How do you meditate? Close your eyes and surrender.
For a long time I have talked and written about how the practice of meditation occurs in two distinct stages, but until now I have only taught in detail about the first stage. This summer I will be leading a 30 day meditation program focused on the practice of the second stage of meditation.
I teach the first stage of meditation as The Art of Conscious Contentment. In this stage you are simply disengaging from all patterns of thought and perception. You are liberating yourself from all of the habitual ways that you have learned to react to your mind. If you are successful in letting go in this way, you are free. You discover your True Self as the awareness that has always been aware behind every experience of your life. There is nothing but this awareness. You experience the ultimate witnessing position.
As you rest in this level of practice you will see all the same thoughts, feelings, memories, and tendencies continue to arise in your mind, but now you are just watching them. They don’t necessarily seem to have anything to do with you. You are free. The mind continues to do what it does, but you are at peace and resting through it all. By learning to consciously choose to be content with your mind the way it is, you have discovered the part of yourself that is always content and always will be.
This is a glorious and magnificent realization.
It may be some people’s destiny to just rest in peaceful bliss forever, but others of us are called into the second stage of meditation, what I call The Art of Creative Illumination.
We have all developed habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and perceiving based on our personal experiences. We embark on a spiritual path when we realize that there is much more possible than what we habitually think, feel, and perceive. The first step in the process of awakening is relaxing our current habits of mind. That is what the first stage of meditation is about. It is a purely passive act of letting go and detaching.
Once we are free of our habits of mind, something happens. We start to float upward in consciousness. As we float upwards, we start to feel lighter and freer. Our habits of mind start to recede from view. There can be a sense of deep peace and quiet. We start to forget ourselves as we relax more deeply.
Now we are resting in the calm abidance of a liberated heart and mind. You lose track of the passage of time. This moment feels like all there is. There is nothing that we need. We are perfectly content, and we feel, perhaps for the first time in our lives, as if we could stay right here forever.
It is at this point that something might start to call to us. It might feel like an unusual physical sensation, or a vague thought or vision. Maybe it's a dim sense of euphoria. These are the subtle callings of higher consciousness inviting us to follow them. We might at this point continue with our practice of detachment. We might allow these subtle stirrings to simply pass away, but I want to suggest a different possibility. When these faint glimmerings of higher possibilities come into awareness, they are inviting us to allow them in. They are asking us to be open to what they offer.
Many years ago, I was on a meditation retreat and a tingling sensation in my hand started to call me. Usually I would have ignored this sensation and just let it pass, but for some reason this time was different, and instead I surrendered to the sensation. I don't know if I can accurately describe what this means, but internally it felt like energetically saying, “Yes, take me.” I didn’t use words to do this, I simply relaxed all my inner rigidity. I became fluid like a liquid, and I allowed myself to be carried away.
Almost immediately I was enveloped in a cocoon of spiritually charged energy. It hung in the air all around me and permeated my body. I felt deeply energized and that energy supported me constantly for the next two months on retreat.
After that experience I continued to rest in the perfect calm of complete detachment, and whenever I felt called by a stirring of energy, or a vision, or any other beckoning from the divine, I surrendered to it and allowed myself to be carried away. During that retreat, I was showered with revelatory experiences of all kinds, and I wondered if I had been unwittingly holding all this awakening back for years by ignoring the divine when she called.
The great Sufi master, Rumi taught that meditation was surrender. I have come to see that surrender comes in two forms. Initially we surrender our familiar patterns of thought, feeling, and perception. We disengage from them and rest in the consciousness that lies beyond them. Later, when the divine invites us into revelatory experience, we have a second opportunity for surrender, this time we surrender ourselves. We give ourselves to the subtle callings of spirit and allow her guidance to carry us into insight and realization.