What Exactly is Meditation?


Sunrise over the Eastcape

In my upcoming blog posts I want to share my own articulation of several important aspects about “life lived with a deep meditation practice”. What is the nature and the character of the “transformations”, those permanent and liberative changes that naturally arise when someone has a regular and consistent meditation practice? How does that work exactly? What is the science of that transformation, the astonishing and precious gifts of that process over time? Is it predictable and effective for everyone? Or is happenstance, working for some and not for others?


Those are important questions. A clear understanding of exactly how meditation works is probably the central purpose of my writing this blog. So that is coming very soon. And another topic to be addressed very soon is: How does one learn to meditate in this manner I am referring to. Why is it taught only directly from teacher to student in person, and not in a book or online course, etc? I will address this consideration also very soon.


In the meantime if you wish to learn more about the specific meditation practice tradition I practice, Neelakantha meditation, you are invited to visit www.bluethroatyoga.com . It is the modern day iteration, from a direct and ancient lineage stream, authentically grounded in the non-dual Kashmir Shaiva-tantra teachings.


For today, the question is: What exactly is meditation? It appears that every spiritual and religious tradition, at least on their esoteric experiential or what is called “mystical” side, has some form of meditative practice that is central to their tradition. We honor and respect all of these traditions. I would offer that all forms of meditative practice, in all of their variety, all do offer benefits to their practitioners. Out of respect for these traditions, whether new or old, I will not make comparisons nor offer any opinion regarding any specific tradition or form of meditation.


However, I will attempt to make clear the distinct categories of practices appropriate for different groups. I am specifically referring to the differences between meditation practice designed for and appropriate to those persons who are living as a renunciate: Those rare individuals who have chosen to turn away from the entire outer world to live as renunciates path (nivritti marg). Whether as a wandering “swami”, or in a cloister or ashram, “renouncing” relative life, possessions and society, etc.


In contrast, the vast majority of meditative and yogic practitioners are “householders” (pravritti marg). They have professions, trades or other means of livelihood. They maintain homes and have families, etc. and assume all of the responsibilities of a fully-engaged life. The tantra teachings and practices, including the meditation practices I am discussing, are 100% for householders. They support and enhance householder life. They nourish the expansioun of life towards complete fulfillment in every domain. While the practices for renunciates, including their meditation approach, mantras, etc., are completely incompatible with householder life! This is very important to understand. So it will be thoroughly discussed in a future blog post. The practice of renunciate methods by householders has caused much harm to their lives. And this continues to happen today simply because this is not well understood.


Let me be clear about what I am not here calling “meditation”. The word meditation is often used for a variety of practices in different contexts. “Guided imagination or visualization” is one example. This is when one leading person suggests that participants visualize specific places, conditions, or events. The thought-forms evoke certain moods or emotional states from memory. This can be very pleasant, can invoke experiences of peace or happiness, and can release physical stress from the body, etc. It can be s very enjoyable, and arguably is beneficial in a short-term way. But it is not meditation.


“Contemplation” is another practice that is often confused with meditation. This is when a topic, theme, or profound questions is explored within one’s own mind and awareness field. It can result in the arising of intuitive insight, sometimes of a profound nature. This can be a beautiful and powerful practice. Especially so, if the person already has a stabilized meditation practice in place. In this regard it can be a powerful add-on practice to their meditation. But we consider it to be separate and distinct from the core practice of deep meditation.


Self-inquiry (or “self-enquiry”) is the practice of contemplation specifically on the true nature of our own self. What is our truest and highest self-identity? What is it actually that I am? Who and what AM I? This also is a form of contemplation. The practice can result in the invaluable realization that “I am not my physical body. I am not my relative mind”. I am not my possessions, nor the sum of my various “roles” in life. I am something beyond . . .” Numerous amazing and highly enlightened teachers of past and modern eras, and from many diverse traditions or lineage streams, have advocated and praised this practice. (Ramana Maharishi and Adyashanti to name just two.) Yet we will notice, in studying their lives and teachings, that these same teachers did have a personally-taught meditation practice that they practiced with regularity and devotion over a span of years. Self-inquiry, like other forms of contemplation, are empowered and made capable by the existence of a prior established and consistent meditation practice.


Action or activities are frequently referred to as meditation. Especially physical activities (or repose) in nature. Such things as climbing, skiing, surfing, trail running, cycling etc. we often hear referred as “That is my meditation.” Well yes! I myself do all of those activities, and know that they can bring us into a harmonious and beautiful state of “flow”. They are beautiful dimensions of life that transcend our problems and challenges. I celebrate all of them (and more). And saying that they are “our meditation” communicates a lot about this. But these activities are not what I am referring to as meditation in this blog. That is something altogether beyond.


In the Shaiva tantra teachings meditation is called the “stambha” practice, meaning the “central pillar” or trunk of the tree that supports the entire grouping of practices of an individual. The entire configuration of practices: meditation plus study, yoga asana, chanting or mantra repetition, pranayama, and forms of selfless-service: whatever an individual might rightly choose as forms of practice, is together called their “sadhana”. That is the full mandala or circle of one’s body of practices. At the center of this, and actually completely sufficient in itself, is the regularity of deep daily meditation. Even if it is just for a few minutes each day.


So I offer the following as a working definition of deep tantric meditation: The practice of turning attention within, in the inward direction of one’s own awareness, to access the transcendent source-place of our own Self. That Source is the infinite unbounded and universal Consciousness itself.


Meditation then, is the method and practice of turning attention within, within one’s own awareness field, and thereby to progressively traverse from ordinary outer, or gross and thought-dominated levels of consciousness, and moving towards and into the finer vibratory levels of awareness. This is done as a regular practice in order to access and receive the benefits of contact with the Source of our own Consciousness: our own transcendent source-Self within. Thereby do we cause the upliftment, liberation and transformation of our lives altogether, in every dimension of expression.


This definition is very general and is lacking in specifics of the method that is taught. There is a reason for this, which I will cover in my next blog post. We shall also soon address how meditation actually works to accomplish the transformation of life. How does Samadhi, the inward melting of awareness into the sublime wholeness of non-separative Consciousness actually work? And it works for everybody, effortlessly and naturally.

My other passion: Kitesurfing

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