Given all the disquieting things around us concerning the volatility of the world economies and stock markets, jobs, etc. and how the powerlessness that people feel has crossed over into anger and rage, I thought it would be a good time to learn how to calm our minds. Now I will admit that I am not someone who has ever been able to do that. In fact I have envied people who seem to be able to do that through meditation.
So I turned to Doc Barham a Los Angeles based multiple-certified transformational coach and one of the best explainers of treatment methods I have ever met.
Goulston: Doc, given all the upset in the world I think this is a time for many people to learn to quiet their minds, because all of the reactivity is serving no one. I include myself in that group and I would love to learn to meditate. What is meditation?
Barham: You can look at meditation in a number of different ways: as a tool, a skill, a discipline, an art and a science. As a transformative practice, meditation is essential to something referred to as Integral Life Mastery. Ultimately though, as you continue to transform and awaken, meditation evolves beyond all these terms into a way of being in the world.
In simplest terms: Meditation is a way of engaging the mind to go beyond the mind.
Goulston: Engaging the mind to go beyond the mind. How does that happen?
Barham: As a practice, meditation uses concentration and silent contemplation during deep physical relaxation for experiencing an ever deeper awareness of yourself in such a way that it that gives rise to insight, and eventually, transformation.
Goulston: Where does meditation come from?
Barham: Meditation as a practice has been around in one form or another for a very long time. In terms of recorded history, meditation techniques from different cultures and traditions around the world have been written about and improved upon for more than 5000 years. However, since meditation is really a natural function of the human body-mind -- it was almost certainly a practice of prehistory, as well. If you've ever stared into a flickering fire you can just imagine what meditating while sitting before a sacred flame might have been like during shamanic spiritual practices ages ago.
In truth, meditation is an ancient practice that has been highly valued, handed down, rediscovered and innovated upon by generation after generation for millennia.
Goulston: What's the value of doing meditation? What are the benefits?
Barham: Currently there are literally over 2000 scientific studies documenting hundreds of physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual benefits you receive from meditation. And while there are far too many to list here, Michael Murphy's book, "The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation" is a good place to start. Ultimately, the real value and benefit of meditation is found in your intention, your efforts and what works for you right now which all of which will determine how you do meditation.
Goulston: What does meditation lead to then?
Barham: That depends. Consider that an integral meditation is part of an overall life practice, the purpose of which is to help you evolve, deepen and awaken in all dimensions of your being.
Certain spiritual traditions have a very interesting notion that before you can know who you are, you must first know who you are not. This is known as the "Way of Subtraction," "Via Negativa" or "Neti-Neti," and in essence, what it means in part is that due to our years of conditioning and habituation while growing up, we do not really know who or all that we truly are. In a very real sense, we 'suffer' from a case of mistaken identity.
For example, if you're someone who is fully identified with your thoughts and your thinking -- meaning you "think" you are your thoughts -- then meditation can help you experience something quite profound by beginning to observe or "witness" your thoughts. What happens is you realize a very important and life-changing distinction: You are not your thoughts, rather, you have thoughts. Simply put, you can't be what you can witness, therefore, your thoughts are not "you." In the same way, in meditation you can realize that you are not your feelings but you have feelings. Another step further, and you can realize you are not your beliefs but have beliefs. And further still, you can realize something that is even more freeing and liberating: You are not your ego but you have an ego, as well. Through regular meditation practice you come to realize each of these insights -- not just intellectually as so much information in your head -- but through direct experience. And as you do, you are realizing more of who you truly are. By witnessing your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs and your ego in a healthy way, you are continuously converting what was originally the subject of your attention into an object of your attention, you then transcend and include each of these in your awareness.
Over time, these states of awareness you experience in meditation become stable and continuous and mature into new higher stages of personal development which give rise to an entirely new "reality tunnel" or view of the world.
Goulston: Say more about that.
Barham: Through meditation you come to realize that who you are is no longer sourced in your mind or body or even your ego-personality, but in something else, something deeper that exists "prior" to all of these different aspects of yourself.
Who you are is now sourced in "Awareness."
Think about this: Your "reality" is what you pay attention to.
Goulston: What do you mean that paying attention is your reality?
