What Is Meditation, and Is It Needed?
To taste something sweet, is it necessary to eat strawberry ice cream, or can you simply eat a wild strawberry?
Meditation. Like yoga, it seems to be something you hear about more and more, as more and more people do it, hear about it, or feel they should do it. But I wonder, with increased popularity, is there a decrease in understanding? Like yoga, which has gone from a deep practice of mind-body-spiritual integration, to more of an American-style exercise program, has much the value of it been lost, as it’s gone from an inside-out understanding to just a another practice or technique, a thing to do – about the mind, with no understanding of Consciousness – or a de-stress tool, or just set of clothing to take on to prove yourself with and talk about with your friends?
In any case, even before any popularity, you may hear people in spiritual groups or outside talk about how much they meditate, how long they’ve meditated, or how long one needs to or should meditate in order to make advances towards one’s goal, whether that’s a short term goal or a long term one. They may do it to reduce stress, or in order to realize some special state, such as enlightenment. Or they discuss and compare what kind of meditation they do, or that they feel bad because they haven’t meditated: guilty or stressed because they dropped out of the habit, like someone that jogs and hasn’t had time. However even the sincerest meditators can misunderstand what is going on with this subtle form of self-enquiry, self-therapy, self-improvement, or whatever you want to call it.
So meditation is usually seen as a goal-oriented activity – don’t we always have goals when we do something? – where one tries to achieve something, the highest form of achievement being “enlightenment” or “Self-realization” (the distinction between those is enough subject for another article). As “seekers”, we are seeking to fill a lack, or find something. And if you achieve that, you’ve made it spiritually, and then maybe become a spiritual teacher yourself, instead of following one. That’s meant only half as a joke – there really is that thinking out there! You can see how this would plug into an achievement or competitive, comparing-oriented social mindset. This realization is seen as something that happens through time: some are told it could take 20 or 30 years, or more than one lifetime.
I’m not a Buddhist, Hindu, Three Principles coach, Non-dualist, licensed psychologist, or any other brand of religion or psychological-spiritual practitioner – call me a freelance philosopher if you need a label – but from my limited perspective as a seeker, finder, thinker, and realizer of glimpses of Truth, here’s my perspective.
After spending a little time hanging out with some nondualists and meditators “non-dualists” I find myself asking this question yet again: what is meditation and what is its real value? The non-duality Advaita school of teaching – and spiritual communities in general – is one that seems to value meditation highly, and often see it as a necessary tool of self-enquiry and purification as it were, to see the conditioning and true nature of beliefs (along with intellectual self-enquiry) and habits that stand in our way, on the path towards realizing the true self.
On the other hand, mystics may say otherwise. They will point to the fact that you are already enlightened, already happy, and what you seek is who and what you are. A seeming paradox.
And within a spreading global spiritually-based psychology movement called “The Three Principles“, it’s often mentioned that meditation is not needed, perhaps seen as superfluous, or even looked down on or dismissed as a waste of time, since if you’ve seen the simple truth that innate health and wellbeing are our default state, and have an understanding that it’s thinking you taking you away from it, you can easily drop the interference and return to “home”. You are your own teacher (despite the fact that there is an enormous and growing cottage industry of coaches, teachers, counselors, therapists, consultants and so forth that want you to invest quite a bit in their teachings! But I digress…).
My view of meditation is becoming more nuanced as a result of exposure to and discussion with those in both the Three Principles Psychology (“3P”) communities and the nondual ones (online and off). And in living it: 19 plus years in the 3P and, well, it depends on how you define it, but I got interested in Zen Buddhism around 1988 (seriously anyway) and before that had a spontaneous and profound nondual type experience around 1980, when thought ended and “I” died and consciousness merged with the total absolute light, the Mind of neverything (I had no framework or understanding of what had happened, and got lost for quite a while)… but I digress…
An Analysis: Being or Doing, And Understanding or Not
I see we have these two axis at play: meditation as being or doing, and understanding or lack thereof. Let’s codify this so we can play with the combinations:
Meditation as Being or as Doing. As Being: a mental state: a quiescent mind, or as Doing, a practice, a technique or goal-oriented activity.
Two possibilities for Understanding: An understanding of what’s going on, or A lack of understanding of what’s going on.
Combining these 2 into 4 possibilities, with some examples:
1: Doing a Meditation practice, with little understanding
You sit with some friends and let your mind settle, and feel a good feeling well up as your thinking quiets down, and attribute it to the technique and new habits that need reinforcement from this technique. You may feel bad about yourself, or in a bad mood if you miss your meditation sessions, or even become “addicted”. You might beat yourself up thinking you aren’t being good and disciplined, or maybe your mind gets scattered and lost in a stressful state and you attribute it to lack of meditation practice.
