Recently I received an email with some thoughtful questions regarding meditation. With her permission she let me re-post it for the benefit of those who may have similar questions. Hope you find it useful. Have a blessed day.
Hi Ivan, I am a student from India. I became an avid reader of your blog in recent times. In the post “People Watching is Watching Myself” you mentioned to be aware (body, mind) at the same time. I have few questions regarding meditation, I request you to clarify them.
1) Meditation is all about not using the mind, but while being aware of thoughts or body, aren’t we using our mind ?
It can get tricky when we begin talking about the subtle inner realms, it is easy to get lost in semantics. Firstly let me start by saying that you can classify meditation techniques into two groups. It boils down to either concentration or mindfulness meditation techniques. Concentrative techniques focuses your attention on a single target such as a candle flame, a series of syllables (mantra), an emotion such as love, or sensations such as those accompanying breathing or walking. The goal is that in time we can achieve perfect one-pointedness, then from this point the jump is easier to a state of pure awareness and no thought. Most Yogic techniques are concentrative. Mindfulness or insight meditation makes no attempt to control the mind’s content, but try’s to maintain an even, uninvolved attentiveness to whatever thoughts, sensations, or emotions that appear spontaneously within our inner space. Most Buddhist and Zen techniques are of this type. Some forms of meditation combine the two approaches, as when a sensory focus on breathing is coupled with noting the distractions that arise. But its important to note that in no form of meditation does the meditator engage in analytic thought. Various meditation techniques may employ different means, but ultimately achieve the same goal. Finding what works is a matter of an individuals own level of being as we all have a different affinity towards different methods.
The goal of meditation is to cause a shift from the object mode toward the receptive mode of consciousness. In object mode (egoic state of consciousness) you are mainly centered and derive your sense of self from the contents of your mind. In receptive mode you are centered in awareness, the term I like to use is the “witnessing” self. Usually we are completely identified to the minds content. Which is to say the “thought” is not separate the “thinker”, but we take them to be two completely different things. We think our thoughts of anger are separate from the part of us thinking it. We then go in circles of trying to control and suppress our thoughts. It causes a split in our psyche.
As J. Krishnamurit says, “Is it possible not to name a feeling? Because, by calling a particular feeling `anger’, `fear’, `jealousy’, we have given it strength, have we not? We have fixed it. The very naming is a process of confirming that feeling, giving it strength, and therefore enclosing it in memory. Observe it and you will see. It is possible to be free fundamentally only when the process of naming is understood – naming being terming, symbolizing, which is the action of memory; because memory is the `you’. Without your memory, without your experiences, the `you’ is not; and the mind clings to those experiences as essential in order to be secure. So, we cultivate memory, which is experience, knowledge, and through that process we hope to control the reactions and feelings which we call distortions. If we would be free of any particular quality, we must understand the whole process of the thinker and the thought, we must see the truth that the thinker is not separate from thought, but that they are a single, unitary process. If you actually realize that, you will see what an extraordinary revolution takes place in your life. By revolution I do not mean economic revolution, which is no revolution at all, but merely a modified continuity of what is. But when the thinker realizes that he is not different from thought, then you will see that radically, deeply, there is an extraordinary transformation; because, then there is only the fact of thought, and not the translation of that fact to suit the thinker”
Many people are completely fused, they can’t distinguish, so as a result their attention is very poor because any random thought has the ability to carry them away along with their sense of self. We need to see that the observer (the thinker) is the observed (contents) and the act of observation (the witnessing self) is beyond them. The “witnessing self” meaning that awareness itself is not capable of turning itself into an object of observation. Your subjectivity cannot be made into an object. Which is a monumental realization, because you realize if I can “see” it, I don’t have to “be” it, this is learning to not be psychologically identified with every object that enters your mind. To be more specific, your true nature, is closer to the “witnessing self”, the part of you that can notice what it thinks. So if you can observe it, “you” are not it. This is a distinction that has not been made clear in modern psychology, and as a result the root cause of most psychological problems are not solved, because most neurosis stem from the fact that we don’t understand what our real identity is. We take the minds content (memories) to be who we are.
