Meditation is a technique with the aim of realizing the ultimate (God-Awareness-Love-Reality-Spirit-Brahman-Atman-Buddhata-Tao-AinSof-Allah or whatever your idea of it is). Most meditators come to the practice in search of some version of Self-realization or spiritual realization. However, before full Self-realization (not just occasional experiences) happens, we need to traverse through many stages and states of growth and awakening.
The spiritual path is as complex as humans are complex. It takes time and effort to progress. However, there are those who promote quick fixes and others who postulate that there is nothing to do – we are already enlightened. Others claim it is not possible for an ordinary human to self-realize. Neither is true.
Some teachers claim that since only consciousness is real, nothing in the manifest world is real. In this interpretation, you do not have to do anything to get enlightened. Its adherents who have touched on ultimate reality say that despite many years of practice, the practices were not needed because the reality was always there. However, they are discounting the fact that it took all those years of practice to reach that conclusion. Thus they falsely promote the idea that they are saving us time by telling us that there is nothing to do — except of course listen to them and buy their books.
The opposite point of view, that it is impossible for the average human being to attain self-realization, is also a false statement that can hinder the seeker’s progress. Fundamentalist religions would have us believe that only special ones that can attain this state and that only by the sanction of the “church,” the state of sainthood or enlightenment can be achieved. For the rest of us, only adherence to the religious canon will, in some special cases, result in salvation after death.
The truth is that there is something to do, and that it is possible to attain the ultimate expression of the incarnated life. However, it does take proper guidance and proper effort[i]. The primary effort is meditation.
Meditation is both the key to the inner realm, our true nature, and the inner realm itself. Let me illustrate this with a metaphor: let’s suppose our true nature (the inner realm) is like a diamond that keeps its purity and beauty independent of the rock formations around it. In order to uncover the diamond, the miner and the jeweler (the meditator) need to remove the surrounding rock with a tool — a tool usually made of diamond itself. In the same way, meditation is the tool and the goal itself.
For the human being, the surrounding rock includes his or her physiological make up and hampering beliefs and cultural tendencies. So is important to understand that initially, and depending on our level of maturity and adaptation, we will need to deal with those issues before we can begin to have a direct experience of our true nature. Thus our meditation may seem frustrating at the beginning as we expose and heal these issues. But that frustration does not mean that the effort is not accomplishing something. The very effort to work on our limitations and obstacles in meditation is part of the path and in fact meditation. Sometimes, depending on our stage of growth, we need to emphasize certain practices and tools over others at the different stages of spiritual-realization.
In my years of practicing, teaching meditation, and researching the field, I have found that the great majority of the questions people have in meditation classes are more related to their psychology than to their spirituality, because they are primarily interested in external achievement and acquiring of skills that will result in success in a competitive world. It also accords with what we know about the stages of human development — that personal development moves from the concrete to the subtle (mental) to the causal to the non-dual. Depending upon where we are in this development, we are more or less able to hold and stabilize higher (causal and nondual) states of consciousness.
For some the conditions of life, inheritance, and culture may facilitate the path; for others, it will may make it more difficult. So, before we can expect meditation to be an experience of transcendence we need to identify where we are and then move from there along the stages of human development, develop concrete skills, purify our psyche, heal our neurotic tendencies, and learn how to love.
Along the way in the removal process, we might hit some part of the core diamond, and a bright light might shine, a peek into our real nature that we experience as a temporary state of bliss. Such states will not be permanent until we stabilize them and integrate them into our daily life.
However, most people will be very happy once they uncover the first glimpse of that raw diamond and will stop there. So, beyond growing ourselves up and cleaning up our psyche, we need to ignite in us the thirst to go beyond our human identity. Only those with a profound desire or thirst for the divine will continue polishing the facets of the diamond, allowing the pure Self to emerge in all its glory and divinity. Once this is achieved, our old identity, represented here by the rock, will “die” to this life and be “born again” as our true nature[ii].
So in the beginning of our meditation practice, we need not feel we are not progressing when we encounter our most limiting elements: those shadows and impurities of our psyche, our phobic, fearful anxious, irrational and obsessed tendencies. Up to now they have taken precedence and are in center stage of our consciousness. We have believed up to now that we ARE this self. In the practice of meditation, we need to allow ourselves to work with these tendencies, so we can learn to take a distance from our reactive mind and personality. As we do that, we increase our awareness and eventually free ourselves from that identification which obscures our true nature. So expect turmoil and restlessness in the beginning if you are a true seeker and know that most of the initial years of meditation are preparatory but necessary steps.
Increasingly, as we deal with our shadow and stop identifying ourselves with the limited self, we become able to make our true nature the object of our meditation and keep our attention in that inner truth. Like the jeweler we have always in mind the final jewel. At this point, our mind will forget its concrete and subtle surroundings, and our meditation will be greatly accelerated and our mind will be filled with the image of our true nature. As the poet-Saint Surdadas said:
“The mind that continually takes refuge in the Supreme eventually becomes That.”[iii]
[i] It also includes a physical and neurological rearrangement that will be the theme of another article
[ii] That does not mean that we will renounce our existence in the body; instead we will live from a newborn perspective, that of the being who knows that “I and my father are one.” This again will be theme for another article
[iii] Meditate, Swami Muktananda, State University New York Press, 1980-p25