Lawrence LeShan and Meditation : Mental Gymnastics

By Paulo Coelho

Lawrence LeShan was taking part in a scientific congress, when he noticed that a large number of people one would consider “rational”, practiced meditation every day. Intrigued, he tried to find out why they behaved in this way, so contrary to scientific practice. During four days of meetings, he was given all sorts of answers, until someone said: “it’s like returning home.” That was the only moment in which all the members of the group agreed on a definition.

From that moment on, LeShan began to research the benefits and doubts surrounding the practice of daily concentration, and the result is an interesting book, How to Meditate: a Guide to Self-Discovery. Here a some of the author’s conclusions:

Meditation is not the invention of a man, a religion, or a philosophical school, but the search by mankind to find himself. In many places, at different times, investigators of the human condition have concluded that we use very little of our potential to live, express ourselves, and participate.

We meditate to find, recover, or return to a wisdom and happiness which we subconsciously know we possess, but which the conflicts and challenges of our existence have pushed back into a dark corner of out mind. As we start giving ourselves a little time for daily concentration, we discover a higher level of conscience, which places us in harmony with our family and activities – increasing our capability to love, enjoy, and act in more effective ways.

Comparing meditation to gymnastics, LeShan says that a stranger might think it madness that a human being raises and lowers a bar weighed down with lead, over and over again, or pedals a bicycle which goes nowhere, or even walks on a belt which rolls below his feet; however the reason for these exercises is neither the lead, the bicycle nor the treadmill, but the effects these activities have on the organism of the person executing them.

Similarly, sitting motionless in a corner, counting one’s breathing, or concentrating on some strange symbols, are not the objective of meditation – they are merely the “physical” process which awakens a new state of consciousness.

Taking the comparison with gymnastics further, LeShan states that the large number of failures of meditation schools is due to the fact that teachers often try to impose a single standard on their students. If only they followed the example of gym teachers, who know that each person corresponds to a different series of physical exercises, they’d have far more chance of achieving their objectives.

A normal human being tends to repeat the same behavior, that which we call “routine”. With this, he starts to function like a machine, gradually losing his emotions and feelings; although he suffers greatly because life is always the same, this daily repetition of his activities gives him the (false) sensation of being fully in control of his universe. When the “routine” is threatened by an external factor, man panics, since he doesn’t know whether he’s capable of dealing with the new conditions.

In other words: we constantly want everything to change, and at the same time fight for everything to continue as it is.

Although meditation techniques have been developed or promoted by individuals who call themselves “mystics”, they aren’t necessarily linked to a search for spirituality, but rather an encounter with inner peace. Next week, we’ll talk about a few concentration techniques, but I’d like to end this column by paraphrasing Krishnamurti on this ancient and – nowadays – highly necessary art:

Meditation is not the control of your body, nor a breathing technique. We should assume the correct posture when we start to meditate – but the relationship with the body ends there.

Do not try to force one’s concentration, that will only cause anxiety; when we meditate properly, true concentration emerges. It doesn’t emerge from choosing certain thoughts, or freeing oneself from our emotions. It emerges because our soul seeks answers.

When we free ourselves from the necessity to guide things our way, we allow the divine flow to guide us to where we should be.”

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Comments

  1. marie-christine says:

    For me too “It’s like returning home, to the source>”

  2. Mandarawa says:

    For me meditation means concentration on chosen object. There are many objects of meditation like for example love or compassion. First I try to find my object through contemplation and once I found it I try to hold it with my concentration without allowing my mind to wonder. So for example if I want to meditate on love for others first I contemplate others kindness and through that I am able to develop feeling of love for them. Then I try to hold this feeling in my mind without distraction. If my mind wonders to different object that means that I lost my concentration. There are many different objects of meditation. Depending on what qualities I want to develop in my mind I choose appropriate object. In general meditation brings to my mind incredible feeling of peace. That is why I meditate. There is nothing else to compare with that. My mind receives such powerful blessings through meditation. Meditation makes you happy :-)

  3. Dimeji Alara says:

    Wow…PAULO COELHO, I HOPE YOU READ THIS BLOG. BECAUSE I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE LOVED FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD. AND THAT YOU ARE A GREAT ROLE MODEL.

  4. El Dormido says:

    I seek to attune the infinity within me with the infinity around me, to hear the heart of God and to flow with the procession of the Divine… Otherwise, I don’t know what I am doing in this world…

  5. Nanci says:

    I have a dear friend who once had the idea to go out into the world and experience one new thing a month. I took that practice, and changed it several months ago, to doing one new thing a week. What I found, by doing this, was that over a period of time I was becoming more aware of all the little daily occurrences that happen to me that go unrecorded in my life that are actually “new” experiences. For example, every conversation with a person in line at the check-out counter is a new experience. Every morning that I go for a walk, the temperature is a little warmer or cooler, the trees and the landscape are moving through the seasons, the wild turkeys search for food in different fields and yards. For me, it is the awareness of being in the moment that defines each moment as new and unique. Because of this understanding, I don’t have to do one new thing a week as it is all new as I pass though each and every moment.

    However, even though I know that each moment brings with it the possibility of a new experience, I still go through the motion of naming my new thing at the beginning of each week. Last week, it was to begin a meditation practice, even if it was for only 5 minutes a day. I have no mantra, I have no picture or shape that I focus on, I don’t tell myself to stop letting an emotion or a thought rise up. I just sat with myself, by myself.

