In holding the soul and embracing oneness
Can one be steadfast, without straying?
Verse 1, Chapter 10, Tao Te Ching
An Introduction to Meditation
A simple definition of meditation would be a “heightened state of awareness”. Further distinction reveals that meditation is a stated of being where the practice of meditation is a state of doing. Thus, the one cultivates a heightened state of awareness through the practice of focused concentration in a heightened state of awareness. Through practice a transcended state of awareness is the realized by the observing true self. In the heightened state of awareness, the true-self becomes aware of the influence of mind and mood instigated by the ego-mind hence “self-awareness”.
Once in a Dharma lesson, our teacher instructed us to imagine that a loudspeaker was attached to our head and everything that we thought would be broadcast out into the open for all the world to hear. It was part of a mindfulness lesson where we were learning to practice the awareness of what we are thinking. If the world could hear your thoughts, what would they sound like? If you answered chaos, then you are not alone.
I believe most people live in a shifting state of attention. We spend most of our time in either a distracted state or in seeking sources of distraction. Distraction here is defined as the inability to pay attention and experience the present moment. Distraction is a state of mind where attention is absorbed by both internal and external sources. In the modern age, we are conditioned from our earliest days to allow our minds to become absorbed somewhere else. We suspend our ability to be present and allow our minds to be captivated by someone or something else. One example would be television.
Television and videos have become a distraction that absorbs our attention. Even worse, our own cognitive processes are superseded by the content. Perhaps that is one reason the content is called programming. The programming not only induces distraction but also confuses the viewer into believing a false reality. I have been told that there are even television shows that are called reality tv. When we allow our attention to become absorbed by Television we are lost to the present reality and substitute it for the programmed reality. By the time a person is 20 years old, it is likely that their ability to pay attention is very weak and the reality they do perceive is defined by years of artificial experience. When reality does not align with the false reality that they have been conditioned to expect, life becomes problematic. Then real life does not meet the expectations implanted by the programming. In this distracted state, one cannot find and know their true self.
If you spend most of your time distracted, you are not paying attention to the true reality and most importantly, lost to the present moment. So how can you be able to implement a successful life strategy with a foundation of self-control? Specifically, how can you implement self-discipline when you are trying to change bad habits.? And importantly, what if a “successful life” is defined by unrealistic expectations by years of unrealistic conditioning. You cannot remain present and paying attention if you are continuously lost in distraction. This is the first area to work on as you become a cultivator of successful living. You must learn how to wake up and become present to the choices you are making that create your destiny (Longevity).
Self-awareness is our consciousness residing in the present moment and aligned with reality. This is developed through meditation. You must rise above distraction which is a process called transcendence. When your consciousness is absorbed by something else, you are not aware. Most importantly you are not self-aware. By transcending the captivating mindstream that constantly captivates your mental focus from the present. When you are awake you are present. Your attention is right here, right now. It is only and always now. It is in the present moment that you construct destiny by the choices you make.
This brings us the most common distraction which is thinking and being lost in run-away thought. Thinking can resemble a quiet and lazy stream one day and a raging torrent the next. Your mind will often be chaotic constructing mental ‘what if’ scenarios of what might have happened or what might happen. Guided by fear, anger, greed, desire, and a whole bunch of other inappropriate emotions, the mind carries our attention to places that cause high levels of stress and anxiety. These ‘what if’ thinking episodes can often become loops or a voice that plays over and over in your head. This is a very stressful state of distraction where you can become lost in the illusion of something in past or something in the future. Either way, it is either over and done with or it has never happened yet. You must wake up and orient at this moment and this current reality.
Meditation is the higher state of consciousness. When consciousness is absorbed by any distraction, whether it is incessant thinking or watching hours and hours of television, we enter a state of distraction which is a much lower state of awareness (consciousness). With practice, you can learn to keep your attention and awareness present and observing. This state of being is meditation. Meditation is not so much as something you do as it is being in a state of presence and observing.
Meditation is the practice of concentrating awareness on a point of observation where you can observe what is going on in the mind. When you are focused and observing, you are doing so from a subjective point of view. The observer is the subject and the content that is being observed is the object. In meditation, you become the observer, and thinking is ‘observed’. Now you can see and observe that you are not your thoughts. This observer is the true self and is above the thinking mind and able to both observe and manage your life. And most importantly distraction is the state of being where attention is lost or absorbed in thinking. Lost in distraction and is unable to change perspective. Hence the term “lost in thought”. This is not a bad thing when it is a deliberate contemplative process that is seeking clarity. But when your attention is captivated by thinking (an internal source of distraction) and you cannot free your ‘self’ it generates a lot of stress and anxiety. When our attention is captivated by television we are distracted by external sources. When you transcend distraction, you become the observer (true self). As the observer, you can control attention and keep it present in the now. This is done by concentrating the focus on a particular element in the present. The most common focal points are breath (the experience of breathing) or by repeating a mantra. As you observe either one, the attention is kept in the now, in the methodology. It is common, especially for beginners, for the mind to wander constantly and it is important to not react but just return the attention back to the intended focal point. It takes an everyday practice but over time you will be able to cultivate a sense of detachment and find stillness.
Meditation is the realization of the spiritual self (true self), experiencing life in the physical realm. Thus, for the awakened being, life is a meditative balance between being and doing. Too much sitting can be as unhealthy as not enough. One very effective technique is to take up types of moving meditation such as Yoga and Tai Chi. When enough skill has been cultivated, the person can remain in the transcended state which enable many skills for creating longevity. In the transcended state it become possible to practice several important techniques that bring about dynamic healing and restoration.
Before you begin to build your own longevity program, you must learn to manage ego and control desire. As you have read in previous chapters in this book, self-discipline is the Tao principle of Sovereignty. Without this foundation of spiritual discipline your chances of success are greatly reduced if not impossible to achieve. Here is the step by level by level to cultivate as you begin to change your life.
To begin with, in my experience, it is impossible for most people to make themselves stop thinking and destroy desire. For so many people this why they fail at the very beginning. Rather than actively making war on thinking and desire, the lesson to learn, the skill to cultivate is stillness. When the mind is still and spirit is fully realized, thoughts will diminish natural along with desire. Once the mind is still and calm you will be able to observe and find clarity on what is causing the disturbances, causes, and sources of thoughts and desire so that they will diminish. You as the true self and observer can explore and contemplate how you arrived in the destiny you are currently living. Then you can begin the process of stopping the choices and behaviors that karma had created in your life. The process meditative process is as such:
- Stillness (Transcendence) Meditation
- Mindfulness Mediation
- Contemplative Meditation
- Healing Meditation (found in the healing and restoration protocol section)
The lessons in this book share many times that your destiny is not predetermined and that in each now, each moment of perception, you are creating your destiny. We all create them by the choices that we make over and over. The realization of these choices is a result of cause and effect. There is a natural law of cause and effect (karma) to which Tao cultivators pay very close attention. This is the foundation for staying on the longevity path. The meditative process of being in unity with the natural order of existence is known as “oneness with the Tao”. The following chapters will explore the four meditations above so that you can begin to bring the miraculous power of inner harmony to realize a long successful life. This is the Tao of Longevity.