December 1, 2022
(translation from German assisted by DeepL)
Meditation aims to achieve a long-lasting state of greatest mental clarity in emotional balance and physical calm. Meditative techniques originated early and in all cultures, are usually associated with mysticism and religious practice, but reach far beyond. As different and varied as these techniques are, they follow the same path: to allow the body, emotions, and mind to come to rest. In this tranquility, my view of the larger environment of my ordinary world opens up. Much later, the world beyond my ordinary begins to open up as well.
What is meditation?
Meditation involves techniques to create a consistent free space in my agitated and largely mechanical being, and therein to refine and deepen my attention and perception.
Why do I need to create a free space for myself? After all, I have a free will, and thus a free space that is naturally available, even without special techniques and exercises. Without further education and effort, however, this space is small and short-lived. Even a brief observation shows that the focus of my free will can change very quickly, and usually beyond my usual control. The cause for this can be a sudden idea, a message, an encounter, a glance even. Thus my conscious doing disintegrates into a sequence of mosaic particles, which belong to the most different pictures. At some point I have to collect all the pieces that belong to one picture and put it together. I only manage to do this sometimes before a new wave of challenges crashes over me and I have to let the whole subject ride. But the larger the consistent free space, the larger the mosaic pieces, the faster the picture is put together. Accordingly larger and deeper I can grasp, understand, and do with it.
This situation is general, does not only concern me, but everybody, including different groups up to our society as a whole.
The goal of meditation is a long-lasting state of greatest mental clarity in emotional balance and physical tranquility.
Meditative techniques have arisen in all cultures and have roots that go back thousands of years. From these have emerged a multitude of forms that continue to transform and diversify with cultural evolution, and in some cases emerge anew.
Analogous to other abilities that we do not have from birth, from walking upright to reading and writing, there are also here the phases of learning, practicing, using. They are all called “meditation”. Like the other skills, meditation is not an end in itself, but an instrument to be able to do something.
Many see meditation in the context of mysticism or religious practice. However, its historical roots are much broader. They range from cultural refinement such as tea ceremony or calligraphy to martial arts. Of course, they also and importantly include mysticism and religion. Over the past decades, meditative techniques have finally found an enormous spread deep into psychology and medicine, ultimately into all areas that are too complicated to be directly controlled by simple rational methods.
The fact that meditative techniques emerged early and in all cultures shows that there are evolutionary benefits associated with them.
One can speculate about where such benefits originally came from. One aspect is certainly religious beliefs reinforced by meditation, which led to increasingly extensive social cooperation, and thus to the formation of stable groups. Another is an overall higher efficiency of meditating people, resulting from a more developed ability to focus and concentrate. Both aspects become evolutionarily effective when people move predominantly in environments that are too complicated to be deeply grasped and understood by them. In this situation, both social groups and more efficient individuals guarantee deeper perception and thus a higher probability of survival.
Indeed, we live in a world that is enormously complicated both physically and socially, a world that we understand in snippets but whose totality is unimaginably beyond our ability to comprehend. This is true for me, but also for humanity as a whole.
Everything you have ever heard, seen, or known is not even the beginning of what you must know.Farid ud-Din Attar, c. 1200, The Conference of the Birds
The overtaxing by my own being, all the more by my embedding in a complicated environment, this is nothing new, has always been so, and will always remain so. It is inseparable from the nature of conscious life. I myself am already unfathomable for me. Every other being creates a new inscrutability, it and I together a still much deeper one.
Quickly some situations of increasing complexity run through my mind: What should I eat, of what quality and origin, what ecological and social footprint am I willing to leave behind, and to be responsible for? Where to, when, and why do I want to travel, for what experiences in the foreign physical, social and cultural environment, and again my footprint. How do I promote a steady development for myself, on what background, in what directions, and why actually?
This necessary more of knowledge, more importantly the more of understanding, I will never be able to gain it, we will never be able to gain it,… and this is normal, has always been so and will always be so.
The having to understand is today a completely different one than yesterday, and will be tomorrow a completely different one again. The reason: the world is going through a fundamental transformation in our time.
Before our time, immutable physical laws determined the course of the world. Mankind consisted of small and rather insignificant groups moving in a practically boundless environment. This environment, following its own and unchangeable laws, determined the life of the small groups.
In our time, humankind has become an ecologically globally dominant species, which, together with the plants and animals it controls, determines most of the life on our planet. Thus, and made possible by our modern technological development, our society has become an important factor in the inanimate world as well. In important areas it already determines the course of the world substantially, first of all with the climate.
The course of the world in our time is no longer determined exclusively by immutable physical laws, but increasingly also by our rapidly changing society.
With the transition to global dominance comes a responsibility for the whole. Of course, this responsibility does not rest on my shoulders alone. But I have to perceive and understand the big situation in such a way that I can recognize, bear and take responsibility for my part. Even if my altruism does not reach so far, I still have to understand the world and its transformation so far that I can go my way self-determined, not only passively driven by the rapid developments.
The dramatically greater complexity and danger of our time compared to the old world is unfortunately not the whole challenge. In addition, the time intervals over which we can continuously follow a topic have greatly decreased. Of course, this is first of all a consequence of the greater number of topics, which are also becoming more and more complex. But another important aspect is that “social noise” has increased enormously. Such noise is generated by micro-information in social channels (from the old beer table to the current TikTok), in classical media (from printed newspapers and television to their online offerings), but also in billboards, sounds, and smells that increasingly fill urban space. Such micro-information almost never yields useful understanding, but nevertheless is sometimes important.
