Meditation has always been about self-knowledge, not self improvement. It’s as well to understand this because in the end meditation will come down to self-knowledge, and as the mind opens up that can come as a bit of a surprise if not prepared for it. But paradoxically if meditation is practised with self-knowledge as the purpose, then self-improvement automatically follows. Whereas if self-improvement is pursued for its own sake, that does happen but not so easily or spontaneously.
It's like if you have to climb a mountain, but to get to the mountain first you have to get over a hill. The hill is no obstacle because the mind is set on the challenge of the mountain. Whereas if the aim is only to climb the hill, the mind has a different attitude. The hill becomes a greater challenge than if it were just something to handle on the way. While being realistic, the higher the goal the greater the personal achievement. And there is no limitation on anyone anywhere being able to discover more about themselves and benefitting immensely from that.
To know ourselves more deeply, to understand ourselves more fully, we have to turn away for some time from the world out there and find a way into the complete, infinite and mysterious world within. That inner world is with us all the time but we just don’t seem to pay that much attention to it and, even if we want to go there, we may not know how to do it. There are four conditions for successful and satisfying meditation experience: voluntarily detaching from the magnetism of the active outer life for some time; knowing how to turn inward; knowing what to do when you get there; and facing up to it as you begin to discover yourself more and more.
The rules change inside
The thing to remember is that when you leave the outer life for the inner, all the rules change. Things become counter-intuitive to what you would normally expect. You may have no idea what you will discover there; it may be quite different from what you presently think of yourself; and there may be hesitation about going there because of that. The inner life has its own agenda, timetable and language, and we have to adjust the way we think and be guided by that to benefit from it. That takes a different attitude, a different way of thinking.
We cannot enforce the normal personal rules of behaviour on the inner life and expect our own preconceived results from that. It slips away and waits patiently for a wiser attitude. Because, who we are on the inside is actually much, much wiser than what we are and what we know from the outside: all the impressions we have accumulated and what we calculate ourselves to be from that.
It started as a search for harmony
The result of all these impressions are stored away within us, out of sight, out of mind for the most part. But we feel their influence all the time and express it in what we prefer and what we avoid, in likes and dislikes, in our choices and then in our behaviour. In modern society we take ourselves to be free, but we are only really free when find we are no longer compelled to think and act according to these accumulated impressions.
Meditation is the medium for finding our way into the inner world and then going on a journey of discovery. It will eventually take you through a lot of accumulated stuff, because that store of impressions was originally put in there in order to be useful. There is a continual ongoing search for harmony and equilibrium. And strange as it may seem, it is the aim to redress any perceived imbalance at that moment that causes the impressions to be put away in the first place. But then we find so much of what comes back at us later has simply passed its use-by date.
Accept that it is there
We need to review the situation for a chance of release. It happens all the time, past impressions come back at us to find out if they are still useful like before. And if we affirm their validity by reacting to them as usual they return, sometimes strengthened, to go on being 'useful’ in the same old way. To get release from them, we need a new understanding, a new set of rules for the mind if you like, and it is through applying that understanding in meditation we also come to know our own true self, the ultimate aim of meditation.
One of the golden rules for coming to terms with pain left over from the past is to accept it completely, that it is there in me and address it on those terms. The point of origin may be cause for blame and redress, that is not disputed. But even if the outer balance is redressed, the inner equilibrium is not guaranteed with that. When it comes down to it, for the removal of the pain it doesn’t actually matter how it got there. The process of removal is finally achieved by coming to terms with it only directly between me and myself. We may be guided there from outside, by whatever means, but the work itself is done internally and best handled in a particular way. If practised correctly meditation provides the skills that eventually lead to this. We eventually get beyond the source of the blame, which is external, to the source of the pain, which is internal. That’s where the denouement takes place.
How is it done?
By identifying a certain quality and developing a certain skill where you are able to separate yourself just enough from your own experience to look back at it so to speak, and see it as it is, not through the veil of the mind, nor seeing it coloured by emotion, nor giving into the reactive impulse of feeling. But just as it is.
There is a certain mystery in the way that by just observing something without a vested interest in the outcome, somehow it eventually reveals all that you need to know to move on. By not reaffirming them with a reaction, it has the effect of neutralising old unwanted impressions and letting the impressions themselves discover they have no permanent foundation, and therefore a limited existence, and therefore they pass on. Use-by date is up, off the shelf. If only… well there’s a point where we have to work it out for ourselves.
What it takes
This does not necessarily happen quickly or easily. One of the early challenges is getting to think outside the box enough to try something that the mind can easily rationalise away. But you have to meet with yourself just as you find yourself. This includes the mind, but also allows for undiscovered possibilities beyond the mind. That requires patience, a little fortitude, and some faith in our own ability to be as we are. The word used for this in meditation is Awareness. It’s a skill we have that can be discovered and that can always be more fully developed. There is no limit.
Experience has shown that with some guidance, total immersion in the spirit of meditation for a period of time - seven to nine days - opens up our inner self more effectively than tapping away politely at the door from the outside. Regular practice at home is invaluable, essential even, and very effective, but only if the right method of practice has been understood, and experienced undistracted for a period of time.
Meditation is actually quite simple. But we, our minds, make it much more complicated. We begin by thinking something that far-reaching, that profound - like, wow, real inner change - must be difficult. And so it becomes… but it needn’t be. It means giving the priority and time to being an adventurer in our inner world, as complete and all-embracing as the outer one we already know. And then being ready to throw out, or watch get thrown out, all our preconceptions about what it is supposed to be, what it is supposed to do, what is supposed to happen. And when the time is right let something special reveal itself from within, something we finally discover is much closer to my real self than all I had taken it to be.