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Ideas Presented in Chapter 3

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Idea #11. The Technique Harnesses a Force for Happiness and Openness

We have said that the meditative function stands patiently in the wings, ready to come on stage as soon as some basic conditions are met. Although this is a fact of nature, it is an odd one and an active intellect might call for some explanation of it. So, here are two explanations for what fuels meditation. They are both “on the ground” non-philosophical explanations taken from direct observation of the nature of our minds. The first comes from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in describing the driving force behind meditations such as Transcendental Meditation. He writes,

To go to a field of greater happiness is the natural tendency of the mind. Because in the practice of Transcendental Meditation the conscious mind is set on the way to experiencing transcendental, absolute Being, whose nature is bliss-consciousness, the mind finds the way increasingly attractive as it advances in the direction of bliss…It finds increasing charm at each step of its march. [Science of Being, p.55]

arrows showing choice for happiness

The driving force in meditation, he says, is the tendency of the mind to move toward sources of happiness. The attention always stays effortlessly with the choices that are the most pleasant, meaningful, or critical. Students’ eyes may wander out the window at the sound and smell of the spring’s first lawn mowing, but they will quickly come back to the teacher if things get intense—very interesting, very demanding, important to a passing grade that will get them outside for the summer. The movement of the mind from the state of waking to the fourth state is carried along on the same flow. It is a movement from the surface of the mind to its subtle interior, the source of thought, and each step of the way is increasingly “charming.”

Maharishi’s explanation was innovative when he came out with it in the 1950s, and it still strikes a sharp contrast with the prevailing beliefs among meditation theorists that see the human mind as being an unguided mess until it is trained to stay put. Maharishi realized that he was speaking a quiet, powerful, secret that had sweeping significance. He said that the mind is not the “monkey” that so many say it is. When it jumps from place to place, it is not because it is a rootless, untrained fool. Rather, it is royalty. It is a prince or princess in search of a seat (i.e. a thought process) that is worthy of its royal nature, and when, in the meditative environment, it finds such a seat, it settles down right away.

Like all true, new insights, Maharishi’s proposition was elegant. It moved confidently around and beyond older views and incorporated inconsistencies they could not handle. For example, many Indian theorists had long seen that the mind’s essence is profound joyfulness (i.e. bliss, ananda). Yet, they didn’t see that it was odd to say you have to push yourself to fall into bliss.  But most importantly for us, Maharishi’s vision is easily demonstrated to be true. People who practice methods like TM and Natural Meditation that are dedicated to the effective release of the meditative function find that he is right. The mind isn’t a monkey. It can settle into meditation even in a movie theater during an exciting movie.

Here is another way of viewing this. The mind is dominated by two complementary forces, one expansive and the other contracting. The contracting force holds elements of experience (thoughts and sensations) together in a constellation we recognize as our self. This force operates on thought the way gravity operates on the planets and stars, holding them in clusters. Coordinated thought, especially project-making, requires this contracting force. It is necessary and healthy. However, an expansive force co-exists with the contracting force. This force tends to open up space between the elements of experience revealing the mind’s essential openness. The space between elements of experience, i.e. between thoughts, is felt as silence. It may be difficult to observe this force without meditating.expand and contract, thoughts shown as constellation of dots

During meditation we allow a shift of the dominating force of the mind in the expansive direction. This shift is possible only because a pre-existing force, or tendency, for expansion, openness, and silence already operates in the mind. The shift is away from the collecting, connecting, owning, and operating forces.

Meditation is effective when it shifts the elements of experience into an open, flexible, less determined relationship to each other. A common and persistent misunderstanding about meditation is that a successful meditation would have to make these elements disappear. But, as anyone who has tried meditation will attest, thoughts will not disappear, nor will feelings, perceptions and desires. Instead, what happens is these elements lose their usual tight constellation allowing the mind to become silent even in their presence. The change in the mind is not its contents, but its quality, its fluidity, light, and resilience.

If this all sounds too theoretical, that is understandable. It’s not necessary to follow much of this or agree with the theory. In practice, it works.

The mind will shift into meditative awareness if it is just given the chance.

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