I fell into the trap of assuming that a little meditation is as good as a lot. But I’ve rediscovered recently that a lot is so much better than a little.
I’d fallen into the habit of snatching 20-40 minutes a day (max), usually skipping it altogether at the weekends. I was labouring under a fantasy that where meditation was concerned, I was done, and it had no surprises left.
What switched me back on was a simple craving for some peace. So I sat for a whole hour, twice in a day, and noticed how much easier it was to do the same the following day. This was the first thing I’d forgotten: more meditation gives you more energy (to expend on whatever you wish.)
I’d also assumed that, after fourth path, meditators no longer experience the cycles of insight. Yet after sitting again for 1-2 hours per day, rather than 20 minutes, it was easier to see that they do – it’s just that the cycles can turn quite fast. Sitting occasionally for 20 minutes simply isn’t conducive to a firm grip on where we are.
Then I had the shock of my life when I ran into a fruition! Conscious thought faded and I was watching my mind forming a dream. I recognised it as one I’d dreamt a few weeks before, yet it was unfolding all over again from its beginning, in real time. I was not remembering the dream, but experiencing it over again, except also watching it fully conscious. This blurring of thinking and dreaming, remembering and experiencing, changed the usual mental landscape into something completely alien and indescribable, and – pop – a fruition. The afterglow lasted a couple of days.
Here’s how a typical one-hour sit generally plays out for me.
To begin with, there’s awareness of the broken mechanism of self. The act of looking fails to join with any trace of a looker. Looking is like scanning a mobius strip of experience, failing ever to find its non-existent other side.
Yet this is only ‘failure’ from the perspective of the looker – and he’s not to be found anyway. So eventually the ‘brokenness’ yields to what is truly the background to experience, which remains uncreated and boundless. This I’ve come to regard as the living, working presence of the Holy Spirit.
Concentration and mental quietness can heighten the connection, bringing into awareness experiential insights. These might include the compassion inherent in existence: how everything is allowed to arise from nothing, and vanish back into it without trace; or how God is that which is absolutely unlimited by Itself, which makes It so good, It even accommodates that which isn’t good at all.
When it occurs to me that I’m not as focused as I could be, or that the mind is wandering, then concentration is exposed as a fraud. Because if ‘this’ isn’t already what I’m trying to make my focus, then just what the hell else do I suppose there is? The whole concept of ‘concentration’ is senseless!
This realisation quickly puts the kibosh on thought. It kills ‘intentional’ mental activity stone dead. Internal chatter falls silent. Dreams still arise, but can be watched consciously. I might even fall asleep, but can be conscious of sleeping.
If awareness remains alert, without lapsing into a murky identification with the content of dreams, eventually the dreams, too, fade out. What’s left is the milky-blue radiance of an impersonal consciousness with no content or commentary. (Which is rather relaxing.)
I might stumble across any of these insights or states, or stumble out again. Towards the end, usually I begin to feel bored, restless, or hit some other form of suffering – because that’s what happens when human beings sit dead-still on their arses for a while.
As the suffering grows louder than other sensations, I turn my mind into it. Or if I find my mind turning away, I turn my mind into how it’s turning away. If it becomes unbearable, I turn my mind into its being unbearable. Because if ‘unbearable’ can be looked at, how is it unbearable? And if it can’t be looked at, then how do I know ‘unbearable’ is what it is?
There’s no escape from consciousness. Always here. Always effortless.
Finally, meditating for longer seems to re-open the gate to paranormal experiences. The 13th of this month was the anniversary of my father’s death. He was also born on the 13th, and had moved into a house numbered 13 a few months before he died.
So I sat for an hour on the 13th this month, before it was light. Nothing remarkable happened, and I wasn’t expecting anything. At the end of the session, my stopwatch sounded – but didn’t give its usual 20 beeps. It got just over half-way, then crapped out. When I picked it up, it was flashing ‘12:00’ and had reset. It had never done this before and I assumed the batteries had died. But, after resetting the correct time, it has worked fine since.
I wish I’d mentally counted the beeps, as I often do. Something tells me I would’ve reached 13. A coincidence, of course. But meaningful coincidences seem to come a little thicker and faster when I’m putting in more time on the cushion.
No prizes for guessing my resolution for 2013. Happy New Year, everybody!