Meditation is to create an environment where all stimuli become repetitive (like the stimuli of your clothes on your skin) until your conscious brain ignores all incoming sense perceptions; meaning, until there is nothing left outside of you to be conscious of, while still being awake.
Hence, the senses have to be compromised either by isolating them from any stimulus (as is done with the sense of taste) or by exposing them to a repetitive and regular stimulus that overwhelms irregular ones. Thus, the sense of smell is locked by keeping all windows and doors closed (when indoors) or by producing a scent that overwhelms any other, such as lighting up incense. The sense of touch is locked by avoiding all physical contact, aside from what is already on the body, or by touching an object in a repetitive rhythmic fashion, such as the rotating of beads. To lock the sense of sight, it's best that one focuses on just one object and not shift to any other, preferably located on the ground near them so as to allow the eye muscles and eyelids to be at rest. Another option is to close the eyes, but some believe the former is preferred to avoid falling asleep. And finally, the sense of hearing is locked through total quietness. But since that is not always easy to achieve, a soothing and regular rhythm, such as a waterfall or background music, can be used to overwhelm unexpected noise.
It's important that the meditation does not lead to sleep, which is often the result of creating the aforementioned atmosphere. Hence, lying down is out of the question, since it's the fastest way to douse one into sleep. And standing up would wear one's legs tired and make one lose focus. This is why the seated position is most suitable for meditation. Through trial and error over the course of centuries, it was found that sitting up with a straight back and legs crossed in the lotus position happens to be the least tiring and least sleep-inducing position1, shown in the adjacent image. The goal is to not want to change positions, for otherwise the meditation would be interrupted by shifting consciousness to physical movement. Sitting on a comfortable, unreclined chair, with legs and arms at rest, is a less preferable yet valid substitute. Moreover, a series of body stretches before the commencement of the meditation can greatly reduce restlessness during meditation. And last but not least, one should regulate the rhythm of their breathing, ideally: inhaling deep through the nose (4 secs), holding breath in (2 secs), and slowly exhaling through the mouth (8 secs). Very soon the breathing should take its course subconsciously.
Once all the senses have been conditioned not to receive new and varying stimuli from without, the mind will turn inwards as it then will have nothing else to be conscious of except one's thoughts: imagination, feelings, and memories.
In order to lose consciousness of one's thoughts (this part is the most difficult, and usually takes a long time), one has to focus and concentrate until one recurring pattern of thoughts is achieved. And through concentration the mind narrows that pattern until it consists of just one thought, put on repeat, at the point of which the cogs and wheels of consciousness are submerged into nebula - the mind that is already unconscious of all external stimuli now loses consciousness of inner thoughts. And with nothing to be conscious of, the subconscious takes over completely while the mind is still awake. That is the moment when transcendence takes place.
Transcendence, according to philosophers, is the act of "becoming free from the limitations inherent in matter," and that it takes place, as we have just pointed out, "beyond consciousness.2" In this final stage of meditation, this reaching of the mountain's peak, one becomes unconscious of time and space. There are no precise words to describe it because words were created to describe the physical world. Those who achieve transcendence get plugged into some kind of a universal subconscious, where energy flows freely.
To a strictly mathematical mind, what was said above does not satisfy the basic axioms of logic. But understand that the mathematical mind belongs in the world of consciousness - it's not meant to understand the subconscious. Metaphysicists, now joined by quantum physicists, know for a fact that the quantum world (the building blocks of our visible world) does not function under any parameter of logic. To put it simply, you can't take your logic kit with you into the transcendent world.
Why Meditate in the First Place?
The earthly benefits of this meditation are not only acquired at the destination (at transcendence), but also on the journey to and (more importantly) back from transcendence. Meaning, if transcendence was not achieved the attempt itself is fruitful. When one returns to the physical world (the illusive world3) of consciousness, they return much wiser and much cooler, because all the troubles of the world look so minute from the eye of the transcendent mind.
And when meditation sessions become more regular, some of the effects of transcendence remain with us in the hustle and bustle of daily life. One who is aware and periodically reminded of the illusive nature of this world would no longer be too bothered or annoyed by its minor turbulences, which would then appear more trivial and irrelevant. If someone borrowed your jacket and did not return it, lend him another one. If it helps, you can let yourself see that you probably have too many jackets, most of which you never wear any more. Or perhaps it was time to buy a new one, and so giving up the old one to a friend was not a bad idea. If your sister argued with you and pushed you or slapped you, be willing to turn the other cheek, and in so doing, she will see in your eyes, right then or later, how narrow her horizon was when she allowed anger to consume her. If, today, someone stole the hundred dollar bill that was in your wallet, tomorrow a friend will offer you tickets to a concert he decided not to go to; tickets you would have gladly spent over a hundred dollars on.
In essence, meditation calms the mind, and the calm mind grows less busy with petty problems and shifts the stream of thoughts onto bigger and holistic matters, or on how to resolve obstacles with more fruitful methods. The calm mind is a wiser and more thoughtful mind, and it can see the value in virtues, and the virtue in values. It gradually becomes the virtuous mind, and the virtuous mind is one that draws other minds towards it and inspires them, like the sun draws the flowers and causes them to bloom in its presence. In short, meditation helps us see more clearly what ancient philosophers and prophets have described as the Straight Path.
Diving In vs. Diving Up
There is another instance in the human experience where the subconscious completely takes over: dreams. While asleep, the mind swims upward into a frequency that is just below wakefulness, known as the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase. During this phase, which occurs several times during sleep, the brain's neural activity is almost identical to that of the awake brain, which led scientists to put REM in a separate category from all other brain activities during sleep. It is during REM that we dream.
The similarity between dreams and transcendence through meditation reveals to us something very important, namely, that our bodies and minds need meditation. While psychologists are unable to conclusively explain the results of their tests, these results remain unchallenged. Among them:
- The more an individual is deprived of sleep, the faster he sleeps and the faster his brain neural activity turns into REM.
- The more an individual is deprived of sleep, the longer and more recurring his REM sessions become when asleep.
- A person is in her most creative mode during REM. If she is lucky to wake up during REM (that is, during a dream), the creativity that can pour out of her in the waking world is unmatched in power and variety.
- A person who is deprived of sleep for several days begins to hallucinate, as though the dream world is converging with the waking world. Hallucinations become more intense the longer one is deprived of sleep.
From all the above we learn that for whatever purpose we dream, the act of dreaming itself appears to be extremely crucial for the well-being of the human mind and body. Likewise, it is almost impossible to find a psychologist or a physiologist who does not recommend meditation - this act of switching off the conscious mind - as a way to lead a healthier life in all its four dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
July 1, 2013.
- This may require some training and practice before one's body is used to it. Inexperienced bodies may start with the half-lotus position, then later upgrade to the full-lotus position.
- "Transcendence." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 16 Jun. 2013. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/transcendence.
- For centuries, the argument over the physical and non-physical worlds, what is real and what is illusion, has finally been settled with science, thanks to Einstein and the quantum world he discovered. Although we are unable to say much about the non-physical world, we know that it is more real than the physical world – that the physical world is an illusion is no longer disputed. It's the familiar line from the philosophical sci-fi movie, The Matrix, when the child monk says to Neo: "Do not try and bend the spoon. That is impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth," to which Neo asks: "what truth?" and the child answers: "there is no spoon." Read more on this in the Godless Universe.