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WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation opens the mind to the greatest mystery that takes place daily and hourly; it widens the heart so that it may feel the eternity of time and infinity of space in every throb; it gives us a life within the world as if we were moving about in paradise; and all these spiritual deeds take place without any refuge into a doctrine, but by the simple and direct holding fast to the truth which dwells in our inner most beings.
—Shunr yu Suzuki Roshi
AT THE HEART OF EACH GREAT RELIGIOUS TRADITION is a wisdom school of transformational contemplative teachings. While the exoteric religious teachings provide many guidelines and examples for conducting one's daily life, the more psychological and meditative teachings of the esoteric schools have provided practitioners throughout the ages with practical and systematic guidelines for transforming ourselves and fully developing our human potential. Meditation techniques are best understood as methods of mental and spiritual training.
Today, meditation techniques are undergoing a secular revival as our state oracle of science discovers and proclaims the benefits of meditation as a remedy to the epidemic stress of modern life. In the last ten years, it has become increasingly common to find the practice of meditation encouraged in high-level corporate creativity sessions, in locker rooms, during coffee breaks, before and after work, prior to academic tests, before athletic competition, and even in military maneuvers. With the use of relaxation, imagery, attention training, or meditation many people are being introduced to powerful and highly effective mental technologies of personal transformation that have been the cherished and often secret practices of many ancient traditions.
This trend has sometimes been attributed as a shift from left-brain to right-brain thinking, or as the meeting of Eastern and Western values in life. For our purposes here, let's consider meditation as a skillful means for moving from the pain of our personal and planetary fragmentation toward the direct intuitive understanding of our wholeness and potential as human beings.
Contemporary psychology and medicine regard the contemplative traditions as a rich source of skills for mastering attention, promoting health and stress resilience, reducing pain, awakening creativity, and building the power of positive emotions such as empathy, patience, joy, and loving-kindness. Thousands of research studies have documented the benefits of these methods, and many centers for medicine and peak performance have integrated them. Acknowledging that most people have little control over their attention and have few effective skills for developing their mental health and emotional intelligence, the contributions of meditation training are receiving more and more attention.
INTEGRATING ACTIVE AND QUIET MIND SKILLS
One way to understand meditation practices is that they help us integrate and develop the dynamic synergy of both our active or creative mind skills, and our quiet or receptive mind skills. Insights and inspirations emerge first as subtle, formless impressions, gossamer-like and transparent—so elusive that they are easily ignored. If our "quiet mind skills" are keen enough, however, even the subtlest emerging insights will be noticed and drawn into awareness. Once these impressions are brought onto the screen of conscious awareness, our "active mind skills" come into play, shaping and developing them into thoughts, images, and intentions that can be communicated to others and guide our action and work in the world.
The "active mind skills" are the tools of our intellect and reasoning. They include intention or will, thinking and reasoning, and our faculty of creative imagination. These skills each play a role in shaping or transforming information through the power of intention. They also give form and meaning to the flow of information and the chaos of our experience by creating order through the power of thought and imagination. The active mind skills are vital to organizing and expressing our inner knowing, insights, feelings, and intentions, and for translating our thoughts and visions into action. Active mind skills help us to make sense of both internal mental experience and the perceived experience from our outer world, and to communicate our understanding to others.
The "quiet mind skills" represent a domain of powerful mental functions that are complementary to and essential for the effective use of the "active mind skills." Quiet mind skills are primarily attentive or receptive mental functions that gather information through the faculty of mindful attention, sensing, and feeling. These involve the qualities of receptivity, "being," or presence, in contrast to the creativity, or "doing" nature of the active mind skills. By way of analogy, the active mind skills can be compared to the forms and patterns of matter or clouds that we can see or touch, and the dynamic forces of wind, water, or electromagnetism that shape them. The subtler mental functions and brain states associated with the quiet mind are more "transparent," like the sheer presence of the sky—vast in scope, clear, and open. For this reason they are rarely recognized, and seldom fully developed. Their level of development, however, determines the coherence and power of all other mental functions. Critically important to accessing and expressing a deeper quality of wisdom and presence in our lives, the depth of our quiet mind skills determines our capacity for coping with intensity and complexity. They also provide access to the subtle revelations of intuitive insight so vital to breakthroughs in creativity and innovation, and are the key to integrating both intellect and intuition.
