When I first began writing this, I thought, “Who the hell do I think I am to try to explain something as mysterious as meditation to others? I'm not a master of it yet, and I have character defects, a tendency to be easily distracted, inappropriate impulses, a tendency to let my feelings govern me, and a number of other flaws.”
These thoughts caused me to hesitate, and I almost quit writing the book. But I felt I had a lot to say, and I knew I had to keep on reminding myself about important topics pertaining to meditation so that I wouldn't forget what I've learned over many years.
Then I wondered if incorporating things such as poetry in hopes of inspiring enlightenment in others might be a preferable way to write a book such as this. I thought of how individuals can watch “entertaining” things along the lines of superhero movies and assimilate things about human nature in the process. With that in mind, I resolved to incorporate humor, lighthearted metaphors, and similar techniques with the intent of communicating technical details of the discipline of meditation in my writing.
Aspects of meditation cover a great many disciplines, ideas, and subjects: Psychology, physiology, anatomy, social sciences, history, consumerism, childhood emotional injuries, astrophysics, God, religion, atheism, spirit, death, and intelligent design, among others. Yet a person can be interested in meditation solely because of things that affect them directly such as character issues, anxieties, or concerns about the physical body or the society that they live in.
People will be motivated to engage in meditation for different reasons. One such motivator is the desire to live in the present moment, not driven by anxieties that can lead to a chaotic existence: There really are people who have developed to such a degree that they can keep themselves relaxed and happy despite hardships that they’re experiencing. Others may pursue meditation because they want to address specific psychological issues. They might see meditation as medicine of a kind rather than as a way of life. And those who read books on meditation (such as this one) are likely to be of that second group.
I first became aware of meditation in 1985 at age 15. I'd recently become sober and was involved in 12-step recovery. Twelve-step recovery entails 12 areas of action that help individuals restore themselves to normal thinking and living, and those steps entail moral living and self-awareness. Step 11 suggests the use of prayer and meditation to seek higher consciousness—a revolutionary concept for those of the modern-day western mindset.
I began participating in Step 11 through prayer. I considered myself an atheist at the time for a few reasons (including my father's influence and my own distaste for disciplines, demands, and politics pertaining to religion). Yet I still prayed, although I had no clue as to who or what I was praying to.
I didn't understand how to meditate at the time. I began reading Buddhist philosophy, and I found it interesting that the Buddha had created a series of steps to inspire his followers to improve themselves.
Such steps can certainly be helpful. But those in the initial stages of embracing meditation—and those who attempt to teach it—must understand that following precise steps won’t guarantee a person’s success in the endeavor. I'd like it better if self-improvement programs were very simple and that I could do something such as promise four easy steps to mastering meditation. Yet the reality is that it might take a person 15 years of practicing meditation to make significant improvement in it (although some people can grasp it much more quickly). With that in mind, I thought of a book title: “The 250 guaranteed steps to help you meditate and possibly make some improvements based on how much effort you put in, whether you're smart or stupid, and in consideration of whatever karma you may have.”
I first began to meditate five to seven days a week from between 30 seconds to half an hour, depending on how distracted I was at a given time. I became frustrated, and at a certain point I felt like a person who was wandering in the desert looking for water, not thinking I'd find it but knowing that my life would become unmanageable if I gave up looking.
Thirty-five years later I was practicing yoga in a classroom and was in a difficult pose. The room temperature was about 107 degrees, and the posture was the hardest one of the particular style of yoga I was practicing. Those around me were falling out of the pose, and the sound of the teacher’s dialogue faded away. But I was able to just look in the mirror, lock eyes with myself, and drown out all of the movement around me. I was able to engage every muscle associated with the pose.
Then a light bulb came on in my head. I suddenly had a sense for the first time in my life that I was in the present moment. I came to a deep understanding. I realized that the whole point of the intellectual aspects of yoga, the breathing exercises, and the discipline of meditation was to focus my mind on where I was at.
At that point I understood how critical it was to push out the distractions and chaos in my head so that I would not lose my balance in the pose. I just had to be totally focused on what I was doing. I was then able to maintain that level of concentration for the entire class. Yet I don't think that moment for me was an “epiphany”: Rather I think it was a sudden peak following 35 years of focused meditation practice.
