Meditation Handbook

Christopher Calder

Meditation is inner astronomy. You discover the stars, the moon, and the sun are all inside you.

What is Meditation?

Most dictionaries define the Western (Jewish, Christian, Islamic) meaning of the word "meditation," but usually do not describe the Eastern (Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist) concept of meditation. The most appropriate dictionary definition I could find reads as follows: "If you meditate, you give your attention to one thing, and do not think about anything else, usually as a religious activity or as way of calming or relaxing your mind." This definition very subtly implies that meditation means thinking about something, be it religious or mystical in nature, and that a constant thought process goes on while one meditates. The purest Eastern definition of the word 'meditation' means not thinking at all, but rather focusing the consciousness on the cosmic whole, "the all and the everything" as George Gurdjieff called it, without thought, judgment, or distraction.

We define the word 'meditation' here as the art of consciousness becoming aware of itself on the grand and cosmic scale. Meditation cannot honestly be called a science because any real science requires objective testing, which is not currently possible for the practice of meditation. The real art of meditation is beyond thought, beyond society, and beyond time.

Why meditate?

Meditation brings a sense of fullness and completion and is the only permanent source of tranquility available to human beings. All other forms of serenity are temporary and dissolve into conflict and chaos over time. The euphoria of drugs quickly lead to misery and self-destruction. The wholesomeness of love, so beautiful and ethereal, is a relatively short lived and fleeting experience. As J. Krishnamurti said: "Meditation brings order and "That order is the order of the universe. It is irrevocable and doesn't depend on anything." Meditation is the eternal essence of nature taking on conscious form within the mortal human frame.

Meditation is also an adventure of self-discovery. How can you live without knowing who or what you are? If someone asks you who you are during the day you may state your name, as if a temporary label actually means something important. Ask yourself who you are when you are in deep sleep, unconscious and without even a dream to prove that you exist at all. Ask yourself who you were ten months before you were born and who you will be just one moment after your body dies. Meditation increases awareness of the natural phenomena that is actually going on behind your own eyes. Self-knowledge has intrinsic value, even without the indescribable bliss nature generously unleashes in those who practice meditation with sincerity and patience.

Sitting Meditation

Classic sitting meditation is a vital part of all meditation traditions and has taken many forms, some more effective than others. Some traditional approaches demand that the student sit motionless for hours on end, as if becoming a human statue is the only key to enlightenment. A more scientific approach does not make the human body our enemy, but rather works with our natural physiology to allow more intense meditation with less effort and discomfort. Masochism is not an effective path to self-realization.

Begin by finding a relatively quiet place to meditate where you will not be disturbed. You may sit cross legged on a meditation pillow on the floor or in a comfortable chair. Eyes may be fully open, half open, or just slightly open, letting in just two small slits of light. Sitting meditation with the eyes fully closed, especially in a darkened room, presents fundamental physiological problems.

When you sit quietly with your eyes closed in darkness, your brain interprets this situation as a signal to start shutting itself down for sleep. Sleep inducing hormones such as melatonin are released that make you drowsy at the same time your circulation and heart rate are reduced due to lack of movement. You feel as if swept away on a sea of quiet relaxation. This pleasant feeling may just be light sleep state hypnosis, not meditation. Meditation means that you are relaxed as if sleeping but your consciousness is fully awake.

To achieve a positive combination of deep relaxation and heightened awareness, keep your eyes open at least slightly. If your eyes are fully closed the room must remain brightly lit so that some light passes through the eyelids. The second defense against sleepiness is to break up your meditation into three fifteen minute sessions that are easy for your body to tolerate. Sit quietly for fifteen minutes, then stand for two minutes, then sit for another fifteen minutes, then stand for two minutes, then sit for a final fifteen minute session. This 49 minute technique can be done once a day, twice a day, or three times a day for intense practice. You can time yourself by making a tape recording with the sound of a bell or a gong to let you known when to stand up, sit down, and begin and end the meditation.

