There are many different forms of meditation, and often people speak of running or doing other activities as a form of meditation for them. But initiating truly meditative states is a completely different animal, and has nothing to do with techniques, methods, traditions, or systems.
Can the art and centrality of meditation be conveyed, through writing or even in person? Is awakening meditative states something we have to discover completely for ourselves, as I did? If methodless meditation, by whatever name, is crucial to spiritual survival and growth, and each person is entirely on their own, what hope is there for humanity?
To my mind meditation means the effortless, spontaneous quieting of thought/emotion through undivided, passive watchfulness. It begins with attending to every sensory impression in the moment, preferably in the mirror of nature.
First, why is initiating meditative states so important? Because without doing so the darkness of society saturates the mind and seeps into the heart, overwhelming and suffocating the spirits all but the strongest individuals. One has to be self-knowing, and attend to the movement of thought and emotion for darkness to be dispelled within one. Without learning the art of meditation, experience inevitably darkens the mind and shrinks the heart.
In simple but hopefully not simplistic terms, right observation is like taking an inner shower. Even if a meditative state doesn’t ensue, the mind is quieter and the heart is cleaner when one takes a little time to sit quietly each day and observe without division and effort. A little spiritual diligence every day goes a long way.
Most people don’t have the time to take an hour during the day as I do, but anyone can find ten or twenty minutes to sit quietly alone in the yard or patio, and experiment with observation.
There are two mechanisms of the mind that have to be understood for meditation to ignite. The first is the observer, and the second is time.
The observer is the illusion of the separate self, the ‘me’ that stands apart. In actuality there is no such thing, and one wonders why neuroscientists don’t give their attention to understanding and explaining its fallacy.
Awareness can be quicker than the habit of psychological separation, and it can catch thought in the act of automatically dividing itself from itself as the observer. The moment the mind’s trick of continually fabricating the observer is seen in action, it stops…at least temporarily.
Psychological time is a deeper movement in the mind. It’s in the very nature of thought to live in the realm of becoming rather than being. During the tens of thousands of years when fully modern humans lived closed to nature, time was not such a problem, since nature continually reminded and required people to live in the present.
So one also has to observe the mechanism of time, but it is more difficult, requiring greater energy of attention and insight to halt. (Again, only sufficient energy of undirected, unwilled attention stops psychological time; there is no entity or effort that can do so.)
Watch not only the thought that arises, but also the urge that gives rise to the thought, and how the urge is appropriated by thought in a non-fitting way. Attention extinguishes the desire and will of thought, while deepening the drive behind desire and will, which is life.
One has to take the time to sit quietly and explore and experiment with observation and attention. Mindfulness during activities is essential, but for the most part it cannot initiate meditative states. To effortlessly quiet the mind one has to leave off from perpetual busyness, which is a form of escape, and let the senses attune to one’s environment.
Sitting indoors with the eyes closed can be good, but there’s usually a subtle effort in doing so, a tendency to concentrate the mind, rather than allow it the space and energy to be inclusively aware.
Meditation is not directed concentration, but undirected attention gathering unseen, without effort or goal. Sitting outdoors with the eyes open, listening to every sound as it reaches the ear is a natural way of learning how to observe the movement of thought/emotion, which initiates deeply regenerative meditative states.
Initially, and even sometimes with long-time meditators, stillness and emptiness can be an uncomfortable and disturbing state. Not only do things come up one would rather not see and feel, but there’s a fundamental loss of control.
One simply observes the fear of losing control, without judging or reacting against it, and the ‘me’ lets go. Fear hides in the crevices of thought, because fear is the continuity of thought. Counter-intuitively, one doesn’t lose order, stability and security letting go; one gains them.
Security becomes a very different thing. One realizes one can only truly be secure in silence and emptiness, since life is a journey without a destination. One’s anchor and renewal becomes touching the ground of silence and emptiness.
At such timeless moments, there is no fear of death, because one is practicing death by psychologically dying to continuity and control. After all, death is certainly the end of continuity and control, though it is infinitely more than that…even and especially during life.