During this time, I made breathing the focus of my yoga practice. By doing so I made sure that I wasn't depriving my cells of needed oxygen in that crucial and stressful moment. I was also to keep from going into “fight or flight” mode which would both distract me and impair my judgment. In addition to that, I was able to keep from being led by unproductive and distracting thoughts, such as what I was going to eat after class or if I was going to get a parking ticket.
The brief moment that I’m speaking of was a true breakthrough for me. It made me realize that I experienced most of the events in my life as if I was in a dream, because I wasn't being present in the moment during those times. Rather I was just reacting based on my own internal programming, habits, and patterns. I saw that many of the things I was guided to do in my life were reactions based on anxiety, fear, or self-centeredness. I was oblivious to reactions coming from the forces of higher good in me.
Not only was this a turning point regarding my understanding of meditation, but it was also a turning point for my practice of yoga, my self-help journey, and my 12-step recovery. I then realized that proper breathing was inextricably linked to my ability to meditate properly, and that meditation was linked to my ability to go about my daily activities more skillfully.
Meditation is not the total solution to all of life's problems, as some people mistakenly believe it to be. But it is an incredibly helpful tool that can help one achieve progress in self-help and recovery. When we can bring ourselves to the state of relaxation inherent in meditation, we can focus on positive behaviors and make such behaviors be realities in our lives.
Meditation is a very valuable tool, but achieving true mental, physical, and emotional health and wellness requires that we also take many other steps. Those steps include eating a healthier diet, getting plenty of rest, exercising, having good social interactions, and being in therapy to talk about our feelings. We should also delve into our personal history, write about it, read good philosophy, and have a mentor to help guide us in areas in which we struggle. And a particularly important task is coming to understand our own character defects and how to overcome them.
It's unhealthy for a person to use meditation to jump into an astral plane and think about spirit, life, and the nature of God and the divine but be in denial of what is happening in their emotional world. It's dangerous to use meditation as a method of denial to avoid focusing on personal pain. Having said that, a person who hyper-focuses on their emotional problems can become a self-centered, boring hypochondriac.
In pursuing self-help, we need to seek to be well-rounded individuals who are “citizens of the world.” We should contribute to society, be concerned about the environment, and attempt to lessen the suffering of creatures. And although we don't necessarily need to focus intently on deep scientific and metaphysical concepts, we should periodically use quiet meditation to reflect on how unbelievably miraculous everything is.
When I’m in a deep meditation, I feel a strong sense of gratitude that I made it to my practice and am having the experience. And the following day I usually have a more positive attitude about how to approach difficult situations.
Meditation is a gateway to enter the mind, and it can even lead one into entering into aspects of understanding unknowable consciousness. And consciousness is a very difficult entity to understand, let alone describe. But that's not so much the case with the mind. The entity of the mind can be perceived as a function (or as a result) of the physical body existing and being alive. The mind is essentially a machine designed to solve problems, remember things, and aid in our survival.
The mind makes judgments about things, it has preferences, it feels pain and pleasure, and it either hesitates or acts when confronted by a situation. Yet it can be confused by the material world when it sees things from its own perspective rather than from the perspective of what is actually happening.
Great philosophers and individuals such as Buddha might have had great behaviors and great minds, but none of them had perfect minds. No mind can be perfect, because a mind has free will: That free will sometimes leads it to make wrong choices. For that reason, you shouldn't be harsh on yourself if you discover errors in your own thinking.
Your mind “makes you you.” It's a collection of things, ranging from your physical body to all of your memories from your conception to your death. Some believe that one's mind was formed even earlier than in previous lifetimes, but I choose not to discuss or debate such concepts. I prefer to focus on the mind as it operates in a person's present lifetime.
The mind is designed as a tool that helps us survive. After several years of being alive, we develop a sense of what we consider to be a threat and file it in a category in the recesses of our brain. But the untrained mind will be unclear about the direction it should take when a threat presents itself. We tend to spend much time worrying and obsessing about either real or imagined threats to the degree that we put ourselves under tremendous stress.
