Thursday, 12 November 2015

Meditation and the Beatles

If meditation seems to be the cause of difficulty, it is also the solution

A historical example

I grew up with the Beatles, literally. I was 11 when it started, and 19 when it was all over. They were the sound track of the times, the Sixties. It’s impossible to summarise here the changes that took place, but it has all been well documented. What we are interested in is the shift in consciousness that took place then. Because that was what lead to all the accompanying psychological, social, political and spiritual changes. 

In the West, there was a spiritual vacuum. Christianity was in decline as the all-embracing spiritual guideline it had been until then. And until that time there was no 'Eastern' philosophy, no yoga or meditation, no ashrams. And no understanding of energy, ecology, conservation or karma, etc. All that rushed in to fill the vacuum. Of course that didn’t make everything all right, but it was an optimistic time and change was in the air, so it seemed that way at first. No-one realised yet that it was going to take earnestness, application and consistency to get meaningful results.

The Beatles did not create this change of course. They understood that, even as they knew they were a measure of it. They rode the crest of the wave of the time, reflected it and gave it a voice and a soundtrack. 

The Beatles as spiritual seekers

And, they were spiritual seekers. If it had a basis in a shift of consciousness, they were also in some measure a catalyst for it too. Their music reflected this - and because at first they were beginners, the same as everyone else - they were edging their way toward it and what they were saying was almost universally acceptable… at first…

Then they got serious about it. And they followed their spiritual path in the public eye, and took it seriously enough eventually to find and follow a spiritual master and then go to an ashram in India for a time of sadhana, meditation practice, and retreat. And by all accounts they did a lot of meditation practice for an extended period of time. Anyone who has ever done anything like that - a week, a month or more - will tell you this is not trivial stuff. 

And it divided opinion; it still does. At the time many commentators were in shock over this strange behaviour - the meditation shit and gurus and ashrams. Beatles had lost their marbles. And many later historical commentators still take a similar view in that it was the main blot on their unblemished record as 'artists', their later falling out notwithstanding. 

Opinions on meditation

Even today there are divisions over whether meditation is the panacea for a troubled mind and life; or something pointless that right-thinking people don’t mess with; or a direct path to the psychiatric couch. None of these is right. Meditation is just what it is, but it’s not a trivial thing, and you have to do it to know that. To understand it accurately takes practice; and not just practice, but experience of the practice; and not just experience of the practice, but experience of what happens within you when you practice for a long time. And the attitude, the way to practice has to be correctly understood too as it has a major influence on the outcome. This is very important.

I was reading about the White Album - that’s the one they recorded after they returned from India - which was when the trouble between them really started and they became very acrimonious toward each other and, well, toward everybody apparently. So what does an extended period of meditation practice do - what the Beatles did? Is there any connection between meditation and what happens after?

What meditation is about

If you practice meditation properly for any length of time you learn a great deal about yourself. You go deeper into yourself, to parts that are hidden away, or covered over by distractions in the marketplace of daily life. Because, please remember, meditation has always been about self-knowledge, not self-improvement. Even if you go in for self-improvement, self-knowledge will come. If you're not ready for it, it may not be very attractive.

Meditation will deconstruct the preconceptions we have about ourselves and on the way it will reveal the censored side of our nature - the dark side - as well as questioning what we have up to now taken to be positive. The purpose of awareness is to see all sides, all aspects, of one’s nature impartially, and therefore accurately. And you have to face the dark side if you’re going to see the light within, which they all say is already there, waiting to be discovered 

Teaching meditation with this in mind, I prefer to 'promote' meditation as a challenge to take up, where as a participant I would take responsibility for myself at all levels, both known and unknown, which, either way, by that acceptance will become known better through practice. And I’m in on that from the beginning through to the end. It is certainly not a shortcut to nirvana. It’s that kind of promise which is so misleading and may possibly lead to the psychiatric couch.

When you practice meditation, all the samskaras, the past impressions and memories, stored away in the recesses of the mind will be released and will come to the surface, eventually. That’s when awareness must be held steady. Because that’s when your preconceptions start to disassemble. If this is not understood it will lead to confusion, which is only a symptom of another expectation not being met. And, there are no expectations in meditation.

