We Are Always Meditating

by | Feb 15, 2021 | Challenges, Insight, Meaning, Missing Pieces, Self-Development

Far from being an exotic or elite practice, meditation is a normal activity common to all human
beings. What we call ‘meditation’ is really just self-awareness. There is no one who is not self-
aware to some degree; however, not everyone is consciously self-aware, or deeply self-aware. To
start, I want to make the distinction between ‘self-awareness’ and what is commonly called,
‘self-consciousness.’ Being conscious of the self is ‘self-awareness;’ being insecure about the
self, is what is usually meant by ‘self-consciousness’ – an unfortunate misuse of language. Self-
awareness is absolutely necessary for self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is absolutely necessary
for full self-empowerment.

To avoid a similar misuse of the word ‘meditation,’ in this essay, meditation will refer to the
methods used for conscious and deliberate cultivation of a deepened self-awareness. As with the
acquisition of any skill, success and speed of success will depend on the degree of conscious
effort. One may fairly ask why something as seemingly automatic as self-awareness requires a
conscious effort? The answer is that our normal level of self-awareness is automatic and doesn’t
require much effort at all. We can sleepwalk our way from birth to death with little or no effort,
but experience has taught us that life is more friendly to effort than non-effort, and to conscious,
rather than unconscious living. Pain is always waiting to remind us of the heavy price we pay for
unconscious living. Pain is not just physical impulses; much of its power is psychological. In my
personal experience, nothing reduces pain better than the acquisition of deeper self-knowledge.
As self-knowledge deepens, the foundation for life becomes more solid, an inner atmosphere of
peace and joy arises, and hidden capacities begin to reveal themselves.

There are many methods of meditation, but the key element in all of them is a conscious effort. In
its broadest sense, meditation can be defined as ‘conscious effort aimed at increased self-
awareness.’ Meditation and mindfulness are just degrees of that same conscious effort. In
mindfulness, we are outwardly active but remain inwardly self-aware and mindful of our purpose
and intent. In meditation, our purpose and intent are entirely inward, there is no division of our
focus at all. Our concentration is one-pointed and fully focused.

In the beginning and for a long time after that, you will want a place for meditation where
external distractions are minimized. This will help you develop the one-pointed concentration required to penetrate all the internal
distractions that arise within us. One might ask, “What is there to penetrate?” The answer is
anything that detracts from or disrupts the silent stillness of our meditation – the ‘noise’ of
random thoughts, disturbing feelings, restlessness, anger, self-doubt, insecurity, even physical
pain. The Zen phrase ‘dropping off body and mind’ means stepping away from these distractions
for long enough to commune peacefully with our deeper self.

Human consciousness is a lot like an ocean, the deeper we go, the calmer it gets. Don’t worry –
nothing is actually dropped. Body and mind continue to function in meditation, but we
consciously ignore the sensations they create. We turn our attention away from all sensations and
allow ourselves to drop down into a deep inner silence. In one ancient teaching essay, it was said,
“Even if 84,000 idle thoughts arise, each and every one of them can become The Light of
Indiscriminate Wisdom, if you deny them your attention and simply let them go.” In the ordinary
mind, we attach ourselves to and identify with thoughts and feelings, we cling to them
constantly. In the enlightened mind, we let thoughts go their own way, while we identify with the
luminosity of inner silence and the deep self. [link to Silence, Please!]

An Exercise in Silent Self-Observation

Sit comfortably in meditation. [link to Upright and Erect blog] Take a few deep breaths. Begin
by observing your body and posture. After a few minutes, move your attention inward, and
observe your thoughts without being caught up in them. Observe the energy created by those
thoughts, however subtle it might be. Don’t judge, negate, or try to correct anything; just
observe. Thoughts and feelings usually begin to subside when observed in this way. Finally, turn
your attention away from all thoughts and feelings and dive deep into the silence within.
If you are worried or feeling upset when you begin to meditate, you may find unwanted thoughts
and feelings becoming ‘louder’ and more assertive or even more extreme. There are two
effective ways to deal with this. The first is to completely ignore them and concentrate entirely
on the silence within. If you can do this, unwanted sensations will fade away. If you are unable
to focus on silence, then focus on a sound, image, or single pleasant thought. Concentrating on a
mandala, candle flame, or icon (spiritual image), or chanting a mantra (OM for example), or
singing a devotional or light-hearted song can dispel the unwanted disturbance. It must be said
that while ignoring disturbing thoughts and emotional pain can be an effective way to dismiss
them during specific periods of meditation, persistent depression or emotional disturbance should
be addressed as a medical problem requiring professional attention.

Don’t be surprised if you find you cannot completely silence your thoughts, or cause negative
feelings to completely disappear. Complete success in meditation is an advanced skill that takes
years of dedicated practice. In the meantime, don’t make the hope for perfection the enemy of
the good. Just practice faithfully with your best effort. Results will come. Right from the
beginning, meditation brings rewards and each step forward leads to deeper and more lasting
satisfaction.

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