Monday, March 02, 2009

On meditating

When I was a child, my mind freshly awakened to the scope and power of imagination, I believed that it was possible to set your mind outside the universe, to transcend it, and by doing so, to imagine all possibilities, with the notion that I could imagine more from the outside than I ever could from within. Sometimes, in my early teens, I had seen shapes in the periphery of my vision, fleeting motions that seemed to coalesce into images. Then I did not feel that they were simply outcomes of my brain's misinterpreting the movements of my eyes or head, but that they were ghosts, not so much of people who had passed (although I was agnostic then about an afterlife, and, to tell the truth, about a lot more besides), but of worlds that exist if only. Strangely, I can now believe (I say can, because I don't know that I do, but I know I could) that the multiverse expresses those if onlys, and less plausibly I could accept that consciousness is not entirely restricted to what there is. Nowadays, the world I believe I can experience has shrunk and ossified, and I know my mental life is poorer for it.

Because I did not know a method to transcend the universe, but I recognised, as of course many others have done before me, that what bound me to this world was the chatter of thoughts, I tried to free myself, in a structured way, from at least part of that which chained me. In particular, I focused on focus. In other words, I tried not to see the world, but to look beyond it. The technique I used was to fix the focus of my eyes by staring at a point, and then, once I was satisifed that I had fixed it, to look past that point without refocusing. To the bystander, this looks a lot like staring vacantly into space. My mother would sometimes comment on it, how I would "sit around thinking" for hours on end. But some of the time, I was not thinking at all. I was trying to reach beyond thought.

It wasn't for some years after that that I came across eastern religion, and understood that I had been practising a zen of my own. I owned my own terminology, but I was doing what a student of Zen does: seeking to still the mind. Because I am contrary, I had by then stopped practising it, and had stopped believing that you could transcend the mundane. I still had a sense of spirituality, which I lack today of course, but it had different substance.

But I was interested in the benefits of eastern religion, if not convinced of its tenets (or all of its tenets, I should say, because I do believe that the eastern tradition has the world mostly figured out, and has been confirmed to an astonishing degree by science; of course, I do not necessarily believe that its practitioners had special insight into how the world really is--they may simply have made lucky guesses, and in any case, a lot of what they believed is fairly obvious if you analyse the world fairly strictly, without admitting too much metaphysics). So, particularly when I turned 30, and made quite considerable changes in what you might call my mental map of the world (which it pains me to admit I have allowed to slip away, so that I am now back where I was in my late 20s, but with added weariness), I taught myself to meditate.

I used several methods. A favourite was candle meditation. To do this is simple. You light a candle and sit and gaze at the flame. At first, the flame is suggestive. You can conjure up images, make a picture show from it, but after a while, if you focus (and I was, thanks to my juvenile training, good at focusing), the flame ceased to provoke meaning, and became simply a flame, twisting in the draught.

Why bother?

In your day to day, you are barely capable of thinking coherently, if you think at all. You may have many thoughts, but they chase each other in endless spirals, and you cannot conclude anything. You may seek to impose pattern on this chattering mess of thought, but it isn't easy, and if you succeed, it is like putting a stick into a whirlpool. Making it stop destroys it, making even the pattern decohere. But if you can stop the whirling, make your mind still water, with scarcely a ripple upon it, you are open to be struck by the truth.

I say the truth. I mean, a truth, a sort of truth. I would say understanding but understanding requires interpretation, and when meditating you are too focused to interpret anything. You have to swallow raw what is, I almost said revealed to you, but really, because there is nothing and no one to reveal anything to you, it is the right concept but the wrong word. It seems achingly pretentious to say that the universe reveals itself to you. It's more the case that a deeper thought, a pure thought, reveals itself to you, an insight.

In time, with practice, you no longer need the candle. You are able to conjure the image and maintain it without any effort, and can fairly quickly reach a point of relative stillness.

Having meditated, I found that once my focus dissolved, I would open floodgates of imagination, and visualise stories, characters, worlds that were new to me. I did not do it for the sake of creativity, or imagination, but it was a powerful offshoot.

