THE PROCESS OF MEDITATION
In everyday life, as each of us lives in our "normal" state of consciousness, our awareness is usually focused upon the particular thoughts, emotions or perceptions we experience on the surface level of reality, whether they are the experiences and perceptions we move through in our life in the outer world, or the thoughts and feelings that we have in our inner world. As we move through life, we perceive, think, act and feel with the assistance of our "thinking mind"—the active portion of our mind that deals with this surface level of reality, through the use of thoughts, feelings, interpretations of perceptions, and actions. Our awareness is usually identified with, preoccupied with and attached to, whichever of these particular activities we engage in through the use of this "thinking mind." Although all these particular components of our life are important, when we remain identified with, and therefore limited to, these surface activities—these surface appearances of our deeper being—we are far less able to perceive and act from a more fundamental level of greater awareness. The tendency of our "thinking mind" to remain preoccupied with the particulars of life inhibits our ability to move to the level of pure consciousness that is actually the source of all these particular states of mind.
In the practice of meditation we seek to free ourselves from this mental "chatter" in which our "thinking mind" engages, and instead seek connection to a deeper level of our being. We free ourselves from the surface level of the mind, and by doing so, we make it easier for ourselves to come into connection with a deeper spiritual reality. Meditation is a process by which we seek to re-condition our conscious awareness, so that we release our attachment to the surface level of reality and instead allow the awareness to gravitate towards a state of pure awareness, pure consciousness. As we meditate in the proper manner, the experience of pure awareness itself moves more to the forefront, instead of a primary identification with the highly active surface level of the mind.
The proper practice of meditation therefore enables us to gain a better primary connection to the greater reality that is the real source of everything we experience. It is the primary connection to this greater reality that provides us the greater awareness, perceptual abilities and powers of consciousness that would ordinarily remain unavailable, should our awareness remain only in touch with the "surface level" of reality. Our awareness, freed from identification with the particular activities of the "thinking mind," is able to expand into a greater awareness of reality. Our conscious awareness, free from the distractions and limitations that result from preoccupation with the surface level of reality, is also free to tap the powers in the field of pure consciousness that would otherwise remain unnoticed and undeveloped—to cultivate the conscious abilities that might ordinary remain undeveloped should an identification with the excessive activity of the surface level of the mind remain.
To gain these potential benefits of meditation, by virtue of this reconditioning of the awareness, it is necessary to engage in regular practice—usually on a daily basis. Meditation does not provide all its benefits all at once, but over time, as the practice itself re-conditions the awareness of the meditator more towards the state of pure consciousness. In each daily meditation session, the conscious awareness of the meditator is encouraged, through the use of a certain technique, to free itself from the surface level of the "thinking mind" and instead come into greater contact with the field of pure consciousness. Achieving a state of pure awareness is therefore practiced, on a daily basis.
When this is done, the ability to contact the state of pure awareness is present not only during each meditation session, but tends to "carry over" to our entire life experience. Our ability to move into a state of pure awareness during our meditation sessions does not become unavailable when we stop meditating—our ability to contact this state of pure consciousness manifests in, and tends to benefit our overall life. We acquire the ability to contact and act from this deeper awareness at other times, too, instead of being constantly bound by, and identified with, the surface level of the mind. It may also be called upon during times when such awareness and abilities are needed—during the practice of healing, for example. Because meditation brings us into closer connection with the spiritual source of life and health, the regular practice of meditation also tends to refine and enhance the functioning of the body, mind and spirit—to bring greater peace, effectiveness and harmony to all levels of the being.
It is a release of identification with, and subsequent gradual quiescence of, this surface mental activity—the developed ability to access the field of pure consciousness underneath the "busy" surface level of the mind— that provides all these benefits. There are many forms of meditation, but to quiet the surface level of the mind such that greater awareness and greater abilities may become manifest is the goal of meditation in all its forms. Although the many different kinds of meditation employ various techniques to work towards this desirable goal, the overall process remains the same.
Meditation, in one form, is often practiced with the use of a symbol. In this type of meditation practice, the technique employed to cultivate this greater connection to pure consciousness makes use of the symbol in a particular way, so as to effect this end. In the practice of meditation using a symbol, the awareness of the meditator is focused upon the symbol, instead of remaining identified with the many thoughts and emotions that might otherwise retain importance as the focus of awareness. The symbol provides a prop, a single object which is sensed in an effortless way, instead of the usual jumble of disorganized thoughts and emotions. The sensing of the symbol alone, in this way, assists in the settling of superfluous thoughts and emotions, stabilizing the descent to a level of pure consciousness. This is because the mind no longer feeds off its own activity, from one thought to the next. Stabilizing the awareness upon just the meditation symbol allows the activity of the surface level of the mind, the "thinking mind," to "wind down," to decrease in activity, slowly but surely.
The symbol stabilizes and assists in the descent to deeper levels of awareness. As the meditator meditates, the thoughts and emotions that may arise while meditating are recognized to be merely distractions, and are therefore allowed to drop away as the meditator's awareness comes back effortlessly to the symbol alone. As the meditator continues to meditate on the symbol, the "chatter" of the "thinking mind" winds down more and more, and the meditator settles to deeper and deeper levels of awareness. Although thoughts and emotions continue to arise in the mind as it "winds down," the meditator does not identify with them, and so, gradually they become fewer and fewer. No particular attention is paid to the thoughts and emotions, they are simply noticed as distractions, as being observed as outside the focus of the meditation (the symbol), and allowed to drop away as the awareness is encouraged to return to just the symbol.
The awareness of the meditator may drift from the symbol many times while meditating, especially at first, but by simply and effortlessly coming back to the symbol the practice is slowly but surely refined. Eventually the meditator will become adept at keeping the symbol alone in the awareness, and achieve a quiet mind. The meditator may then begin to have experiences of pure awareness, perhaps for just an instant at first, wherein a sense of perfect unity with the symbol is achieved. It is at this time that the awareness of the meditator may be said to have completely released its identification with the surface level of the mind, and to have begun to contact the state of pure consciousness. At this level of pure consciousness, the meditator, the object of meditation (the symbol), and the process of meditation become one. The symbol is also experienced in its essence, and particular conscious abilities may become available to the meditator—abilities which are contained in, and are part of, the field of pure consciousness, and which may also bear some relationship to the essence and inner power of the symbol. A deep sense of peace and knowing may also be felt.
©1994 - 2011 Stephen H. Barrett