“Be mindful; stay calm; stay still; be observant; become self-aware; meditate; or why don’t you learn meditation? I’ve heard all this and I’m sure you did as well?”
The funny side of this story I heard from many people is that “I did try many and have gone to meditation camps and retreats and even holidays but have achieved little”. One of my acquaintances said that she was looking around at the ecstatic people in one such session she attended and wondered what the others are going through which she is unable to see or feel? She felt that she was coming under pressure to demonstrate that she is going through great experiences just to be feeling part of the group and so that her husband who took her to one such place doesn’t feel offended. She asked me “Sree is it any good to go and meditate? Does anything come out of it? Have you ever felt the need to meditate?”
I could completely relate to this as I myself have been through similar experiences and see that people who recommend you to such courses feel offended when you tell them that you got nothing out of it or you felt it was a complete waste of time. I also realize that they are probably so caught in by the fancy and the make-believe world of such camps. They probably are also under tremendous stress themselves to justify being there in the first place.
They don’t want to look like idiots who went and spent their time and money on such courses which offered nothing. I somehow feel that they are trying to convince themselves by trying to convince others about the benefits. Some I have seen become aggressive after attending such sessions. They seem to have changed for the worse. They attack those who have a different view contrary to what their gurus have told them. In fact they become the very opposite of what they set out to achieve. They start ‘minding’; ‘become restless’; ‘keep moving’; ‘become less observant of everything else’; and highly ‘stressed’ and move around with a mask of fake serenity and shmuck smile which can be easily perceived by keen observers.
Not for once am I rejecting the idea of meditation or its power. My problem is that the self-proclaimed gurus need to tone down and stop claiming esoteric benefits arising out of meditating. Stop telling stories with imaginative goals and outcomes the challenge to which is brushed off by statements like “you are not yet there” ; “these are things which are difficult to explain” ; “you have to experience it to believe it” and so on…
What is important is to set the objectives clear and also let people understand the ‘why’? behind the process.
Let me explain. What happens when you are asked to close your eyes during meditation? What is the purpose really? I don’t think I need to start setting an objective here that would lead to an early judgment. When you close your eyes, you find that your other senses become alert and their signal strength becomes strong. Especially so your ‘ears’. You start to hear even the sound of the wind blowing ever so slightly; which by now we would have stopped sensing as that has become part of ourselves, our subconscious or our conditioning. We’ve got so used to the noise around us that we hardly pay attention.
It’s to do with our eyes as well. If you are a regular at the park for your morning walk, the initial few days or even month your eyes will see all the beauty around in the greenery, flowers, the path you tread, the people around, the fragrances etc. But over many months, our eyes stop observing and we just go through the motion as our body has been turned into an auto-pilot. It’s a pattern and our eyes do not really need to exert itself unless it finds a serious block staring right at our face. The plants would have grown ever so slightly and the buds would have started to appear but we keep to our walks and running and whatever we go there for. We express our surprise when as we term “all of a sudden” we find that flowers have blossomed and look so beautiful. You know it is not sudden, but a slow and gradual process of growth. However, we express our pleasant surprise. What this means is that we have never really cared to observe .
It happens in our relationships as well. When you first meet your date and the initial days of your romance, you are so full of observing even the slightest of aspects in each other. You admire the beauty in all detail. Gradually there comes a time when we are just talking and stopped observing. In fact even the talking has sometimes turned to ambient noise as you get used to each other and the pattern sets in. At times you even don’t realize the subtle changes happening in the person whom you knew before. You will find that when you stay away for few months or even a year and then meet someone, you are able to observe the changes in each other. You hear parents or friends tell you “hey you have lost weight”; “you’ve grown taller”; “you look different”; and so on.
What does it mean for us. That there is an initial image which we see and then become comfortable with and after that we continue to operate with that image in mind for the rest of our life. Maybe that is the reason why the cliché’ “first impression is the best impression”. Don’t you think that can change? Does it not change over a period? Are you willing to go beyond the first impression?
