I just received an excellent meditation question from John Q. It opens a large can of worms, inside of which is at least one elephant in the room, so what with all of these elephants and worms and mixed metaphors, be ready for a wild ride.
Here is the key point of John’s question:
“I want to know what is the Main Objective of meditation. I always thought that it was to clear your mind, and to be in the “Now” and not allow any thoughts in. And then I read a very popular book on meditation titled :”How to Meditate” by Pema Chodron.
I quote: ‘steadfastness means that when you meditate and you allow yourself to experience what’s happening in that moment-which could be your mind going a hundred miles an hour,your body twitching,your head pounding,your heart full of fear,whatever comes up-you stay with that experience. That’s it.’
Now that really contradicts what I assume to be the objective of a meditation session”
No wonder you’re confused, John!
Is the goal of meditation to clear the mind of thoughts?
“Be careful where you aim. You might get there.” – Chet Atkins
The idea that meditation is intended to clear the mind of thought is technically correct, but this is only part of the story and this has created a lot of confusion.
The first thing to understand is that while the GOAL of meditation may be a state free of mental disturbance, the best METHOD to get there is NOT by trying to think of nothing.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me that they can’t meditate because they can’t stop thinking during meditation. I tell them that it is perfectly normal to have thoughts during meditation, and that it is an indication that they are alive and human, which is not a bad thing. After all, they hardly need ANOTHER thing to worry pointlessly about. Tragically, some people give up trying to meditate because of this misleading idea that they have to stop thinking.
Pema Chodron, quoted in John’s question above, seems to be trying to reassure her readers similarly. She is emphasizing the importance of shifting your perspective and identifying with the witnessing aspect of consciousness rather than the thoughts themselves.
In meditation we learn to identify with our core of self awareness (the Atman), rather than with our thoughts. If you do this successfully, something very interesting might happen. I’ve seldom heard anyone describe their revelation of Oneness so beautifully as comic actor, Jim Carrey:
So what do you do you think about in meditation?
The mind is designed to think, so rather than just letting it run on aimlessly along all kinds of crazy trails, mostly worrying about stuff you have no control over, in meditation you train yourself to focus on a single idea, instead of many.
A very effective way to do this is through the use of a Mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase, usually in Sanskrit, which is repeated mentally, and gives the mind a point of focus. It is a simple but very powerful technique for training the mind that has been used in meditation for millennia.
What is the true goal of meditation?
The ultimate goal of meditation is more than just ‘mindfulness’ or ‘being in the now’. Enlightenment, Ananda, Self-Realization, Oneness with God, a state of Grace, all these attempts to name or describe the goal of meditation fall far short, inevitably, because the goal of meditation is to transcend the mind and experience directly the Oneness of the Universe – something beyond thought or imagination, and certainly beyond words.
“The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao The name that can be named is not the eternal name.”
This is often termed, Self-Realization. Here the capitalized ‘Self’ signifies that we are talking about something other than the regular everyday ‘self’ as we experience it. It refers to what is variously called the Higher Self, the Supreme Consciousness, God, Allah etc. What Albert Einstein referred to as ‘the Supreme Intelligence’.
In other words, the goal of meditation is to realize that you are God.
Now I know that sounds kind of hard. Or perhaps even unlikely or impossible, or perhaps you are not sure whether or not God exists. Nevertheless, the yogis who first developed meditation in ancient India more than 7000 years ago (to get a little perspective on this, Buddha lived about 2500 years ago) were very clear that this is the ultimate purpose of spiritual meditation. They called this Dhyana, which is one of the eight limbs of Astaunga Yoga.
So what should we focus on in meditation? If you are trying to achieve anything, most people will advise you to focus on your goal. And the goal of meditation is, as stated above, bliss or infinite love – the experience of Cosmic Consciousness or Oneness.
This is why the meaning of the Mantra is very important. It should embody the goal – the idea of oneness and infinite peace and love. If you think about that for 10,000 hours or so, you’ll begin to feel really different, believe me!