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3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words of that explanation come alive. The explanation clarified that reflection as an individual is parallel to consultation as a group: both depend upon cultivating detachment. Part of the skill of consultation is to regard your thought as no longer your own once it has been shared with the group. The exercise below was intended as a way of practising the beginnings of this skill. It uses the same quotation as I shared yesterday to be used either for memorisation or for this process of consultative reflection.

KYTS Communication as Detachment

3 brain awarenessIn my recent Knowing your True Self (KYTS) sequence, written in the aftermath of the Three Brains Revisited exploration (see picture as a reminder), in the fourth post I mention Eknath Easwaran‘s excellent, down-to-earth and accessible book Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life.

Because I was triggered to go back to the KYTS sequence, I was moved to look again at Easwaran’s book, which had influenced that approach strongly. I noticed in the flyleaf that I had read it for the second time in May 2003. The penny then dropped, rather loudly and discomfortingly in fact, that much of my meditative experience has been shaped by this book, perhaps far more strongly than by the Buddhism or Psychosynthesis that I have trumpeted about since I started blogging in 2009.

It’s time then to begin to redress the balance.

I am now reading the book for the third time and having an ‘How did I forget that!’ experience. Almost every page hits me with an insight. Some of these are ones I consciously treasure but had forgotten where I found them. Others I recognised as deeply meaningful as soon as I saw them again but had no consciously active memory of them: heaven alone knows how much they have been influencing me subliminally.

The structure of the book is simple. The chapter headings say it all. It’s an Eight-Point Programme: Meditation, the Mantram, Slowing Down, One-Pointed Attention, Training the Senses, Putting Others First, Spiritual Companionship and Reading the Mystics, all of these to be practiced daily in the end. I’m about to re-read the last two. So far, nowhere have I come across my meditative bête noire – mindfully watching my thoughts.

I have no intention of quoting all the insights here – that would probably amount to half of his 219 pages. I’d rather you bought the book. I’m simply going to flag up a handful of the most useful from my point of view.

What is Meditation?

To begin with he places meditative practice firmly on the ground (pages 8- 9):

To begin with, meditation has nothing to do with the occult, the paranormal. . . . If you want to know how people have progressed on the spiritual path, just watch them in the little interactions of everyday life. . . . Can they work harmoniously with others? If so, they are evolving, though they may never have had a vision or psychic experience.

This is a great comfort to me, not because I believe I am a model of harmonious relating, but because I have never had any kind of dramatic mystical experience in all my years of meditating. He also makes clear that he does not see meditation as a kind of hypnosis nor any kind of navel gazing or rumination (page 9):

[Meditation] is, rather, a systematic technique for taking hold of and concentrating to the utmost degree our latent mental power. It consists in training the mind, especially attention and the will, so that we can set forth from the surface level of consciousness and journey into the very depths.

He moves on to analysing what for him are the three stages of meditation.

The first is recognising that we are not our bodies. Karen Wilson, whose book I reviewed last year, deals with that well so I won’t repeat it.

He then explains (page 20) his second stage that ‘we are not our minds either.’

I have also dealt at length in various places what my take is on this including in my review of Karen’s book. For me, I reserve the word ‘mind’ to refer to the accessible surface of consciousness, which reflects what the brain projects onto it like a captivating and convincing film. Once we begin, through meditation or some other means, to achieve a degree of ‘detachment’ (page 23) we can begin to recognise that even our surface consciousness is no more what is reflected in it or projected onto it than a lake is reducible to the clouds and birds we see reflected upon its surface. The surface of consciousness, as Easwaran of course recognises, becomes a gateway to its depths. I’ll stop nit-picking now!

His third stage is ‘the great discovery’ (page 24-25):

As long as we identify with the body and the mind we bob around on the surface level of consciousness, chasing after the fleeting attractions of life outside us.… now, in profound meditation, we drop below all that and become concentrated on one thing and one thing alone: our true identity. In this absorption, its great gathering within, we break through the surface of consciousness and plummet deep, deep into our real nature.

He points out that this leads to the realisation that (page 27) ‘All life is your family.’ We’ve been there many times on this blog, not least in discussing the Bahá’í concept of the oneness of humanity and my ideas about interconnectedness, so I’ll not rehash all that here again.

