by Professor Warren Stanton
So you think you can meditate? Try this quick quiz.
Question 1: What is meditation? If you examine the definitions of meditation you will find they vary quite a lot. So if there are different definitions, then what is meditation? Question 2: When you meditate are you using your mind? There is a lot of disagreement about what is being done in meditation. People would probably agree they are using awareness, but can that be outside your mind? Question 3: Is it a purely learnt technique, or learning to use a natural process differently, or something you are already doing but interfering with?
At this point the temptation is to group the definitions by their outcome. In general a desired outcome of meditation is to access a pleasant experience in life without using the thought processes. However, using an outcome or goal does not make a good definition because other things could achieve the goal that are not meditation, for example drugs, music, trance, sex etc. It is hard to adjust the definition to try and exclude these sources, for example adding ‘natural’ to the definition only excludes drugs (and that depends on your definition of natural). Even if you manage to exclude this list there will always be others to replace them.
I would venture to say that most people don’t actually understand what is meant by meditation. When I ‘learned to meditate’ I was taught to follow someone’s instructions, and most people do follow some instructed process to produce the desired outcome. Learnt techniques and processes can be helpful, including sounds, symbols and imagery for example with guided meditation, but can we go further? If you are using only a purely learnt technique you are limiting your meditation, because meditation is a natural process. Meditation fits the saying that ‘simpler’ is ‘better’, so what advance can be made on forms of meditation without loosing the benefits of your current practice?
Before giving you an alternative way to change your perceptions, let me propose a broad definition. Meditation could be considered as any use of our existing faculties other than the intellect or thought processes. In particular, this includes awareness and mindfulness. With regards the question about how it is done, these faculties must have some link with the mind, because to be mind dead is effectively to be dead! With regards to the third question of how it is done, make it simpler by deferring to what you do naturally – you already know how to meditate!
You can experience altered states of perception without drugs. But the key is to understand that such experiences are not produced, they are induced. Trying to produce an altered state limits most peoples’ meditation by making it more complex. So how do you induce an altered state? Quite simply, the entry point to meditation is to be subjective. You might notice I did not say ‘allow yourself to become subjective’ because this contains components of objectivity, namely ‘allowing’ and ‘yourself’. Nor is it ‘handing over’ to a subjective experience because some part of you would have to do the handing over and how would you let go of that part! You are meditating when you are processing life subjectively, and you are instinctively capable of doing just that. The more subjective you become the more you will notice a change in your perceptions. Initially it could be something as simple as your life event becoming more evident to your senses, or it could be a sense of centering, or uplifting or grounding or expanding or a warming in your body, or any other sensation. Notably, it is the detection of change itself that is the signal of a shift in perception, not the content of what has changed. This is where most people get mislead by their thought processes. Subtle as it may be, when you permit change to occur, you are on your way.
So how can you experience more intense states of altered perception? Quite simply, when you become totally subjective you are engaging your psyche, and it is this faculty which ‘does the job’. There are several ways to think of this. My preferred approach is to relate it to the idea that you have two minds. By thinking of the physical body as the body of the conscious mind, and the psyche as the body of the subconscious mind, you can keep it ‘real’ when thinking about the use of the psyche. Both these minds are operating simultaneously – which by way of a bit of humour, gives a whole new view to the saying of ‘being in two minds” about something! The psyche seemingly has a parallel set of senses to the physical body. Using meditation to experience life through these senses can result in perceptions which would otherwise be out of reach in daily life. Examples of this are an authentic sense of self and a sense of completeness in which there is nothing wrong with you and nothing missing from you. It is this form of life experience that is referred to as ‘seeing’ or ‘knowing’.
There is a final comment I would like to highlight. Such experiences should always be pleasant ones. Unpleasant experiences are based on misuse of the mind, resulting in misconceptions and superstitions. Nevertheless, if you are not familiar with this application of meditation I recommend you find a guide who has explored this field. First it is easier to have this experience when someone else is keeping track of you. Second, we are capable of creating unpleasant experiences with the conscious mind, including past events stored in memory. Opening yourself to such events is great for healing, and you are capable of this by yourself. But if you do not do it well you can find the process unnecessarily traumatic, or possibly have a healing crisis. Self-healing is an excellent application for this process, but at times it is preferable to be with someone who has a good idea about what they are doing. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable and safe to explore your mind. Do not loose sight of this and you will find delight in the journey.
Dr Warren Stanton conducts individual and group sessions in Brisbane on a weekly basis. Availability at other locations can be arranged by negotiation. For more information contact Warren on 0412-049667 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(Published with permission of the publisher of the “Insight” Magazine.)