Consciously or unconsciously, all the great scientists and sages of the world have tapped the quiet mind skills as the access states necessary to discover the "universal organizing principles" that have inspired and guided the development of humanity throughout the ages. By allowing us to focus our attention more deeply, they enable us to discover a more fundamental wisdom that reveals insight into the nature of our inner most being and the world in which we live. In this way, the quiet mind skills awaken our sensitivity to life-giving forces that are expressed as universal values, such as wisdom, compassion, heartfelt appreciation, and wonder.
Though few people have received any formal training in either the active or quiet mind skills, all of us, to some degree, rely on these faculties to make sense of our experience, and to organize our thinking and working. In fact, the quality of our work, communication, thinking, creativity, and health are intimately related to how fully we have developed the synergy of these two kinds of capabilities. The different styles of meditation practice found in this book are designed to provide you with the kind of "mental fitness" training that will help you cultivate your capacity to integrate both of these essential domains.
THE THREEFOLD GOAL OF MEDITATION
Meditation practice is undertaken with a threefold goal. The first is to discover and transform the limiting habits of mind that block our full potential. The second is to actively cultivate and bring more fully alive our potential for wisdom, creative intelligence, calm intensity, loving-kindness, and compassion. Third, when really taken to heart, we practice with the motivation not only to free ourselves from limitations and to awaken to our own true nature and potential, but in order to be more effective in helpings others realize their full potential as well. After all, how much satisfaction will we find if we are free from our problems yet everyone else around us is still suffering? We work on ourselves because we understand that it will make us a better parent, a better friend, a more sensitive and creative human being contributing to our community. Our inner work is an offering to the world. What greater offering can we make?
Choices in a meditator's life are very simple: Do those things that contribute to your awareness, and refrain from those things that do not.
FIVE CATEGORIES OF MEDITATION TECHNIQUES
A person well versed in inner science traditions has access to a veritable apothecary of meditative antidotes to disturbing mind states, as well as to potent methods for enhancing and developing wholesome and helpful states of mind. Mastering our mind in these ways, we will inevitably develop mastery over our physical and verbal expressions and our relationship with the world.
There are thousands of meditation techniques from many different traditions, but all could be classified as belonging to either one or a combination of five categories:
1. Concentration Meditation
2. Reflective Meditation
3. Creative Meditation
4. Heart-Centered Meditation
Concentration meditation is the foundation for all other kinds of meditation. Through the power of concentration we build our capacity to over come distraction and to sustain mental focus. The power of a scattered mind is very limited. But like a stream of water that can be channeled to make it more forceful and produce hydroelectric power, we can make the mind a more powerful instrument by developing a small seed of one-pointed mindfulness into "concentration power." In classical meditation texts, this one-pointedness of mind developed through the energy of concentration is called samadhi, which literally means "to establish, to make firm."
The power of a concentrated mind can be focused effectively to enhance and deepen insight into other meditative themes or goals. To understand how this works, compare the illuminating capacity of the diffuse and scattered beam of a ten-watt incandescent lightbulb to the penetrating, diamond-like precision of a ten-watt laser beam. Such is the difference in illuminating power of the concentrated mind to the ordinary, scattered, and fragmentary flow of attention that most of us bring to everyday living. By learning how to bring the stream of our attention into a laser-like beam of one-pointed concentration, we can train the mind to become a highly useful instrument for penetrating into and investigating the nature of reality. A concentrated mind is also the precursor of great bliss and the prerequisite for the development of psychic abilities.
Whatever technique of meditation you are practicing, it is necessary to have the ability to place your attention on the object of meditation and hold it there without distraction. With patience and practice, your mind will become calmer, more powerful, and able to apply itself to any task with precision and understanding. Any object or activity can be used for the specific development of concentration. The same basic principle, however, always applies, no matter which form of meditation you are practicing: whenever your mind wanders, simply return it—again and again—to the object of your meditation.
Mindfulness meditation emphasizes the cultivation of a receptive, choiceless quality of mindful attention toward whatever arises in the sphere of our experience. At those times in our lives when we were rapt in wonder gazing into the depths of the night sky, listening intently, marveling at the beauty of nature, or wholeheartedly listening for the answer to our heart's prayer, we have naturally experienced this type of meditation. Traditionally, the practices of insight or vipassana meditation, zazen, dzogchen, Mahamudra, choiceless awareness, self-remembering, and prayer of the heart are associated with this category of meditation. Mindfulness meditation strengthens our sense of wonder and appreciation, enabling us to effortlessly, precisely, and carefully attend to the totality of our experience unfolding moment to moment.