Given its power and benefits to me, why would I have stopped meditating? It's complicated. Partly it was to do with a change in philosophy, a focus on the worldly; partly it was lack of time--or the perception that I lacked time, because certainly I had plenty of time to waste; partly it was because I found it difficult to rest when I first became a father, and my dream life was disrupted and fractured. I don't know. These seem like the reasons now I think back, but I am not sure. It may simply be that I didn't correctly diagnose what was causing what, or understand what was doing me good and what was not.

I do not know. Should we always know everything about ourselves? It doesn't seem possible that we can, when so much goes on "underneath the bonnet", hidden from inquiry. Or perhaps that is the myth that we rely on to avoid doing good medicine and healing ourselves, because perhaps we are afraid that the healed self will be revealed as void, or simple, or not what we hope it is: indeed, now that I am convinced that the self is all those things, perhaps it is a good time to be healed and become well, and if I vanish in the process, what is lost? No more than the flickering flame, and perhaps much less.

6 Comments:

At 9:02 pm, Blogger nobody said...

I fiddled about with many artificial methods of "meditation" during my years as a seeker. They mostly did nothing useful. I mean fucksake, how many times can you repeat "ommmmm" before you begin to snore?

Then I found the only method of "meditating" that I've ever come across that is useful.

I simply allow my mind to go wherever it wishes and observe it doing so without attempting to restrict it in any way.

Careful what you try though, that particular form of meditation is fairly sticky.

 
At 1:17 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

perhaps we are afraid that the healed self will be revealed as void, or simple, or not what we hope it is: indeed, now that I am convinced that the self is all those things, perhaps it is a good time to be healed and become well, and if I vanish in the process, what is lost? No more than the flickering flame, and perhaps much less.

Nothing lost, perhaps peace gained? It seems to me better void and healed than void and miserable.

Thank you. I sincerely appreciated this.

M

 
At 5:24 pm, Blogger Sopwith-Camel said...

The east was perhaps a "lucky guesser", but it is also possible that their world was understood by empathy. Sometimes you have an idea and it just feels right, even though there is no logic to explain it.

There was also much in the west that followed a similar path, in particular the alchemists, (and let us forget the nonsense about making god from dross). However, much of their work was swamped by the actions of the church which specified what a man could know of the great unknown, and what could not be known.

You can meditate in some surprising ways: read Alaistair Crowley for some examples. You can meditate on Pr0n, for example, which is a known religious technique, see St. Augustine.

You can even meditate on meditation, but here lies the dangerous path of recursiveness which can lead to the quandary of who dreams whom, the man or the butterfly?

I suspect that you, like the rest of us, stopped meditating either because you didn't need to, didn't want to, or found something better to do.

Such as putting up shelves for the missus to store things on, and then reaching them down for her because you put them too high for her to reach, or in totally the wrong place. You know there's no point in putting a shelf there, so why did you do it?

Meditate upon the limitless capacity of a woman to irk a man.

 
At 6:53 pm, Blogger nobody said...

S-C wrote,

"let us forget the nonsense about making god from dross"

What better material from which to construct a god?

"I suspect that you, like the rest of us, stopped meditating..."

Some of us never have.

"Meditate upon the limitless capacity of a woman to irk a man."

Or on a man's limitless need not to be irked.

 
At 8:33 pm, Blogger Sopwith-Camel said...

"let us forget the nonsense about making god from dross"

LOL - was there ever a more divine typo?

What a faux-type.

If anything, it hints at the universe being accidental, instead of designed. I feel more comfortable with that idea.

This is almost a form of meditation, is it not?

 
At 9:53 pm, Blogger nobody said...

"This is almost a form of meditation, is it not?"

S-C, I have not a single clue about that. <g>

"...it hints at the universe being accidental, instead of designed."

You seem to assume those to be the only choices. Perhaps it simply exists and has always existed, there being no other possible state for it.

 

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