If you are meditating “on” something, you are not meditating!
Meditation is over once you can do it. It then progresses on to other disciplines.
If, for most of your life, you have only been meditating, you are not making progress on the spiritual path.
The word “meditation” is almost universally used incorrectly. The ways it is misused are many. First and foremost, the word is misused in almost all religious usage, teaching, and writing.
Most of the religious instruction in this world is based on a misunderstanding of what meditation is and on a universal misuse of the word “meditation.” These misuses and misunderstandings occur when the words “meditate on” are used instead of the word “contemplate”. Since one cannot meditate on anything, this use of the words “meditate/meditation” does not describe the designated act. The words “contemplate/contemplation” do, and should be used.
As one of myriad examples of worldwide misuse and waste of human energies, public funds are used to further people/presenters whose teachings and programs are based on these wrong understandings of the word and whose programs and instructions are broadcast with these public funds.
It used to be bad enough that people, who had never found the real teachings, were playing God, by attracting and leading flocks in wrong disciplines. Now, millions of people are being instructed in and caused to waste a large part of their lives repeating over and over boring, ineffective disciplines when, even if done right, those disciplines are over the moment those people are able to do them properly.
Meditation is only a very early stage of a very long progress of self-development. This progress, or, as it is usually called, this “path”, always continues steadily onwards from one stage to the next, with each stage building on what was acquired in the previous stage. Therefore, the stage of this process called meditation is over and finished as soon as one can do it.
As soon as anyone is able to meditate, if they ever do master the real thing, the discipline of meditation is then over and finished for them, and they should immediately be instructed in how to progress on to the next steps of the process/path, which extend far beyond the steps that develop the ability to meditate.
To comprehend the explanations of the misuse of the word “meditation”, one has to understand the three stages, or possibilities, of consciousness and conscious activity:
I will first define those three, sole possibilities of consciousness in terms of the basic polarities, time and space, of which this world is built:
Concentration is a steady flow (in one’s mind) of space in time.
Contemplation is a repetition of something in one’s mind. Since it cannot be time, that something repeating in one’s mind has to be a form of space. Thus, contemplation is a repetition of some form of space in one’s mind.
Meditation is quite different from and the opposite of contemplation in that, instead of trying to put something into one’s mind, one tries to empty one’s mind of all that can be emptied from it and then waiting for God to put something into it (something, usually unfamiliar, that one could not have thought of or conceived within one’s own frame of reference).
The following simplest, pithiest definitions I know of the three sole possibilities of consciousness are by a great, respected authority:
Concentration is a steady flow of space in time.
Contemplation is a repetition of something in one’s mind.
Meditation is an emptying of one’s mind and waiting for God to put something in it.
These definitions are from the most celebrated Sufi Master during the spiritual awakenings of the first half of the last century, Hazrat Inayat Khan. They are from his series The Sufi Message, which is indexed, so they should be readily findable.
I am not a devotee of Hazrat Inayat Khan.
While my three statements of these definitions amplified them for clarity, the definition of contemplation can benefit from a little further explanation. It is probably already obvious that oft-encountered statements such as “I meditated on…something”, or “I created a number of meditations for you to meditate on” are patently wrong. They actually describe forms of contemplation, and not meditation.Meditation has only one form, that of emptying one’s mind as completely as possible, most especially of any thoughts or reasonings or mental activity based on anything one already knows, etc. Obviously, by definition, one does not meditate ON anything. One can concentrate on something or contemplate it. But absolutely not meditate on it.
To proceed with the clarification of contemplation, contemplation is a rejection of the limitations of one’s thinking processes that are due to the necessary narrowness of any human being’s frame of reference. Contemplation is an essentially passive “repetition” of something in one’s mind in the sense that one does not actively try to think of or devise a viewpoint, insight, solution, or such, using one’s own limited frame of experience. Rather, one allows something to go around and around freely in one’s mind, expecting God to provide some insight (often what is called an “aha” experience), something that simply occurs to one, and usually contains some further understanding of it or a wholly different, better insight one could not have thought of. The idea is that simply trying to think solutions to anything limits one to one’s own woefully small frame of reference. But the rule is that nothing right/correct of any real substance ever occurs to anyone when one tries to think of it. Real ideas that are correct always occur to one when one is not trying to think of them. That, simply said, is God’s rule. And the honest persons who can observe their own minds will recognize that. This understanding is one reason why an understanding of, and a belief in, a God that creates everything, including our thoughts, and has control over everything he creates is a prerequisite for the experience of the sublimities of real meditation. And they truly are sublime.
The ability to concentrate is obviously the basis for contemplation, since contemplation involves some form of concentrating on something, be it an object, an idea, a concept, a problem to be solved, etc. Meditation, by definition and purpose, would seem not to depend on concentration at all. But part of the technique of meditation does involve concentration. The mind can never be completely emptied. There is always something to see, whether one’s eyes are open or closed. And there is always some kind of sound, whether very quiet or very loud, and one cannot close one’s ears. So sound can never be locked out.