But if this is understood and we go into meditation with full awareness, for self-knowledge, then something special happens, which, try as you may, cannot be described in advance, nor accurately enough to translate. There is so much more to who we are than what we know now, or will know for any foreseeable time. Accepting this, going with this, is the realistic starting point for practising meditation.

Two things to keep in mind 

First, the deeper you go the longer it takes for 'released' samskaras to come to the surface, where our conscious awareness tries to take stock of what’s going on. And with our short memory of this kind of thing, when the stuff does come up it may be experienced in a different context and happening in a different 'reality' than at the time of the practice that caused the release to happen in the first place. Then there is a disconnect between the cause, the meditation, and the effect, what I go through at a (much) later stage. The answer is continuous practice, so that the connection between inner and outer keeps on developing, until one day they may be recognised and seen together as one.

And secondly the continuity of practice, as well as being the medium of release, is also the medium of handling the effects of release - the experiences that come to us and the changes we go through. Meditation is like looking in on an evolutionary process which should be neither restrained nor meddled with. When you get it right you become an inner adventurer. An adventurer doesn't know what will happen next. That you don’t know what may happen becomes fascinating - waiting to find out who you are. Proper practice of awareness is the way to leave it alone, let it work itself out, and be unaffected by it - Let It Be.

What came out of it

So back to the Beatles. They did some extended meditation practice, at a critical time, it seems, when they were questioning many things - their fame, their relationships, the band itself, and so on. They would have touched on stuff that the previous extraordinary years with all the excitement would have kept out of their perception. Perhaps childhood memories would have surfaced or been released to pop up later. Perhaps they had a clearer idea of themselves as individuals, their wants and needs, which they were later to discover were not the same as the other three.

So it’s very likely that these dormant impressions, probably, possibly, still unrecognised, all spilled over when they got back to the UK and back into the studio (recording the White Album). Maybe they did not feel quite like the same people to themselves, and therefore they were not quite the same to each other. And no doubt they started to squabble about long withheld grievances or petty things which seemed to have taken on greater significance. And maybe not necessarily understanding the whys and wherefores of the connection between their recent long period of meditation and their clearly diverging paths.

Of course anyone who practices meditation for some time will tell you this is not a bad thing. To get your lifelong priorities sorted, no matter how difficult the process, is no bad thing. And even so, if meditation is practiced properly, difficult times are much more easily negotiated with meditation than without it. Because surely there is a certain learning curve in every life that is bound to happen. It’s what we’re here for. And meditation is the way to do it knowingly - to make the unknown known, to make conscious what has been unconscious. If that inspires you, then meditation will eventually do what it is intended for. If on the other hand you’ve read this far and the idea still seems threatening then maybe meditation is not right just yet.


Meditation is the way to deepen self knowledge, accurately and completely. But it has to be understood properly, and practiced properly, in the right frame of mind, which is in one word, patience. It will eventually open up a deepening and expanding field of experience - in sensation, thought and emotion - than has been known before. That is part of acquiring self-knowledge. And most crucially, it provides the skills to turn any experience into an exhilarating adventure. But, this does not happen automatically and from time to time some guidance may be necessary. If the Beatles had developed their practice under further guidance, things might have turned out not necessarily differently, but certainly more harmoniously. But that’s another story.

It’s like a long and winding road

There will be highways and byways

There will be main roads and minor roads

And there will be steep mountain passes, dark forests and rivers to cross 

There will be good travelling and bad travelling 

There will be apparent distances covered and there will be resting in one place 

There will be distractions and diversions. 

There will be wrong roads taken for right roads. 

And there will be correction and return. 

We do not turn back if the road is not to our liking, 

Just to find a better road wherever it may go, just because it’s a better road 

We are ready for the whole journey, the inner journey through life 

You just keep practising

And in the end, to paraphrase the last words of the 'last' Beatles song:

It all comes to give and take

What you get is what you make

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