The interplay of concentration and mindfulness meditation allows us to develop the capacity to examine and intuitively understand the deep forces within our ordinary experience. The penetrating insight that develops can then be systematically applied to investigating the very subtle interplay between the phenomena we perceive and the nature of our own mind as the perceiver. As we investigate our participation in the pervasive and dynamic interrelatedness of everything, we will come to sense ourselves as intimately related to and co-creative with the world of our experience.
The practice of reflective or analytical meditation is like disciplined thinking: choosing a theme, question, or topic of contemplation we focus our reflection, or analysis, upon it. When our attention wanders to other thoughts, we return to our chosen topic. Traditionally, reflective meditation is employed to gain insight into the meaning of life, death, interrelationships, and social conscience, or to come to a conclusive insight regarding some key idea in science, philosophy, or scripture. Following our analysis through, we arrive at a conclusion. This, in turn, gives rise to a strong sense of faith or conviction.
In our day-to-day life and work, reflective meditation provides us with a powerful and effective tool for focusing our attention upon personal or professional questions in order to discover a creative solution or breakthrough insight. Reflective meditation also helps us to understand the issues or inner conflicts that may arise during the practice of other meditations.
Creative meditation enables us to consciously cultivate and strengthen specific qualities of mind. Patience, appreciation, sympathetic joy, gratitude, love, compassion, fearlessness, humility, tenderness, and other qualities associated with aspects of nature, Divinity, or the natural world are among the attributes that are most commonly cultivated. Creative meditations invite us to actively nurture these strengths of character by thinking, speaking, and acting "as though" these qualities are more fully alive within us.
Heart-centered meditation helps us to awaken the radiance of our loving-kindness and compassion. They deepen our empathy and forgiveness, and teach us to live in kinder ways. They begin first with ourselves, and then open the circle of our compassion to embrace all living beings. They draw inspiration from each of the other meditations: focus and the power of peace from concentration; deep listening and presence from mindfulness meditation; insight into the nature of suffering and a sense of interrelatedness from reflective meditation; imaginative resourcefulness and skill from creative meditation.
Properly understood, all of these approaches to meditation are interrelated and mutually enhancing. Many practices draw inspiration from a variety of meditation styles and could be included in several categories. While the intricacies of these interrelationships are beyond the scope of this book, it should be clear to you that the contemplative traditions offer us the inner technology necessary to fulfill virtually any developmental aspiration we may have. Meditation allows us to go beyond words and mental concepts in order to know the true nature and reality of ourselves and our world directly.
GUIDELINES FOR DEVELOPING MEDITATION SKILLS
CLEAN AND CLEAR SPACE
CREATE A SPECIAL SPACE for yourself, either a room or a corner, and use it only for your meditation and heartfelt study or contemplation. Put in this space only those things that help your meditation. Find a comfortable seat for yourself. Arrange in a pleasing way the pictures and objects that energize the qualities of heart and mind you are trying to nurture. Keep the space clean and clear, as though you were always expecting a special guest. Enter it with respect, and be uplifted and refreshed by its peace, beauty, and healing qualities.
MINDING THE BODY
In general, you will find it helpful to precede your quiet sitting meditation with at least a brief period of mindful stretching, tai chi, yoga, or gentle exercise. This will help you to build energy and focus your attention. At times you may find that your mind is simply too agitated to begin with quiet sitting meditation and you will gain much greater benefit from a session of walking or moving meditation such as Concentration While Walking (page 73), Doing What You Love to Do (page 83), or Mindful Walking (page 106).
For sitting meditation, whether you sit cross-legged, in a chair, or kneel with a meditation bench is largely a matter of style and preference. Experiment and see what works best for you. It is especially important to sit comfortably, with your spine straight and your body upright and relaxed. Sitting in this way, it will be much easier to remain alert. Sit naturally and at ease, and avoid forcing your body into uncomfortable postures. Your eyes can either be gently closed or softly open—though practicing with them softly open will reduce the tendency to doze off and can help you to carry a meditative presence over into other activities. With practice you will learn to bring a meditative mind to every activity, whether sitting, standing, walking, or lying down.
Excerpted from Luminous Mind by Joel Levey, Michelle Levey. Copyright © 1999 Joel Levey and Michelle Levey. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Foreword by Joan Borysenko
Awakening Our Wholeness and Full Potential
What Is Meditation?
Guidelines for Developing Meditation Skills
Mindfulness Meditation: The Cultivation of Insight
The Practice of Dedication
Resources for Continued Learning
Index of Meditation Practices
About the Authors