Why meditate?

Meditation is such a key part of almost every spiritual tradition, and is recommended as a part of practically all magickal practice…  But why?  What's so great about it?

I've always been an enthusiast for meditation and would recommend it to almost everyone, but my reasons for recommending it have changed over the years.  I get something different from it now than I used to and my goals with my meditation practice are a little different.  So I want to discuss the very different things that meditation can do for you, and how to access them.

One of the mostly understood benefits of meditation is that it offers 'stress relief' – many people seem to purely see it as a method of unwinding and relaxing.  Which is fair enough – I've never particularly looked to meditation for this, perhaps because I don't tend to suffer stress terribly much myself.  It is relaxing, certainly, but I prefer to think of it as 'restful' – that is when I'm meditating regularly I find I feel well rested a lot more of the time.  It's pretty easy to get your body to recover from strenuous exercise – just go to sleep for a while – but it's not always as easy to get your mind to recover when you've been working it hard.  Meditation has been an effective way for me to give my mind a break, give it some downtime, and let it recover.

Early on in my meditation practice I found the most useful effect of it was giving me a different perspective.  Largely this was a different perspective on myself, on my own personality and on my life.  For a long while this was the main reason I would recommend it to people – the fact that through meditation practice (particularly why I would call 'contemplation practice') I found myself developing a different perspective on myself. I was able to take a step back, observe myself from a bit more of a distance, and look at the way I interacted with the world, how I formed relationships with others, and how I communicated with myself.  This was invaluable early on as it rapidly became clear that there were quite a few things about myself I wanted to change – and of course the first part of bringing about any change is identifying exactly what you wish to achieve.  Meditation also gave me insight into why I was behaving the way I was which often allowed me to begin to change that behaviour.

Early on I also used meditation to develop my intuition. At the time I was very intellectual approach to… well, pretty much everything.  It wasn't that I wasn't emotional by nature, just that I'd got into the habit of ignoring my emotions – and distrusting them. For me intuition is closely linked to ones emotional sense of oneself, so in order to really get a 'feel' for my intuition I had to get a 'feel' for me first. As meditation is a non-intellectual process it creates a space for other experiences to appear, and for me those were emotions.  I learned to get closer to emotions, to notice them more often, and make use of what they were telling me (rather than trying to shut the door on them or deny they were even there in the first place).

I certainly wouldn't have been able to become the Tarot reader I am now if I hadn't taken the time to meditate and build a relationship with my intuition – learning how to listen to it (or 'feel' it would be more accurate in my case) and then translate what it was telling me into a meaningful message. That came about through sitting in meditation and learning to notice what I was experiencing, moment by moment, and then integrating that into my sense of the world.

Meditation also formed a part of my magickal practice – a lot of magickal techniques involve 'stilling' the mind for one reason or another, or learning to hold a particular concept in the mind for a period of time, or simply control ones thoughts. Meditation is a great discipline for learning to take control of ones own thoughts and getting them to go in the direction one wants them to.

However, increasingly I now associate meditation with the process of insight – that is by meditating regularly and working with the experiences one has, one begins to think differently about the experience of reality and about ones fundamental nature.  Which, I know, sounds a bit… peculiar?  But it's a real experience.

Let me try and explain – most people are happy with the idea that they are not their body, but that their body is part of them.  Most people, particularly in the West and in the modern age, identify with their minds as being 'them' which exists within a body.  However, with a bit of personal development work many people move on to the realisation that they are not their emotions either.  That emotions are part of them, and something they experience, but they are not really 'them' – just part of the experience of the world.

One day, whilst meditating, I went a step further – I realised that I wasn't my thoughts either.  My thoughts were part of me, but not actually me.  This realisation came quite naturally at the point where my thoughts had all ceased, yet I found that 'I' was still there, still observing, still aware.  And after that point it became easier to 'let go' of my thoughts – to let them flow through my mind, to observe them, without identifying with them, without just assuming 'they' were 'me'.

But as you pass deeper into insight practice this process continues – you continue to fundamentally shift your sense of who 'you' are and to experience reality slightly differently as a result.  This doesn't bring about staggering cataclysms in belief system, or radically change the way you live day to day – in fact, to the external observer not terribly much changes at all.  But you do start to conceptualise yourself and the world subtly differently and have a slightly different experience of reality.

I'm told that if one is persistent, works hard, and keeps up this process eventually awakening to enlightenment will occur… and I'm sure I'll blog about that just as soon as it does.  (Incidentally, this points out that enlightenment is the completion of a realisation of one's fundamental relationship with reality, and not the achievement of limitless magickal power, or achieving moral and psychological perfection, or some such other appealing, but unlikely, notion)

It's a funny thing meditation – so simple (sit, control your mind, hold it steady for as long as you can) but it's impact can be quite dramatic (rest; personal realisation and progress; and fundamental changes to one's experience of reality).  I suppose that's why I'd recommend everyone give it a go at some point and see what it has to offer for you.

2 Responses to "Why meditate?"

  1. Probably hopelessly naive of me, but I thought you described enlightenment pretty well.

    We are born into a culturalizing mechanism (a family) where we develop habits and understandings that ensure we can live amongst others who are similarly culturalized.

    The difficulty is that this process can never transmit real knowledge (things-in-their-isness) but can only work at the level of descriptions (anything culturally mediated including art, music, cuddles (a 'description' of 'I care for you'). This world of descriptions is incredibly detailed and pervasive: all of science, for instance.

    For me enlightenment is simply the awareness if this and the discovery of the world of things-in-their-isness that defies description. To describe it is to do exactly what you are escaping from – using the world of descriptions). See http://avoidingbethel.blogspot.com/2010/11/duckweed.html

    Shunryu Suzuki (in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind") says it is like visiting some famous Japanese beauty spot: before you go it is something special – perfect lakes and mists and mountains; but after you've been there it is nothing special – just lakes and mists and mountains, that is all.

    I remember Alan Watts making much the same point in "The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are".

    Enlightenment is easy. Its the work needed to *live* there that's hard.

    • warlock says:

      I recently became interested in the "Ten Ox Herding Pictures" from Zen Buddhism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Bulls). I think it's very telling that in the series of 10 pictures, the fourth represents the process of achieving enlightenment. The remaining six are concerned with what happens afterwards… how one can tame the insight, learn to live with it, bring it back 'home'… I think that really emphasises the fact that enlightenment is just *part* of the journey, not a final destination.

      The idea of enlightenment as the direct experience of things without any intellectual/cultural/emotional mediation also makes sense. I've recently been exploring the idea of enlightenment as the experience of non-duality, which might be pointing at a similar concept. Non-duality (ceasing to differentiate between self and other) is certainly heavily emphasised in the Thelemic magickal tradition, and I think can be seen (at least metaphorically) to exist in many other traditions as well. Frankly, I'm still working to wrap my mind around what exactly this means, but it's playing with the idea is producing some interesting results in my practice.

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