This technique largely eliminates the problem of cramps, soreness, and numbness in legs often experienced by students attempting to sit for longer periods of time than the body was naturally made to sit. The standing breaks increase blood circulation which helps wakefulness. Comfort is maintained and we avoid the light sleep state hypnosis problem mentioned earlier.

The transitions between sitting and standing in this method are an opportunity to practice meditation in action. Normally, unless we are physically ill, our waking lives are spent in motion and activity. Meditation must not be thought of as something that is done only in a physically rigid state far removed from the world of work and play. The goal is to become meditative continuously so that your very being becomes cosmically conscious, permanently and irrevocably. When you stand up and sit down during these meditation sessions, feel the inner flow of meditation continue. Observe that your body is moving but your existential identity remains the same.

What do you do while sitting?

The most basic approach to meditation is to relax, let go, and do nothing. Surrender to the moment and watch yourself as a silent witness. If thoughts come to mind, then observe the thoughts without adding to them by your active participation. Be a detached and passive observer and simply feel your most basic and fundamental being. This inherently immense being has been respectfully called the ground of being.

The enlightened teacher J. Krishnamurti used the term "choiceless awareness" to describe his own meditation method. This means being conscious without the thought process choosing something smaller than your vast fundamental being to focus on. Consciousness is like a glass ball floating in the depth of space. Light and sensory input flows into the field of consciousness from all directions. When you think, you focus your attention on just one area of sensory input or you create a thought from memory stored within the brain. With choiceless awareness you are not thinking or remembering, just floating and letting sensory input flow through you from all directions without manipulating that input with the thought process. You live in the moment and become totally open. This openness attracts energy from all sides of the universe which pushes you even higher.

Krishnamurti's choiceless awareness is the same "methodless method" that Zen monks call "mindfulness." Hindu yogis sometimes call it "one pointed vision." A more accurate term might be "one object vision." This means that you observe yourself, the sky, the trees, and the entire universe as one object. You no longer see the world as a multitude of parts and disconnected events. Instead, you accurately perceive the observer and the observed as exactly the same thing, with no artificial wall of separation blocking the limits of consciousness. This singular entity becomes acutely aware of itself in all its vastness. The one cosmic being, as Krishnamurti said, is "beyond time" and is "untouched by thought." The revered sage Ramana Maharshi described it as "infinite" and "bigger than the human race."

Another useful method is to lend special awareness to the breathing process felt in the belly. Just behind and below your navel (belly button) lies the hara. The hara is a natural balancing point of your consciousness that can be thought of as the center of your subtle body. No one really knows what the hara actually is, but we can use it to our advantage. When your consciousness is centered at the hara instead of in the head, your thinking process slows down and can even stop. When the thinking process slows down, you can relax in the expanded world of pure being. Trying to stop distracting thoughts by will power alone often leads to even more thoughts and a self-defeating inner struggle. By transferring your center of awareness to the hara, thoughts gradually disappear on their own without any inner conflict. This is why you see Buddha statues with a big belly. This is an esoteric message that the hara is a key to meditation.

Sit quietly and focus on your belly as it moves in and out as you breathe. Over time, the hara point will become more noticeable as your meditation grows stronger. We all feel the hara when startled or in intense danger. Sudden emergencies, such as near collisions on the highway, tend to activate the hara center. You get a "gut reaction" from sudden danger. You can nourish the feeling of the hara by simply paying passive attention to it. This relaxed concentration is very close to doing nothing yet it is still a subtle effort. Drinking herb tea or hot water before meditation sessions relaxes the gut and facilitates awareness of the hara. Overeating and consuming cold drinks tends to make hara awareness more difficult.

Here is a picture of Ramana Maharshi. If you look deeply into the photograph you can sense his hara point. Energy from all corners of the universe is flooding into his powerful hara center. Observe the look of sublime contentment on his face.