Barham: If like most people, you spend your whole life and all your time habitually paying attention to your thoughts and feelings you will become totally identified with them, right? Well then who will you think you are? Your thoughts and feelings. As a result, you'll become highly attached to them. Why? Because quite simply, you think they're you. And anyone or anything that seems to threaten them will be threatening to "you" and you will get really upset. The same exact thing goes for your beliefs and your ego too. And that's why we jokingly say it's all a case of mis-taken identity.
Goulston: What can you do if you are attached to what is working against you?
Barham: If you decide to stop and turn your attention away from your thoughts and feelings and back toward your awareness what will happen? If you spend time bringing your attention back to awareness, being aware of awareness, over time, you will realize that you are awareness itself. And when you begin to rest in that awareness, your body and mind start to integrate and work together in harmony like never before.
Now, since you are truly a multi-dimensional being, you actually contain three primary centers of consciousness: The awareness center which is located in your head, the feeling-awareness center located at your heart and the body intelligence and life force center known as the "Hara," located below your navel in your body.
By turning your attention to any one of these centers in meditation you can experience your self from that particular center of consciousness: Awareness, the Heart, or Beingness, shall we say. Eventually, resting in meditation in all three centers of consciousness simultaneously is a profound experience of oneself as a truly multidimensional being.
Goulston: So how do you do this meditation? What do you do?
Barham: In general, in this meditation you'll bring your attention back to awareness over and over again. You continue to cultivate the meditative state by relaxing more and more deeply while refining your attention back upon awareness itself.
Also, its good to bring certain positive personal qualities to your practice to help ensure you experience a simpler, easier, more enjoyable and more fruitful meditation.
The most essential quality is sincerity. Sincerity gives rise to other qualities as a natural expression of your honest intent which include such things as a balance of persistence and patience along with a measure of self-kindness and trust as you surrender to a process that takes time and effort.
Goulston: How about giving us something to try right now to experience what you've been explaining to us?
Barham: Great idea. Sometimes "feeling is believing." Let's try an example that we'll call, "The Awareness Of Awareness Meditation."
The Awareness Of Awareness Meditation consists of three simple steps:
Step 1: Look at an object.
Step 2: Become aware of your awareness.
Step 3: Observe awareness.
First, find yourself a nice, quiet place where you will be uninterrupted and free from any distractions. It's best to set aside some time -- say anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes for starters. Make sure you're wearing comfortable clothing and sitting in a comfortable position where your spine is relatively straight and you won't become tired in that position during the meditation.
Now, allow yourself to relax your entire body with a few nice deep, slow breaths.
Next, to warm up, find an object in the room and notice the following three things: the object you're looking at, the space or distance between you and the object, and you.
Now, let go of the object, shift your attention away from it and notice there is awareness that is "looking" through your eyes right now. Not thought but awareness. Awareness is not thought. Awareness is that which is aware of thought. Become aware of your awareness.
Now, close your eyes and observe your awareness. There is your attention and there is awareness. Turn your attention to your awareness. Just let go and notice there is awareness. Awareness is empty. You're not trying to observe any object. Its just noticing awareness. Become present to your awareness. Observe awareness and remain with that.
And that's it. Turn your attention away from any thoughts or feelings and directly towards awareness itself and stay with that for the duration of your meditation.
Goulston: Could you repeat those key steps to that meditation?
Barham: The three simple steps to the "Awareness of Awareness Meditation":
Step 1: Look at an object.
Step 2: Become aware of your awareness.
Step 3: Observe awareness.
And one last thing. Remember, mastery of anything is about practice, consistently putting what you know into action so you can experience the transformation you desire. As you do you'll find the practice of "Awareness of Awareness" will help you to rest increasingly in an authentic and peaceful state of non-attachment as you realize yourself more fully in body, mind, soul and spirit.
Goulston: So practice makes perfect.
Barham: Maybe if you let go of "perfection" you could quiet your mind.
Goulston: A very good thing for me to meditate about.
Barham: Now you're talking about contemplation, not meditation and that could be the subject of another conversation.
Goulston: I'll look forward to that. Thank you Doc for helping us all to quiet our minds.