On Meditation and Philosophy

November 20, 2008

Discovering that today is World Philosophy Day inspired me to reflect on the relationship of meditation and philosophy. It all started when Richard showed me this BBC article by David Bain — Four Philosophical Questions to Make Your Brain Hurt. I’m not particularly fond of having my brain hurt, but I am fond of philosophy. This fondness isn’t about reading philosophy, as that can make my brain hurt. It is more about a natural tendency I have to question things. It’s about having a mind that’s always exploring the meaning and nature of things.

When I was in college, I took a vocational aptitude test. The idea was to help discover what I would be good at as a profession. When I met with my advisor to learn the results of the test, he scratched his head and looked perplexed. Poring over the results, he said that it appeared that my abilities would make me well suited to be an “armchair philosopher”. Since this didn’t offer a path to earning income, he scrambled around for another option — sales. Well, selling things has never been my forte, and I certainly haven’t earned a living through philosophizing.

What’s interesting to me is that my income is currently related to lifelong involvement with meditation. Thinking about it today, I see that meditation and philosophy go hand in hand for me. Both involve investigating the nature of things, the nature of oneself. With philosophy the exploration is intellectual, and with meditation it is experiential. And yet, there is a point where intellectual and experiential exploration meet and can’t really be separated out.

Perhaps this is most clearly seen in the case of inquiry as a path of spiritual realization. The great sage Ramana Maharishi indicated that asking oneself the question “who I am” could ultimately result in realization of the truth of ones existence. Although the question can be answered intellectually with descriptions such as “I am a woman”, “I am a doctor” and so on, taken to its final conclusion this question reveals ones nature as it exists beyond such descriptive terms. 

Meditation involves a shift of attention that takes the mind out of its usual ways of perceiving and experiencing. It seems that asking philosophical questions has the potential to do the same thing.

I can’t speak as a professional philosopher, but as an armchair philosopher I can say that asking questions about things we don’t usually question has been part of my path with meditation. It jogs the mind from its usual assumptions and opens the perception to seeing things differently. At times, it’s a great recreation for my mind. It loosens the grip of tightly held assumptions and in that sense is mind-expanding in much the same way that meditation is.

In working on this post on and off throughout the day, I ended up Googling “value of philosophy” and found the following from Bertrand Russell’s Problems of Philosophy. It was fascinating to find in the last sentences a description which could just as easily have been about meditation (in bold type):

“Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

What is my philosophy and background? Part 2 — Up close and personal.

February 15, 2008

And now for a more “up close and personal” answer to Erica’s question (on the About page of this blog)…

Erica asked about my philosophy of life, and my dilemma is that I don’t really have one in terms of having a set of fixed beliefs. At the same time, it’s fair to say that I’ve spent a good deal of my life philosophizing. After taking a vocational aptitude test in college, my advisor scratched his head and said, “this indicates that you’d do best at being an armchair philosopher”. I love to think about the nature of life and look at things from all sorts of angles. I love to question things. I’ve also had a love of asking the question “why” which doesn’t really have an answer, and I suppose much of my journey has been to give up the need to know answers and to be able to embrace lovingly what is here in this incredible play of life, with all its contradictions and paradoxes, and with all its joy and pain.

So it’s difficult to say what my philosophy is, but I can say something about what’s behind my guided meditations. Behind them is a quest, a quest for greater acceptance, peace and to be more fully alive. My guided meditations are as much for me as for those who listen to them. It’s not like have a specific philosophy to share. It’s more like I see us all on a journey together. Along the way on my journey I started meditating, then teaching meditation and eventually leading guided meditations. It’s in my nature to communicate and share what I learn and experience.

When I create a guided meditation, I close my eyes and drop into a meditative state and see what comes. I am literally meditating with you, and the meditations speak to me in the same way they speak to those of you who enjoy them. What they speak about for me is trust in the natural flow of life and relaxing into that. For want of a better way to describe it, I view life as a flow of energy, much like a river. That flow is governed by the same natural laws as those that move the river along its path. Everything that we do and experience is a part of that flow. Events are a part of that flow, as are our reactions to those events and all of the thoughts and emotions that arise within us. My path has been one of developing trust in that flow. Relaxation is a reflection of that trust.

Some of the guided meditations I lead are simply about that — about relaxing into life as it naturally unfolds. The Relaxation Break, Simply Being, Effortlessness and Letting Go are examples of that kind of meditation. When I first started leading guided meditations, I thought that was all that I would do, because that is the kind of meditation I had always taught. But things evolved and I found it was useful to sometimes direct the attention in ways that helped to create balance and enhance fulfillment in life.

