Meditation Inventory

Meditation Inventory

We have been meditating for a while now in our Thursday evening class, and maybe it is time to take stock and evaluate how we are doing so far.

What exactly is happening with us when we are trying to meditate? How are we dealing with the obstacles? How much aware are we of what is happening and of how we are dealing with everything in the moment and after? Are we getting any noticeable medium- or long-term effects from meditating that help us in our daily lives?

Since meditation is, by its nature, a very subtle, elusive, obscure, delicate, sometimes difficult and slow event, process and transformation, it is necessary to sometimes conceptualise and verbalise about it, become aware, evaluate experience, and re-adjust attitude and effort. In this newsletter I would like to discuss some aspects of meditation that I am aware about and experiencing myself.

spirituality monotheism

I start by reminding of the technical road map outlined in my blog post Surat: Meditation Focus:

  • Follow the instruction and concentrate on whatever the focus of the meditation is: mantra (voice, sound, audible or mental), breath, posture, mudra, etc. – observe what happens as you continue
  • Sooner or later, you will be distracted, usually by thoughts or sensations; you find yourself concentrating on something other than the focus of the meditation; your surat shifted without your decision, permission or awareness
  • Realise that you are distracted (and, possibly, for how long you have already been distracted and for how long you might have been unaware that you were distracted)
  • Relax the distraction and, without further ado, go immediately back to the focus of the meditation
  • Go through this cycle as often as distraction occurs

Engaging in this kind of way for long enough, regularly enough and with enough devotion and motivation, we reach a kind of twilight zone where actual meditation seems to emerge. To reach and stabilise this state we need a delicate balance of activity and passivity.

The Delicate Balance

Our will and motivation to meditate, our searching, yearning, devotion, our need for healing, completion and fulfilment, and maybe an unknown calling need to be felt or remembered sometime during daily life and possibly be present in the background as a driving force during meditation. This gives us the motivation and strength to train our “surat,” our focus, attention, concentration power. Like training a physical muscle, regular repetition will strengthen it and give us more stability and the ability to proceed deeper and deeper into meditation.

Almost everything else needs to be passive. Our senses need to be kept in a state of idle stillness, not asleep, but maybe half hypnotised or in a soft trance. And our thoughts and emotions, as they emerge beyond our control, need to stay untouched until they disappear by themselves again. That means our surat needs to stay steady – but easy, without grimness – on the meditation focus, not swaying into any of the exciting, upsetting, amazing, profound, silly or otherwise thoughts, visions and emotions that inevitably come to distract us.

The Dark Night of the Soul

One of the most important things to learn while meditating is to renounce or let go. Renouncing the desire for sensual input, renouncing the temptations in thoughts and emotions, letting go of everything we think we know already and, finally (maybe not just yet…), letting go of the attachment to our ego, personality, history and self-importance.

All of this is a purging process that, actually, life itself is performing on us in all our little (and not so little) losses, challenges and hardships. We are “weaned off of the pleasures by giving us dry times and inward darkness” as John of the Cross puts it in his Dark Night of the Soul, “No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night.”

The death of the ego, symbolised by the cross of Jesus Christ, by the disappearance of Guru Nanak in the river and by many other metaphors, is the condition for the ultimate state of yoga, the liberation, awakening and union in primal, Universal Consciousness. But we are being prepared in life by dying many little deaths before our ego finally needs to disappear into “our” true, unknown, unpossessable nature, the Divine unconditional Love that was stirring our hearts from timeless beginnings.

Thomas Merton: “We tell God when it comes to this mystical union with You, I really, really, really want this, but under one condition. That when I cross the line into mystical union, my ego will remain in tact and I will become a mystical ego and finally get the respect that I deserve.”

Chogyam Trungpa: “Supposing you, the so-called you – we don’t know whether we exist or not – the so-called you becomes enlightened, then what? Then, you become a Buddha, enlightened one? You are about to become an egomaniac, you are egomaniac in that you are thinking that you could become the Buddha Himself.” (Spiritual Materialism)

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Journey to the Summit of the Soul

In that moments of “almost meditation,” it can be helpful to remember some of the above. It is like a delicate rendezvous between you and the Beloved; the more you are able to let go and stay present at the same time, the more the presence of the Beloved and the healing power of truth can be experienced. It is a state of infinitely patient waiting, letting go and renunciation together with our best effort of concentration and devotion. If the grace of meditation happens, something beautiful touches us and wells up, healing flows, we relax deeper into our true nature and the stress of not being ourselves slowly ceases.