When he discusses the nature of meditation he explains that we access (page 30) ‘the ground of existence,’ what Amit Goswami terms ‘the Ground of Being,’ and realise, ‘this supreme reality is not something outside us, something separate from us. It is within, at the core of our being – our real nature, nearer to us than our bodies…’

Bahá’u’lláh expresses this idea with both power and beauty in the Arabic Hidden Words (No. 13):

Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

And also  in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (CLIII page 326):

This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.

How Do We Start?

Easwaran advises using quotations as a core meditative means of training our minds: I’ve mentioned some of his thoughts on this before. Either of the ones above would be a good place to start for anyone who has not attempted this before.

He recommends the Mantram as something more portable, that need not be confined to the quietness of a room set aside for meditation. He explains the origin of the term (page 59): the word is linked to ‘the roots man, “the mind,” and tri, “to cross.” The mantram, repeated regularly for a long time, enables us to cross the sea of the mind. An apt image, for the mind very much resembles the sea. Ever-changing, it is placid one day, turbulent the next.’

For him, the mantram links us to (page 60) ‘the supreme Reality,’ whatever we choose to call it:

What matters greatly is that we discover – experientially, not intellectually – that this supreme Reality rests at the inmost centre of our being. . . . the mantram stands as a perpetual reminder that such perfection is within all of us, waiting to flow through our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Wisdom Traffic LightsHe feels that (page 70) ‘the mantram works best when we repeat it silently in the mind with as much concentration as possible.’ He’s not in favour of counting with beads or linking it to the breath because it divides attention. These are things I tend to do most of the time. I’ll have to try sticking to his method for a sufficient length of time to test its effectiveness for me. He recommends we use the mantram at all moments of stress or simple waiting. It helps keep us calm and, for him, every repetition counts, taking slightly us deeper each time we repeat it with focused concentration. He strongly recommends we use it before we sleep.

Next time we turn to two topics that moved things up a gear for me, an unfortunate choice of metaphor in the context as you will see. My adaptation of the Three Brains diagram into an apparently upside-down Traffic Light design to place on my iPhone might give you a clue.

3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here is a quotation that can be used either for the memorisation/reflection exercise of yesterday, which is my suggestion for today, or for the consultative reflection exercise that I am publishing tomorrow. This quote is a good one to start with from a Bahá’í point of view because it focuses on our key concept – the fundamental unity of all humanity.

 

KYTS One Soul

3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words of that explanation come alive.

KYTS Watching Ourselves

I need to say, at this point, that this exercise, of all I have ever practised, is the most difficult for me. Possibly because I am a compulsive verbaliser I not only find it hard to shut down the chatter in my brain but I also find it hard to stop myself boarding every train of thought that passes through the station of my head. My posts on mindfulness practice give some idea of the problems I have in this area. I hope you all have better luck with this than I have!

3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words come alive — for this exercise I am indebted to Eknath Easwaran‘s excellent and accessible book Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life

Among the advice he gives is this (Pages 39-40):

In meditation, the passage becomes imprinted on our consciousness. As we drive it deeper and deeper, the words come to life within us, transforming all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. . . . . As you commit a new passage to memory, it is good to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of the words and their practical application to your life. But please don’t do this while you are actually meditating. . . . . And avoid choosing passages that are negative, that take a harsh and difficult view of the body, of our past mistakes, or of life in the world. We want to draw for our positive side, our higher Self, and the passages should move you to become steadfast, compassionate, and wise.

KYTS Following the Word

Because I am aware that not everyone would connect with Bahá’í Scripture, clearly we can choose any positive passage to which we strongly resonate.

How to Learn Passages:

There is a method I have found useful to help with memorising. I have adapted it from a method for memorising poetry. I sorry to say that I have no record of whose original idea I have borrowed here.

