is widely taught and widely verified scientifically to produce reduction of stress, higher performance and “clearer” thinking. A tremendous amount of great work with TM is being done by the David Lynch Foundation. Their byline is…Healing Traumatic Stress and Raising Performance in At-risk Populations. I urge you to follow any of the links in this article to learn more.
While all of this is amazing stuff and a brilliant way to cope with the stress of modern life, it is a technique that dates back thousands of years to an oral tradition and this is the kind of ancient knowledge we need to get closer to the basis of our human experience. Our very awareness of being from which everything else rises.
Dr. Herbert Benson did a lot of scientific study on TM and produced what he called the Relaxation Response, releasing a book with that title in 1975. It is a scientifically developed technique based on the TM practice. In a 1986 survey, his book was the number one self-help book that clinical psychologists recommended to their patients.
My personal practice consists of daily QiGong and TM for my inner stability. This gives me the “Higher Power” connection and allows so much higher function in activity.
I keep saying that this is a Personal Recovery Program. It is as individual as our experience but you now have the benefit of my take on it.
You can find guided meditations galore on YouTube and there are some very good paid ones such as the series that Deepak Chopra has. it goes without saying there are some ridiculous ones at ridiculous prices also. Again, guided meditations are generally talking you through a conscious process that certainly can produce relaxation but the deeper effects are highly variable to the individual. They are an excellent way to begin to experience the benefits of inner awareness.
There is no doubt that meditation reduces stress and creates healthier minds and bodies. If you would like to learn more about a specific technique for you as part of your Personal Recovery Program I invite you to contact me here. I can provide personally tuned guided meditations and instruction.
As always I welcome your comments, questions and discussion.