I hope these reflections might be useful raw material for your own meditations and they are being shared in that spirit.
It’s perhaps interesting to note how the principles can also be used in a constructive fashion — even when they are more usually seen as warnings, for example in this case as a warning about the consequence of pushing too hard. One positive use for this principle can be seen in the elementary relaxation exercises where, in order to cause muscles to relax I tense them to the maximum, hold and finally let go and focus on the sensations of unclenching. It’s a great way of familiarizing oneself with the registers of letting go on a muscular level. It’s a very effective technique. Try it out when you just can’t get to sleep. I think it will prove its effectiveness. It certainly has for me and I’d love to hear about your results. So next time you are tossing and turning, worrying about how tired you’re going to be in the morning if you don’t get some sleep, just gently and slowly tense to the max, hold as long as you can, abruptly let go and focus on the sensations of the muscles relaxing. It’s important not to tense, too abruptly or too much, it shouldn’t hurt, and shouldn’t cause pain afterwards.
Repeat three times. Sometimes I don’t even get to the third round.
More than Relaxing
Last week we made reference to Simple Meditation, and Meditation on the Principle. Also we often refer to the experiential work we carry out in our weekly meetings as meditation. I find that when I invite people to this meeting most of them respond with varying degrees of interest (and varying degrees of sincerity). They usually say something like: “Oh I’ve been thinking of starting to meditate” Or perhaps, “I’ve been thinking of taking it up again”. And not uncommonly, “Can I come sometime?” On another occasion I wrote that no one had ever asked me: “what’s meditation” or “what kind of meditation is it?” That’s no longer quite true and since then a couple of people have asked things like that. Perhaps that’s a good sign.
In that writing I was wondering about whether the practices that touted for their ability to lower our blood pressure, or increase our productivity can really be the same as those that engaged people like the Buddha in arduous efforts, day after day for years (or lifetimes). According to what those spiritual searchers have told us, they were aiming at very different results than those most often touted as the benefits of “meditating” .
In any case, when people use this term what do they actually mean? It’s pretty clear there’s lots of very different things that go by the same name. Since the 14th Century the word, in ordinary usage, has meant something like “to calmly think about something”.* Often however the word is used to refer to one of a number of particular practices, very likely associated with the East (certainly Westerners generally seem to know less about similar practices in their own traditions).**
At the present time, when people mention meditation they are more often than not referring to what is called, “insight, or mindfulness meditation”. If you delve in a little more deeply however you will find that even in one current, of say Buddhism for example, not only are there many different kinds of meditation, but many different ideas about what is apparently one specific practice, e.g. mindfulness.*** We have to conclude that there are lots of things called meditation, even when they are called by the same name or exist in a single tradition. Historically they don’t all have the same goal, they don’t all produce the same results — not to say that they all aren’t beneficial in different ways.
So do you meditate like a Theravaden monk or a Tibetan lama? Like a Stoic philosopher or an Orthodox elder? A Hindu yogi, or a post-modern one?
And if the many roads do not all lead to Rome how do I know which is the right one for me? Perhaps, by thinking (meditating!) on what I want. Where do I want to go? Perhaps not to Rome. Is this a path that leads in the direction I seek? Why in fact am I doing this exercise? What do I hope to attain? Those are simple but potent (and important) reflections.
There’s no reason a person shouldn’t use a certain practice to lower their blood pressure, or reduce anxiety if that works for them — even if that practice was originally proposed as a way of waking up and seeing reality in a new way. It is a shame though to settle for increasing our productivity if our hope was to plunge into the heart of reality; to discover the sacred; to live life more deeply; to wake up.
Speaking of Our Weekly Meeting:
Each week, in a period of perhaps 45 minutes, we use a number of procedures. We meditate on one of the principles, and also use various procedures to relax muscular, emotional and mental tensions. But the goal of central practices is twofold, as is explained in chapter XV of the Inner Look****. The first of these is the “experience of peace” aimed, as the name suggests, at producing a profound internal peace. The second is the experience of the “passage of the force” aimed at the circulation of, contact with, or increase in the force that gives energy to our bodies and our minds. Before we finish we turn our thought the needs of others and how we might better connect with them.
At the end of the meeting we summarize the goal of these practices in the phrase:
Peace, Force and Joy.