Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
HOW TO MEDITATE
A Brief Guide
“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.” - Voltaire
The following is my limited attempt to explain the ins and outs of meditation without unnecessarily intertwining it with religious mythology.
My nephew Shanti asked me the other day for recommendations on introductory books on how to meditate. I wanted to send him something, but I soon realized that I wasn’t satisfied with what was on offer. Many were too simplistic for my tastes and others were too religiously bound. I decided that perhaps it would be fruitful to provide a brief explanation behind why meditation works and provide step-by-step directions on how to do it. Given that there are so many meditational disciplines, I thought I would just focus on the one technique that I have been doing these past 40 or so years. The following is my limited attempt to explain the ins and outs of meditation without unnecessarily intertwining it with religious mythology. Of course, some may argue that just such an interpretative matrix is necessary to fully benefit from sitting still and that meditation cannot properly be divorced from its cultural or religious moorings. I beg to differ, since I believe that meditation works regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.
Why? Because meditation is a universal process of exploring how consciousness manifests and changes over time. The meditator is simply experiencing the varietals of awareness. Our attention is akin to an ocean navigator that plots courses along a vast territory and whose directions guide the would-be wayfarer to far off and rarely visited islands. There are innumerable vistas in our universe of consciousness, but seldom do we actually take the time and energy to fully venture into those realms.
The mind is a simulation operator and evolved to allow individuals to imagine and plan for events not yet occurring in the world we live and breathe in. As Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist at City College of New York, explains in his most recent book, The Future of the Mind,
“Human consciousness is a specific form of consciousness that creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future. This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops to make a decision to achieve a goal.”
Gerald Edelman, a distinguished Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer in understanding the brain, argues that consciousness has two fundamental aspects: First Nature, which is usually defined as present-moment awareness which appears to be common in almost all birds and animals, including humans. It is associative and attentive to incoming stimuli and the surrounding environment. Second Nature, which arguably is only fully realized in human beings (though it is also apparent to lesser degrees in higher mammals), is self-reflective and dissociative, evolved to ruminate, contemplate, and virtually re-present (with an emphasis on the “re”) past events and to envision and plan for future actions and scenarios. If First Nature is focused on the here and now, Second Nature is where we daydream, fantasize, and space-out. It is, in sum, a virtual simulator.
As Michio Kaku elaborates,
“Humans are alone in the animal kingdom in understanding the concept of tomorrow. Unlike animals, we constantly ask ourselves ‘What if?’ weeks, months, even years into the future, so I believe Level III consciousness [Edelman’s 2nd Nature] creates a model of its place in the world and then simulates it in the future, by making rough predictions.”
Kaku’s space-time theory of consciousness and Edelman’s two-nature understanding of awareness are helpful theoretic orientations for us to better understand how and why meditation works.
Meditation involves many levels of deployment. Primarily, it is concerned with bringing our attention back to the present moment and becoming aware of what is happening here and now. In order to do this one builds a bridge between second and first nature, so that one can let go of consuming revelries and become attuned with the current locality. This is more difficult than one might suspect, since our brains evolved to disengage and imagine all sorts of scenarios that don’t need our immediate scrutiny.
If we watch how our mind functions moment to moment, we can see how easily we fluctuate about--from paying attention to what is constantly changing in our field of sight, sound, and touch (boarding an airplane, say) to daydreaming about what we are going to do with our eventual careers (sitting in a classroom during a boring lecture, for instance). Our awareness is akin to a wild animal that doesn’t settle too long at any one place. This “monkey” mind never really rests (not even in sleep) and dissipates energy in this continual process.
Getting the mind to settle down isn’t an easy thing to do, but once accomplished (even if only in degrees) it not only energizes one’s being but also offers a pathway to experience hitherto neglected aspects of awareness. First and Second Nature are waves of a much deeper and broader body of consciousness. The process of meditating is to follow the source from which our awareness originally arises and to witness what it how it both presages and transcends the waking and dream states that we are so familiar with.
Speaking from my own experience, I can say without any reservations that there are some wonderful benefits to this internal quest, not the least of which are deeper insights into how the mind actually works and a widening sense of bliss the more one plunges deeper into awareness itself. Of course, we have to be careful over how we interpret what we discover on your inner journeys. As humans we seem to have an almost genetic predisposition to conflate our brain state with the “real” state of the universe and wax hyperbolic about our latest “enlightenments.”
Far too often religion or other ideologies attempt to hijack our inner experiences and intertwine them with their own theological agendas, prematurely blinding us from keeping open minded to alternative explanations. The common denominator in all meditative practices (whether Buddhist or Christian or Secular Humanist) is the human brain, which thankfully isn’t tied to down to any ism or geographic region.
But how does one meditate?
Whether one meditates for three minutes or three hours, however, one will feel its beneficial effects. Just as any exercise is better than none, so it is the same with meditation. Remember it is your consciousness that has given birth to the world you experience. Directly inquiring into how that consciousness arises is an exhilarating adventure. Where it will eventually lead and how we will ultimately interpret such excursions (be they neurological or mystical) is up to us.
“The problem with introspection is that it has no end.”