Another thing that interferes with our attaining a relaxed mind is our becoming lost in countless “thought bubbles.” These thought bubble entities can make us critical of ourselves or make us become egotistical. They can trap us into trying to work out problems at inappropriate times, keeping us from living in the present moment. When that happens, we miss out on subtle nuances of daily living that can make our present moments magnificent.
I'd like to give an example of this. Imagine that you go to a concert to hear your favorite musicians sing. They start to sing a song that you love, and the song conjures up feelings of a previous painful breakup. You become a little sad, and the sadness has a certain effect on you. It causes the music to seem less audible. As you think about your resentments and rejection in connection with the relationship, the music essentially just becomes background noise. At that point, you no longer hear the subtle shifts of the guitar chords. You’re no longer looking deeply into the beauty of a person with a masterful voice, and you’re no longer enraptured in the enjoyment of the musical experience.
We have many potentially great experiences in life. But if we allow our minds to carry us away from present moments then our senses become dulled to the beauty of those experiences. Speaking for myself, my senses are quite capable of picking up positive things. Yet I'm always distracted by various thoughts that keep me from holding on to the joy of the moments that I’m in.
Such scenarios can be called “lack of mindfulness.” Mindfulness is the ability to understand what you're doing and experience and be present for it. My lack of mindfulness happens when I entertain thoughts that move me away from whatever I'm involved in, causing me to obsess on such thoughts.
As an example, I might be working on creative artwork on my computer but then drift away to thoughts about business problems. When that happens, the artwork that I'm doing while thinking about my business problems might still be fairly good (because to some degree it's coming from my subconscious). But my best work occurs when I stay present in the moment and am enjoying creating my artwork. So I’ve learned to try to focus on the creative process and subdue unwanted thoughts during such times.
There are appropriate times to entertain thoughts that aren’t linked to the present moment. When that’s the case, we must process such thoughts under more controlled circumstances. We might be sitting down for a meditation when a lot of wild thoughts come up. We then should take a moment to decide if a given thought should be considered or put aside because it's a distraction. For example, I might have a thought about not succeeding in business and subsequently not having enough money. Then the higher self in me can tell myself that I'm OK and that I'm going to do well in life whether or not I have as much money as I think I need.
Then I need to push away other negative thoughts. After that, I need to have a conversation along the lines of the following with myself: “Thought number 12753, you're just a boring character in my play and I hate you. I want you to change and be less attached to results.”
I give the situation more consideration and then realize that thought number 12753 has been popping up within me all my life, in spite of my having done many things well. I then understand that my dad, his friends, and most of the people in society worry a lot about money. And I see how societal structures feed such mindsets. Society's members are not very supportive: We don't live in tribes in which we take care of each other, we are isolated as individuals, we are competitive, and we take from each other more than what we need. We all must understand that such ways of negative thinking and negative behavior have origins in early life. They grow up around systems of beliefs that we inherit, for better or for worse.
I see this as the source of my anxiety, and I realize that another source of my anxiety comes from low self-esteem that began in my early childhood. I realize that I didn't get as much love as I would have liked, although I got enough to help keep me from becoming a dangerous, savage, ruthless killer. Yet I didn't get enough love to develop a sense of self-love that would be in place whether or not I had money, was attractive, or had an expensive car.
I recognize that the people I was surrounded with during childhood measured their success in their wealth rather than in the content of their character. The people around me at the time valued things such as Rolls-Royces and big houses in Beverly Hills.
I contemplate how having possessions didn't make my father happy at all. In fact, the more possessions he had the more miserable he seemed to be. And it strikes me how superficiality (especially superficiality rooted in wealth) creates so many of society’s problems.
There are many day-to-day activities that we must do that only become superficial if they are done to excess or out of context. We have to keep our bodies clean and brush our teeth. We must make money in order to survive. We must make sure that we're sheltered from extreme weather and wild animals. But when we pursue far more than what we need we become stressed and anxious.