My unproven theory is that the hara is a nerve bundle located within the human brain, not located inside the human belly. We all feel our bodies indirectly through the brain, which forms an analog image of our physical body via complex patterns of nerve cells located within the brain. If you stub your toe you do not feel your injured toe directly, rather you feel the neural analog image of your toe sending the rest of your brain and consciousness intense signals of pain. Thus if you sever the neural lines of communication between your toe and your brain by cutting your spinal cord, you will feel no pain at all, not even if your toe is completely crushed. Amputees who have a leg cut off often feel a "phantom leg," which is just the neural analog image of their physical leg still active and sending out signals within the brain. We all live in our brains and the brain is all we really know of our personal self and the universe.

When you concentrate on the hara point, it is like going to the basement of your brain, the most fundamental level of the brain's consciousness where all the major switches are located. You can run around your house turning off lights one by one, or you can go to the basement and just turn off the main circuit breaker with far less effort. In the same way by resting in the hara center you can more easily turn off thoughts. Speaking more accurately, you can ignore thoughts altogether like a flock of noisy birds flying overhead. Going to the hara center slows down the thought process and can even bring it to an absolute halt.

J. Krishnamurti's method was to observe thoughts and by doing so increase awareness. The more you use awareness the stronger it grows in the same way your muscles grow with the stimulation of exercise. My own preferred method is to drop the thinking process immediately and directly by going to the hara center and simply relaxing there. When centered in the hara, cosmic consciousness comes easily and naturally.

Subjectively, my own hara feels like a magnet for cosmic energy and I get the sensation of being filled up with the universe, as an ocean flowing into a quiet pool of water. The distractions of the ordinary tasks of living keep drawing me away from the hara center and up from the depths of meditation into the more superficial but pragmatically useful thinking centers of the brain. Thus I am still just student of meditation who needs to spend time every day in formal meditation sessions to keep myself centered in that sensuous and quiet center of the hara.

The sensation of going to the hara is one of falling into a warm and friendly space which is somehow associated with the belly. The hara's association with the belly may be due to the fact that gaining nourishment is the most essential task of survival, and our brains and consciousness evolved from less complicated forms of life which were almost entirely food oriented. What better place to locate the fundamental control center of consciousness than at the belly's analog image point located within the brain? The secret of going to the hara center is to let go of the thinking center of the brain and just fall into it, without attachment to the world of needs and desires.

WARNING: Avoid the use of mantras and long repetitive chanting. Repeating the same words over and over is a method of forgetfulness which will bore the mind and leads to the light sleep state hypnosis problem mentioned earlier. I would define a mantra as the repetition of words, usually meaningless, for a period of two minutes or more. Mantras have traditionally been used for hours on end by students who become mentally calmed and dulled by their use.

The use of meaningful incantations, described in detail in the next section, is quite different than mantras use and can help bring consciousness to greater clarity. Words can help because the human brain is a word machine. Our minds are computers that process symbols, and words are symbols. For example, repeating the words "I am the space...I am the space...I have always been the space" for a period of up to two minutes can be very helpful in focusing consciousness on the infinite. Do it much longer and the words lose their meaning. The exercise then degrades into a mantra, defeating the purpose of increasing wakefulness.

Mantras have proven to be medically helpful for some because they can unleash hormones that temporarily calm the mind. Mantras are healthier than taking tranquilizers, but are fundamentally different from meditation, which relies on the purifying fire of self-observation. Self-observation is a difficult task that requires courage and an endurance of character and spirit. Real meditation has the real payoff of leading to a naturally calm and expanded state of consciousness, not just an artificially silenced mind that remains fundamentally shallow.

A Self-Inquiry Incantation

There are powerful words that can help your meditation, but they form a strategic questioning, not a mantra. Ramana Maharshi was a beloved Indian teacher who reached enlightenment through self-inquiry, by asking the most fundamental question "Who am I?" Here is a self-inquiry technique that expands Ramana Maharshi's method to make it even more powerful. Speak out loud the following incantation with total intensity before and/or during formal sitting meditation sessions. By the term "total intensity" I mean the same level of intensity you would feel if you were just told that you had only one hour left to live. Be emotional, be Italian, use your hands and body language if it helps. Plead with the universe the following question:

What is this ball of consciousness?...What is this ball of consciousness?...What is this ball of consciousness? - You can repeat this question up to a dozen times if the spirit moves you.

