A Follow up on Meditation

October 16, 2002

The Voice welcomes your comments on its contents. Use your voice to voice your opinions to The Voice. We love the sound of it, and you should to (the sound of your voice, that is)! Personally, I have to thank one of our readers for writing in”?I am happy to hear you enjoyed the article on meditation. The questions you asked are good questions, which, I felt, deserved this follow up.

We can begin by noting that the two-part article, “Meditation For a Healthier Us,” focuses on what we could name “passive meditation” in contrast to what we could call “active meditation.” The defining difference between these two general classes of meditation would be in the focus of the meditative process. In active meditation, the practitioner focuses on some thought, mantra, symbol, or such, and does his or her best to clear the mind of all thoughts except those which reflect the object of meditation. On the other hand, passive meditation seeks to clear the mind of all thoughts whatsoever: it is a conscious and wilful effort of relaxing both the mind and the body. The focus is directed on stillness and absence, whereas active meditation might be seen as focusing on an “object” of some sort. I would be the first to admit that this is a tentative and perhaps merely heuristic distinction. However, the type of meditation described in the previous articles certainly does not call for a focus on anything beyond the rhythm of our breath.

Our reader asks, “Why 40 minutes?” No specifications on that. I’ve been told to start small and work up.” The suggestion of forty minutes of meditation each day was simply that”?a suggestion. The sources that were used (mostly Transcendental Meditation sources) seemed to recommend forty minutes as their ideal; thus, I thought I would include it in the paper: it reflects the position that I found in my research. But really, I feel this is likely a somewhat arbitrary number. I don’t think that the benefits of meditation occur only when forty minutes of meditation are engaged in each day. In the article, it is asserted that small changes can greatly alter a system over time; in other words, like our reader states, it is best to start with what we can”?some time spent in meditation each day is better than no time spent in meditation. Or even, some time spent meditating, even if not every day, is better than never meditating at all. Indeed, we cannot expect anything from something that we do not do”?it would be like wanting to win the lottery without ever buying a ticket! It seems to me that part of the goal of passive meditation is to allow more flexibility in our thinking (and this might feed into the alleged increase in creativity in meditators), and so, it is hard to imagine that forty minutes is a fixed and rigid number that must be adhered to without fail.

The second question our reader asks is, “What methods are there and do they truly matter? Most meditators advocate some particular method and argue against others (which I’m tired of).” I don’t know if I am in a position to answer this question; put differently, I know there are many different approaches to meditation, and since I do not claim to be an expert on any of them, I don’t know if it really and truly matters or not. In the paper, I present a method of meditation that is stripped down in its practice and removed from any particular faith. The presentation is geared to place meditation in an unbiased light; that is, I wanted to show more the mechanics of passive meditation: conscious relaxation and wilfully clearing the mind. I think these two components are universal to many forms of passive meditation. Meditative practice ought to suit the person who is practicing it and not require of the person any particular previous beliefs or the necessary adaptation of new beliefs. In fact, I think that this sort of meditative practice leads the practitioner to see how his or her beliefs are nothing more than thoughts or ideas. By stilling the mind and attempting to stop the trains of thoughts that run through our heads, we might come to recognize that our most tightly held assumptions are no more “real” or fixed than any other thoughts that we have. It seems as if this sort of practice has potential to free us from our own personal dogmas and rigid ways of thinking.

Different methods might have different effects on the individual practitioner, but certainly, arguing that there is a single correct way to meditate illustrates dogmatic belief, and also, serves to show that the person doing the arguing has some sort of agenda. What the agenda might be likely varies from person to person. It could be as simple as an individual who really feels the benefits of a certain type of meditation and desires to share this with others, or it might be as sinister as to reflect a hoped for indoctrination into a certain way of thinking. Regardless of an individual’s motives or reasons for arguing for one type of meditation above all others, I do not think that such a position illustrates some of the insights of passive meditative practice, at least not in the sense I suggest above.

In short, I think that a person who desires to practice meditation is best to find a method that suits him or her. While regular practice of meditation might change our ways of thinking and being in the world, the engagement in meditation need not require any preconceived beliefs or alterations in our initial beliefs.

b.e. hydomako is not sure whether his parents were human, and sometimes feels that the sun and the moon are his father and mother respectively (or vice-versa). He doesn’t have a belly button, and the operation to remove the alien implants is forthcoming. Sometimes he thinks that the world is a projection of some malfunctioning machine.