As Meditation Becomes More Popular, Don’t Lose the Depth
A seated meditation practice is more popular now than it’s ever been. Smartphone apps and online platforms have exploded in popularity. Schools, hospitals, and workplaces have discovered the benefits of mindfulness and other meditation-based interventions. These advances are beautiful and we should celebrate them, but now that meditation is mainstream, we may be losing some of its depth.
Meditation can mean so many different things based on who you ask. It is used as a simple wellness practice that benefits our overall mental health, and as a technique that’s tried for coping with stress or anxiety. It’s even a tool that helps with insomnia. But the origins of meditation go beyond practicing it for such benefits.
The State of Meditation
Meditation is rooted in the enlightenment traditions of the East. Traditionally, sitting meditation is a core practice for spiritual seekers who are on a path of liberation — aka the state of enlightenment. This state is when one’s sense of limited individuality is replaced with an abiding sense of unity with all things, an unbroken conscious connection with the creative source energy of the universe.
This state may seem lofty or even unimaginable, but what we learn as we tread down the path is that feeling connected is quite natural and gradual. We don’t have to wait until we reach Buddha status before we can enjoy the deep magic medicine that meditation offers.
Meditation’s Philosophical Origins
The philosophy of non-dual tantra teaches us that the basic underlying principle of the universe is one of expansion and contraction. According to tantra, the endless forms that appear in the universe are all made of the same stuff. People, places, things, ideas, and experiences are all, at their core, made of the same source energy. Contemporary quantum physics says something similar. In tantra and other enlightenment traditions, the practice of sitting meditation is designed to help us experience this reality.
We sit still, turn our attention inward, and practice a meditation technique (dhārana) that enables our individual awareness to become absorbed in that deeper unified awareness (dhyāna) and then dissolve completely (samādhi). These three concepts are laid out as part of Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga.
The Sufis call this state of samadhi fanā. The word fanā can be translated as "annihilation," and the connotation is “annihilation into the Supreme Power.” Every time we sleep deeply, we become this state of non-being. However, we’re not aware of this because we’re sleeping. In deep meditation, we can practice how to let go and dissolve and stay alert enough to enjoy the profound release. And when we do, we come back different, better, and more alive.
Attaining Enlightenment Here and Now
Do you feel intimidated by these lofty ideas? I assure you that experiencing meditation and the state of samadhi isn’t just for exalted yogis and mystics. If we so choose, this principle is something we can explore every time we sit.
It’s akin to nature’s death and rebirth cycle. When we meditate deeply, we cease to be. We are ageless and actionless. We dissolve. And along with the dissolution, we let go of stress and unhelpful patterns of thinking and being. We stop the momentum of our existence and rest in the energy that is our source and the source of everything.
But we don’t stay there. Eventually, the meditation is over and we have to get up and go back to work — back into our roles, back to life. But in this rebirth, we get to choose how we act, how we think, and what direction we want to take.
A New Way of Being
On the deepest level, this is like a mystic going into the realm of death and returning in a state of total freedom and illumination. For us “ordinary” meditators, every time we meditate, we get the chance to let our worldly difficulties go and come back refreshed and more intentional. Gradually, we become liberated — a little more free and awake every day.
In Sufism, the experience of fanā is followed by the state known as baqā. Baqā is the state of being human — meaning, being “limited” — but going about our lives in a different, more empowered and liberated way. We live our life, but we do it in a state of conscious connection to the magic, power, and mystery of existence. This can be our goal, even as casual meditators.
So, yes, meditation is can be great for lowering blood pressure or improving concentration. Getting a good night’s sleep or taking the edge off of anxiety is wonderful. But if we desire, our “me time” spent in a meditation seat can also be an essential key to a whole new and wonderful way of being.
Try this course, 21-Day Jump-Start to a Powerful, Joyous Meditation Practice by meditation teacher David Harshada Wagner.
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