The practice of meditation has been with us for thousands of years. It’s evolved out of contemporary religious traditions as well as the more ancient Paleolithic traditions. The early people took their teachings from nature, the heavens, the ground of being, the wisdom of the collective unconscious, and the mythology of the tribe. Power flowed through the shaman into the tribal system, not as a hierarchical authority, but as a conduit for a communal based spiritual energy shared by the collective. He/She embodied the various practices of pre-civilized meditation that affirmed the unity of life.
Contemporary religions are built on charismatic founder/leaders whose message is institutionalized and politicized by the ruling class after their death. Linked to the contradictions and dilemmas of their times, these religions make compromises with the existing social structure in order to survive. Christianity, for example, was formed under the yoke of the Roman Empire that tied them to a spiritual colonialism. Buddhism compromised in the intersection of feuding monarchs and the rural, subsistence class. Islam split into two major factions out of an economic power struggle that continues to this day. In these traditions theology is predominant and the goal is to become a good Christian or Buddhist or Muslim.
Mystical branches convened out of these religions maintaining the founder’s focus on contemplative practices, rather than theology. Emphasis in these meditative traditions is to become a Buddha, a Christ, a Mohammed, challenging the distinction between the Creator and the Created that traditional religious structures fight to preserve. These meditation practitioners eventually became Sufis in Islam, the Gnostics in Christianity, Essenes in Judaism, and the multiple forms of Buddhist traditions such as Tantric, Vipassana, Mahayana, and Zen.
The practice of meditation, in other words, grew out of a historical time to take care of a set of social concerns.
The benefits of meditation can be seen as three-fold:
• Meditation at a basic level is good for your health. For over fifty years there’s been extensive research into the physical and emotional benefits of meditation. There’s a profusion of papers, studies, and books outlining how meditation has positive effects on blood pressure, heart disease, stress, as well as emotional health.
It’s a simple prescription: sitting quietly and focusing your attention is good medicine for body, mind, and soul.
• Meditation within a community setting provides a social glue and coherence. Bonds between individuals and the collective are strengthened through shared, embodied practices. These become a framework for right action, right conduct, and right livelihood.
Meditation teaches us how to dance skillfully with conflict (both inner and outer), as well as how to work and play well together.
• Meditation can lead to freedom from our conditioning and the limitations of the individual “I” or ego. One has the direct experience of the non-dual nature of reality and the inter-connectedness of all things. We see that here and now the center is everywhere. This cultivates a genuine embodied compassion, wisdom, and skillful action.
Meditation produces an inner peace and a positive outlook on life.
Meditation is a simple, straightforward practice:
Sit with your spine straight and your body relaxed. Bring your attention to your breath, either at the nose or the belly, and let it settle into the rising and falling of the abdomen or the sensation of the breath moving through the nostrils. When you find yourself distracted gently bring the attention back to your point of concentration.
Meditation is not about transcending a difficult situation or escaping from something. It’s about being more present, more aware, and more alive. It’s not a flight from the body but a deepening into the body. There’s no grasping after a “good” feeling or a “good” meditation. Nor is there a pushing away from that which is difficult. Meditation teaches us how to be with what is, to see clearly how things are.
Meditation leads to the embodiment of Spirit. In meditation the body becomes the field in which we contact the Sacred. Through practice we experience an exquisite granularity of sensation and a vast luminescent emptiness that is simultaneously rare and common. It’s the experience of something very local and personal; it’s the experience of something vast and universal.
No equipment needed.
Sit down and pay attention.
Right here, right now, cultivate center everywhere.