While actively pursuing the design I’ve had to make meditation a part of my daily routine I’ve been looking online to see what is out on the Internet when it comes to meditation. What I half-heartedly wished I’d see is clear resources on how to get started and free information, perhaps even courses that people could sign up for if they wanted. There are lots of resources online, including Wikipedia, which I quite enjoy. Much of the basic information is useful but many of the links on the first page of Google seem to orbit this semantic space that I like to characterize as ‘freaky eastern shazam’. It’s very reminiscent of the sites you run into when investigating anything that isn’t mainstream in the west. Reading about Tea leads you to bombastic hyperbole about all the health benefits of tea. Reading about Reiki leads you to similar bombast, Feng Shui, Buddhism, and really what this particular blog post is about, Meditation. All these topics have collected the flotsam and jetsam of bombastic hyperbole around them. A lot of ooohing and aaahing and almost always there is some old crusty personality featured that is an ‘expert’ or ‘guru’ that is supposed to lend the topic seriousness. It’s as if western thought is a nightclub and the only way to get beyond the bouncer is to have some sort of elderly expert you can name-drop which will unhook the red velvet ropes and let you in.
Specifically what I ran across that kind of upset me is the site for Transcendental Meditation. Now I have nothing against them at all, no real complaints or critiques to speak of, as they seem to be pleasant and upstanding people. What I do find rather irksome is once you click beyond all the chrome shiny you get to the brass beneath it all. I’ve noticed this quite a lot, this sense of having to pay to be taught, that ‘tuition’ costs some rather pricey sum that somehow justifies a buying-sight-unseen product which may or may not be for you. I’ve hashed this very thing out with the people who follow Reiki, and here we see it again, except for meditation. The cost is $1500! But because Oprah and her cult-of-personality is “underwriting” a portion of the wares that tm.org sell, they’re willing to lower the price to $975!
Selling what should be a basic part of human living strikes me as wrong. It’s upsetting. Everyone should be encouraged to explore their consciousness. They should be willing to explore the many porticos and hallways to their awareness and realize that it’s more than just being on and off, being awake and asleep, being active and maybe-I-dream-but-I-don’t-remember. I’ve gone exploring and there is more here that people should be curious about and explore along with me. So I see these sites and I note the cost and it strikes me with an almost angry emotional sense that something that is an inborn and fundamental part of living should be for sale. Everyone experiences meditative states at least briefly every single day of their lives. I maintain (alas have no empirical proof) that everyone passes through the state that I feel when I meditate right after they leave REM sleep and right before their first conscious thought which is almost always some sort of planned movement, to get up off the bed. If you bring on this particular state with your full awareness intact during the day and stay in that place for a time, it changes you for the better. There is something here that is good for people and I can feel it. I can’t prove it, but I feel it to be right.
There is a counter-argument that is usually made, especially by Reiki professionals who state that the cost is high so that people take it seriously. That in a way, the only way to impress upon a western mind that something is worthy of pursuit you must first make them pay for it, which in a way compels them to make it feel serious because otherwise it’s just a waste of money and wasting money is taboo. The mental garden path runs, “Well, I paid $1500 for this, so I should get my monies worth…” and I find this entire notion to be embarrassing. Shouldn’t you want to do something that may be good for you from your own values, for your own good? Why should money enter into it? Then again, I did pay over $15,000 for a “college education” so upon reflection, I’m as much of a guppy as these yokels paying $1500 for someone to teach them meditation. In many ways I think about the time I spent in college and what I got out of that experience. Was it about the “higher education” that stayed with me, or is it something else? It would be crass to basically state that I paid $15,000 for a beautiful piece of paper which I’ve never shown another living soul, but entitles me to letters that I get to tack on to my name, which nobody ever does because the letters B.A. are so common as to be meaningless. Perhaps what I got out of college wasn’t what I went there for, but for all the other things that happened to me while I was there. All the other things I did, the growing up, the learning, and none of it was done in a classroom. I try to remember anything I learned in a classroom for my college education and I can’t recall anything beyond a vague impression of stadium-style seating.
But what I can do now is explore without having to pay someone to teach me. At least in this I can do this on my own. I don’t need someone to hand me any paperwork I won’t ever really use. Because meditation is an inherent skill, and a ‘college education’ isn’t, then that may be the justification I use to both criticize tm.org for selling out and why I sold out to the SUNY college system in New York. The basis is flimsy, but it is something at least.
So what does it take to meditate? It seems straightforward to me, and I strip away the religious claptrap that surrounds the act, if you want to take meditation and clothe it in a religious context that’s fine and up to you. The basics as far as I consider them is to exercise your will and carry your full awareness into a state of consciousness without thoughts. The parts of the brain can be resistant to this because while we are conscious we pretty much are just an endless stream of thoughts and this is the problem. You are more than a stream of thoughts and meditation helps you explore what existence is without this constant stream of thinking. I find that concentrating on breathing is perfect. It’s something you absolutely must do at all times or you will die, so you might as well use it as a tool to manipulate your consciousness. I’ve found that concentrating and centering all my will and awareness on my breathing, the feeling of breathing is all that I need. I notice that my mind wanders off of breathing and the further I go the more unusual ‘junk’ gets thrown up and occurs to me. It’s just as if the thinking parts of me know I’m trying to quiet them and they don’t want to ever shut up, so they try to sabotage me. While I sit calmly trying to meditate my thinking mind, in a panic to keep me from leaving, digs up the scent of WD–40 and the embrace of my maternal grandfather. I’m sure if I were to anthropomorphize my thinking parts it would run something like this: “WHAT!?! You cannot leave me! I’ll fix you! Here, here’s a memory of your grandfather! See! You can’t live without me!” Throughout the entire experience I have discovered that trying to suppress these intrusive thoughts only encourages them to pop up, just like raising the heat on a pan of popcorn kernels. The more heat, the faster they pop. Instead of actively suppressing them, the key I’ve found is to apply my will to let go of whatever it is and calmly return to breathing. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. In the end however, if I have enough time and willpower I can cross a barrier and as I’ve written about before, it feels like a different region of consciousness. The popcorn thoughts no longer appear and everything is serene, calm, and quiet in the most important place of all, inside my own mind.
So, why spend $1500, or even $975 if something like this can be explored and developed by sitting someplace comfortable, closing your eyes, and breathing? I think more people would enjoy it if they tried it. As I’ve characterized it before, it’s ineffable. There really aren’t words to convey what the feeling is, wonderful and magnificent and delightful don’t really touch the nature of what this space in your consciousness is. The only thing that really upsets me is that I’ve been carrying this around with me for 36 years and only now have taken it seriously. Instead of bemoaning the lost time I am going to make it a part of the life that remains to me because this is really really good.