This is Post 2 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
Our mental functioning is multidimensional, so there are many perspectives on the mind within Psychology. Hence, there are dozens of ways of conceptualising what meditation is, and because the mind is malleable, and very much subject to our various beliefs about its nature, all the various techniques and methods may appear to work to some extent. Meditation however, can be very time consuming, and much time will be wasted in internal conflict, if we fail to conceptualise the practice in a way that reflects the ultimate nature of mind. I would like therefore, to first establish what meditation is in the ultimate sense. Other teachers present ‘introductory practices’ in full awareness that they are holding back knowledge that is necessary for a more complete understanding, and necessary for transformative insight. I will not be doing you the disservice of adopting this sort of approach.
The approach described in this blog post series is based on the idea that meditation, if it is to be profoundly transformative, cannot limit itself to an engagement with only the personal experience of mind and body. Rather, it must specifically address that wider field of intelligence in which the phenomena of the personal mind arise and ultimately rest. That field of intelligence is what the theistic religious traditions call God, but which I have been choosing to call Consciousness.
Consciousness, in this context, has some of the scope that others might associate with metaphysics and with a divine, or transcendent, reality, but here it is a purely psychological term – a label for an objective psychological experience, albeit an illusive and difficult to define one – and in the context of a psychology that is expanded far beyond the bounds of academic Psychology’s usual merely personal perspective.
While there is clearly value in striving to become more focused, more emotionally positive, and more self-aware – heroically struggling to modify mental states by an effort of will, I hope to show that there is much greater practical value and effectiveness, for the practice of meditation, in the development of a profound openness to the field of Consciousness in all its aspects, so that we utilise the qualities, and the energy, of Consciousness in our transformation.
Exploring the Ethical and Relational nature of Consciousness
Most meditation practices are framed merely in terms of personal development. While these will obviously be effective to some degree if they are practised consistently and with determination, we are living at a time when the world is asking more of us. At this time we are being called upon to develop, not only focus, emotional positivity, self-confidence, and skills; but a particular capacity for ethical and relational discernment – a discernment that is not limited to the personal and the intellectual, but deeply rooted in the inherently ethical and relational qualities of the field of Consciousness.
In my experience, having contemplated this question for many decades, the spiritual realignment that is required for our true happiness and for the creation of a better world, can take place only by recognising Consciousness. It cannot be achieved by the effort of the personal will alone. The transformation that we are seeking, will come about, not by wrestling with the personal mind, but rather by the choice to adopt a relationship of receptivity towards the healing powers that are inherent in Consciousness.
The Archetypes by which Consciousness is Organised
Consciousness is patterned according to a particular archetypal pattern – the four-fold pattern that Carl Jung called the mandala or the quaternity. Understanding this archetypal pattern is of great value because it gives us the power to realign ourselves easily. Instead of wrestling with the personal mind to achieve consciousness, we need instead to learn to use intuition and feeling to find a resonance with the archetypes by which Consciousness is organised, so that a stable recognition of Consciousness naturally arises. From that stable recognition of Consciousness enumerable benefits flow. Indeed one of the key features of our stable recognition of Consciousness is the knowledge that Consciousness is inherently beneficial and benevolent. And because Consciousness is not separate from any one of us, that intention of benefit and benevolence is deeply personal and specific to each one of us – even as it is also an impersonal force of compassion, healing, and evolution, that seeks the benefit of all, and is equally available to all.
The process of becoming familiar with Consciousness is usually called self-enquiry. Although there are approaches to meditation that do not involve turning Consciousness back on itself in this way, I am of the view that true meditation can never be separated from self-enquiry, and is perhaps best understood as something that arises from self-enquiry, and requires self-enquiry as its basis. By understanding meditation as an active and completely individual exploration of Consciousness, we are freed to seek the truth in our own way, respectfully drawing on various traditions and understandings, but avoiding the time-wasting pitfall of having to choose, and trust the judgement of, a particular meditation teacher or tradition. And by founding our meditation practice on self-enquiry, we guarantee that it is always fresh – an ever-deepening spiritual exploration and an ever-deepening spiritual choice.
Utilising the Transformative Power of Consciousness
Meditation is often experienced as requiring an enormous amount of effort, and a sustained application of effort over many years. This is not necessarily the case if we approach meditation as I am presenting it. In this approach, we acknowledge that the transformative power is in Consciousness itself – not in the personal will. The main effort that is required however, is in the initial period of study of the archetypal structure of Consciousness, which is needed to establish a framework for the process of self-enquiry. The initial self-enquiry does require subtle effort, but once the recognition of Consciousness has started to take place, the process is inherently rewarding and motivating. Consciousness itself has the power to bring us into states of integration, focus, and mental and emotional stability. We need only to open ourselves – tentatively at first, and at the pace of our own choosing – to that power.
The meditation hall of a Tibetan monastery is called a gompa, and the word ‘gom’ means ‘familiarisation’. The meditation hall is therefore ‘a place of familiarisation’ – a place where we familiarise ourselves with Consciousness. Almost all of the vast variety of Tibetan religious practices can be thought of as expressions, often extremely rich and overwhelmingly complex expressions, of this aim. One of my aims in my ‘Mandala of Love’ book and in these articles in this “Meditation Guidance’ series has been to distil the wisdom of that tradition, while setting its understandings in a universal framework that is psychological rather than metaphysical, so that it is more fully available to the modern world. This is the method of archetypal psychology – the psychological perspective that we associate with Carl Jung.
There is both great power and great humility in the Tibetan attitude to the self-enquiry process – which combines a complete acceptance that the Divine is ultimately unknowable, with a passionate desire to become deeply familiar with it. This is surely an attitude to take comfort from, and to aspire to, for anyone who would wish to practice meditation.