In a comment to my “Be a spiritual rebel!” post, Stephen asked if anyone who reads this blog had been successful in meditating for 2 ½ hours daily over a two-year stretch. He wondered what happens after engaging in this much meditation.
My initial response to him was: not much.
Stephen, now that I have more time to reply to your query, here’s an elaboration based on not just two, but about twenty years of meditating for 2 ½ hours a day (following the mantra-based technique taught by Radha Soami Satsang Beas, or RSSB).
For the other sixteen years I’ve been meditating, my daily dose has been more like 1 to 1 ½ hours. So I’ve put in a heck of a lot of meditation time, even after subtracting the hours I fell asleep.
In a nutshell, what I’ve learned is that meditation isn’t dog training. In other words, my big mystical revelation is a negative, not a positive. After three-plus decades of communing with the depths (and shallows) of my consciousness, I’ve concluded that I’m not a dog.
Hey, that’s something! And I’ll take spiritual progress in whatever form it presents itself.
My dog training analogy comes from Anthony de Mello, the Jesuit priest I’ve been mentioning in my posts recently. Most people who meditate view their minds as something to be controlled, wild beasts that need taming. Thus effort needs to be put into changing an imperfect, misbehaving consciousness into what is hoped will be a more perfect, obedient consciousness.
I used to think this way. Now I don’t. I agree with what de Mello says about the folly of trying to change yourself, whether through meditation or some other means:
You want to become more virtuous, more loving, more meditative; you want to find God, to come closer to your ideals. Think of the sad history of your efforts at self-improvement, that either ended in disaster or succeeded only at the cost of struggle and pain.
…There is another way besides laborious self-pushing on the one hand and stagnant acceptance on the other. It is the way of self-understanding. This is far from easy because to understand what you are requires complete freedom from all desire to change what you are into something else.
You will see this if you compare the attitude of a scientist who studies the habits of ants without the slightest desire to change them with the attitude of a dog trainer who studies the habits of a dog with a view to making it learn something.
Most meditation practices, such as that taught by RSSB, have the aim of achieving a particular state described in a holy book or by a holy master/guru. Thus the devoted meditator is always focused, either consciously or unconsciously, on moving from a present “bad” condition to a future “good” condition.
The mind is considered to be the “bad dog” that prevents movement to the state of self- or god-realization. Generally lots of time and effort is needed to whip this recalcitrant animal into shape. For example, here’s a Buddhist perspective on what is needed to succeed in meditation:
Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog…So whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What's for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can't stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.I used to believe that this was the way to approach my daily meditation: as a battle with my mind. I’d force myself to sit for the entire 2 ½ hours no matter how bored I was or whatever other activities were competing for my attention. I thought that discipline was key to making spiritual progress.
If I didn’t force myself to tread The Path, how would I ever get where I wanted to go?
Well, that attitude of mine assumed two things: (1) There was somewhere I needed to go, and (2) There was some technique that, if engaged in with enough vigor and determination, could get me there.
In other words, I had bought into the dog training philosophy. I was sure that I’d be able to get the barking, disobedient animal of my mind hooked up to a spiritual sled that would take me all the way to God’s North Pole. Mush! (more accurately, Hike!)
Only problem was, the damn dog never got moving. Thirty-odd years of daily dog training and no results to show for it. At least, not the results that I was told to expect by RSSB. I did get results, exactly the results that should occur given my present understanding of what meditation is all about: letting go.
When I try to control myself, it isn’t surprising that I’m going to end up tying myself in knots. The consciousness that is Me is trying to train the consciousness that is Me. I’m chasing my own tail. I’m going around in circles.
I still meditate every day for about an hour. I don’t worry much about the length of time I put in. I figure that I’m trying to grok what, if anything, is beyond space-time. So it’s nonsensical to sit on my cushion thinking about how much time I’ve been meditating.
I still mentally repeat a mantra. Except when I don’t. I use a one-syllable mantra of my own choosing, not a mantra tied to the concepts of a particular religious or spiritual tradition. Like de Mello says, I want to study this anthill of a cosmos without preconceptions or filters.
That’s the scientific way. I don’t feel anymore like I need to change myself into someone new. My goal is to let go of the old that is keeping me from realizing who I am, and what is happening, right now.
Which is…a spaghetti dinner that needs to be cooked.
I hope what I’ve written makes at least a little bit of sense to you, Stephen. It isn’t easy for me to describe.