The idea of meditation and its practice has germinated within our cultural paradigm for decades. Generally, it conjures up perceptions created by TV and the movies, i.e., priests or monks cloistered in some remote place, either chanting or quietly absorbed in prayer, or a practitioner of one of the marshal arts preparing for mortal combat, or some "new ager" sitting in a crossed legged position trying to experience oneness. Beyond those images, however, we have not as yet found a cultural niche of real value in which to place the idea and practice of meditation.
The problem is that we culturally have no tradition, no established conceptual foundation, aside from the science of psychology, a field of study that mainly focuses on the functions of the brain and its relationship to behavior or pathology, and comprehensively observes and brings understanding to the structure and operation of the mind. Therefore, we need to borrow, for reference and understanding, the cultural traditions of mind established over many ages from the East. These borrowed philosophies of mind are difficult for us to easily and neatly integrate and transpose into our culture. Yet, as remote as these borrowed concepts of mind seem from our cultural everyday experiences, we are beginning to feel a resonance between the idea and practice of meditation and our spiritual, mental and physical lives.
The primary motivation for this relevancy comes from a deep desire to somehow neutralize the stress and anxiety created by living our lives. People are desperate to find any practice, method or technique that may relieve their stress and bring some semblance of peace of mind. The problem is that the search is usually confined to our outside world, trying to find the right pill, therapy, medical technique or psychological training. Our search outside will always bring new ideas and practices that temporarily bring us some stress relief, but eventually we will become dissatisfied and begin our search anew. The more we search for relief and cures from the outside world, and the more our attempts fail to satisfy, the greater will our stress, anxiety, insecurity and confusion become.
The simple reason for our failure is that we are trying to satisfy spiritual needs through finite worldly practices, an exercise in futility and frustration. The place where peace and joy abide is within us. The practice of meditation connects us with that infinite world within.
Our mind is always on: day or night, asleep or awake. Masters of the world of the mind tell us that there are more than 84,000 points or centers of entry for streams of thought-atoms coming from innumerable terrestrial and cosmic sources.
Our minds are continuously filled with these thought forms. Our own experience of the working of our mind tells us that there are differing patterns in the perception of these thought forms, ranging from very slow and clear perception to very rapid and diluted perception. Science has confirmed our intuitive understanding. It has studied the electrical impulses generated by the human brain through the electroencephalograph and has grouped and labeled common brain-wave rhythms. To some extent, it also has related these brain rhythms to different states of consciousness. Brain-wave rhythms have been grouped into four major categories: alpha, beta, theta and delta. These rhythms are measured in cycles per second (CPS). It is generally agreed that about 14 CPS and higher are known as beta waves, about 7 to 14 are called alpha, 4 to 7 theta, and finally, 4 and below delta.
According to science, the mind pattern of our waking life is beta. Under the influence of a beta pattern, our thoughts are reeling through the center of our head at great speed, with infrequent gaps. The Toltec word, mitote (mih-toe-tay), succinctly describes this kind of mind chaos. It describes an untrained mind as having 1,000 people talking at the same time, and nobody understanding the other. Zen masters call this speedy, beta mind the "monkey mind." Through our ignorance, we become so thoroughly attached and familiar with this beta pattern of thinking that it has become habitual. We swell up with pride as we proclaim, "I am expert at multi-tasking." In truth, our customary "monkey mind" acts to disperse our attention, energy and desires in a multitude of directions, while depriving us of a chance to experience the true one pointed nature of our mind.
Beyond our monkey mind with its limitless multiplicity of self-seeking, schemes and attainments dwells our natural mind. It is a mind that is trained and disciplined. It can focus a stream of attention to a single point without a gap until the mind is completely absorbed, and all distracting thoughts disappear. Within the practice of meditation is the bridge between our monkey mind of speed and self-seeking and our higher mind of peace and self-forgetting; this is where our natural mind can be found. The practice of meditation will allow you to see and directly experience the true nature and essence of your mind, and it will also expose the existence of dimensions far beyond the feverish, daily pitch of our monkey mind. This inner knowledge of mind will fill you with an unbending security, inspire you with wisdom beyond the reach of mere intellect and release within you the capacity to act calmly and compassionately.
Meditation is a practice that trains the mind to focus deeply and continuously upon any single idea or object. Under this general definition, if you were walking in a garden, single-mindedly admiring and sensing the beauty of the flowers, you would be meditating; if you were single-mindedly writing a poem or some prose, you would be meditating. Clearly, the capacity to meditate is not a predisposed mental talent, but is part of the innate capabilities of all human beings. The human mind works the same for all, and the ability to train the mind through meditation is a jewel within the vastness and complexities of the mind’s field of operation.
The practice of meditation, considering it from an operative sense, should be thought of as a discipline of the mind. In other words, it is the training of attention with the aim of mastering the thinking process. Here we have our usual monkey mind, filled with fast-flowing streams of thought forms, and there we have our meditative practice, slowing down our speedy mind by the one-pointed focus of our attention.
Of all the disciplines related to human development, the discipline of meditation is the most effective, for it directs its discipline towards the seat of all thought and behavior, the mind. Because thoughts initiate actions, and actions weave a destiny, meditation is the most powerful tool for affecting change in our lives. If you can discipline and control your own mind, you can control your own destiny. If you think the idea of thoughts causing your destiny is mere whimsy, then hear it from the Buddha: "All that we are is the result of what we have thought."
Progress does not occur readily. The masters of mind development tell us that disciplining the mind is like lassoing the wind. The first stages of meditation are tough, and beyond that it gets even tougher. The person who dares to examine the nature of their own mind must take a long view of attaining the fruits of meditative practice, keeping in mind that anything worthwhile takes long, arduous effort and cannot be reached in a single leap. Some of the fruits however, do come within the first few weeks of consistent practice.
The aspirant will experience a sense of calmness, revealing itself under circumstances that previously produced great emotional reactions. Those fruits that reach to the highest qualities of our mind take the longest to attain. The attainment of the highest fruits of meditative practices – a continuously calm, clear, peaceful and joyful mind – is extremely difficult to achieve, but possible for the average human being. What is needed for success is a mustering of the full attention of our mind and the full affection of our heart to become one-pointed in thought, and an unbending will to press ever upwards through the personalized veils of consciousness and feelings to reach our higher consciousness, our Higher Self. When success does come, we can then say what the Lord Buddha said, "I am the happiest of mortals. There is no one happier than I am."
Meditation should not, however, be thought of as a practice that will only bring the practitioner what the psychologists call "peak experiences" – feelings of bliss, joy, expanded awareness, peace of mind and a sense of a closer connection to God. Carrying this specific kind of expectation into the meditative practice turns the practice into a form of worship in which the worshiper wants only to see the positive aspects of God. When the meditator experiences the destructive sides of the cosmos, he or she may begin to doubt the correctness of his or her practice and may stop meditating.
It should be remembered that meditation is not just an experience of peace, but also a comprehensive experience including both the positive and negative aspects of life. The aim should be to see beyond the conceptual evaluation and to integrate all experiences that emerge during meditation, whether a peak experience or a negative one occurs.
The person who examines the nature of his or her mind by the practice of meditation, who purifies the negative energy of envy, anger, avarice and fear, and who dedicates his or her action for the benefit of all beings, follows the path of the gods.