2: Being a Meditative state, with little understanding
Walking in a park, you start seeing so much beauty, feeling a happiness, like an expansive love for life welling up inside, and thinking it’s a reflection of this park where you’re walking, and your city, so you keep going back to the same park trying to get the feeling. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
3: Doing a Meditation practice, with understanding
You sit, meditate with some friends and let your mind settle, and feel a good feeling well up as your thinking quiets down, and understand it’s a quiet mind that’s allowing the reality that’s always there to surface. You’re able to see this happen at other times too, but the practice is a nice opportunity you took advantage of.
4: Being a Meditative state, with understanding
Walking in a park, you start seeing so much beauty, feeling a happiness, like an expansive love for life welling up inside, and understanding it’s a reflection of a deeper reality that’s always with us but is obscured by what we do with our minds. This could be healing or be an upward shift in consciousness, or if less profound, simply enjoying what is, Life. “Noncausal happiness” if you will.
The conclusion I draw from this is that meditation as a practice can be useful and enjoyable, but generally is not necessary. Meditation as a mental state is necessary, and more or less tantamount to what makes a happy and fulfilling life.
Furthermore, with a deep enough understanding of life, or for those naturally knowing or inclined, a meditative state is a common and spontaneous occurrence.
Curious to get other’s perspectives on how they saw meditation in light of the Three Principles, I had some online conversations with various folk from that field.
Elena Castro, a Three Principles coach, said it like this, first quoting Sydney Banks, the enlightened man from which sprang, with the later help of some psychologists, the whole field of Three Principles psychology:
From “The Ultimate Answer” (an audio CD of Syd Banks speaking):
“You are looking for silence. That is why people meditate all over the world, trying to silence their mind so that this wisdom will come in. Now, that’s one way of doing it, and I am not going to say any more about that. But you know what 3 principles do? They direct you into it.”
– Sydney Banks
My own experience, Eric, was kinda similar to yours: decades of meditating with nice feeling while doing it, having no idea what that really was. 3 principle made it clear what was happening while meditating and that that experience is not a result of a practice, but it is me feeling mySelf. Never had a need to meditate afterwards – I experience myself, knowingly, relaxing into myself regardless of what I am doing.
I found this in an early audio tape of a Sydney Banks talk from 1975, in Victoria, Canada:
I’ve been picked on so many times about [meditation]. It’s a beautiful thing for your mind, it’s a beautiful thing for your body, it’s a little like taking a tranquilizing pill. The state you get from it will [inaudible] last two hours or who knows. But the mind searching for itself cannot find itself, this is the game of life. If you sit thinking about Life, you’ll never make it. The mind searches for itself belongs to a form. And we’re all forms playing the game of life. This is what we’re supposed to be. We’re not supposed to know what the game of life is. This is what we call the game of life. And what we’re supposed to do is to try find our way back…
Lian Brook-Tyler, another Three Principles coach, put it like this:
Mindfulness can bring some benefits and like other techniques, is something that makes sense to practice when we don’t understand how things work and we’re trying to manage and improve our experience.
The three principles is a description of how human experience is created. It’s useful to understand because it often results in an experience that feels a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. 🙂
And Elizabeth Lovius, another Three principles-inspired practitioner, who calls herself an “agent of change”:
Mindfulness = prescription (something to do). Three principles = description. (Something that is/to understand)
And Damian Mark Smyth, “author of Do Nothing!: Stop Looking, Start Living (Volume 1), about the principles that create our inborn happiness, clarity and calm in business”, put it succinctly:
Mindfulness is balancing… the Principles are Gravity
Do what makes you happy, and not because you should. Use meditation as an occasional tool to “see” such things as a feeling you just can’t seem to get a handle on, or a mood that you can’t shake. Don’t make it mechanical habit. It’s a beautiful “thing”, and life is not a thing!
Draw your own conclusions. I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights.
The Highest Meditation
Rupert Spyra’s teacher, Francis Lucille:
Nonduality 13 of 16 – What Is Meditation?
Meditation 6 of 24 Regarding the Apparent Contradiction Between Self-Inquiry and Meditation
At the end of the above video, Francis says – and this is a nice way to end this article:
“…The great secret is that consciousness is universal. You have to be open to that – before you do all of these exercises, be at least open to this possibility.”