    I agree with what you wrote in the blog about meditation is not about control of the body or of the breath. And, I know in my heart that there is no right way nor wrong way to meditate. What works for one may or may not work for another. “teachers often try to impose a single standard on their students…” I have found, through having been a teacher for many years, that the role of a teacher is to be a guide. It is the student that must teach him/herself.

    All I wish to do is become still enough to connect with what I call the universal flow. “Do not try to force one’s concentration, that will only cause anxiety; when we meditate properly, true concentration emerges. It doesn’t emerge from choosing certain thoughts, or freeing oneself from our emotions. It emerges because our soul seeks answers.” This feels right to me, even though I’m brand new to the whole concept of meditation as a practice. I do feel the importance of that word, “practice” with meditation.

    “When we free ourselves from the necessity to guide things our way, we allow the divine flow to guide us to where we should be.” I really like this ending sentence!

  6. Carmen Larisa says:

    Thank you very much dear Paulo for this text! It’s so true that meditation brings inner peace or better said helps us reveal our true Self, the Spirit. We want change but at the same time want the things to continue the way they are because we have the wrong impression that by doing that we have some sort of control over our lives. One of the greatest blessings in life is spontaneity and I learned a lot about it after discovering Sahaja Yoga and practising meditation.
    It is so refreshing to clear your mind of all thoughts and let the Holy Spirit flow through you! I wish all the world could experiment and believe in meditation because that way people would manifest their true potential, would allow the Divine Sparkle in them to glow.
    When meditating I really feel like coming Home and I wish I could stay like that forever! :-) It’s a sensation of protection, of feeling complete, of being Light and Love, of being my Self, there is nothing more you can wish for! It’s not about the posture anyway, it’s about the feelings, the great sensations you experiment, you become a better person that moment. Letting go means being relaxed, joyful, dancing in Spirit. We are all energy and nothing but divine energy. It’s also true that you should’t try to do something special, to force yourself to feel great, but only to surrender your past, your ego and just flow in the eternal present moment. In meditation you simply are, like in love and light!
    May God bless the whole world now and forever! Namaste! :-)

    Lots of appreciation and love,
    Carmen Larisa

  7. chieko says:

    Dear Paulo,

    Thank you very much for sharing this. love

  8. Tania says:

    Meditation helps us bring forth who we really are
    Blessings Tania

  9. Heart says:

    Oh Paulo, what you write about LeShan is such an inspiration to us. Whatever can encourager us to go on with our lives to the best of our potential works for me. With very minimal knowledge of Eastern mediation techniques focusing on one self as a mental “returning home”, or the rhythm of your breathing, I’d like to balance these with the Catholic tradition of Lectio Divina, where focus is on the scripture and on the Trinity. Lectio Divina is a process consisting of four parts.

    First, Lectio where one read a text slowly several times. Second, Meditatio, which is to think of God’s presence about the text and let the Holy Ghost work. Third, Oratio, where one open the heart to God, in a dialogue with God, and fourth, Contemplatio, which is a loving focus on God. There is so much more to be said about Lectio Divina, perhaps one way to reach that superhuman energy?

  10. wanbliska says:

    Meditation does not really attracts me, I don’t know why. I do sometimes. I think the best to me is to be lying down, with the risk of course to nod off each time.
    I never really manage to “be” the whole in that position. And I don’t know what extraordinary we’re supposed to find. It there’s some. Maybe I’m satisfied with revelations I have with Lifes’s gifts and revelations, people around, what I write, what I see.
    I’m wondering. And maybe it’s not a good thing.
    Still, I’m not a good pupil, and I don’t like discipline. So I coundn’t do everyday of the week. But I could do one day.
    Maybe I’m afraid of seeing some things, for I don’t do, while everything in my life means “spirituality”.

    I hear the sound of your poetic text. Vibrated smiles are in. Thank you Paulo.

    Gratefully.

  11. THELMA says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iml6bVH8n64&NR=1
    Here is Krishnamurti! I have read some of his books, but now, thanks to the techology, he speaks to us.
    Through meditation we awaken a new state of consciousness.
    We open our doors of perception to new dimensions beyond the physical world. We are connected to our Wise, Eternal inner Self.
    Love,
    Thelma

  12. Mandarawa says:

    For me meditation means concentration on chosen object. There are many objects of meditation like for example love or compassion. First I try to find my object through contemplation and once I found it I try to hold it with my concentration without allowing my mind to wonder. So for example if I want to meditate on love for others first I contemplate others kindness and through that I am able to develop feeling of love for them. Then I try to hold this feeling in my mind without distraction. If my mind wonders to different object that means that I lost my concentration. There are many different objects of meditation. Depending on what qualities I want to develop in my mind I choose appropriate object. In general meditation brings to my mind incredible feeling of peace. That is why I meditate. There is nothing else to compare with that. My mind receives such powerful blessings through meditation. Meditation makes you happy :-)

  13. Fatima says:

    Thank you so much for writing this blog. I have been blessed to have Buddhist meditation come into my life in recent months and your writings, thoughts and questions help me invaluably in my quest to understand myself, the world and my place in it.

    Thank you :)
    Fatima Adamu

  14. Agnieszka says:

    “..we constantly want everything to change, and at the same time fight for everything to continue as it is….
    …. It doesn’t emerge from choosing certain thoughts, or freeing oneself from our emotions. It emerges because our soul seeks answers…”

    so true, thank you

    love
    Agnieszka