“In the early stages of meditation there is a tension between concentration on the object of meditation and distracting thoughts…With much practice, a moment comes when these hindrances are wholly subdued. At this moment..one pointedness and bliss come into dominance. With continued practice the one-pointedness is sustained until the mind suddenly seems to sink into the object and remains fixed in it. Hindering thoughts cease totally. There is neither sensory perception nor the usual awareness of ones body: bodily pain cannot be felt….consciousness is dominated by rapture, bliss, and one point.” D. Goleman
2) What is meant by awareness of “I-amness” or “Being”. Is it about concentrating on a part of body or feeling the whole body with out concentrating on any in particular. According to me awareness means being aware of feelings/sensations/thoughts. My eyes move when I am feeling the whole body from part to part. Where should I concentrate my eyes ?
Yes, noticing the objects of our awareness is the first step. By developing a calm detachment from the objects of our observation, we eventually get to the point where we intuitively sense ourselves as awareness itself. Where you are aware of your awareness. The “I- amness” comes from realizing the self is not an object, the self is nowhere to be found, what is left is the ability from moment to moment intuitively sense your presence. This is inner freedom. Awareness itself cannot be conceptualized. This was the method Ramana Maharishi prescribed to his disciples. He simply asked them to contemplate “Who am I,” to find out the source of where this question arises. A sincere seeker would eventually see that the self is nowhere to be found, he was playing a game with himself all along. Pure awareness Is like two mirrors facing each other. We were trying to define our identity as an object of consciousness, but our awareness is not an object. We mistakenly took the reflections to be real.
3) While in meditation, I don’t know where to concentrate my mind (where and what to observe). Ivan, please explain this clearly I am facing problem here in meditation.
You need to decide what is easier for you. Are you more an emotional person? If so, the path of devotion like Bhakti yoga may be best. If you already possess a certain power of being able to concentrate and focus your mind, Raja yoga can be a good way to advance on your spiritual journey. If you want a more balanced approach of developing the mind, body, feelings check out my introductory post here on the systematic way of learning to develop your awareness. Also look into Zen mediation techniques.
4) I can observe my body and feelings, but I cannot observe my thoughts. While in meditation, I have trouble observing my thoughts:
(i) They will either drag me into them and I identify with the train of thought, get sucked into it, or
(ii) They disappear as soon as I observe them as just thoughts, not me. I could not watch them.
I read that observing thoughts is different for different people, some can watch while staying detached, and others can’t because when they are detached from them they have no power so they don’t really show up. How can I watch my thoughts as a film reel.
I need your kind help regarding the above clarifications. Thank you. Good day.
Try not to turn it into a serious thing. Playfulness I think is the best attitutde to approach meditation with. Don’t beat yourself up. Each time that you notice that you are caught again in your thought process, this Is a little win. Just gently bring yourself back. Pat yourself on the back, because the moment you realize you are no longer in an attentive state, in that instant it was a glimpse into what it really means to be alert and aware. Constantly through out the day “remember” yourself, remember who is actually thinking, feeling, and doing. When you are walking, gently sense the energy in your body, notice all your movements, and remember “who” is actually walking. Don’t lose yourself, your simple intuitive feeling of your presence in your actions. Always locate yourself in time and space.
As you are reading this, ask your self “who” or “what” is aware that it is doing the reading. In the beginning stages, it is frustrating because is seems hopeless, but this inner struggle is essential to becoming more conscious. Without it we would not have the possibility of waking up from our self-hypnosis with the minds content. This struggle produces a certain friction, and eventually the energy generated allows us to clearly create the inner space, the inner separation from the observer and the observed. In the beginning it’s like 5% of the time we are aware and 95% of the time we are inattentive and don’t notice that we are mesmerized with what we experience in our inner world. All our thoughts, feelings, emotions, have the power to consume us. But through a dedicated practice soon you start changing this relationship. Next thing you know only 80% percent of the time you are completely identified to your mind, and now you have enough contrast to experientially know how much better life is when you are consciously living your life. This will give you the energy to continue on your path of being a much more aware human being.
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