Let us imagine ourself as layers of Russian dolls, the outermost being our most conscious, materialistic, tangible ego, our functional interface to the world including our own consciousness, and the innermost being our most subtle, essential, causal, unknown, unconscious soul and spirit, the point and connection from where we flow existentially, the “summit” of the soul. Meditation happens when we manage to bring our awareness and concentration into this elusive innermost depth and stay there for a while. This is where and when we might be met, touched, loved, instructed, healed by our origin, the Great Spirit, God, Ishwara, Waheguru.

Meditation is an emerging intuitive state. It is subtle, elusive and obscure because it transcends senses and intellect, it is beyond the conceptual thinking reflecting mind. Since it is kind of beyond sensual experience, it is difficult and strange to remember and explain afterwards. But maybe we feel a sense of consolation, of inner warmth, the intimate immediacy of our pure, natural presence, some transcendental taste, a dewdrop of nectar, that might be granted to us in a priceless moment and serve us as a supernatural memory, motivation and entrance point for our next session.

General note: The thing, context and process we are dealing with here is beyond any particular religion, culture, language, time or place. It is an all-embracing, inter-faith mystical tradition that transcends anything that could draw distinctions and boundaries between us.

spirituality monotheism

Mystical Contemplation

For further context and inspiration, please consider some of Thomas Merton’s 11 points of mystical contemplation (The Inner Experience, 2003)

1. Mystical contemplation is an intuition that, at its lower level, transcends the senses. On its higher level, it transcends the intellect itself.

2. Mystical contemplation is characterized by a quality of light and darkness, of knowing and unknowing. It is beyond feeling, even beyond concepts.

3. In this contact with God in darkness, there must be a certain activity of love on both sides. On the side of the soul, there must be a withdrawal from attachment to sensible things, a liberation of the mind and the imagination from all strong emotional and passionate clinging to sensible realities. Passionate thinking distorts our intellectual vision, preventing us from seeing things as they are. But also, we must go beyond intelligence itself and not be attached even to simple intuitive thoughts. All thoughts, no matter how pure, are transcended in contemplation.

4. Contemplation is the work of love, and the contemplative proves his love by leaving all things, even the most spiritual things, for God in nothingness, detachment, and night. But the deciding factor in contemplation is the free and unpredictable action of God. He alone can grant the gift of mystical grace and makes himself known by secret, ineffable contact that reveals his presence in the depths of the soul. What counts is not the soul’s love for God, but God’s love for the soul.

5. This knowledge of God in unknowing is not intellectual, nor even in the strict sense affective. It is not the work of one faculty or another uniting the soul with an object outside of itself. It is a work of interior union and of identification in divine charity. One knows God by becoming one with him. One apprehends him by becoming the object of his infinite mercies.


Self Evaluation

Some practical questions to evaluate your meditation:

  • Have you noticed any changes in your ability to concentrate, in meditation and otherwise?
  • Have you noticed differences in your mental and emotional activity on days when you meditated or not?
  • How would you describe your meditation experience in general?
  • What different stages can you discern and recognise in your process of meditating?
  • What are your most frequently occurring distractions and obstacles in meditation?
  • What could you do to NOT get up after meditation and lose and forget all that you have just worked for and experienced, and to NOT immediately fall back into the usual, habitual mode of unconscious emotionalised thinking and acting?

We should not forget that all the great ideas discussed in this newsletter represent a kind of ideal scenario, and that meditation in reality can be a bit more messy and erratic at times. Maybe one of the most important lessons for us beginners (and we are all beginners on this immeasurable path) might be to stop judging ourselves for our lovely shortcomings, for the bad behaviour of our disobedient and ill-mannered minds, our lack of patience, the persistence of our desires, needs and wants, and our stiff and ever ageing bodies.

Further Resources

If you would like to continue to explore some of the above topics, I recommend to maybe start by listening to this one episode of James Finley’s podcast, Turning to the Mystics, Thomas Merton: Session 7

And/or consider some of the following resources:

Some Books:
Ram Dass, Be Here Now (1971)
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now (1997)
Any books from or about: Kabir, Ramakrishna, Osho, Sufis or Bhagats

Some Video Documentaries:
Ram Dass, Fierce Grace (2001)
Crazy Wisdom, The Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (2011)
Awake – The Life of Yogananda (2014)

Ram Dass, Here and Now, Ep 112: The Notion of Ego with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,,

James Finley: Turning to the Mystics

"The most important things in life are things we simply have to accept or we’ll go crazy inside, and they’re the things we can’t explain to anybody, including ourselves."
Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968)
Monk, Mystic, Writer

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