The aim of meditation is to empty one’s mind of distracting, non-furthering forms of space and reduce what is in one’s mind to forms of space that further meditation, establish the refinement of vibration that will not be dissonant to what God would put into one’s mind. That demands the ability to concentrate on what is furthering to the exclusion of what is not.
To reduce everything to its lowest common denominators, time and space: consciousness is the awareness of space in time. But we have limited consciousnesses that can only be aware of a limited amount of space in a given amount of time. Therefore, the way to get rid of unwanted, not furthering forms of space, like worries, distractions, thoughts, etc., is to put other furthering or self-developing forms of space into one’s consciousness. That demands concentration and the ability to concentrate on some things to the exclusion of other things.
Therefore, since we cannot be completely free of all sensory stimuli (which are the forms of space of which we can be aware), the discipline of meditation becomes an activity of concentrating on some things to the exclusion of others. The first thing one has to concentrate on is any sounds that are present. Because sounds are always present and cannot be turned off, not hearing sounds is a cultivation of insensitivity. Also, due to sound’s pre-eminence among the five forms of sensory stimuli (see http://www.anstendig.org/LossOfEmotion.html), and because meditation is an effort to commune with God, God insists on one’s being aware of all sounds that are present, if anyone wants truly to achieve communion with him. Since one also cannot fully turn off all visual imagery, the second discipline is to be able to concentrate solely on the center of one’s vision, with the eyes in the center of their sockets. That is because, first of all, if the eyes are not in the center of their sockets, there is unnecessary tension in the muscles around the eyes and one cannot, then, fully relax unnecessary tensions. And also, because, if one can concentrate on and see the center of one’s vision, one will also be able to be aware of one’s peripheral vision/images. But if one’s eyes do not remain in the center of their sockets and one tries to look directly at the periphery, any meaningful visual imagery from God will stop or not happen. There is a whole hierarchy of visual images of God that will be described in another paper.
So, to review: the ability to concentrate figures prominently in meditation, be it with closed or open eyes or be it concentrating on a lack of sensory stimuli. And, while meditation does involve the emptying of one’s mind, particularly of thoughts, the ability to be aware of all sensory stimuli that remain is necessary. Because, one’s mind is never completely devoid of all sensory stimuli. One still sees blackness, some light, and sounds cannot be removed. They are always present. And not being aware of them all, would be cultivating a lack of consciousness, not developing consciousness.
It follows that the choice of environment and surroundings for meditation is of paramount concern, since one does want to eliminate all distracting or avoidable stimuli.
That said, the essence of meditation is to empty one’s mind and not concentrate on anything except what is contained in the center of one’s vision or hearable in the surroundings. And to do that without purposely putting anything else into one’s mind.
Therefore, the use of the word meditate in such phrases as “I meditated on” or “you should meditate on the following…” and so forth, should actually use the word contemplate instead of meditate, because such activities of purposely choosing objects, concepts, and other forms of space on which to concentrate beyond what is present when one closes one’s eyes are in no way, shape or form meditations.
Correctly taught, the art of meditation is taught towards the beginning of the “The path of liberation” (see www.pathofliberation.com), which disciplines were also known as the Tao, Zen, Buddhism, etc., in their original ur-forms, before they were corrupted and changed by such misunderstandings as are dealt with here regarding “meditation”. Meditation is part of the first few stages/steps of the development of the “breath” and the expansion of physical consciousness. Those stages are 1) self-observation, 2) the observation of the breath, 3) the smoothing of the breath, and 4) the mill wheel. The first three of those stages are physically passive in that they allow the breathing mechanism to breath unobstructed on its own, during which time the person develops the necessary tools of consciousness to be able to concentrate simultaneously on more than one thing. This development of consciousness and concentrative abilities is a necessary prerequisite for the fourth stage of the breath, the mill wheel, because the stage fancifully called the mill wheel, is the first stage of the breath where the person actually actively physically influences and directs the breathing. Therefore, already by definition, with the mill wheel, the passive activity of meditation can no longer exist, as the mind has to become quite actively busy with one’s breathing.
It should be becoming clear that the art of meditation is not a simple art. It embodies numerous techniques and understandings and much practice, all of which are necessary in order to both 1) calm the mind and body enough to be able to 2) empty one’s mind of thoughts and other non-furthering distractions, while developing the refinement and control that is necessary in order to receive and sustain the inspiration(s) of God.
The concept of careful preparation for the experience and inspiration of God goes through all religions, including the Catholic religion, which has great texts on the need for very special preparation of the soul for its meeting with, and judgment by, God after death. The classic text on this subject is Cardinal Newman’s “The Dream of Gerontius”, which has even been set to music by Sir Edward Elgar in the most famous of English choral works of that time.