For that to happen, you need to shut out the past image to look at the present. For that you need to close your eyes and open again. I can tell you with the experience of my interactions with my mom, who is a great cook and used to dish out mouthwatering delicacies on request during my growing up years. Now she has turned 83 but I am still living with the same old image which I have carried of her. Whenever, I visit her I expect her to do the same , dish out some of my favorites. I fail to see (truly) and it needs a reminder from her from time to time that she is not the same person anymore. She has aged, her body is not agreeing to the demands of work etc. That is when I actually start to observe the changes which have occurred to her body. It is not that I would not be concerned, but we get so patterned in our seeing that we have actually stopped seeing. We need to first stop this ‘patterned seeing’ and start probably ‘deliberate seeing’ as a child would do or as you did when you met your date for the first time.
Coming back to why we need to close our eyes for long hours before we open them again is to just stop our ‘patterned seeing’ and start ‘deliberate seeing’ or ‘being observant’ as some masters would say. To observe the subtle changes that have taken place in the environment around us. To discard the images of the past and to be seeing in the present. You know – all that matters is the present.
There is a residual benefit which arises out of keeping your eyes closed. Your ears become much more active and alert to sounds in the environment around you. You will find that when you work in a highly noisy environment for long periods or if you had a creaking door, a noisy ceiling fan, initially you will be irritated by its noise and your attention keeps getting drawn to it. You don’t want to hear that but your ears somehow keep focusing on it.
This is for me is another funny aspect of setting goals for your senses. When you tell them to ‘not do’ certain things they seem to be doing it more. I am sure you would have experienced it yourself, When you say “I don’t want to see that anymore” is when you start seeing it more, when you “don’t want to hear something” you hear it more as well. So as part of your meditation, my suggestion is do not set yourselves goals. Don’t expect anything from it and your senses will automatically do the job they are intended to do for your safety and growth. You would also find that over period of time these noises or sounds become part of your life and then you are no longer irritated, excited or worried about these noises. In fact you won’t even notice they exist. It becomes a pattern and you stop hearing.
The same happens in your relationships as well, with your parents, teachers, friends, fiancée , co-workers and the whole lot of people who you regularly interact with. With your parents, if you hear them talk the same talk with you all the time, over time you will start to take them as ambient noise and totally ignore the content. Especially so if it is something critical about you (which is mostly the case in our growing up years). When criticism about us becomes repetitive, they become a pattern and then we stop listening or ignoring. We no longer look at the content of the messages around us. We do not give importance to their existence. Similarly with your fiancée or co-workers or friends, in the initial stages of our relationship we are all ‘ears’ as we say to whatever is being said, but over a period of time we start to take things for granted as , maybe it has become a ‘patterned talk or noise’. You learn to live with it and not pay much heed to what is being said. We also get into the patterned response based on ‘who is saying it’ rather than looking at ‘what is being said’.
To understand what you have been missing as part of your sense of hearing you must take off to a remote jungle and close your eyes for a while , you will hear so many wonderful sounds around you that it will give you a great sense of energy. You will hear the birds chirp, the slithering of a snake nearby, the monkeys , the running deer, the roar of a distant lion or tiger, the water flowing in a nearby creek… Oh! there will be so many that you will be overwhelmed, you would have never experienced before. In fact you would also find that your sense of ‘hearing’ becomes essential for your survival.
It’s the same with a mother and child relationship. When you are just an infant the mothers sense of hearing is so high that even the slightest movement in the crib will alert her of your needs. As you grow and start to speak and start demanding from her through speech on a regular basis, she starts to shut out the pattern. You would have come across some parents who remain calm and seem to be conveniently ignoring a hyper active child who throws things around, creates a scene and makes a lot of noise even in public places. You start to wonder what kind of parenting they have. Actually it’s nothing to do with their parenting, it is that they have got used to the pattern of this noise and you have not. It is irritating you because it is away from the pattern of silence which you so got used to.
