Meditation : Perception of Reality

Is this new perception really important?

Lawrence LeShan agrees that the problem is truly complex. On the one hand, we can “operate” very efficiently in this world such as we know it. On the other, we know that a considerable number of people worthy of our trust, such as Gandhi, Teresa D’Avila, or Buddha, sought to perceive this reality in a distinct manner, and that this led them to take giant steps and change the destiny of humanity.

Just like at the gym, where a good teacher always has a series of different exercises for each type of student, there is no single technique for meditating, and anyone interested in the subject should try to discover his own way. However, there are a few elementary steps which are present in almost all religions and cultures which use meditation as a way of encountering inner peace, which I shall now describe (based on Lawrence LeShan’s highly interesting book, How to Meditate: a Guide to Self-Discovery)

The first thing is to be aware of one’s own breathing.

Counting the number of times we breathe every two minutes, helps us concentrate our attention on something we do automatically, and thus removes us from that which is normal. At first, this may seem very simple, but we mustn’t be fooled by this simplicity: whoever decides to try out this exercise in practice, notices that this requires considerable effort and large doses of patience. However, as we do so (and we can practice conscious breathing anywhere, before going to sleep, or on public transport on the way to work), we come into contact with an unknown part of ourselves, and feel the better for it.

Choosing the place:

The next step is to try and dedicate ten or fifteen minutes a day to sit in a quiet place, and repeat this conscious breathing, trying to remain still (like the Zen monks we have already talked about here). Thoughts will appear, against our will, and at this moment it is useful to recall the words of St. Teresa D’Avila about our mind: “it is a wild horse which goes anywhere, except where we want to take it.”

Silencing without violence:

Finally, as time passes (one should know that this requires two or three months of exercises), the mind has emptied itself naturally, bringing with it great serenity to our everyday lives. However great our problems appear, however stressful our lives, these fifteen minutes every day will make all the difference, and help us to overcome – generally in a subconscious manner – the difficulties we face.

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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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The importance of the cat in meditation

By Paulo Coelho

Having recently written a book about madness, I was forced to wonder how many things we do are imposed on us by necessity, or by the absurd. Why wear a tie? Why do clocks run “clockwise”? If we live in a decimal system, why does the day have 24 hours of 60 minutes?

The fact is, many of the rules we obey nowadays have no real foundation. Nevertheless, if we wish to act differently, we are considered “crazy” or “immature”.

Meanwhile, society continues to create some systems which, in the fullness of time, lose their reason for existence, but continue to impose their rules. An interesting Japanese story illustrates what I mean by this:

A great Zen Buddhist master, who was in charge of the Mayu Kagi monastery, had a cat which was his true passion in life. So, during meditation classes, he kept the cat by his side – in order to make the most of his company.

One morning, the master – who was already quite old – passed away. His most adept disciple took his place.

– What shall we do with the cat? – asked the other monks.

As a tribute to the memory of their old instructor, the new master decided to allow the cat to continue attending the Zen-Buddhist classes.

Some disciples from the neighboring monasteries, traveling through those parts, discovered that, in one of the region’s most renowned temples, a cat took part in the meditation sessions. The story began to spread.

Many years passed. The cat died, but the students at the monastery were so used to its presence, they soon found another cat. Meanwhile, the other temples began introducing cats in their meditation sessions: they believed the cat was truly responsible for the fame and excellence of Mayu Kagi’s teaching, and in doing so forgot that the old master was a fine instructor.

A generation passed, and technical treatises began to appear about the importance of the cat in Zen meditation. A university professor developed a thesis – which was accepted by the academic community – that felines have the ability to increase human concentration, and eliminate negative energy.

And so, for a whole century, the cat was considered an essential part of Zen-Buddhist studies in that region.

Until a master appeared who was allergic to animal hair, and decided to remove the cat from his daily exercises with the students.

There was a fierce negative reaction – but the master insisted. Since he was an excellent instructor, the students continued to make the same scholarly progress, in spite of the absence of the cat.

Little by little, the monasteries – always in search of new ideas, and already tired of having to feed so many cats – began eliminating the animals from the classes. In twenty years time, new revolutionary theories began to appear – with very convincing titles such as “The Importance of Meditating Without a Cat”, or “Balancing the Zen Universe by Will Power Alone, Without the Help of Animals”.

Another century passed, and the cat withdrew completely from the meditation rituals in that region. But two hundred years were necessary for everything to return to normal – because during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.

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