Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Is meditation about concentration and alertness, or diffusion and dreamyness - or either, or both?

If meditation is regarded as a means to an end (rather than as a state valuable in its own right) then how you do it - the method you attempt it - depends on yourself and your goal.

If the goal is something like Owen Barfield's Final Participation - that is, starting with a strong awareness of the Self and unawareness of the living, conscious world around - then moving towards an attempt to communicate (again, in some way) with natural and invisible spiritual entities... then there might be two basic strategies for meditation.

1. Concentration with opening-out

This is (roughly speaking) the path recommended by Rudolf Steiner and Colin Wilson - which is to retain the typically modern clarity and awakeness of typical consciousness and - by intense and sustained concentration on some specific thing, to open-out this consciousness into an absorbed awareness of this thing usually regarded as non-sentient and its connections with other things...

The contrast with 'normal' (non-meditative) concentration is that there is an opening-out from the thing which is concentrated upon - and this opening-out is 'allowed' uncritically, without moral censorship or critique (these come later).

Well the above is probably not a very good explanation; because this strategy for meditation via concentration is one I cannot myself employ and have not been able (or indeed inclined) to follow through; indeed, I find it extremely aversive. But it clearly works, and works well, for some people, starting at some points, and with some needs and goals.

For example, Steiner trained himself (and had a natural aptitude) for doing this when he met people for the first (and perhaps only) time, As I understand it, he would concentrate intensely upon the person and would allow the wider field of associations to come to mind: by this he used intuitive evaluations to understand the person, and their problems, and what they might do about them.

2. Diffusion with retained awareness

This (which is my own preferred method) is done by holding the self in continued awareness - but not by concentrating - while allowing the rest of the mind to relax and open-out. This a the opposite of alert concentration because its basis is a relaxed and dream-like state.

What is wanted is a partial drowsiness while retaining purposive thinking and also memory; and the state to avoid is full sleep, which is passively associative and does not retain memories.

How to retain the purposive self while moving towards sleep? There is no single method. One is to meditate while walking (slowly, semi-automatically, in some safe place that does not require vigilance), which naturally keeps the self awake. Another is (while sitting, or lying propped-up) to stimulate the mind and retain purpose by intermittent stimulus - e.g. reading, note-taking - to aim at an oscillating state of consciousness in which there is a drowsy relaxation towards sleep for a few seconds, then a reversal towards waking for a few seconds.

The point is that both of these meditative tactics - and I am sure there are several or many others - can be deployed in pursuit of the same long-term strategy.

It is a surely mistake to focus too much on meditative strategy, or training people for meditation; because it may be that each person needs to chisel-out their own specific strategy. Also, all methods are prone to error and misleading - especially if they are being deployed as techniques.

Steiner himself fell into this source of error and misleading, by his belief that he had discovered and devised an intrinsically-valid method for generating knowledge, which he could induce at will and direct at any subject: this was (I believe) why there is such a great deal of over-precise and unjustifiably-confident nonsense mixed-in with his great insights and wisdom.

1. Meditation is important, perhaps vital, for many or most (not all) modern people - but only a means to an end.

2. Different people are different. What works is different for each, what may help one may be a waste of time or harm another - each person needs to chisel-out his own method

3. All methods are limited in application and prone to generate error if used over-confidently or as an end not a means.

4. Whatever comes from meditation (of whatever method) sooner-or-later needs to be integrated with other authoritative sources of knowledge and wisdom.


ted said...

Here are some suggestions about drowsiness in meditation.

Nicholas Fulford said...

On Low Sensory Meditation:

Low sensory environments are often helpful places for useful meditation in my limited experience. I recall using floatation tanks in silence for a two hour session, and finding that with very limited input the mind begins to become inwardly self-stimulating - probably not unlike a dream state except that I am awake. One of the things I was most interested in was dialling back the mental chatter, and that involved learning how to let go of the thought streams that arose. It was not so much active repression as lightly dismissing the stream and returning to a more quiet state. Even so, one stream would lead to another, to another, et cetera. Over time what I realized was just how noisy the mind is, and how to actually not generate some stream of thought was not really a possibility. So I began experiencing and realizing that my mind is inherently noisy and that it would - in the absence of any conscious external stimulus - spin thought streams out of whatever surfaced from the unconscious and/or the rhythms the body. The specific direction of a stream was not knowable in advance, though variations on a favourite subject manifested with some regularity. It seems I have biases and that those biases incline me to certain types of thought and emotion in the absence of external stimulation.

Another interesting aspect of this was time distortion. The passage of time took on a different quality, and was subjectively more variable in terms of my perception of it than when externally regulated. Yes, we have our clocks, (e.g. minimum heart rate), and being able to feel my pulse and respiration very clearly enabled me to lock into this clock if I chose to. It was an obvious meditation tool to disrupt the thought train, by counting breaths or my pulse.

The benefits of this type of meditation were numerous and included: immediate post-meditation stress reduction; A clearer experiential awareness of how associative my mind is; how the types of themes which repeat are indicative of my deeper associations and by extension biases. Reflection upon what I experienced during this meditation - after it ended - was a means to integrate what surfaced into a larger pattern, and to provide me food for thought about issues that I might focus upon between then and my next immersion.

As with all altered state experiences, what is gleaned through meditation has to be considered with a light touch so as to avoid making silly jumps to fill the gaps with new associations that are distortions. My approach is to be open to the experience of meditation, and to also be suspicious of new associations which are weaved. To me it is like any creative act. The first step involves experiencing nakedly and recording accurately what I bring back from the experience. The second step is to edit the raw material and to be aware of my tendency to invent things which may be distorted weavings of my mind - spun out of mental flotsam and jetsam or entrenched biases.

This type of meditation is a useful tool but it can also result in the creation of dead ends / blinds, as it seems to me that my mind is hungry to create new associations in the aftermath of this form of meditation. It is just something to beware of so that ridiculous things do not become the basis for my worldview.