WHAT IS MEDITATION?
by Elizabeth Welles
Meditation is an ever-deepening investigation into silence
The Great Silence where peace reigns supreme
Meditation is a thoroughly integrated art and science, long in history, with valuable implications for our world. The following conversation between a businessman and myself scratches the surface, and offers only a brief understanding. A relaxation or contemplative practice like meditation will support your journaling, your creativity, and peace. Meditation is a lifelong practice and study. I encourage you to give it a try and explore it for yourself!
TK: My world is science, and ten years ago I would have told you that things like meditation and relaxation are bunk. But through my investigation with technology and tools like biofeedback, I started to have different experiences and wanted to know more. So talk to me about meditation.
EW: We are not our thoughts. We are not our feelings. We are not our perceptions. We are not our bodies. We are not our work, circumstances or finances. All of these conditions constantly change. So if we are not all these, who are we? What’s the foundation of our life? What are we? Where are we going? What is our purpose? Meditation is an exploration into what is behind all this that constantly changes. Is there a peace that passes all understanding? Does unconditional love exist? Where does creativity come from? Meditation is an on-going investigation into the silence.
TK: Well, how does one do that?
EW: There are a zillion ways into the silence. Through observing the breath, with sound, words, mantra, prayer, contemplating a flower, staring at the stars, walking the beach, singing or studying a Zen koan, guided imagery, and mindfulness practices, these are all tools. There are as many ways as there are individuals or groups or organizations that want to learn. Meditation is not based in religion or on any religious practice although it can serve a religious practice. Whether you believe in Jesus, the Buddha or yourself, a mustard seed, your child, science or evolution, whether you’re an atheist or fundamentalist, Democrat or Republican, if you believe in a God or not is irrelevant. Meditation is beyond all that.
TK: Sometimes I have all this data running through my mind and I seek to coalesce it.
EW: Yes, meditation provides the space to do that. There is a quote from a Scottish physicist that says their greatest discoveries occur in the three B’s, the bed, the bath and the bus.* After hours and days of research, it is when the mind and thoughts are relaxed that the great discoveries are made. We are so accustomed to thinking with our linear minds that we get stuck in old grooves. Those grooves recycle old patterns of thought and rely on only half-information. When we are relaxed in bed at night, in the morning fresh from dreams, or just lying in the grass, that’s when the information has time to rearrange in our brains. The result of this relaxation is the Ah Ha moment when creative genius strikes and you come up with a gem of inspiration, fresh ideas, and brilliant discoveries. It’s because all of you — all your experiences, what society has framed as your “conscious thought,” your unconscious, and super conscious — have the opportunity to get involved. Meditation provides that kind of focus where the big picture is seen.
TK: I call that the Eureka moment!
EW: Sleep and dreams give you opportunity to coalesce information in a way you didn’t see before. Sometimes all we need to do is decode the symbols. Imagination is key, which also gets rejuvenated by rest and activated by dreams. Your creativity expands. This also occurs with meditation. In fact deep meditation is equivalent to many hours of rest. There are hundreds if not thousands of studies out there about the wonders of meditation not only in terms of creativity, but also in terms of medical science and the immune system.
Solutions to problems, creativity, and healing all happen in the in-between, in the space between what was and what will be. The possibility for something new to be born lies in the unknown because there is a relaxation from the holding patterns of what we thought and the holding patterns in our cells. When this holding, tension or pressure, contraction and constraint are finally released it is as if a wave of energy swells and returns. Expansion occurs and new insights are seen. There is more breath, more aliveness, and more vitality, which allows the body to marshal its forces in a different way than before. Balance returns. This is the Grace of the Unknown. I would wager to say this that exists, in what I refer to as spaciousness, is wholly and holy alive. It lives in us and through us. It is with us at all times. It is both ancient and familiar, but simply forgotten. Meditation aligns us to this, to this space, to this unknown, to this grace, to this silence and peace and love.
So, you see there are many benefits to meditation. It also sharpens the focus but in a way that is open, or in an open system not closed. Our senses even work with the spaciousness. They open and close accordingly. When it’s dark outside and our visibility is less, our hearing becomes more acute. Everybody hears sounds in the night. And the drip of water that you didn’t hear during the day drives you nuts when you shut your eyes to go to sleep.
TK: Yes, I love the story about the man who lives by the train tracks. Every night the train comes and he sleeps soundly. One night the train doesn’t go over the tracks and he startles awake and says, “What’s that?”
EW: Yes, what is this Great Silence?
TK: How does this apply to organizations?
EW: Well imagine you get an organization or group of people actively meditating together. Now imagine that you introduce questions into this process that help them focus on their strengths as an organization, on what they’d love to create, on the bigger picture, on how they can reach or meet their goals. What happens is that what is considered a problem dissolves. It becomes a non-issue. You’re so focused on what can be, on what you’re creating, that what wasn’t or what didn’t happen disappears.
TK: I’d call that focusing on the opportunity present instead of the problem.
EW: Exactly. The other scenario is that the gift of the perceived problem comes into alignment with what you’re moving towards and then serves the bigger picture. Your staff is happier and your clients are happier. Health increases in that kind of an environment. Absenteeism decreases and the group’s enthusiasm is enhanced. Everyone gets more energy through the process and you get the best minds working towards the collective goal of the organization, while serving individual needs by relying on and bolstering their strengths.
TK: Well how do you do this?
EW: For example you ask them to describe a time when they felt relaxed and at peace, what were the conditions of their life at that time? How did their body feel? Then you ask them to describe a time when they felt totally heard and listened to and in the flow with their creativity at work.
TK: Yes, I think I’d phrase it like this, “Describe a time in your life when you were so relaxed that your creativity flowed?”
EW: Perfect. I’ll use that.
TK: Write it down.
EW: Then you get them aligned around that with action and a plan they can focus on. I was speaking with a friend recently and we talked about where we are trained to focus. Often our focus is small, it’s on the problems, and that causes us to dive. When you turn it around and pick your head up out of the sand, you see that your Knowing is much greater than where your focus has been.
We live in a culture where we have created a language of deficit – dysfunctional, problem-solution, debt-based society, attention deficit disorder, co-dependent, and on and on. And our language creates grooves in our brain.
TK: Yes our words create neural pathways.
EW: Glad you’re in the sciences! So imagine if we introduced this kind of questioning and inquiry to an organization, with language that is uplifting and possibility-focused? Now imagine it is anchored and enhanced with meditation.
TK: Wow. And it’s not just for the new age.
EW: Right. It’s for the justice system, our CEO’s and boardrooms, government organizations, the military and our hospitals and health care workers. I’ve had this vision since the early nineties and now you see the seeds sprouting and breaking ground.
TK: There’s a lot of possibility there.
EW: My point exactly! Lots of room for exciting growth – just imagine.
*** “After periods during which one has actively tried to solve a problem, but has not succeeded, the sudden right orientation of the situation, and with it the solution, tend to occur at moments of extreme mental passivity… A well-known physicist in Scotland once told me that this kind of thing is generally recognized by physicists in Britain. ‘We often talk about the Three B’s,’ he said, ‘the Bus, the Bath, and the Bed. That’s where the great discoveries are made in our science.’”