Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On the Natural State

The following is some words I wrote to students very recently on the nature of meditation. I wrote this in response to some common misconceptions I have come across with various students.

Hi everyone,

After our discussion today in class and then further discussion after class I realized that there are still some misconceptions out there about the nature of meditation.

One common misconception is that when we look at states of mind that are pre-thought we sometimes might think that we will be in a state of "nothingness". This blank state or nothing state can actually arise when we force all thoughts to a standstill and don't allow anything in, even clarity. This is not what we are seeking.

Meditation is not about destroying thought. Thought cannot be destroyed, only transformed. It is a fundamental law both of science as well as ancient Samkhya philosophy that nothing is created or destroyed. Understanding that we have to recognize that thought is like a wave returning to its basis: water.

But what is the basis of thought? What is the so called ground state? The ground state is what some call the Self, some call Emptiness, some call Consciousness, or Awareness Itself.

Regardless of what we call it, it is important during the process of meditation to recognize the ground state. What we could call the "natural state".

I like to think of it in similar terms to electrons naturally wanting to find their rest orbits within atoms. But oftentimes, the electrons get bumped up or excited and then the atoms live within an excited or heightened state, sometimes in configurations that are not as stable.

In the same way thought is like a heightened or excited state of consciousness in which the natural state is lost, awareness in effect "contracting around itself".

How do we recognize the natural state?

In the yoga sutras they tell us to first bring the mental state as a whole to a state of sattva, a place of clarity. Given that the hatha texts also tell us the intimate relationship of breath/energy (prana) and mind, we can infer that the energy of the bodily system as a whole should ideally be more sattvic or clear in nature. Diet, sleep, relationships, and taking care of ourselves on all levels influence the clear nature of the body. The mind is then much more prepared to rest.

Given the adjustment to external factors, we then relax. Relax on a whole level. It helps to learn to "feel" thoughts rather than "think" them. What does thought "feel" like on a deep bodily level? Learning to access thought through the body takes us to what Patanjali calls the instrumental level. We are no longer drawn into thought content but rather feel it as what it is : energy. Then, doing so we relax. We relax the breath. We let the breath even stop for some time.

Relaxing is not enough though. We then need to recognize very clearly and presently what IS present. What is it that reveals the presence or absence of thought? This is the background. The background or basis has a certain "flavor". It is one. It is present. It is clear. It is awareness. It is luminous. The more we "habituate" to the background, the more it welcomes us. This is the most important stage.

So to recap:

Get clear through practice (yoga, exercise, painting, whatever...), relax, recognize the basis.

Piece of cake.

One other word. The natural state requires nothing, so even these actions are in reality not necessary, but from the perspective of the heightened or excited state of thought which we live in most of our lives, we are not familiar with it and it takes some practice to in effect "reset ourselves".

Hope this is helpful.