I am not this!...I am not this!...I am not this!

I am the space...I am the space...I have always been the space. - You can repeat this statement up to a dozen times.

I cut these bonds of attachment now! - This last phrase is optional.

Do these words sound silly? Laughter is good for meditation and the words are humorous, but the method itself is deeply serious and actually works, often with startling, electrically shocking power. You invoke this questioning incantation from the hara center, not from the head. Resonate the words deep inside you, without thinking of intellectual explanations of who you are. Just asking this question is purifying and ennobling. Self-inquiry is a very fundamental and innocent endeavor, and you need an innocent and totally open mind to see reality directly, without the distortions of memory and thought.

Over time you will find the words become a trigger mechanism which allows you to instantly drop all peripheral involvement and come home to your true cosmic being. We all have the same essential being and that being is cosmic. No one is left out of this universe. If you are a part of the universe you are all of the universe! The small 'I' is dropped and only the big 'I' remains. Then you can have a good belly laugh and that is the way I end most of my own meditation sessions. I meditate until I start laughing from the hara center. Then I know I am cooked!

The statement "I am not this!" means that you are not just the temporary world of illusion that Hindus call maya, the ever changing peripheral world of transient events. You are the changeless being beyond the realm of the senses. Your identity extends far beyond birth and death and beyond simple pleasure and pain. You are the infinite void from which all is born. That is the meaning of the statement "I have always been the space." Nothing is bigger than space and space contains all that exists.

When speaking the optional phrase, "I cut these bonds of attachment now!," it helps to slap the back of the right hand against the palm of the left hand upon saying the word "now!" Reverse hands if you are left handed. This creates a loud cracking sound which adds drama and helps wake up the central nervous system. You can use this questioning technique only at the beginning of formal sitting meditation sessions or you can repeat the incantation every five to ten minutes during the session to help keep yourself focused. Combining this self-inquiry incantation with the mirror gazing technique described below creates a super-method of great power and intensity.

Word exercises are not for all students of meditation. If you try them and feel nothing then concentrate on other methods first. As you slowly change your methods will change with you. A method that is unusable now may be of great help to you in the future.

Mirror Gazing

Some students find the use of a mirror virtually doubles the power of their meditation sessions. Sit in front of a mirror and gaze into the reflected image, setting your focus just above the head so that you view the wall behind you. Looking directly at the face or eyes may be too intense an experience for many students, or may lead to silly concern about personal appearance. Using this technique, one only views the physical body as a shadowy peripheral silhouette. Continue gazing for twenty minutes, allowing the eyes to deeply relax their focus.

Enjoy the mirror gazing for twenty minutes, then stand for two minutes, maintaining the heightened awareness as you change position. Then resume sitting in quiet meditation for a further twenty minutes with eyes almost totally closed, allowing in just two slits of light. This mirror gazing technique takes forty two minutes, but may be extended to one full hour if desired, with eyes open and eyes closed sections remaining equal. Please practice this method no more than once a day to avoid eye strain. Strong meditation techniques are medicine and you should not overdose on any one particular method. Combining the mirror gazing technique with the self-inquiry incantation previously detailed can increase its effectiveness tremendously, creating a super-method.

Eye Gazing

To do this technique you must have a partner of the opposite sex, preferably someone you love. It is similar to the mirror gazing technique described above except you that look into the eyes of your loved one. Sit together, staring softly into your partners eyes for twenty minutes. Then stand silently for two minutes. Then sit in quiet meditation with eyes almost totally closed for a further twenty minutes. This technique can readily lead to romantic intimacy so pick your partner carefully.