Sometimes I'll think about this for about the first four minutes of a meditation. Then I'll relax my mind, and I'll realize that I need to stop thinking about it because it will distract me from the relaxation and happiness that I seek. I think about my physiology, how relaxed I am, and how happy that I am that I showed up for my meditation practice.
Usually when I settle my mind from lots of intellectual activity (which may or may not be the right activity to engage in at the time), I'm left with a raw sense of myself—the person I am without all of the stuff that I've surrounded myself with. At that point I'm just my own consciousness observing my own body, thought processes, and experiences.
When this occurs, I get a little fearful because I start to detach myself from my experiences and my personality. I relax further, and I try to see myself as an incredibly miraculous invention that has consciousness attached to it. I tried to think about the origin of consciousness itself, what makes it happen, and where it will go next. This relaxes me, and eventually many of such thoughts subside.
At this point I'm present and I'm pushing away all the unnecessary thinking and unnecessary mental activity occurring in my mind. I give myself permission to momentarily slip away from my tight grip on working on various problems. And then I just serenely exist.
I might get a little sleepy, a little hungry, or a little thirsty, or I might need to go to the bathroom. Then I will see fit to come out of the meditation and take care of myself, as if I were a little baby needing something that only I can provide it with.
When I'm in meditation it's highly unlikely that I'll begin to have a deeper understanding about humanity’s history and humanity’s problems. And during meditation I do not think about pollution, global warming, or politics. But as a result of meditation, when I do think about such things I'll have clearer answers about what I can do as an individual to address problems such as those.
And meditation also helps me address problems that occur in my day-to-day living. As an example, I might be at a construction site about to get into an argument with a contractor who isn’t doing what he said he would do. But because of the clear thinking and peace that meditation gives me, rather than argue I'll likely take a deep breath, perhaps laugh, and then present the problem with the contractor as something that's funny. Meditation encourages me to solve problems in a way that doesn't do damage to those who are involved. I'm less likely to fight with others today because there's less fear in me—and that’s the case because I participate in meditation practices.
Meditation has helped me in this way and in a great many other ways. It’s helped me to a degree that I’m compelled to share my knowledge and experiences with others: I have a fervent hope that I can help all my readers in some way. I want for you and other readers to step further into higher consciousness than I have. And I hope that you can edit my ideas into something that's better for you and better for the world.
So, again, the journey of meditation is a journey into a great many things. Meditation will expand our horizons and expand our interests. We might take an interest in understanding how society works and how leadership works or fails at times. Or we might become emotional, caring individuals who are filled with compassion for all things: Meditation is having that effect on me, and I hope that it will do the same for you and for other readers.
What are some of the things that we can accomplish in the more advanced stages of meditation? One great thing that can happen is that we can use meditation to identify problems in our character: When we do, we can then identify specific actions that we can take to improve ourselves.
Overcoming fear is another one of meditation’s incredible benefits. We can identify specific moments during which we're triggered by fear. And once we identify them, we can analyze whether or not that fear is warranted: We can determine if we're being faced with a real danger in the present moment or if we're just experiencing habitual fear driven by a lifetime of faulty thinking patterns. And from that point we can direct our thoughts to higher thinking and positive energies.
Regarding energies, it's interesting to contemplate that all feelings and all thoughts are made up of energies that begin with electrical impulses that transfer to different forms. And if feelings are energies, they can be congested or trapped in the mind if we don't allow ourselves to process them or feel them: Unwillingness to engage in such processing and feeling can result in shattering and splintering of the mind. Some who have been traumatized during their lives have learned to block out thoughts and feelings completely. And some of us have learned to smother uncomfortable thoughts and feelings with addictive behavior patterns.
When we continually show up for our meditation sessions, our attention will be influenced to a degree by both present-day realities and past experiences. But meditation will help us heal from the discomfort that may arise. Such healing makes meditation one of the most profoundly sacred and personal experiences that one can have.
It bears repeating that meditation needs to be regarded as a decidedly personal experience. We need to be wary of those who show off their own disciplines or try to profit from teaching meditation experiences through unwarranted methods.
Pursuit of the wrong goals in the process of meditation can be detrimental to both those trying to teach it and those trying to learn it. Doing so creates distraction, and distracted individuals have extreme difficulty accomplishing things and achieving their dreams.
