How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery
By Lawrence LeShan
In this chapter I will give instructions for a number of meditations. These will include examples of all major types (except an example of a meditation of the middle way). The instructions will be detailed enough so that, by reading them over a few times before meditating and then reading them over again after each of the first few times you practice, you should be able to learn how to meditate in these ways.
Do not expect to do a meditation "well" (focusing on it and nothing else) for a long period of time. The first major effect of meditation, strengthening the personality structure, comes from working consistently on it, not on doing it "well." The important thing about a meditation is how hard and consistently you work on it, not how well you do it. This point cannot be overstated. It is a crucial truth, but most people simply do not believe it. Only after a long period of practice can you expect to be really just doing a meditation and not anything else. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (who had certainly worked long and hard on his meditations) was once asked how much, when he was meditating, he was really "into it," really just doing it. He replied with a sigh that still echoes down the centuries, "Oh how rare the hour and how brief its duration!"
A story about Saint Theresa of Avila illustrates the same point. One of her novices remarked that it must be wonderful to be like Theresa and not be bothered by distractions in her prayers and meditations. Saint Theresa replied, "What do you think I am, a saint?"
It is only after you have worked a long time and reaped the benefit of the first part of the path in its personality strengthening, increased ability to relate to and cope with the world, ability to accept and express your own feelings, etc., that the second effect - helping you to attain a new way of being in the world, a new metaphysical system - emerges. The road is long and often frustrating, but the game is worth the candle. Let us fare on.
Start by finding a comfortable position in a quiet time and place. If the place feels good to you also (has "good vibes"), that is nice too; it is not essential, but helpful.
In training her students in this technique, Saint Theresa of Avila wrote, "I do not require of you to form great and serious considerations in your thinking. I require of you only to look." A Byzantine mystic, Nicophorus the Solitary, put it, "Attention is the appeal of the soul to itself." The Baal Shem Tov wrote, "God's miracles belong to those who can concentrate on one thing and limit themselves." And a statement attributed to the Buddha runs in part, "In what is seen should be only the seen."
Rabbi Dov Baer, one of the great teachers of mysticism in the Hasidic school, wrote: "I will teach you the best way to say Torah. You must be nothing but an ear which hears what the universe of the word is saying in you. The moment you hear what you yourself are saying, you must stop."
Patanjali, an Eastern sage, called this technique "fixed attention" and described it as "binding the mind staff to a place." We must, however, bind ourselves gently and with humor and compassion at our own lack of discipline.
This lack of trained discipline of our own will becomes immediately apparent as we do this exercise. In the words of one student of it, we find ourselves "itching, twitching and bitching." We find ourselves constantly needing to change our physical position, or getting sleepy, or using words to describe our perception, or suddenly solving problems we have been concerned with for weeks, or unable to concentrate, or anything else we can dream up to avoid the discipline. Or we notice that for a moment we were "just looking" and begin to think about how well we are doing at the meditation and, thereby, of course, stray right off the track. (This has been called The Law of the Good Moment, otherwise known as "Here I am, wasn't I!")
One way we frequently avoid discipline is by the production of what the Zen people call "Makyo." Makyo are illusions that we project on reality as an aid to escaping from the directions. Your seashell or pebble may develop a pretty corona of colored light or apparently begin to accordion in size, growing larger and smaller. You may feel yourself grow lighter or heavier or feel as if currents of rather pleasant energy are running through you. Every sort of sensation from smells to touches to sounds to lights is possible. The Suringama Sutra (a mystical training document of ancient India) lists fifty types of Makyo and then goes on to explain that these are only the most typical types. The best way to respond to these is to say to yourself, in effect, "Oh, that's what I'm perceiving now. How interesting. I wonder what I will make up next to avoid the discipline. Now, back to just looking."