Idea #14: Natural Meditation is Gentle, Easy, Restful and Relaxing.
It’s not really accurate to declare what the experience of meditation should be. Ultimately, its dimensions extend far beyond textbook language and can only be verbally embraced in poetry. J. Krishnamurti, a 20th Century poetic master of meditative spirituality, wrote in 1970, "Meditation is the root, the plant, the flower and the fruit. It is words that divide the fruit, the flower, the plant and the root." Still, we will make words. But, as we divide this phenomenon of meditation with words, we will do so with respect for its organic wholeness. We do the words out of respect for the intellect and its servant, the critical thinker. In meditation one must eventually rest in the experience, but the critical thinker needs some answers before it will let us rest in the arms of meditation. The ideas presented in this chapter serve the intellect so that it can get out of the way.
So, on to some analysis. In Natural Meditation we have several kinds of experiences: the mantra and the absence of the mantra; a shifted orientation to the body, the room, and one’s self; physical sensations; sounds and thoughts; and questions about all these things. Usually the first meditations produce a few questions, several self-observations, and at least some doubt about the validity of the experience. So, what experiences tell us that we are meditating correctly?
Here is a brief list of signs of correct Natural Meditation:
Is it easy?
Obviously, a natural process should seem easy. It should contain more elements of the known and comfortable than of the unknown. It should proceed easily, like paddling a canoe down a lake toward the outlet with a steady breeze at your back—the canoe moves six feet for every three feet of water you paddle, and the prow stays in line. If you have ever had to paddle against the elements, you know the meaning of struggling against nature. You have to paddle as hard as you can just to make headway, and the wind persistently catches the canoe and “tries” to mess up your navigation. You are not going with the flow. So, in Natural Meditation you go with the flow. If it seems like something else, you are doing something wrong. You are inserting yourself trying to make the meditation go somewhere.
Of course, this may be a natural process, but the method is a device and it might seem hard to make the method operate the way you think it should. This will take a little time. For now, just ask yourself whether it has been easy to recall the mantra every few moments. If not, next time back off a bit. Let it flow. Remember the canoe metaphor and dip the paddle (mantra) into the flowing water (the mind) with a sense of cooperation, not competition.
Is it refreshing?After the meditation is over, it should not feel as though you have finally arrived back at camp after fighting the wind and lake. The canoe should glide happily to the dock, the trip leaving you almost reluctant to have to come ashore. You step out, relaxed and refreshed from having been on the lake, a place from which you can view the land from a fresh perspective. If you feel pride in the accomplishment, that is fine, but if the accomplishment feels like a war story, you are doing something wrong. The critical thinker has a right to ask, "So? The same could be said of a nap, or a daydreaming session. 'Easy' and 'Refreshing' hardly prove that I am doing anything distinctive, let alone meditating." And that is a correct observation. The only point to accept at this stage is that you are making a mistake if it is not easy and refreshing. Proving to yourself that you are really doing something significant will require additional experience, both in and out of meditation. Right now, just focus on the two tests: Is it easy? and, Is it refreshing? As long as you are following the meditative agenda, which will be described from many angles throughout the rest of this chapter, and you can say it is easy and refreshing, you are doing great. We will not attempt to describe experiences in consciousness at this stage because the vocabulary is not standard and the experiences themselves are very personal. Do not be alarmed or worried, however, if meditation seems like just sitting. The Japanese Zen sect known as Soto has as its primary sitting technique a method called shikantaza, which means "just sitting.” They entrust much of their spiritual aspirations to that simple act of sitting. They do not seek results or flashy experiences, and there is no reason a student of Natural Meditation should need them, either. The meditative function comes into bloom at different times like fruit ripening at different times in an orchard. It also is fairly transparent. It doesn’t jump up and say, "Here I am. Give me a name!" In many cultures, it’s not even recognized. Testing the meditative function for validity is quite possible, but it takes some time. It’s best to leave the question, "Is the meditative function really working for me", alone for a while.
You also should know that meditations vary from sitting to sitting. There will be one kind of experience that you like better than another. That’s fine. Just enjoy what you enjoy and be there for the others. It’s like taking a ride or living through a week of weather—there are parts you like and parts you don’t. But what can you do about it? You just take what comes. Over time, you will begin to see a subtle common element flowing through all your sittings.
The only thing you can
do wrong is to strain and try to make your sitting live up to your expectations
of meditation. For example, if you hold yourself in a certain way that seems
like a truly meditating person, and if you set your attitude to feel “Eastern”
and wise or whatever, then you are way off the track and will need to pay close
attention to what follows in this chapter. If you’re interested in adding something that you think would enrich
or strengthen the program and it is not prescribed in the recipe of Natural
Meditation, leave it out—for now. You have plenty of time to bring things in
further down the line once you get the meditative function well established.
Straining --> Headaches
If you meditate correctly for a few minutes, but then (inadvertently or purposely) begin to strain and concentrate, you could be visited with a headache. This is quite reversible and nothing to worry about. Just do a little Zen (that is, shikantaza) to unwind that strain. In other words, just sit. Let your thoughts flow as they will for a while observing what is going on. Then gently return to the practice.
End of Chapter Three — Next Idea