This zooming out might be particularly useful right now, on the cusp of this anxiety-inducing US election. People – myself included – really are freaked out about the deep divisions in the US. The theory about meditation is it can help us get space around such tough emotions and, in turn, make better – saner – responses.
Twice-born temperaments, on the other hand, are a little more complicated. They can’t wave away the world’s manifestly unfair distribution of hardship, and they’re generally unable to accept so-called “unseen realities” on faith alone. Their journey into spiritual feeling is more hard-won, the result of a lot of agonized fumbling and confusion.
I wonder if our civilization is about to enter a New Age of Exploration. Except this time, since all the physical real estate has been chewed up, the terrain is internal. Not just our individual minds, but the mind of nature – the mother-sea mind, the great oceanic source of awareness that all contemplative traditions speak to in different ways.
Buddhist teacher Shinzen Young refers to Three Fundamental States of Experience: Solid, Liquid and Gas. It’s sort of a metaphor and sort of not. Because it turns out that just as the material world can go through fundamental state changes – can have its particles rearranged to move from, say, ice to water to vapor (and back) – so can you.
The meditation scene is littered with “spiritual bypassers” who shoot for transcendence because they can’t handle the world – and the self – they’ve inherited. This isn’t a judgement; people are in pain, and meditation can help with that pain. But it’s important to remember that some of the issues we uncover in practice can’t be healed by meditation only.
This primer is about the broadest possible classes of meditation and spiritual experience. It’s a work-in-progress. Every time I come back, I find myself cutting more details, for they seem like technique-specific effects, and not the human universals I once imagined. So it goes. In a couple years there may be nothing here at all.