Practical, skeptical, independent, critical, aetheist. Those are words that describe me (thankfully, there are other, friendlier words in my bio, too). Not “new-agey” or “touchy-feely” or “surrendering” or any of the things that newbies might associate with meditation. So when I guide students with instructions like “imagine a glow of light at the base of your spine” or “let the energy radiate out from behind your forehead” I feel a little lost.
That is, I know exactly where I am, but I feel doubtful that the essence of what I am teaching is coming through my words, that I’m translating properly the actions my students need to take (which aren’t, in my experience and opinion, “woo-woo”), and that any potential benefit will escape being lost to that part of the brain that goes “huh?!” That’s because the simple instructions I offer for meditation techniques are precursors to words that would follow if it were my teacher teaching me, words I’m not comfortable repeating, because I don’t particularly know what “universal consciousness” is nor why we should expect that we are “connecting” to it via meditation. I don’t, but he does, and when I am in his class, the way he teaches, I am free to take it or leave it. There’s no pressure to be convinced, no judgment made based on one’s beliefs, just techniques to practice. That’s what we’re supposed to “get” in yoga – the practice, not the motivation behind it.
When we meditate, we’re doing something very real with our minds, which is why the tools we use are effective at stilling the mind, even if we are asking ourselves to feel or imagine “lines” of energy that cannot as yet be seen (or detected by science). I am quite confident in the practical nature of the techniques I teach, (all of which were taught to me by Alan Finger and senior teachers in the ISHTA lineage) and I LOVE that they are accessible. That all you need to learn are the techniques, and the body will take care of the rest. What is the rest, you ask? Simply stillness and, for me, a blissful state of honest-to-goodness awareness of myself. I don’t mean the big Self, I mean the little self, little ol’ me, the me I live with every day. That’s the only me I know and, quite frankly, the only me I care to know. And if little me is part of a “true Self,” “the universal consciousness,” so be it. I don’t really need to have (or want) that answer.
That there, that stubborn refusal to imagine what I don’t need, that’s very much who I am. The other day I took a free test to determine my natural “strengths” and “weaknesses.” I like these kinds of things for all the self-congratulating reasons most of us do. And it’s fun to see what my behaviors indicate about me in someone else’s words. Turns out my greatest strength is curiosity. Yup, that one they got right. I luuuuuv asking questions, voiced or not. My next greatest strength? Faith. As in believes in a supernatural power. I nearly fell out of my chair. Like I said above, I’m an aetheist. I generally don’t believe or believe in anything that I can’t see, feel, or otherwise experience that doesn’t also have significant scientific backing. (Which is why I’m a sucker for meditation –it’s an honest experience and why or what doesn’t change the experience– but not so much for a single universal force. I don’t believe there isn’t one, I just don’t believe there is.)
But writing this post, I realize that, while I certainly haven’t started believing in a higher power (the very suggestion of hierarchy really irritates me), what I have cultivated is a willingness to let experiences change me. Reluctantly, perhaps, but nonetheless. A belief, faith if you must, in the use and value of experience. Now, the scientist in me knows that experiences aren’t necessarily any more “real” than “beliefs,” but as long as they are mine, they are something to work with on a daily basis, and what else is there than living day by day? Nothing I need.
And so, when I teach my students the techniques of meditation, I can stick with the actions, the very practical, not touchy-feely what to do (imagining things can’t be weird – it’s just the mind talking to the body, something it does all day long), not the why. Over time, their experiences will answer that question for them, too.
Hari om, om tat sat.
photography above by Maxwell Tielman