Meditation Without the Myth
“All of life is a meditation, most of it unintentional.” Joseph Campbell
Are you sitting comfortably? When I remember these words I laugh out loud. It tickles that place within me that judges myself for not being the perfect meditator. I do take meditation seriously, as a deep, fulfilling experience – which it undoubtedly is. However, Campbell’s quotation helped me see that any reflection or deep thinking can be a moment of meditation – if I bring my consciousness there and make it so.
I was a late developer – about many things, but certainly as far as meditation goes. In retrospect, much of music, reading and nature were meditative experiences for me — but consciousness of the fact was not present, way back when. Discovering meditation at 38 years old was not an easy experience. I recognised its intrinsic value, but was certainly not a natural!
Fortunately my fears of the myths abounding on the subject, like not being in control, being hypnotised, believing that for some mysterious reason it (meditation) was ‘not quite right’ etc. were blown away by the variety of methods being taught in those days by the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho). They tantalised me with promises of peace and serenity, whilst at the same time, catapulting me into very physical as well as quiet methods of meditation practice. The theory was that, for Western minds and bodies, the eastern concept of sitting still in bliss was too foreign, not designed for the speed of the 20th century. So some of these methods (based on concepts of Wilhelm Reich) involved the body. Sometimes they were quite strenuous, before allowing the stillness and quiet that creates the space in which meditation can happen. All those years ago, they worked for me.
There were also other myths that needed to be dispelled along the way. They involved expectations of supernatural experiences, apparently disappearing, ecstasy, blue and white lights and highly evolved spiritual insights! Nothing dramatic like that happened for me — never has.
Of course, disappointment and a sense of inadequacy crept in — never to be talked about, but undermining my self-image as a devoted spiritual seeker.
Today, in my work with people — often, though not exclusively, in their fifties or over, I meet so many like me, as I was when younger — afraid, embarrassed, unsure, skeptical and challenged by the whole idea of meditation.
As I have matured, in my practices and age, thankfully my attitude has matured as well! No longer is meditation observed as something for others but not for me. In society the word meditation has finally achieved a reputable, respectful acceptance. In the medical profession, its efficacy is proven. Now, I teach meditation, more simply than when I was younger. This is a relief, both for my students and me. Separating the truth of the experience from other people’s (and my own) expectations has brought some peace and tranquility to my every day life.
Campbell maintains that meditation’s purpose is the transformation of consciousness. This gives us all great encouragement to bring meditation into our daily lives. You may care to sit in a beautiful, ancient cathedral for a while, as an escape from the busy city outside. The stained glass, soaring heights, the building’s symmetry, the centuries of prayer in the walls and the quiet, lifts your consciousness to a higher level. How can it not? The same thing can happen on top of a mountain or by a lake, in a forest and on the shores of the ocean. There is a deep-seated need in each of us to experience the meditative.
How to hold that level of consciousness when in a busy office, or surrounded by active noisy kids, in the supermarket or frantic city street? An understanding of meditation and how it works will always help to keep the mind focused, in the present, and the sensibilities unaffected by what is happening in one’s surroundings. Easier said than done, but nevertheless true.
I have had to release myself from old ideas of what meditation is, that were coloured by expectation, some religious descriptions and the myths that surrounded the word meditation.
A wise and beautiful Master, affectionately called Papaji by his disciples, has said, “Shut up and be quiet!” A light went on inside me when I heard those words. This man taught in the direct lineage of Ramana Maharshi, one of the greatest sages of this century, who spent many years as a younger man in complete silence and attained his spiritual awakening in that state. These words of Papaji gave me the hint that meditation is simple. I have found that many meditation techniques are helpful as centering exercises, helping this wandering mind to focus and the body to still. The most accessible being to watch the breath, bring one’s attention back to the breath. The breath is always there, breathing itself. But, for me this is still an activity, a doing.
However, if I just “shut up and be quiet”, watch the thoughts, even welcome the thoughts, but do not get caught up in the stories that the thoughts engender, then clarity comes, peace descends and total aliveness happens. If I drop my expectations of what meditation should be, if I am just there with whatever is presented, if I can just sit, without judgment — the rest of my day is brighter, less driven and more contented. In other words, getting out of my own way allows Peace in.
At the beginning of this article I used the words with which Play School always started when my children were young. I wrote these down before starting to write this piece — it encapsulated my journey into my own meditative practice. When I learned to ‘sit comfortably’ with my truth, however it appeared, meditative life blossomed. I learned that it was not necessary to sit in physical discomfort; all that was necessary was the willingness to shut up and be quiet for a while, and stay open to what was there waiting to be experienced.
I would like to end by quoting a verse from a poem by Fr. Seraphion of Mount Athos:
“When you meditate, be like a mountain
immovably set in silence.
Its thoughts are rooted in eternity.
Do not do anything, just sit, be,
and you will reap the fruit
flowing from your prayer.”
So, are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin . . .
by Persephone Arbour
If you would like to read more, then you would be most welcome at my web site: http://persephonearbour.com
Persephone Arbour’s own unusually full and vibrant life, together with what she has learned in relation to others, make for interesting, personal and inspirational writing. Persephone brings her life skills to all her work and constantly develops as a writer whose writing always comes honestly and directly from her own experience. She writes about Life, with its joys, sadness, spirituality and practicality.
Born in England and originally a professional classical musician, Persephone has also had an international career as seeker and teacher in personal and spiritual development. Now 75 years old she has been writing for many years. When living in Australia, she had a regular column in Australia’s premiere holistic magazine Nova, from its inception in 1994 until she returned to the UK in 2001. Internationally known as a retreat and workshop facilitator she has run writing workshops in Australia, the USA and the UK. Currently she is collating the thousands of words in her computer in order to produce a collection of small books/e-books due to be published shortly.
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