In honor of Buddha’s Birthday, I thought I’d share a little piece of peace with you.
I’m not professionally certified in meditation. But from years of practice a know a lot about it and have mapped out the territory for myself and others. Meditation has made a tremendous difference in my life and I happily share this gem with any who’ll sit down and shut up with me. With regular mediation I find that I’m less quick to anger, faster to forgive, and much more in control of my day. I can focus more easily, and find the willpower to choose to do what I may not want to do.
If you’d like to jump straight to it, here’s a model 30 minute guided meditation I made just for you.
However, if you’d like to understand the theory behind it all – read on, and come back for the full video when you’ve got time.
Understand that this mapping is what I’ve developed from holding a lantern up to the dark reaches of my own mind. To date, I’ve found this model most clearly elucidates the counter-intuitive way our mind moves. You’re welcome to apply it to your own mind or adjust it as you see fit.
Think of your mind as a giant whirlpool that extends all the way from the surface down to the bottom of the ocean. At the surface, it’s chaotic and very difficult to control which way you’re thrown. You swim in a soup of urgent and impetuous thoughts and it’s tempting to chase them. You can do so, swimming along in any direction, but you’ll likely end up somewhere you didn’t intend to. You can struggle to move to the center, but it will be tiring and you won’t be able to stay there long as the outward force (it’s a strange whirlpool) pushes you back.
The surface of the water is analogous to the state of consciousness we are in most of the time we are awake. A constant barrage of evaluations, plans, accusations, justifications, and reactions dominate us. If someone says something hurtful to us, we get hurt. If someone challenges us, we get defensive. We have little control over our mental processes here, and the more we struggle for control, the less we have.
Here we also think and think we are our thoughts. We need to stop struggling to run this place.
However, if we relax even just a little bit, we find ourselves sinking beneath the surface and naturally moving inward towards the center of the vortex. It’s uncomfortable for us. Water is shooting up our nose, and the distance between us and the real world makes us anxious. Yet we also find the surface of the water like a giant projection screen. There are all the thoughts with which we are usually preoccupied. There they continue to shoot around unbidden.
It may be strange to realize that the thoughts we’re observing are not us, but it doesn’t take much time to see that our brain continues to fire off neurons whether we want it or not. In this moment, we can choose to realize the thoughts are not who we are, and we can choose to let the thoughts be and drift by unattached to us.
We need to differentiate between our selves and our thoughts to sink deeper.
Further down you gain some perspective. You can notice that your thoughts follow certain predictable patterns. Your mind likes to think certain kind of thoughts in certain instances. You have certain defense mechanisms and habits. You can begin to see the tendencies you have whether you like them or not. You can’t stop them, but you can recognize them and learn to see them out of meditation as well as in.
To sink deeper you need to let go of control.
Further down you can see the whole of your conscious mind up above you. You can plot it out like a map of your psyche. You can appreciate its uniqueness and the narratives that make up what you’ve called your life. You can begin to read your mind like a good book, and if you allow yourself – you can find deep self-love here. So too can you find deep love for others for we all experience the same universal joys and sufferings that you do. Here you can see how similar we all are, and feel a part of the global family.
If you’d like to stop at meditation to help you build the Dalai Lama’s compassion, you can stop there.
But to sink further you need to let go of even the desire to describe; to use all language.
Down below is a strange place filled with colors, sights, and sounds that don’t make sense. Here people go on vision quests and describe communing with the spirits around them. It’s tempting to attach a word to what you experience here, but the moment you do you are buoyed up and out of the realm. If you’ve had psychedelics you might feel there are similarities in experience to this space. To stay you need to let go of the need to understand, to remember, and even to perceive the world around you.
I believe this space is the closest thing to our subconscious our conscious mind can experience.
You can sink further from here, but you will have to abandon your self.
Below is a great still where you are not yourself. Here there is nothing but the natural rhythms of the universe pulsing, ebbing and flowing. But within the static, there are certain resonances and rules. There is an order that governs the most fundamental layer of existence, and if you can let them take you and shape you, you’ll find your self governed by universal laws of resonance. Here you don’t understand but rather embody the truth that all beings are stronger if all other beings are allowed to live and grow.
This place is a privilege and few reach it. We know the names of those who do – Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha… This is where the secrets of the universe get poured into our ears if only we can listen.
I won’t speculate about what’s beyond this space, but some traditions suggest it is similar to union with the great divine. Buddhist traditions say that the Buddha left his mortal coil and became one with everything. Other prophets are said to have ascended to heaven. But this is all speculation because anyone who might have crossed this threshold is no longer on this plane of existence and can’t answer our questions about the great beyond.
I have my beliefs about what we might find there, but I’ll save them for another day.
How I meditate
In the period of a meditation session, I frequently see how deeply I can descend. But there’s no reason not to stop at any level. There is use in spending time at any of these layers of consciousness. We need to spend time at the surface to actually get stuff done. We need to reach the viewing area to find calm. We need to hang out deeper than that if we’re to make any sense of the bundle of neuroses we’ve inherited, and find some healthy coping mechanisms. Below that you can experience perspective, compassion, and a sense of interconnectedness. Below that you can learn how to be a good person. Below that, supposedly it’s so euphoric you’d never want to leave.
With time and practice, any of us can learn to reach and inhabit any of these planes. Meditation masters have achieved brainwave activity that baffles scientists, and we have much to learn from the masters have been there and returned to tell the tale.
It’s my deep hope that meditation can be a friend to you. If you’re looking at learning more about it, Headspace is a really good introduction. Unfortunately, they’re not free and you have to sign up if you want to develop any skill. Fortunately there are apps like Insight Timer (I was actually using it in the meditation above) which have countless free and fantastic guided meditations as well as solid basic tools for building your own practice (ala timer.)
There are meditation schools and organizations around, and though you may not be able to visit them just yet, you will once this dark cloud passes.
In the meantime, this video will be here for you to watch any time you want. Perhaps you may even want to incorporate it into a real practice. If it's anything to you like what it is to me, it will have any impact on your life.
Whatever you do – do it with self-love, and love for everyone else.
Join the conversation
What do you do to find calm and peace?
What style(s) of meditation do you practice?
How do you build a lifestyle of mindfulness?