So when you shut your eyes during meditation, you are actually allowing your ‘sense of hearing’ to be rejuvenated and soak in all the ambience. So it is first important not to find a quiet place during meditation, but to start your meditation practice in a noisy place. Shut your eyes and exercise your sense of hearing. Learn , comprehend and grow from it. Expose yourselves to different environment lest you get used to the same noise as of the creaking door. That is exactly why when you talk to different people you get different perspectives. The social media forums are one great place which demonstrate this aspect. It is also important to realize that you must not talk about the same things again and again with the same person. It will turn into pure ambient noise. Start talking about varied topics with your acquaintances to keep the energy in the relationship.
This is also amply evident, when you are on your first date, you talk about so many things about each other and your interests which you are not aware of . That keeps the interest alive. Imagine you meet regularly and speak about the same things every day, then you are surely heading for an early split out of sheer boredom or pattern. Try listening to people with your eyes closed and see how well you receive the content and then judge for yourself about the power of closing your eyes during meditation. More than looking inwards, it is first to make you aware of your other senses.
Now let’s say you cannot ‘See’ or ‘Hear’ anything. Your sense of smell will be the first to awaken and have a heightened level of alertness. You start to sniff for familiarity or to learn about the environment you are in. Have you ever had a meal in a place called “Dialogue-in-the-Dark”? You will know what I mean. This place gives a perspective of the world from the eyes of the blind. You are served food on your table and the entire restaurant is pitch dark. You cannot see anything whatsoever and are dependent only on the sense of touch, smell, hearing and speech. When the food arrives on your table, your sense of smell becomes active and tries to guess the dish first based on the aroma. You must try this place once if you have to experience what I am saying.
When you shut out your ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ your ‘nose’ becomes active and starts to catch the smells around. That’s why when someone sneaks in from behind you, you are able to smell it and react to the situation accordingly. The adage ‘sniff you out’ is an indicator of this ability. But again, if you get too used to the smell over a period of time it becomes a ‘patterned smelling’ and you no longer feel its presence around you.
A person who works as a driver in the ‘garbage clearing truck’ of the municipal corporation will get so used to the smell around such work that he won’t mind it or it is part of his job so goes unnoticed as opposed to the truck moving past you and leaving a foul smell around. When you are alone and with your eyes closed and ears shut or used to the patterned noises around, is when you start to get the varied smell of nature. It’s like those animals which have such a powerful sense of smell that they can identify their prey or hunter from miles away. A baby is known to sense first by smell of its mother and gets excited by her presence nearby. Similarly you could tell if your fiancée sneaks in from behind by the familiar smell even though you have not seen or heard them coming. It’s by the smell that early man was able to identify whether a fruit can be eaten or not. That’s probably why we use the terms like ‘sweet smell’ etc. while describing some objects of interest.
Try going to a sound-proof room and switch off all lights and remain there for half-hour or more and you will experience the shift to this third sense of ‘smell’. The reason why many saints meditated in caves was to also shut out the ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ for long periods. To enjoy the food you eat and relish its taste manifold, we must take in the aroma first. It really sets your digestive juices flowing not just in your tummy but in your mouth as well. That’s why we either get put off by the smell or taken in by it when we enter a restaurant or an eatery. Some smells are pungent and off putting and some really attractive. You might observe if you have a baking or cookies/chocolate counter right in the front of the eatery, the sweet smell of baked cakes or the vanilla is quite a pull. I suggest you must indulge at times by ‘deliberate smelling’ of your environment and keep exercising your sense of smell. Don’t just wait for something out of the ordinary. You are living with some wonderful aromas around you. Make your life smell sweet.
Again focusing our attention to the aspect of meditation and the impact it has on our senses. Let’s now look at our sense of ‘speech and taste’. When you keep your mouth closed or shut for long duration, the first sip of water will taste very sweet. But when you have a lot of water, your attention then shifts to your tummy than on the taste of water. Water is an elixir of life only in limited amounts and as much as you need, else you have a chance of drowning in it.