A much higher complexity of fundamentally important situations together with shorter and shorter time intervals to perceive, understand, evaluate, and finally to act, this challenge and overload exists not only for every single person, but also for all groups, for our whole society. Ever larger complexes of topics roll towards us in ever shorter intervals and there is hardly ever, if ever, the time to perceive and understand them more deeply, let alone to choose a development and implement it. Pandemics, globalization, synthetic biology, change of our physical and social environment, transformation of our world by automation and artificial intelligence briefly flash up for illustration.
space for rest
Obviously, I will never be able to gain an overview of the world in which my life is developing, an overview that would be necessary to choose and go my ways. The world is too complicated. This is the nature of the evolution that has produced life, and which it keeps on spinning.
With this insight I will not try to run faster and faster in my hamster wheel. It will never be able to be fast enough! Rather, I will break out of it again and again and create a space of rest. A space from which I exclude the social noise, where I muffle the inner noise of my thoughts and emotions as much as possible.
In this space I will inevitably touch again and again deep questions: who am I? why do I live? what is beyond, even beyond my death? is there anything at all? God? … and many more. Questions that seem completely unproductive because there are deep questions but no deep answers. These questions are rather mirrors and at the same time signposts. They help me to anchor myself in something greater.
That will never be solid, neither the greater nor my anchoring in it. Hiking in the mountains describes the situation quite well. The security in the greater uncertainty is endless drive and inspiration. In the exchange with my innermost, my core, in that dance my personality is formed, my egoistic and socio-cultural veils are lifted, the greater emerges more and more clearly behind my ordinary understanding.
Seeing the greater, I can choose my paths, then – back in the hamster wheel – develop and walk them.
Techniques of meditation
The goal of meditation is a long-lasting state of greatest mental clarity in emotional balance and physical tranquility. To achieve this, there are a variety of techniques and a much larger number of schools, books, or videos that teach such techniques. The way is basically always the same, but the details vary in a wide spectrum.
First I let my body draw as much conscious attention as possible, and then come to rest. This often goes through a focused and unmoving posture that is maintained during the time of meditation. Such a posture can be a formal lotus position, but also simply sitting upright in my office chair. Quiet, often rhythmic movements can also lead to the goal of “tranquility from attention.” Examples are formal kinhin, walking meditation in Zen practice, but also formless walking on a forest path or the dance of the Mevlevi dervishes.
Whether sitting still or moving quietly is not so important. Even in my greatest stillness there is always movement: my breathing, my heartbeat. What is important is that I am carefully aware of my posture and movements, aware until they quietly fade into the background, the body releasing the space of attention it occupied.
Similar to the body, I also calm down my emotions, let them release the space of attention they have occupied. This is more difficult, however, because they are much less controllable than the superficial layers of my body. Direct suppression does not work, especially when I am in an agitated state. Usually, however, for the time of meditation, I can focus on a strong and positive emotion that takes over the space from my original emotions. This can emerge from the imagination of pure light embedding me, of deep comfort, of comprehensive love and of other things, but also from imagining a deep being in which all forms dissolve.
I let myself sink completely into the arising feeling, merge into it,… and then again let it slowly fade into the background, while I remain.
The most difficult area is my conscious mind with its incessant stream of words, images and thoughts that immediately fills all available free space. This is the ordinary nature of my mind, which in its overload seeks to turn the hamster wheel faster and faster. Directly suppressing thoughts is actually even less possible than suppressing emotions. They are of a much more fluid nature.
One way is to first convince myself that I can’t or won’t move anything forward on my pressing tasks during the time of meditation. For the next step, visualization can help me: The thoughts that arise again and again are waves on a large lake in which the full moon is reflected. The waves are driven by the wind of my attention, grow with it, slowly disappear in the calm: clear moon. In another visualization the thoughts are persons who try to win the attention of the king, of my greater self. The latter watches their doings lovingly, understands their motives, but opens up to the greater. There are a myriad of other such visualizations as an entry point to a meditation. Some are compiled in “Starting Points” (german and french only).
out of silence…
Reducing the inner noise is difficult and requires a lot of practice. But the first successes come quickly. Until I then begin to find a deep calm even in the most difficult and upsetting situations, and a vision that penetrates into spheres far beyond my ordinary, until then it is a long and challenging path that will also change me deeply.
On a first stage, silence opens my eyes to the larger environment of my current ordinary world, to myself and my possibilities in that environment, and beyond it. Important things begin to distinguish themselves from unimportant ones, new things begin to emerge from the old, feasible grand paths begin to form. This calm clarity becomes the source of my awareness, of myself, the source of inspiration and deep understanding. Emerging again from the tranquility of meditation, I can do anew… consciously, powerfully, directed toward a goal.
At a much later stage of the path, in the now deeper tranquility and silence, the world beyond my ordinary begins to open up. The mystical world in the real sense, which is mysterious, because it extends beyond words, pictures, or ideas, because it is accessible in this original form only to me and only to my experience, because I cannot simply share it with you… and you cannot share yours with me.