So there are meditations about healing, the chakras, nature, etc. I enjoy the process of creating these new meditations, and a lot of this is happening thanks to the podcast and the requests and feedback I receive. I decided not to restrict myself to just one kind of meditation. All the other meditations, however, are based on starting with a relaxed, open state of awareness. That’s why they all start out in much the same way. Then the meditations that have a specific focus will be much more effective if one starts with that non-resistant, going with the flow, state of awareness. If we are tense and fighting with what’s happening within us (or noise or something going on around us), then all our energy goes to that and we can’t direct our attention in other ways.

As for my background, it’s been very eclectic. At first I learned and taught meditation in a style from India. I was trained in a very specific technique and the essence of that technique was effortlessness. This had a great deal of influence on me. After years on one path, however, I began to study with some other teachers and learned other practices and was exposed to a number of philosophies. I also studied and taught energy healing for a number of years and that too has shaped my meditations. I also worked as a counselor in mental health and hospice, and the insights and understanding I gained from that certainly influence the meditations I create.

I’d have to say that my guided meditations today are a synthesis of all of these different influences. Of course, this synthesis is unique because I am a unique individual just as we all are. Ultimately, everything that has happened in my life contributes to the meditations, because everything in life is a teacher.

It’s interesting that people often recognize their paths in my work. Erica asked about whether I have a background in Buddhist Vapassana meditation and I don’t, although often people have found that in my work. People have also found similarities to Christian centering meditations and other traditions. I think that’s because the same principles and concepts are arrived on many different paths.

Often as I am creating a meditation, I am surprised at what comes out. It will not be quite like anything I’ve heard before. That’s part of the fun of it, and part of the reason I don’t relate too much to tradition and what’s gone before. What’s really alive is what is fresh in this moment, in the infinite creativity of the life force as it expresses itself here and now.

What is my philosophy and background? Part 1– Keeping it universal.

February 15, 2008

“Erica” asked a the following question today on the About page of this blog.

“I am wondering if your style of meditation is rooted in any specific philosophy. I have had an interest in Buddhist Vipassana meditation (Insight Meditation) for several years. I seem to hear many of the same principles in your meditations and on your website. Could you share a little more about the origins of your meditations and life outlook? Sorry, I know it’s kind of a big question… I’m just curious.”

I’ve hesitated to write much about my background and philosophy for a number of reasons. One reason is that I’m much more interested in people formulating their own philosophies and having their own unique journeys with the meditations than I am in having people focus on mine. Another reason is that I can’t really say I have a philosophy of life. I’m definitely interested in becoming more alive and more at peace, but when I try to put that journey into words, the words can be misleading. In addition, my philosophy of life, if I have one, is constantly evolving. What I might say today is not what I might say tomorrow…

As for my background, it’s something that happened in the past. True meditation is a fresh, new experience. It is influenced by everything one has done and studied before, but it’s always an opportunity for a new discovery. If I look to the past, I may limit what can happen now and my desire is to become increasingly present to the here and now. I try not to limit myself or anyone else by the past.

I also hesitate to be really specific about my background because I want to leave the door open to anyone who may resonate with the meditations I create. In truth, my background has exposed me to many teachers and teachings, but what I have discovered is that there are common elements among different teachings and those elements that are universal seem the most useful and “true”. For me the experience of meditation is what is important, not the ideas about it and philosophies. What is fascinating to me is how different people can have such different insights and results from the meditations. What we get from meditation or a teacher is based more on our own process and intentions than it is on what is put forth by the teacher.

Erica did ask me to share something about my background and philosophy, however, and we do learn something from hearing each others’ journeys and experiences. So now that I’ve told you some of the reasons I like to avoid talking about these things, I think I’ll go ahead with Part 2 of this post and get a bit more “up close and personal”. Thanks for asking, Erica!

Discovering ancient meditations in present awareness

April 11, 2007

My guided meditations arise out of my own meditation practice and exploration. When I sit to record a CD or podcast, I close my eyes and enter a meditative state and see what comes. Currently I’m working on a CD of meditations using the breath. In the process of doing this, some entirely new meditations have come up. As I explore my own inner landscape, new ways of meditating are called forth. I try to assign names to the meditations that capture something of the essence of them.

Inevitably, if I Google a meditation name I’ve come up with, I discover meditations online from various traditions that use similar names and work in similar ways. Often the meditations are based on ancient traditions. It is fascinating to see how in the freshness of my own consciousness the same meditations are born again which arose in minds in the past and became part of long-standing traditions.

This has made me appreciate the saying that “there is nothing new under the sun”. We may learn meditation from a tradition or we may discover it within ourselves. The fundamentals of human consciousness and experience don’t really change. Things such as clothing, language, technology, and lifestyle may change, but the inner reality doesn’t change. Human consciousness, which is where we live our lives, doesn’t change. Past and future meet there as the present moment, and the present moment is all there is.

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