If at the start it’s our own stress and unhappiness we work to address, at some point – if we’re genuinely opening – the direction of concern reverses. Energy formerly bound up in self-interest starts to get re-directed towards others.
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.
After minutes of aimless mind wandering, you’ve had the a-ha moment, waking up out of the reverie and now you actually have a choice again about what to do with your attention! Congratulations, but it is what you do next that is absolutely crucial. Most people, even many very experienced meditators would say, “as soon as you wake up and remember, immediately bring your attention back to your breath.” That is what you’ll read in most books, what you’ll hear in most teacher talks, and it’s what I taught my own students until recently. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but I’ve become aware of a subtle tweak that I believe will help to radically speed up the development of stable concentration.