"The medium of spirituality is intuition, the integrating function of the right cerebral hemisphere," observed philosopher Rudolph Bahro. "In decisive moments of our lives, it is from here that our experience of the world must come, if we are to experience ourselves unified with the whole. If the left hemisphere, dominated by analytical reason and its cultural externalisations, continually takes charge, the intuitive mode of integration into the world-whole will be subordinate and underdeveloped."1 How do we avoid this undesirable left-hemisphere domination? According to many people, it is through the regular practice of meditation. Philip Goldberg and Frances Vaughan have said that they consider meditation to be the single most powerful means of increasing intuition.2 Ken Wilber cites research indicating that meditation is the only proven way to move our psychological/spiritual development beyond the "sensitive self" stage to the "integrative" and "holistic" stages. He noted, "Less than 2 percent of the adult population scores at Jane Loevinger's highest two stages of self development (autonomous and integrated)," and went on to say, "No practice (including psychotherapy, holotropic breathwork, or NLP) has been shown to substantially increase that percentage. With one exception: studies have shown that consistent meditation practice over a several-year period increases that percentage from 2 percent to an astonishing 38 percent ."3 (Emphasis his.)
So how do we learn to meditate? And what kinds of meditation have proven beneficial?
The basic technique in all branches of Buddhism and in a variety of secular therapeutic practices such as the stress management and pain management regimes taught by Jon-Kabat Zinn, is typically called mindfulness meditation. It involves setting aside periods of time to quiet that active left brain hemisphere and pay careful attention to aspects of the mind/body process.
In our culture we fill our waking hours with discursive thinking. We think about the past. We think about the future. We plan. We solve problems. Thats fine. But it means that in our busy, buzzy, world our mind is almost always busy and buzzy. Its a noisy mind, full of high-amplitude informational content.
This graphic might help get the idea across. At the left we have the usual noisy-mind situation. Pure quiet awareness is there as the substrate or the ground of mind, but it is modulated by a lot of high-intensity information thoughts, sensations, emotions much mind content. At the right, the graphic depicts the quiet mind. This is not sleep. The person is highly alert and aware, but the quantity and intensity of mental information is way down.
The most rapid way to experience the transition from a noisy mind to a profoundly quiet one is to attend a week or 10-day intensive retreat such as those offered at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts. In the graph, the transitional slope between noisy mind and the quiet mind depicts what happens during the first 3 or 4 days of a meditation retreat. The key to going from a noisy mind to a quiet mind is not to tell someone to stop thinking that just doesn't work but to pay close attention to something subtle such as the sensations associated with breathing. Now why would that be? It happens because we cant think discursively and pay close attention at the same time.
In a sense, the noisy mind is a habit. A quiet mind is a different kind of habit. It turns out that if we spend several days paying attention to sensations like those arising in the nostrils when the body is just naturally breathing and those arising in feet and legs when we walk, the mind gradually shifts from habitual noisiness to habitual quietude.
While attending a retreat is the ideal way to start or deepen a meditation practice, attending one is not practical for many people. The alternative is to establish a regular daily meditation practice at home. And to help you do that some guidance is helpful. Available here is an MP3 recording of a guided mindfulness meditation. It is 45 minutes in duration which is length of a typical sitting period in many retreat situations. The instructions, too, are typical of those given to beginning meditators in a retreat. I suggest that you use the guided meditation recording until you have become familiar with the practice. From that point on, just sit silently and pay attention to the various bodily sensations just as you practiced doing while listening to the recording. One more suggestion: Particularly in the early stages of pactice it is helpful to sit with the eyes closed.
download 10MB GuidedMindfulnessMediation.mp3,
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