The domain of spirit is imperceptible. Its very nature transcends sensory experience, and therefore our mind can only infer the presence of spirit. We can experience spirit directly, however, by going beyond our mind through the silent spaces between our thoughts. To connect with spirit, we have to go out of our conditioned mind.
Our conditioned mind is woven out memories and desires, most of which restrict our experience of life. When our mind, imprisoned in the past, drives our choices, we live in relentless search of security, control, and approval, which we hope will flow from our accomplishments, achievements and acquisitions. We all know the thrill of winning a competition, receiving a promotion, or seeing the person of our desire reciprocate our feelings. On the other hand, when we lose a challenge, role or relationship, we experience the emptiness and sadness of our unfulfilled desires.
Spirit offers a different promise. Unlike our conditioned ego-mind, which finds transitory joy in our positions and possessions, our spiritual self is established in a peace that passes understanding. The aspect of our being that is beyond our individual body and mind wants us to remember our essential nature – infinite and unbounded, without beginning or end. Whether we call this domain of life God, spirit, nature, creative intelligence, or consciousness is of minor consequence. What is important is accessing this realm of awareness through direct experience. And one of the most powerful ways to reconnect to our unconditioned self is the timeless practice of meditation.
The spiritual value of meditation is expanding our internal reference point from identification with our position, possessions, and past to the aspect of our being that is simply aware. When Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, his disciples asked him to define himself. Was he a god, a prophet, a saint? The Buddha considered the question then humbly declared that the most honest way to answer the question was simply to say, “I am awake.”
Through the regular practice of meditation, we experience a spontaneous shift in awareness and expanding experiences of clarity without mental activity. The direct experience of “I am awake” begins to infuse our daily life in the hours outside our meditation. Even as we play our roles in the world, we are aware of our underlying consciousness.
Learning to meditate
Given the many different meditation traditions and techniques, some find it difficult to know where to get started. In my experience, if a meditation technique takes you to a place of quiet inner reflection, it serves its role. For some, going on a walk can provide this valuable centering. For others, listening to classical music or guided visualizations can soothe a turbulent mind. After teaching meditation for more than three decades, I generally favor practices that require as little preparation or paraphernalia as possible. Although I’ve seen the value of recordings and biofeedback devices, I’ve learned that if you have as few excuses not to meditate as possible (e.g. forgot my CD player, ran out of batteries, damaged my headset, and so on), you will have the greatest possibility of gaining the benefits of a regular meditation practice.
There are certain skills in life that are easy to learn, but require some instruction in the beginning. In my experience, meditation is one of these skills. Just as a responsible parent wouldn’t give their child a book or video to learn how to swim or ride a bike, the optimal way to learn meditation is through hands-on instruction and guided practice. It’s not that meditation is a difficult skill, but rather that early instruction can ensure that you create a valuable practice that will benefit you for a lifetime.
Whatever form of meditation you may choose, developing a regular daily practice will take you beyond the mind into the freedom and creativity that resides in the gap between conditioned thought patterns. Life’s inevitable stresses will no longer obscure your underlying sense of connection to the whole. From this platform of compassionate detachment, we allow solutions to unfold which expand our experience of happiness, health, love and purpose. Spirit wants to see more love and joy in our lives, for that is our greatest witness to the divinity that resides in all.