Yes, mastering meditation is a long, complex process that can take many years. The calming of the breathing and thereby the calming of the body have to be mastered. The understanding and experience of the visual language/signs of God during the experience of meditation have to be mastered and worked through step by step. And much more.
BUT, once they are mastered and one has mastered the art of meditation……once meditation has been mastered and one has reached the higher levels of meditational experience, the discipline of meditation then becomes passé, a waste of time, and is supplanted by the next stages of the path of liberation.
To be more specific, the path (in the Tao, Zen, old Judaism, etc.) begins as passive disciplines, during the exercise of which, the body is essentially left alone to perform necessary functions like breathing without the consciousness in the body interfering actively in any of those functions. During this period, expanded consciousness of oneself and one’s body and of all sensory stimuli is developed, as well as the ability to concentrate on more than one thing at a time, which would be necessary, for example, in order to actively direct any part of the breathing while continuing to do other things.
During this period of mastering meditation, the influencing of the breathing is done passively, through the passive smoothing of the breath (see the three part series on the smoothing of the breath at www.pathofliberation.com). The stage of the breathing when the breathing becomes shallower and shallower and then finally stops of its own accord…..that stage of the breath (which should not be tried by oneself, without a teacher who has truly mastered the path), signals the end of the passive discipline of meditation and the beginning of the active smoothing of the breath (called “the millwheel” in the path) and the beginning of numerous active disciplines that supplant meditation and which progress for quite a huge amount of time beyond the discipline of meditation.
One question one would possibly ask might be something like “why shouldn’t one just continue meditating“?
The main answer, besides that it would be the repetition of the same sort of thing every day in the same eventually boring way, lies in the realities of how God works:
The rule of the experience of God is that those experiences are the rewards God gives for having done and mastered a step or stage of the work of the liberation/path. When one has persevered through the difficulties of a stage of the path, whatever that stage might be, God rewards one with a sign, usually a visual sign, but sometimes a sonic sign. And that sign is usually accompanied by a gift of some further expansion of consciousness or physical development/ability. The stepwise expansion of peripheral vision is an example of these gifts. The further rule is that, once one has reached a certain stage of the liberation/path and been rewarded by God with some sign/confirmation, one will never again receive a sign of God until one progresses further, to the next step beyond that stage of the path. Only when one reaches a further stage of the work/path through hard work and application, will God provide another such thrilling sign/reward.
Therefore, the repetition of meditation over and over without progressing further on the next steps of the path will no longer result in the same quality of experience/reward one achieves while learning meditation. And always, the signs of how to go on (which are always present somewhere) are always provided by God, but almost always need instruction in how to correctly proceed. Therefore, the person who comes to the end of one discipline level, but does not do everything in one’s power to find someone trustworthy to guide one in how to proceed, will often mistake false signs, which are to be avoided. Almost all of the psychedelic art of the 60s and 70s was this type of wrong sign, and not the true visions of God. As mentioned, this language of the visual signs of God will be dealt with in another paper. Suffice it to say here that those are the images with rounded-off lines and primary, bright, often jarringly ugly colors. The true visions of God are much more refined. They are, actually, in their basic forms, defined in the book The Secret of the Golden Flower, one of the oldest complete texts in existence.
In any case, in all statements of meditating ON anything, the word meditating should be changed to contemplating. By its very nature/definition, one cannot meditate ON anything. And one can never choose or direct what images or concepts/inspirations will be provided by God. And, to be able to know what the inspirations and other signs of God are demands long hard practice and instruction under knowledgeable guidance by someone who has mastered the path.
One further observation, PBS, public broadcasting and other such organizations which have a mandate to use their public funds for correct, non-misleading, highly worthwhile programs that are not capable of supporting themselves or of bringing their work to the public, spends fortunes for broadcasting people who are teaching contemplation as meditation and also teaching the subject in wrong ways with regard to its implementation both physically and mentally. PBS spends fortunes on teachings of physical disciplines that guise themselves as meditative-related disciplines, which even teach such ridiculous things as stretching one’s muscles (I assure anyone, that really, truly stretching any of your muscles is one of the worst things you can do. What is described as stretching, when in any way beneficial, is not actually stretching those muscles, and, in addition, only really happens for some and to a great degree does not happen at all for others).
But I could understand an organization like PBS making mistakes in their understanding of the value of such interesting-sounding programs. But what I find unpleasant is that almost all of those programs are commercial endeavors that can and should pay for themselves quite well, without the use of public moneys. Many others do just that. And that goes for travelogues and food programs, most of which have rivals out there of equal value making their own way without public funds. I find truly unpleasant seeing some of the large organizations, with full advertising, photography staffs, sales networks, and lots more, who get full public-funding support with our moneys, while other programs of lesser immediate public interest, but great intrinsic value, go without. Much in the world of art belongs to that category, because the budget of PBS for art, especially music, goes to fund huge money-making productions that can survive without PBS funds, while the bulk of worthy art, especially classical music, gets nothing from PBS.