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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