This is the method:

  1. Read the passage once. Then divide it into convenient short sections, each equivalent to a line of poetry.
  2. Now read the first section out loud. Take your eyes from the page & immediately say the section again. Glance back to make sure you got it right. If you made a mistake try again. Now do the same with the second section. Repeat the procedure for every section in the passage.
  3. Go back to the beginning. This time, read the first two sections out loud, look away and repeat them aloud. Check. If you made a mistake, try again. Now move onto the next two sections, going through the whole passage two sections at a time.
  4. Repeat the passage three lines at a time, then four lines at a time, then five and then six. By the sixth pass, no matter how long the passage, you will have memorised it.
  5. Recite the whole passage just before going to bed at night.
  6. Crucial: stop thinking about the passage. Your sleeping mind is very important for memory.
  7. The next day, you should find (after a glance at the first line to bump-start your memory) that you can recite the whole passage.

In using this method I have found it important, if I am to retain the whole passage permanently, I need to slowly reduce the frequency of repeating it over a reasonable period of time. At first, perhaps for a week, I repeat it every night. Then every other, then every third night and so on until I repeat it only once per week. I can then choose to use it whenever I wish in my daily meditations. It is important to keep it fresh by revisiting it occasionally, may be once every month or two in this way.

3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words come alive — I called it Remembrance because it resembles the Sufi practice of Dhikr or zikr.

KYTS Remembrance

 

Because I was aware that not everyone would connect with this phrase, I tweaked the exercise so that people could choose a word or phrase that they felt expressed the highest good they good imagine.

Bahai Mantra

Lemn Sissay columnThere are two trends in current culture. One is exemplified in the sad situation described in the post from this morning. Such traumatic events suggest we are on a downward spiral of exploitation and injustice.  That is not the whole story though, thankfully. There are tales of progress which are inspiring and hopeful. The recent BBC programme on Arthur Ashe gave one powerful example of someone who rose to fame and prominence against all the odds without sacrificing his integrity. Lemn Sissay’s life is another one.  describes how in last Friday’s Guardian article. Below is an extract: for the full post see link.

In October the University of Manchester is going to have to clone Lemn Sissay, or at least, he suggests, “make a hologram of me”. That’s the month the 48-year-old poet is due to collect an honorary PhD, which, as the university’s newly-elected chancellor, he is also responsible for presenting.

“It’s mad,” agrees Sissay – who left school at 15, and this week beat Peter Mandelson and the Halle Orchestra’s Mark Elder to secure the ceremonial position. “Maybe I will shake hands with myself and say, ‘Well done, lad.’”

When we meet, Sissay is sitting on the roof terrace of a private members’ club in a black T shirt, black jeans and sunglasses. In other words, he looks like a performer whose poetry has appeared everywhere from Leftfield’s award-winning album Leftism to the Olympic Park – and not much like an academic grandee.

It’s impossible not to warm to Sissay. When I ask how he feels about winning the election (by more than 1,000 votes), he refuses to reflect on his own success, instead focusing on what such victories mean for the black community. He quotes a friend who wrote to him saying, “‘It’s a new day. It’s Sir Lenny Henry, it’s Chancellor Jackie Kay [the poet and novelist recently elected to Salford University] and Chancellor Lemn Sissay.’ Things are changing and that’s a good thing.”

But how does a poet beat a politician in an election? And not just any politician, but Mandelson? The writer denies having had a strategy – his campaign video, in which he performs a poem called Mercurial Graphene in Manchester, was shot four days before voting closed. . . . .

He is clear about his intention as the figurehead for the university: “To encourage as many care-leavers as possible to pursue education.” It’s a cause he is already working towards. At the University of Huddersfield there is a PhD scholarship in his name for care-leavers. He has inspired another in Leeds, and hopes Manchester will follow suit.

This commitment stems from his own childhood in care, a subject he has returned to with heartbreaking effect in his plays, poems and documentaries. Sissay’s mother came to the UK from Ethiopia not knowing she was pregnant, and when he was a few months old asked for Sissay to be temporarily fostered while she studied.

. . . . He was moved from homes to foster placements while his birth mother wrote anguished letters from Ethiopia asking when he would be returned. As the only black boy in each home, he was nicknamed Chalky White and spat at on public transport. At 16 he took to refusing to wear shoes, continuing to walk barefoot through snow, and to hospital for his cut feet.

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