Monday, 11 April 2016

Meditation as Thinking-Practice: Escaping the prison of thought habits

Diagnosing the problems of modern Western life is not so difficult - the alienating mental prison of deadness, purposelessness, meaninglessness that we inhabit; knowing what ought to be done to improve the situation is much more difficult but still reasonably widespread; but actually escaping from that prison to inhabit a better place is extremely rare.

The reason is that habits of thinking which have become ingrained through our childhood and development, and which are sustained because they are the basis of public life and discourse - so that innumerable hourly interactions keep us in the bad-old-ways of thinking.

The way out from prison therefore involves more than just knowing we are in prison, and more than knowing where we want to escape-to - because the escape destination is intrinsically our-own-selves, we actually need to create our own destination by transforming our-own-selves, in the face of opposition from our current selves backed-up by almost all the forces of culture.

Since we live-in our own thinking, the new destination can be conceptualised as a new way of thinking - that is a thinking based on a new set of metaphysical assumptions concerning the nature of the world (its origin, purpose, meaning etc).

So, each of us needs to practice thinking; specifically to practice thinking based on the desired metaphysics.

Meditation is the general name given to the activity of practicing thinking - so meditation is the first and major activity which is needed.

Thinking-practice = a type of meditation.

This is where people begin to differ - because the nature of meditation must have the proper aim - must be aiming at the desired destination; this effects the actual nature of the meditation (and the nature of meditation - i.e. the type of thinking that is being practised - is extremely varied); and having chosen a possible method of meditation, then comes the absolutely vital 'subjective' element - that topic or content of meditation which must be practised.    

But how best, how effectively to 'practice' the desired thinking is not immediately obvious - and is indeed a matter of some dispute. But one aspect I would like to highlight is that personally effective meditation cannot be a matter of forcing ourselves through routine practice.

Effective thought practice means practicing the kind of thinking which we want to become habitual - and that kind of thinking must be alive, engaged; a thinking deriving from the new metaphysics; a thinking which is about purpose appreciated in the world as well as itself purposive; a thinking which is filled with hope, as well as hopeful in its intention.

In sum, when meditation is understood as thinking-practice, we recognize that meditating itself must be an activity of the desired kind: self-aware, alert, purposive, positive, hope-full, energizing - we must meditate-about the kind of things we have as our ideal.

Therefore each person will need, by trial and error and taking into account his own disposition and preferences, to devise some themes of meditation and methods for maintaining his own stream of thinking along the lines of such themes.

It is a question of 'what works for you' as a means to that end - for me, it is mainly a practice of thinking by writing... note-taking to hold my thinking onto the purpose, record that thinking, responding to my notes. In general, the act of writing is used to control my thinking, to keep it on-topic, to keep it along the right lines.

(The actual notes are merely a means to that end, and need never be looked at again.)

But I discovered this type of meditation for myself, by trial and error, and I am sure it would not suit everybody. So if you have not yet discovered what works for you - that that should be your first goal.

The second goal is, for each session of meditation, to choose a topic which is something both desirable as a themes for practise, and also effective for you personally; some thing which involves thinking in the way you want to become habitual (thinkig that is assuming a living, conscious, purposive universe of meaning, love and inter-relationship...); and also is a theme that is positive and enjoyable to yourself.

(For instance, today my theme - one which delighted and spontaneously engaged me - was reading and making notes on parts of a particular lecture by Owen Barfield.) 

Then you can start practicing-thinking.