A major goal of meditation is achieving happiness. Even if you have 100 cars and 25 mansions all over the world, those possessions will not make you happy. Happiness is a state of mind: You can only attain happiness if you think your way into becoming happy. It's certainly the case that to some degree happiness is contingent upon proper actions, positive behavior, and taking the right steps to accomplish the right things. Yet happiness will elude you if you can't figure out how to create the overlap of your dreams with the present moment.
Living in the present moment—just being alive and being in it—is a primary goal of meditation practices. You should be able to just look outside your window and revel in the beauty of the sky, the trees, and the animals moving about. You should be able to take a deep breath and smell the fragrant air, see the light in the sky during the day, and marvel at the energies in the stars as you look up in the night sky.
I've experienced rapturous moments of beauty and deep insights about many things as I've engaged in meditation. Such times gave me inspiration to keep on track with my practices and inspired me to teach on the subject. And in the process of attempting to teach, I have put in place certain parameters regarding what I feel I can or cannot do. I cannot try to sound like other teachers or do things such as create catchy names and chapter titles as if I'm trying to create a bestseller: It’s mandatory for me to express myself in a way that's unique to me.
Meditation is the key behavior pattern that helps me liberate my mind from the pain and suffering that I bring on myself by my own thoughts. I harbor detrimental thoughts caused by things such as childhood difficulties that carry over into my adult life. Meditation helps me fight my tendency to cling to undesirable thoughts about the past or obsess about the future. When I can move past such negative thinking, I can take pleasure in so many things. I can marvel in the crimson sunset which fades into white and then into blue. I can totally enjoy a view of the ocean. I can remind myself of all the things I love and of the deep compassion that I feel growing inside myself.
Regarding compassion, as I get older I realize that compassion is the highest level of human thought. To be compassionate, we have to rise above our earthly human instincts. We must rise above self-centeredness and excessive fear. Compassion motivates me to try to leave a legacy for my children (and other humans as well). I hope that my offspring will someday read these pages and say, “Thanks, dad, this really helps a lot.” And perhaps I’ll encounter others who have been encouraged by my work.
Because of meditation, I became able to relax my mind enough to contemplate needed information, write it out, and later give that information to a full-time editor to help me edit hundreds of essays for numerous books. And that in itself was a meditation for me. As I thought through the process, I realized it would probably take me five to seven years to complete this type of book, with about three years dedicated to writing information out and two years of editing information down to the minimum amount of content needed. And then I needed to consider how to promote but not “over-promote” the book: I felt that trying to sell books in retail stores or on QVC would be over-promotion.
As I wind down this section, I'd like to describe a couple of scenarios that I feel would be ideal meditation environments. One might be orbiting the earth's atmosphere. After a couple of orbits around the earth, you could just stare out into the cosmos and try to connect to great things. But some who are terrified of heights or are worried about their bodies burning up upon returning to Earth's atmosphere might be too distracted to benefit from doing so.
Another option might be selling all your possessions, moving to Kathmandu, hiking up the mountains, and sitting in a cave for several years. But your leaving many things behind might be neglectful, and that neglect might then cause distraction.
There are numerous other options. And some of them are such that they don't require great personal sacrifice, renouncing many worldly pleasures, or completely changing things such as your occupation or your day-to-day activities.
You could quietly sit on a towel or a yoga mat. You could sit in your yard or in your apartment. You could go to yoga classes or tai chi classes, go to the gym, climb stairs, or shop in the supermarket and meditate as you go about your activities.
This book will focus on both simple techniques regarding meditation and suggestions on how to engage in it while going about what you consider to be your normal daily life. There will be some suggestions regarding advanced techniques and related lifestyle practices. But the book’s intent is to teach meditation to anyone who’s interested in learning its benefits and putting it into practice as quickly as possible.
It's my sincere desire that you will decide to engage in meditation and reap its amazing benefits. You’ll be glad you did, and I’ll be content and blessed in knowing that I’ve been able to pass my knowledge, experience, and fervor about it on to you and others.