We have been similarly taught right from childhood that you must ‘chew’ your food slowly and deliberate paying attention to the varied flavors. It is not just good for your digestion but also to elevate your sense of tasting food. When it becomes a routine or pattern is when you lose all sense. Today you find people talk of grabbing a bite and are eating while they are conversing, driving or running for work or school. No deliberate chewing, no sense for taste. People actually are taken by surprise when you ask them what they ate for breakfast. They have to pause, at times think long to recall what they actually ate. The reason is that eating has become a pattern and you have lost all sense for taste. Eating while watching TV at home, at the dining table or during a meeting takes away the pleasures coming out of your sense of taste.
There is another role your mouth plays and that is to produce the sound of speech. People do pay attention when you speak little. But when you keep rambling on then it becomes more of a noise for them and less focus is on the content of what you speak. Try keeping quiet or keeping your mouth shut for one day and feel the difference. It not only helps you to elevate your sense of hearing, listening and/or comprehending what is being said but after a long pause when you speak, people will pay attention. Great speakers therefore you would have noticed use the pauses very well to bring your attention to what they are saying. You find that speaker who go on and on during meetings, presentation or any other event lose the attention of their audience as their speech turns more of a noise than anything of substance.
In India, there is a concept of ‘maun vrat’ – its basically about remaining silent for the whole day or week or at times month or two. This helps the person to start with a heightened sense for all other senses and learn and grow more from the environment. Isn’t it the same when a stealth team in combat keeps absolute silence while moving in on the target lest they get caught in the act and in an ambush. There are many areas in our life when keeping quite will be of great help. A verbal slanging match with your spouse, co-worker or boss may end up more as a noise pollutant than achieve any purpose. It is exhausting as well.
Meditation helps you to practice shutting out this sense for some time such that you derive the maximum benefits from your other senses. You can probably recollect several such instances in your life where you would have felt ‘silence’ would have been a great option to choose. It is a good pause to take.
We have now looked at the senses of ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’, ‘smelling’ and ‘tasting/speaking’ in the context of meditative practice. Let’s take it a little further and see what would happen when you have no sense of touch as well.
What I mean is when you ‘stay still’ without movement or touching anything. Initially your butt may ache by sitting in the same posture, but over time it gets used to the floor or the chair you are sitting on and loses all sense for it – you can say, becomes numb to it. In this state you must not even use a ‘japa mala’ or ‘rosary’ to meditate. Nothing whatsoever. That’s precisely when your attention shifts to your sixth sense ie, your ‘mind’. Your thoughts start racing and reflecting on several things at one time. It starts in a very chaotic fashion and then one by one starts to peel into information which has been resident in your mind. Mind you, you can only think of or reflect on what you have already experienced and build on it.
This is one area which will take a long time to shut out. Our mind is so vast and the information stored and the thoughts it generates is bigger than the mighty oceans. You keep on reflecting on various aspects of yourself and the transactions you have had during your existence in this world. As you keep at it for prolonged durations, there might come a point where you have exhausted everything; every little detail you have recollected; right from your birth to this very moment. There is nothing more. Your imagination has run wild enough to be exhausted. It goes blank. That is the moment of ‘No mind’ It gets refreshed like a baby’s mind. You rediscover the child in you and you reach the state of ‘divine’ like the baby.
If you have ever stared at a infants face, you will find the tranquility, serenity, the innocence, the beauty which brings a smile onto your face; a state of blissful existence. The attempt of meditation is to reach that state of ‘no mind’ to rediscover yourself and the child in you.
That’s the reason why when you are in the presence of great masters and you look at them, you will find a child like tranquility in them, a state of ‘no mind’.
When you look at the picture of Christ, Buddha, Krishna or any evolved being you will not be able to attach any specific emotion to them. They will start reflecting your image onto you cause they don’t have any. They are the masters of ‘no mind’. Meditation therefore leads you to possibly Christ consciousness, Buddha consciousness or Krishna consciousness. All mean the same – a state of ‘no mind’.
I hope I have succeeded in some way to explain the act of meditation and where it leads to?
Meditation according to me is therefore a simple process of you taking the journey of the deliberate acts – ‘mindfulness’ to a state of ‘no mind’. It is a state of ‘thoughtlessness’ and suspension of all sensations quite like that brief moment during an orgasm.