Meditation is also thinking deeply
In the West, since the last decades of the twentieth century, it has not stopped growing interest in meditation, of which there are different types and techniques, see for example types of meditation. From my own experience, I think virtually all types of meditation that West are practicing tend to get mental silence, cultivating mindfulness detached thinking. This is a highly recommended way, it gives our focus a depth, beyond external events and beyond semi-automatic thoughts we all have.
Once you have practiced this meditation as a means to train attention, so that we can be fully lucid without being doing anything, not be thinking about anything, and has achieved this mental silence to some degree, it is not necessary to have achieved 100% , enough to have some control, then we will be able to start a different type of meditation in which we return to thinking, but in a different way than usual. In fact, the word meditate means (Cambridge on-line dictionary):
- to think calm thoughts for a long period in order to relax or as a religious, activity
- to think deeply,
- to spend short, regular periods in deep (especially religious) thought,
and for the verb reflect the dictionary introduces a different hue:
Reflect: to think in a serious and careful way.
In these definitions the keywords are: deeply, carefully think, calm thoughts. Obviously, this way of thinking is not usual in the West in our times, perhaps it was in the past, but not now. Before the industrial revolution, life was much slower, and also the vast majority of the population did not think, in the sense of deeply reflect on something, mostly because they had no mind trained for such activity, because only a small fraction of the population could study. And of those who had the good fortune to study, also only a small fraction of them spent some time in profound and reflective thinking. In our time everybody studies, but the flood of information, overwhelming, around us, together with a fast-paced lifestyle does not create the necessary conditions for deep thinking.
It is for this reason that we need meditation oriented to mental silence, for gain peace of mind. But at the same time, meditation without any reflective thought, well, lot of people with a specific action-oriented personality, see such meditation like a trip to nowhere, as a nullifying himself, and have a point, because:
Meditation is not an escape, it is a serene encounter with reality. Thich Nhat Hanh
Indeed, we should not see the traditional meditation is being done as a simple evasion of problems and hectic lifestyle that we do for a few minutes a day, but as a basic training of our mind, which must be calm before start to think deeply. And, about what we will think deeply? We can deeply reflect on two broad categories of questions: about ourselves and about the nature of reality. By the way, if we start to reflect on the reality, in fact we are following one of the schools of classical Yoga, Jnana Yoga, which aims to develop the highest and true knowledge.
Meditate on our own nature reflexively
In this reflective meditation we try to better understand ourselves, in depth: what we really are? What is our deep identity? What are our deepest motivations? What causes our feelings and emotions? etc. Following the old aphorism know yourself, old but not at all old-fashioned, on the contrary, remains a great recommendation.
As we work every day in this reflective meditation about ourselves and how we relate to our environment, we are approaching the wisdom, understood as a deep understanding of reality. The two types of meditation, silence and mental calm and reflective, are complementary, can be worked simultaneously, and reinforce each other.
One caveat: we are assuming that we have practiced meditation oriented to relaxation and mental silence for some time, and have achieved some level of mental and emotional reassurance needed before starting to think reflectively; if we do not meet this precondition, most likely to try to reflect what we end up doing is intellectualize reflection, or thinking as usual. What we seek is to reflect from the mental silence, mental “movement” is minimal, we make a question with the mind, then keep mental silence, contemplating the question, and waiting for the answer; if we are not able to keep quiet then we will not hear the answer, which comes from the depths of the mind, where silence reigns. Thus it is not a style of meditation for beginners.
Script for reflective meditation oriented to self-knowledge
We will now give a dash of reflective meditation that can serve as a simple example of what we are talking about or as a real script work, the reader can apply, adapt to their interests, etc.
1. Before you start, chose the topic on which meditate; in this example, the theme will be the emotion of anger in all its variants: outrage at injustice, hatred against something or someone, etc. It is a negative emotion (does not provide welfare and is destructive) and very powerful. What we want know? we want to know, to see, their origin in us, its true cause, and if it really is necessary, as most people think.
2. If, as is recommended to really get to the bottom, we will meditate on the theme chosen for several sessions, it may be interesting to collect information on the subject, for use in meditation. The information is abundant in our time, so this will be relatively easy. What type of information? For all serves both the analytical and scientific as philosophical, yes, trying to select quality. For example, for the topic we are using as an example, we can read writings on emotional management, emotional intelligence, anger management, etc. as well as using sources of spiritual traditions, we can provide useful for meditation aphorisms, such as:
When lust (desire in general) is not satisfied, it becomes anger – Bhagavad Gita
He who lives without anger is the happiest – The Buddha
3. We begin the meditation as we usually do it, in our preferred site, preparing the body to not disturb us during the time we will devote to the session. The recommended position is sitting with your back straight, can be in a chair or on a cushion or meditation bench, each will choose what suits you best. Tensions relax, breathe deeply several times, releasing tension, and close our eyes.
4. We do mental silence for a few minutes; our goal is to calm the mind. If our practice is to recite mantras, we can do, the goal is the same: keep the mind not wandering. Or we use any other meditation technique we have worked. We can keep this mental calming phase for at least 10 minutes.
5. We turn to the next phase, in which we “present” to the mind, using our attention, the chosen theme; note that we use the verb present, not the verb think. This is key. We do not think, only observe with calm mind. We present an aphorism, a question, etc, to our calmed mind, without thinking about it, with questioning attitude, but with will to learn, and we expect a response, without thinking, without forcing anything, tried to capture, trying to “see” the answer, that must come from the depths of the mind. In any case our attitude must be that of someone who does not know and wants to know. The desire to know is the engine that drives all practice; the attitude to keep mental silence awaiting the answer is the one that allows direct knowledge present. In English the word insight represents quite well what we want. We maintain mental silence awaiting response for a few minutes.
6. We return to the meditative state of step 4, using the technique we usually use. No matter if we have not received a response. It can be a long process. We are planting the seeds of profound knowledge, must be patient and let nature take its pace.
7. Leaving the meditative state as usual: still with closed eyes breathe deeply, mobilized hands, legs, head, and finally open our eyes and return to take sensory contact with the environment, take your time.
Meditating reflectively in the nature of reality
The other major category of subjects of meditation is the ultimate nature of reality. Questions such as what is life? what is time? what about space? The guideline to follow is the same we’ve seen in the script of meditation: incorporate in our usual meditation session a section to present one of those topics, from a transcendent point of view, not intellectual. It is very important to get previous information on the subject, as already mentioned. For example, if we ask about the nature of space and or time, we can read introductory books on Special Relativity. In any case, while we read, we have to get used to read in a similar attitude to that of meditation: with full attention and interest, and open and receptive attitude.
Some final thoughts
As we mentioned in step 6, do not hurry or want to force anything, we are opening a new avenue of knowledge through our conscious mind, the answer is not given by the conscious mind, but comes from the deep mind, to which we are training to listen. And this is a process, not something that can be done in one session, you need a time. But each session, performed correctly, will open more and more aware that new channel, which does not replace the intellectual, but complements it. We have already seen in step 2 as there is a collection of information on the chosen topic; prior intellectual study enables the conscious mind on the issue, and makes it more receptive to that topic. In fact, the culmination of the process is achieved when the conscious mind grasps the information of the deep mind on the subject chosen, when we use the mind as a receiver of knowledge, complementing what I knew / guessed by ordinary intellectual activity.