Meditation – Intent, Intuition and the Stillpoint In Between
Looking back, I realized I haven’t written a straight post about meditation for some time, so here goes. This is kind of a companion to my Types of Meditation post. In that post, I briefly described different forms of meditation from the perspective of their benefits. In this one, I will instead talk about forms of meditation from the perspective of which aspect of mind they emphasize. I think it is useful to look at this distinction, particularly for people that have been meditating for awhile, because I believe in the value of mixing things up a bit – experimenting with different techniques to prevent your mind from becoming attached to one approach.
The two main aspects of mind are active and passive (what else?) When we are directing our mind in a concentrated fashion – reading a book, or trying to sort out a problem – we are consciously engaging in the active aspect of mind. When we are sitting back and observing (our mind or something external) or absorbing (listening to music and the like) we are consciously engaged in the passive, or receiving, aspect of mind. I put ‘consciously’ into both descriptions, because much of the time we are engaged in unconscious mental activity – just letting our mind wander about, and that might also be active or passive in nature. But the one thing all meditation techniques have in common is that in all of them we are trying to relate to our mind consciously.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of different meditation techniques. Some utilize active aspects of mind, and some utilize passive aspects of mind. Either way, the technique is just a means of shifting our awareness away from our usual thoughts and emotions. So while the techniques might seem drastically different, they are all meant to be doorways into other levels of awareness and insight. It is like the yin/yang symbol – the black/active/yang side and the white/passive/yin side initially seem like opposites, but they are dependent on each other, in the sense that they each help define the other. We can’t understand one without the other, and we can’t realize the wholeness they represent together until we see them both. In the same way, an understanding of both active and passive aspects of mind, and both types of meditation, enables us to see beyond them.
So what are active aspect of mind meditations? I would classify most visualization meditations in this category, particularly guru and deity visualizations. In many Tantric forms of meditation (found within Hindu-based kundalini yoga lineages and Tibetan Buddhist lineages), a visualization of a teacher, Buddha, or deity is used in order to actually merge your own mind with the states represented by that being. This kind of meditation is also found in Christianity – read some of St. Theresa of Avila’s descriptions of her ‘contemplations of Christ’ and it’s clear she is visualizing him in devotional fashion. Visualizations of places, mandalas, and other things along those lines are also active, because the goal is very similar to deity-visualizations – to merge your mind with the vibration of that place or creation.
Affirmations and other intent-focused meditations are also active in nature. You are actively trying to direct the vibrational level of your awareness – it is like launching an arrow in the direction you want to go through your own active effort. In fact, all of the various suggestions out there for using the law of attraction are means for effectively harnessing the active aspect of mind. Ditto for compassion and metta meditations, where you visualize those you care about and expand out from there. In these you are connecting your mind and being towards love by consciously directing it. I would say the same is true for chakra meditation, because you are trying to merge your mind with the energies of one or more chakras (amongst other things.)
Passive, or receiving (the term I prefer), forms of meditation are those that are observation or intuition based. So traditional breath meditations, and meditations where you attempt to observe your own mind, letting its activity float by like ‘clouds in the sky’, fall into this category. Chanting meditations as well, because they normally involve instruction to ‘settle’ into the sound. The myriad of meditations associated with developing intuitive skills are also receiving techniques. Many of these involve ’emptying out’, ‘opening up’ and other techniques that involve letting go of control rather than directing it as in active meditations.
Now, all this active and passive talk is really just one way of talking about meditation, because in every meditation we use a little of both. For example, when your mind wanders in a breath meditation, you do actively pull it back. And when you feel a merging occurring in a visualization meditation, you let go into the experience. So meditation is always a balancing act between control and surrender, acting and receiving.
But the overall techniques do tend to fall into one or the other category. And the type of meditation you engage in influences what parts of yourself you will discover, what parts of you will develop, and what doorways of awareness you will walk through. I think problems can arise when someone becomes attached to only one meditation technique or approach to mind. What tends to happen is that someone gravitates towards those techniques that feel the most comfortable to them, and over time, they go to the ‘same place’ in their meditations every day. That’s probably fine if you are just looking for a particular daily ‘fix’ – if, for example, you mostly engage in meditation in order to calm down, and have found one place you ‘go to’ that relaxes you each time. But if you are engaged in meditation for personal or spiritual growth, it becomes a problem. Because growth and comfort rarely go together.
I say this knowing full well that many spiritual traditions emphasize only one form of meditation, and encourage a practitioner to stick with it for life. I also recognize the value of this advice – too many people, especially here in the West, take a ‘shop til you drop’ approach to spirituality, jumping from technique to technique, and thus never sticking long enough with one to discover what it has to offer. I also believe that it is important to have one core technique. BUT, I think there is great value in occasionally exploring techniques that are very different, at least in part as a test for yourself as to whether you have become attached to one form or aspect of mind. If you have a regular practice, you could do this once a week, or every few months for several weeks.
Regardless of what technique(s) you choose, remember that yin/yang symbol. That symbol is also about balance. You could say that exactly in the middle of the symbol – and your meditation practice – there is a stillpoint of perfect balance, where the mind is neither active nor passive. That stillpoint is a doorway into eternity. Or God/enlightenment/nirvana/the tao/brahma/Allah/source – whatever words you wish to use. So whether your chosen technique is active or passive in nature, or you mix it up, it is always meant to be a pathway towards that middle, still, point – the point that exists beyond them both.
For more meditation posts, check out the Meditation page.