Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Is meditation about concentration and alertness, or diffusion and dreamyness - or either, or both?

If meditation is regarded as a means to an end (rather than as a state valuable in its own right) then how you do it - the method you attempt it - depends on yourself and your goal.

If the goal is something like Owen Barfield's Final Participation - that is, starting with a strong awareness of the Self and unawareness of the living, conscious world around - then moving towards an attempt to communicate (again, in some way) with natural and invisible spiritual entities... then there might be two basic strategies for meditation.

1. Concentration with opening-out

This is (roughly speaking) the path recommended by Rudolf Steiner and Colin Wilson - which is to retain the typically modern clarity and awakeness of typical consciousness and - by intense and sustained concentration on some specific thing, to open-out this consciousness into an absorbed awareness of this thing usually regarded as non-sentient and its connections with other things...

The contrast with 'normal' (non-meditative) concentration is that there is an opening-out from the thing which is concentrated upon - and this opening-out is 'allowed' uncritically, without moral censorship or critique (these come later).

Well the above is probably not a very good explanation; because this strategy for meditation via concentration is one I cannot myself employ and have not been able (or indeed inclined) to follow through; indeed, I find it extremely aversive. But it clearly works, and works well, for some people, starting at some points, and with some needs and goals.

For example, Steiner trained himself (and had a natural aptitude) for doing this when he met people for the first (and perhaps only) time, As I understand it, he would concentrate intensely upon the person and would allow the wider field of associations to come to mind: by this he used intuitive evaluations to understand the person, and their problems, and what they might do about them.

2. Diffusion with retained awareness

This (which is my own preferred method) is done by holding the self in continued awareness - but not by concentrating - while allowing the rest of the mind to relax and open-out. This a the opposite of alert concentration because its basis is a relaxed and dream-like state.

What is wanted is a partial drowsiness while retaining purposive thinking and also memory; and the state to avoid is full sleep, which is passively associative and does not retain memories.

How to retain the purposive self while moving towards sleep? There is no single method. One is to meditate while walking (slowly, semi-automatically, in some safe place that does not require vigilance), which naturally keeps the self awake. Another is (while sitting, or lying propped-up) to stimulate the mind and retain purpose by intermittent stimulus - e.g. reading, note-taking - to aim at an oscillating state of consciousness in which there is a drowsy relaxation towards sleep for a few seconds, then a reversal towards waking for a few seconds.

The point is that both of these meditative tactics - and I am sure there are several or many others - can be deployed in pursuit of the same long-term strategy.

It is a surely mistake to focus too much on meditative strategy, or training people for meditation; because it may be that each person needs to chisel-out their own specific strategy. Also, all methods are prone to error and misleading - especially if they are being deployed as techniques.

Steiner himself fell into this source of error and misleading, by his belief that he had discovered and devised an intrinsically-valid method for generating knowledge, which he could induce at will and direct at any subject: this was (I believe) why there is such a great deal of over-precise and unjustifiably-confident nonsense mixed-in with his great insights and wisdom.

1. Meditation is important, perhaps vital, for many or most (not all) modern people - but only a means to an end.

2. Different people are different. What works is different for each, what may help one may be a waste of time or harm another - each person needs to chisel-out his own method

3. All methods are limited in application and prone to generate error if used over-confidently or as an end not a means.

4. Whatever comes from meditation (of whatever method) sooner-or-later needs to be integrated with other authoritative sources of knowledge and wisdom.