Meditation (Part 2) - Discovering the Sea Inside
“The universe is not outside of you. Look inside of yourself; everything you want you already are.”
The Islamic mystic poet Rumi was a dervish and an avid meditator in his own spiritual tradition. Like the Buddha and other men and women before him, he came to self-realization through his deep inner reflection, realizing that there was more to him than he had ever imagined. From his beautiful poetry we see that Rumi discovered that there was more going on all around him than he had ever imagined. Through the experience of his spiritual discipline, he discovered for himself the vast cosmic sea inside. It may be useful to us at this point to understand more deeply how we may use our own spiritual practice to make this discovery for ourselves. I will use Buddhist meditation as a guide for our discussion, but understand that the principles we are discussing can be applied to all the world's great wisdom traditions.
In seated meditation we strive to align "Attention" (Vicara in Pali) with "Intention" (Vitakka in Pali). In doing so we clean our spiritual lenses for clearer perception, allowing us to open ourselves to an awakened state of being. As Thomas Merton, the Christian Trappist monk, put it, “...so that we may experience what we already possess”. We accomplish this through our sustained concentration on an object of intense interest. In the Buddhist tradition, this object of concentration would be our own breath. We perceive this object (the breath) in multiple parts of the body, simultaneously, as we connect to the whole of our being. This aids us in penetrating the surface, to get to the essence of our being below. All the wisdom traditions consider this as experiencing the soul of life. To penetrate to the soul of things is to penetrate to your own soul. To understand the essence of anything in this world is to understand your own essence. From this perspective the universe is not outside of us, but inside. If we look, we will see that everything we want we already are.
This is the meaning of the poet Rumi's phrase “The Universe is not outside of us”. Interestingly, the Hindu God Lord Krishna makes the exact same observation in the Bhagavad Gita when he tells us that the whole universe is inside of us. He too was a great teacher of enlightenment who directed us all to the path of self-realization through inner reflection - meditation.
Analytic Meditation is the process of deconstructing the self. Carefully examining our patterns and karmic imprints...the thoughts and imprints that govern one's beliefs and notions of self. What stories do I tell myself? We do this by stilling the mind, then carefully taking the time to closely examine one's thoughts, feelings, conditioning and all that the ego uses to sustain itself. Every habit pattern is in constant search for the energy to sustain itself. Analytic Meditation is the practice of understanding our patterns, depleting the energy that feeds into them, and allowing them to dissolve.
The practice of meditation is to relax in inactivity and to accept the uncontrived setting of a natural state -- to see behind the screen of your thoughts. We simply sit and quiet the mind while we gather or focus our attention, then we observe the mind and its wandering. Where does the mind wander? What issues come to the fore for you? The unloading of consciousness, observing the dynamics of the mind's movements -- this is our practice. Exploring what's actually happening in our mind while the ego seeks concealment. This is a skillful approach to meditation which sharpens and becomes increasingly beneficial with time and consistency. As we grow in courage and confidence, all is revealed.
The Land Of Hungry Ghosts
The first step is to observe the patterns of thought and the habits that govern your life, your experiences, this hour, this day, this very minute. What stories do I tell myself to cope, to rationalize my behavior? Simultaneously being mindful of the fact that these thoughts, beliefs and stories are not you, there is no self within them, they only seek to sustain themselves, to sustain the ego, the illusion of self. If we refuse to give these illusions energy they, have no real independent life. This is the ego’s struggle to survive. Each negative habit pattern is desperately seeking the food it needs to sustain itself, this is what the Buddhists describe as “The land of hungry ghosts”.
Consistency in meditation is essential. If you meditate regularly even when you don’t feel like it, you will make great gains, for it will allow you to see how your thoughts impose limits on you. Your resistances to meditation are your mental prisons, this is your grasping and attachments. Attachments will always hold you back, they are the strongest obstructions to self realization you will encounter. Removing them, healing them is what spiritual practice is all about. Our consistency in meditation practice will aid us in doing so, easing our anxieties and settling our minds, clearing our perception.
Sitting With Ourselves
Awakening is being free from conditioning. For most of us it will only occur through the concentrated energy of awareness that is cultivated through consistent seated meditation, leading to the rewiring of neural pathways. It is the pathway to piercing insight through the many layers of Karmic and social conditioning, direct knowing and the opening of the heart. It is base camp in our journey to the summit. Sitting practice produces "skillful means". Skillful means lead to sustained growth and transformation. We need a practice of looking at our minds. There is no other way we can unwind our minds from years of conditioning.
This is a practice that only we can give ourselves, not a guru, a saint, a teacher or a Bodhisattva. They can only show us the way. Our practice is ours and ours alone. We may study and research many books over a lifetime, we can explore every corner of this world but in the end it comes down to sitting with ourselves in the silence of meditation, and then confronting the ultimate reality of who we are, discovering the vast sea inside.