Cathartic Dancing Meditation

Cathartic Dancing Meditation is a cosmic powerhouse that can be used by students in good health with a normal cardiovascular system. As it is a physically strenuous exercise, one should get a complete physical examination by a competent doctor before experimenting with this technique. Explain the method to your doctor and ask if it would be physically dangerous for you to do. He won't understand your motives for wanting to do it but he can tell you if he thinks your body and heart can safely handle it. As with jogging or mountain climbing, you must practice this method at your own risk.

Cathartic Dancing Meditation is similar to Rajneesh Dynamic Meditation but is simpler, easier to do, and is more likely to keep you interested month after month, year after year. Neither method is really new. Sufis, Druids, and countless other esoteric and tribal cultures have used similar techniques for centuries. Most students will benefit from doing Cathartic Dancing Meditation daily for a period of between one and five years. After five years it has usually done its job and the student can move on to more subtle techniques.

Cathartic Dancing Meditation changes you from head to toe and benefits all the other meditation methods you may practice. It also helps develop a powerful hara center and raise the kundalini. "Kundalini" (k¢n´de-lê´nê) is a noun of Hindu origin meaning physical and sexual energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine. It is activated through esoteric kundalini practice. This energy is directed through the kundalini channel in the etheric body upward to the top of the head. I am reluctant to bring up the subject of kundalini because of the common misrepresentations of its manifestations. I feel compelled to inform you, however, that this physically vigorous meditation method is the most powerful kundalini awakening technique I know of. Cathartic Dancing Meditation has three stages and lasts for forty minutes.

Stage #1 (ten minutes) Start by standing with your eyes closed and breathe deep and fast through your nose continuously. If you are only physically capable of doing deep breathing for five minutes then reduce the length of the first stage without feeling guilty. Remember that you are doing this method to help your meditation, not to physically injure yourself. Allow your body to move freely as you breathe. You can jump up and down, sway back and forth, or use any physical motion that helps you pump more oxygen into your lungs.

Stage #2 (twenty minutes) The second stage is a celebration of catharsis and wild and spontaneous dancing. Let go totally and act as an ancient human dancing in tribal celebration. Energetic, nonverbal background music is highly recommended. African tribal drum music works especially well. You may roll on the ground and do strange spontaneous body movements. Allow the body to move within the limits of not hurting yourself or others. For once in your life screaming is encouraged. You must act out any anger you may have in a safe way, such as beating the earth with your hands. All the suppressed emotions from your subconscious mind are to be released. If at anytime during the second stage you feel that your energy level is starting to decline you can resume deep and fast breathing to give yourself a boost.

Stage #3 (ten minutes) This stage is complete relaxation and quiet. Flop down on your back, get comfortable, and just let go. Be as if a dead man totally surrendered to the cosmos. Enjoy the tremendous energy you have unleashed in the first two stages and be a silent witness to it. Observe the feeling of the ocean flowing into the drop. Become the ocean.

This spontaneous dancing meditation technique is intended to grow with the student and change as the student changes. After a few years of vigorously practicing this method, the first two stages of the meditation may drop away spontaneously. You may then begin the meditation by taking a few deep breaths and immediately go deep into the ecstasy of the third stage. If practiced correctly this method is health giving and fun.

WARNING: Obviously one must practice Cathartic Dancing Meditation in a safe location and not near the edge of a cliff or on a hard surface where one might fall and break one's skull. A large room or hall with thick carpeting is good. Outdoors in the early morning on a soft and well tended lawn with group participation is best. Do it on an empty stomach and avoid falling into dangerous objects such as windows. It is allowable to briefly open one's eyes occasionally to maintain your location. Create a safety zone around your dancing and spontaneous body movements. Be courteous to neighbors and delete the screaming if it will be heard by others.

Almost all Westerners are head oriented and emotionally repressed. For us a chaotic, spontaneous, and emotionally cleansing technique like Cathartic Dancing Meditation is vital for serious progress to be made quickly. The physical benefits of this technique obviate any need for hatha yoga or traditional kundalini yoga methods. Cathartic Dancing Meditation is so multidimensional in its effects and benefits that it deserves the designation of a super-method.

Source: Image: © N/A. Photo:


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