WHAT IS MEDITATION
Meditation is a state of altered awareness that allows us to bypass previous programming and critical thought and to open up to our higher self (Wisdom, Creativity, Intuition, etc. etc.). Meditation has been part of every society since the dawn of man. Virtually every religion has one form of meditation or another as part of its rituals. The fact is, almost everyone goes into a meditative state about a dozen times a week on average without even being aware of it. Have you ever stared out of a window and drifted away for a few moments losing complete track of time and surrounding activity? If you are a parent you know that kids do it all the time. When this happens the person has inadvertently gone into a meditative state. Meditation is not the act of thinking about something spiritual or creative, to the contrary it is the absence of critical thought.
There are many different labels for meditation, as well as various approaches to achieving a meditative state. From various forms of Yogic meditation, or Shaolin meditation, to transcendental meditation, regardless of the vehicle the common denominator is pretty much the same. The ultimate goal is to open up to that intuitive, creative, and spiritual part of who we are. It is to access that higher part of our being.
Meditation is as old as mankind. It is impossible for anyone to be certain where, when, and how, it came to be formalized. My studies lead me to believe that it evolved naturally over centuries. In many instances, people will spontaneously go into trance without trying to do so. From use as a natural escape mechanism (to avoid pain, heat or cold, or trauma), to something that may simply begin as daydreaming, trance is a naturally occurring phenomenon.
In ancient times those who were naturally more in tune with meditation or trance states found it to be a way by which he/she could open up to his/her inner wisdom. They found meditation a way to look at life through different eyes, or you might say, from another mountain or valley. Often these people became the spiritual leaders or wise men/women within the community. In turn, they would attract followers who could see the value in this process. The spiritual leader would then teach their followers these skills. Over the centuries various ways of teaching meditative skills became part and parcel to religious rituals.
Past civilizations most likely had an easier time meditating than people do in modern times. In our society we are trained from birth to be analytical and rational. How many times have you seen a small child who is playing and acting like a child be told by an adult to “act their age” (as if they are not), or to “grow up”?. This indoctrination serves only to inhibit the ability to meditate by stifling that creative and imaginative part of us. The childlike qualities within us are a vital component in achieving a meditative state.
Meditation is highly misunderstood. Meditation cannot be achieved through mechanisms like picturing a black dot on a black cloth, or by repeating affirmations about something that you would like to accomplish. To the contrary, meditation is the absence of all conscious critical thought. The deeper the meditation, the farther removed from conscious critical thought the person will be. Any attempt by a person to direct his/her meditation will actually deteriorate the state of trance. Meditation requires letting go of preconceived thought and opening up to nothingness. Only by letting go of all preconceptions can we accept what has not yet been discovered.
THE CONSCIOUS AND UNCONSCIOUS MIND
To understand meditation it is important to understand how our minds work. Our minds function at two levels, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. Our conscious mind is the analytical and/or task oriented part of us. It enables us to put a puzzle together, work out a mathematics problem, drive our car, etc. Your subconscious mind contains emotions, habits, perceptions, creativity, intuition, etc. The subconscious mind is also the little kid in us. It is the part of us that is not chained by the analytical rational adult part of us.
In western society we are taught from childhood to value the analytical and rational thought processes. Being imaginative or creative would not generally be held in the same esteem, as would being proficient at calculus. In much the same way as the lack of use of muscles will cause them to atrophy, the lack of use of the creative and intuitive part of who we are will cause spiritual atrophy. Meditation is one of the best ways to exercise that all too often neglected part of us. Be aware, however, that you cannot meditate with the conscious mind. You cannot “think about meditation” and have it happen. The opposite is necessary…you must let go of controlled thought.
SOMNAMBULISM, HYPNOSIS, AND MEDITATION
Hypnosis and meditation have much in common. The major difference is simply that while hypnosis is “therapist or hypnotist driven” where meditation is “free form”. Both ideally will achieve a trance depth called somnambulism. This is the place where we can leave the critical thought process behind and are able to tap directly into our powerful subconscious mind.
True meditation is non-directive. The person allows trance state and then allows the subconscious mind to go wherever it needs to go for healing, development, or wisdom. Although it is possible to “pre-imprint” where you would prefer to go within your meditation, there can be no conscious effort on the part of the participant to direct where the meditation will actually go. Analogous to this would be those cases where people (like myself) are able to wake up in the morning at a predetermined time without the use of an alarm clock. Before going to sleep I visualize what time I want to wake up in the morning. Then I give it no more thought. I simply go to sleep. In the morning I wake up within minutes of that time. Obviously if I were to lay in bed all night telling myself what time I wanted to awake it would not work. The same is true with meditation. You can make a mental request as to what you would like to experience in your meditation before beginning, but once you begin, you must trust that your subconscious mind to take you where you need to be. Any attempt to control the process will bring the process to a screeching halt. In fact, ironically, one thing that will prevent meditation is actively “trying” to meditate.
COMPARING ANCIENT AND MODERN METHODS
By comparing ancient and modern methods of inducing trance we can get a more realistic picture of what meditation really is. The similarities between ancient and modern trance inducing techniques are abundantly evident. For example: In ancient times people might stare at a candle until they ultimately went into trance. Today, in hypnotherapy, that is called a fixation induction. In ancient times people would be induced into meditative trance by a technique called clacking (people hitting sticks together in rhythm to create a droning noise), or by chanting. This is similar in principle to a hypnotic confusion induction where the person’s conscious mind is overloaded with stimuli causing the conscious mind to escape or step aside. In ancient times focusing on the breath and relaxing more with each breath directly correlates to what we now call a progressive relaxation induction.
TIPS FOR MEDITATION
One of the most common problems people relay to me when they come to study meditation is this. They’ll say, “Dr. Holder, when I try to meditate I start thinking about lots of different things and I can’t get them out of my mind. I try to get them out but I just can’t”. The problem is not the thoughts but the fact that the person is trying to get rid of them. By doing so the person shoots himself/herself in the meditative foot. Allow all ideas to process naturally. These ideas or sensations may be coherent or they may make absolutely no sense at all (in a cognitive way). It makes no difference. If you are non-directive they will pass/process naturally as your ability to achieve trance will improve.
Often people are under the misconception that a special body position is necessary for meditation. This is not true. People who have spent years meditating in a lotus or some other exotic position are comfortable doing so. If the average person were to attempt to sit like that he/she would probably spend the entire time thinking about the pain in his/her legs and hips and wondering if he/she will ever walk again when he/she tries to get up. You should simply find a place and a position in which you feel comfortable, safe, and secure for your meditations. Once comfortable, you can allow each breath you exhale to carry you deeper into a peaceful relaxation. Open up to the child within you. There is no right or wrong sensation(s). Your meditation will be unique to you. Logic and rational thought have no place in this special world. If you feel compelled to follow the same rational thought processes that you follow throughout the routines of the day you will be anchored in that and will be unable to achieve a state of meditation. To experience Original Thought it is important to leave the world of physics and social training behind for a short while. Only then will you experience the benefits that meditation can bring.
In short, by doing nothing all can come to you. Attempting meditation with an agenda will simply provide you with a trip to where you have already been. Expecting nothing will bring you whatever you need. Directing nothing will take you to places you’ve never before experienced.