You often talk about meditation. What does meditation mean to you? Why do you advise us to meditate, and is there any other way to learn those things beside meditation?
Aaron: You have several questions here. Let us take them one at a time. Is there any other way to learn? Bluntly, NO! This is not so limited as it may seem, since meditation takes many forms. Your personality and where you are on your journey determine the best type of meditation for you. Rarely is only one form of meditation adhered to throughout life. As you grow and change, a new method may become appropriate. Try it on like a suit of clothes and if it fits you, wear it for a time. Allow it to become comfortable and familiar until it becomes like a second skin. Then you are no longer performing an action when you meditate, but simply experiencing, or being.
What is meditation? It is the means to know yourself at deeper levels, which knowledge allows you to be in harmony with the universe. It is the path out of the illusion of separation into which your human form and feelings bind you. Meditation frees your awareness from such personal identification. It is the way to know your oneness with each other, with all living things, and with God. It is your way home!
I have experienced many forms of meditation in my lifetimes. I have been a Christian priest and practiced devotional meditation, living in solitude in a monastery and teaching there. I have been a Buddhist priest and done the same thing in a forest monastery in Thailand. There, the practice was Vipassana meditation. I have chanted mantras, practiced martial arts, done Sufi dancing, lived in luxury and prayed in great temples, and lived in poverty and meditated in hovels.
Looking back on all this, I know now what I did not know in each of those lives, that no one method is right. They are all right! The rightness is not in the method but in your heart. It has truly been taught that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, and that teacher will help you to open the doors you need to open. If a certain practice is right for you, you will be led to it when you need it. Open your hearts and trust your inner wisdom, and it shall be so.
You ask if there is one method of meditation I’d teach above the rest. I am hesitant to commit myself here because what is right for one of you, at one stage on the path, is not what another needs at another stage. I do not contradict myself when I advise one to do this and another to do that. I merely try to direct each one back to the center of his chosen path.
As you approach that stage in your journey where you understand your true spiritual nature and begin to long to find the way home, to come to an end of all duality and separateness, at that stage I would recommend a combination of Vipassana and devotional meditation. The Vipassana is hard work and requires courage and perseverance. The devotional meditation is to remind you to hold constantly in your hearts the reason for this work, which is both your love of God and the fact that God is Love.
Devotional meditation takes many forms. Hold God in your heart and speak to Him. Your message may be in the form of words, song, dance, work, or service. You may seek out the great Master of your choice and, revering him, ask his help to lead you to God. Your love for this Master reminds you of the holiness of your own self, for the spark of God is in all of us. Through the Beloved you come to know the perfection of your own true being, and finally, your oneness with God.
What of those who do not believe in God? Can they go no further on their path? If they love enough, and serve others through their love, that is their God. They will know God when they are ready for Him. Until then, their love and service is given no less in service to God, just because they do not acknowledge Him. Indeed their faith may be greater, as they serve with love and dedication He whom they do not know. For those of you who have been graced by direct experience of Him, your path is easier. Your experience enhances your faith.
What of Vipassana meditation? This is the path to your recognition of your wholeness. It is a meditation of reality, of compassion, of forgiveness. It is a meditation that takes you beyond your fears, deeper into the heart of love where you find your oneness with all that is.
You have fragmented yourselves into self and other, and that perceived self into that which is acceptable and that which you must hide. That whole Pandora’s Box of hidden matter smolders under the surface. It separates you from yourself. You spend your days fleeing from this fire, so busy merely trying to escape it, to outthink it and stay one step ahead, that you never pause to see what’s burning.
Meditation provides a firebreak, a still space where you may stop and look. There is no judgment here, no blame, there is just reality. No, some of that reality is not pretty, but we are not in a beauty contest here. Slowly, you learn to open the box, to let in air and light, to allow what is hidden to surface. You have been looking through the filters of what you wished to see, so that what was really there was unknowable. Always, the unknown is more dreaded than the reality. Slowly you pierce the layers of illusion and begin to see with clear vision. Slowly the subsurface fires, exposed to air and light, burn their way out and die away. There is no more fuel to feed them, as each smoldering twig of kindling is brought into the light.
This process takes courage, perseverance, faith and love. As you permit it to happen, you begin to find an undreamed of wholeness. There is no longer a wall between your conscious mind and your heart, no longer a separation in yourself. There are no longer places that must be hidden. You learn to open to yourself and trust what you find there. What you used to need to bury becomes the fertile ground for exploration. The burned out material from that old subsurface fire becomes the compost heap that provides the rich soil for growth. Always there is growing compassion, forgiveness and love.
Then the wall between self and others may come down. It simply dissolves. You cannot love another until you love yourself. Once you love yourself, then you know God’s love and know that it is an impersonal love that loves all of creation. For truly, God is Love.
Choose the method of meditation that best fits you. Listen to your heart or let a trusted teacher guide you. But practice daily, if you are serious about your commitment to your own growth. Whatever your practice, you must approach it with a willingness to be with what’s there, what’s real, not just to practice when you are feeling “spiritual.” This is not reality but separation from yourself.
Open to yourself and to God and your love, trust and work will bring you home.