One of the reasons many people find meditation to be confusing or challenging is because they don’t have a clear idea of what they are doing. If you don’t know what you are aiming for then how are you supposed to improve on it?
Let’s look at a basic way for learning a skill:
1) aim for something
2) try your best
3) notice how you did
4) recalibrate to what you are aiming for with your new understanding
5) repeat steps 2-4.
To a large degree, this process is meditation. The word meditation’s root meaning is “having consideration” and “taking appropriate measures.” But if that is meditation then why do some meditators wear robes and shave their heads and live in temples? There are some classic values that people want to develop through meditation and there are traditions that have been cultivated for doing so. I’m going to talk about three types of meditation and will refer to them as memory, devotion, and discernment.
Buddhism talks about attachment, or in other words compulsive or addictive behaviour. One reason things keep cycling as compulsions is due to our body’s memory. Our bodies remember all our experiences and even our ancestor’s experiences through the genetics they have given us. That memory runs like programming causing us to function however we do. Say you always eat the same breakfast at the same time in the same place, if you would be uncomfortable to do it any other way then that is a form of compulsion that you are accustomed to. A very simple way to reprogram this is to step outside your likes and dislikes. If you can be fully devoted to what you are doing regardless of whether it is something you like or dislike and whether it is important to you or meaningless, then you are moving beyond your compulsions and moving toward freedom.
Some aspects of yoga are designed to move the body in ways to break out of patterns or form more appropriate ones. This involves the idea of reprogramming memory. Your posture for example: the way you like to sit in a chair, the way your body supports and transfers its own weight, are all built into you but can be reinforced or reprogrammed. Some people may take this practice to great specificity by finding significance in things such as the amount of hair they have, or the way they hold their fingers. If someone is arriving at these practices because they noticed something and they are getting more in touch with their sense of life then they are meditative. If it is arbitrary activity with no realism or awareness to it, then maybe there is a use but it wouldn’t be meditation. This can apply to any activity. If you practice the guitar with great consideration and you take appropriate measures to be able to produce the sounds you want, that is an example of meditation.
If you could sit or stand and simply not do anything, that would be another form of reprogramming. There was a teacher named Tilopa around a thousand years ago that shared 6 words of advice on this subject. They translate to:
1) Let go of what has passed
2) Let go of what may come
3) Let go of what is happening now
4) Don’t try to figure anything out
5) Don’t try to make anything happen
Following those 6 points would put you in a place where you have no volition. This puts your attention in reality rather than your imagination and also allows you to unwind your programming by letting that energy dissipate rather than continually stirring up new things.
Devotion is the quality of giving yourself to something such as out of love or passion. A skilled athlete or artist devotes themselves to their craft. A successful businessperson devotes themselves to their work. A parent can be devoted to their children. This means they are channelling their emotional energy toward whatever their aim is; their happiness, love, fear, anger or whatever is there, is fuel that is feeding their focus and elevating whatever they are devoted to. By putting their consideration beyond themselves, they develop richness to their emotions, depth to their life experience, and also a sort of functionality from loosening their entanglement with their ego.
Gratitude is one form of devotion. Think about what gratitude means to you and what you honestly feel grateful for. As you involve gratitude in your life more, you may find that your ability to feel it expands and enriches your life. This is a process of getting in touch with the bigger picture by focusing on things other than yourself.
Discernment is about knowing reality. It is about separating truth from untruth. It is about being able to admit what you do know and what you don’t know. If you stay honest with yourself about what you do and don’t know, your ability to discern reality should improve.
As you explore meditation, you may notice how memory, devotion, and discernment start to seem like the same idea and are hard to separate entirely. As these become the same thing in your experience, you may notice root qualities and find deeper understanding.
Meditation is using a functional process to know life more deeply. If you would like to be meditative, start with considering what your goals are. Your process can evolve but it is useful to know what you are aiming for. If you can find someone qualified who can help you out with whatever direction you are looking to go in, that would be great. If you are feeling disoriented just remember what meditation is: If you are using awareness, using consideration, and taking appropriate measures then you’re in it.
Matt has studied wellness for much of his life and currently works to assist people with their health through bodywork therapies. He also enjoys training in traditions such as yoga and martial arts.
Image credit: https://damnedhonesty.deviantart.com/art/Meditation-125627390