An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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David Christopher LaneDavid Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).



A Brief Guide

David Lane

“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.” - Voltaire
The following is my limited attempt to explain the ins and outs of meditation without unnecessarily intertwining it with religious mythology.

My nephew Shanti asked me the other day for recommendations on introductory books on how to meditate. I wanted to send him something, but I soon realized that I wasn’t satisfied with what was on offer. Many were too simplistic for my tastes and others were too religiously bound. I decided that perhaps it would be fruitful to provide a brief explanation behind why meditation works and provide step-by-step directions on how to do it. Given that there are so many meditational disciplines, I thought I would just focus on the one technique that I have been doing these past 40 or so years. The following is my limited attempt to explain the ins and outs of meditation without unnecessarily intertwining it with religious mythology. Of course, some may argue that just such an interpretative matrix is necessary to fully benefit from sitting still and that meditation cannot properly be divorced from its cultural or religious moorings. I beg to differ, since I believe that meditation works regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.

Why? Because meditation is a universal process of exploring how consciousness manifests and changes over time. The meditator is simply experiencing the varietals of awareness. Our attention is akin to an ocean navigator that plots courses along a vast territory and whose directions guide the would-be wayfarer to far off and rarely visited islands. There are innumerable vistas in our universe of consciousness, but seldom do we actually take the time and energy to fully venture into those realms.

The mind is a simulation operator and evolved to allow individuals to imagine and plan for events not yet occurring in the world we live and breathe in. As Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist at City College of New York, explains in his most recent book, The Future of the Mind,

“Human consciousness is a specific form of consciousness that creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future. This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops to make a decision to achieve a goal.”

Gerald Edelman, a distinguished Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer in understanding the brain, argues that consciousness has two fundamental aspects: First Nature, which is usually defined as present-moment awareness which appears to be common in almost all birds and animals, including humans. It is associative and attentive to incoming stimuli and the surrounding environment. Second Nature, which arguably is only fully realized in human beings (though it is also apparent to lesser degrees in higher mammals), is self-reflective and dissociative, evolved to ruminate, contemplate, and virtually re-present (with an emphasis on the “re”) past events and to envision and plan for future actions and scenarios. If First Nature is focused on the here and now, Second Nature is where we daydream, fantasize, and space-out. It is, in sum, a virtual simulator.

As Michio Kaku elaborates,

“Humans are alone in the animal kingdom in understanding the concept of tomorrow. Unlike animals, we constantly ask ourselves ‘What if?’ weeks, months, even years into the future, so I believe Level III consciousness [Edelman’s 2nd Nature] creates a model of its place in the world and then simulates it in the future, by making rough predictions.”

Kaku’s space-time theory of consciousness and Edelman’s two-nature understanding of awareness are helpful theoretic orientations for us to better understand how and why meditation works.

Meditation involves many levels of deployment. Primarily, it is concerned with bringing our attention back to the present moment and becoming aware of what is happening here and now. In order to do this one builds a bridge between second and first nature, so that one can let go of consuming revelries and become attuned with the current locality. This is more difficult than one might suspect, since our brains evolved to disengage and imagine all sorts of scenarios that don’t need our immediate scrutiny.

If we watch how our mind functions moment to moment, we can see how easily we fluctuate about--from paying attention to what is constantly changing in our field of sight, sound, and touch (boarding an airplane, say) to daydreaming about what we are going to do with our eventual careers (sitting in a classroom during a boring lecture, for instance). Our awareness is akin to a wild animal that doesn’t settle too long at any one place. This “monkey” mind never really rests (not even in sleep) and dissipates energy in this continual process.

Getting the mind to settle down isn’t an easy thing to do, but once accomplished (even if only in degrees) it not only energizes one’s being but also offers a pathway to experience hitherto neglected aspects of awareness. First and Second Nature are waves of a much deeper and broader body of consciousness. The process of meditating is to follow the source from which our awareness originally arises and to witness what it how it both presages and transcends the waking and dream states that we are so familiar with.

Speaking from my own experience, I can say without any reservations that there are some wonderful benefits to this internal quest, not the least of which are deeper insights into how the mind actually works and a widening sense of bliss the more one plunges deeper into awareness itself. Of course, we have to be careful over how we interpret what we discover on your inner journeys. As humans we seem to have an almost genetic predisposition to conflate our brain state with the “real” state of the universe and wax hyperbolic about our latest “enlightenments.”

Far too often religion or other ideologies attempt to hijack our inner experiences and intertwine them with their own theological agendas, prematurely blinding us from keeping open minded to alternative explanations. The common denominator in all meditative practices (whether Buddhist or Christian or Secular Humanist) is the human brain, which thankfully isn’t tied to down to any ism or geographic region.

But how does one meditate?

  1. Find a quiet space somewhere in your home or office or outside. Best if it is a spot that you can go to routinely.
  2. Wear something comfortable and not too tight fitting.
  3. Choose a mat or a chair that will allow you to sit in a relaxed manner for an extended period of time.
  4. Sitting up straight, but not rigidly, place your arms and hands on your lap or on your legs, making sure that you won’t have to move them unnecessarily.
  5. Before you begin, it is best to determine a set time for how long you are going to sit. At first, do something short like 10 minutes. You can always increase the time as you progress.
  6. The key to meditation is to use a technique that will slow down the ruminating mind. Some adherents recommend watching one’s breathing, whereas others suggest being a witness to whatever arises and keeping in the witness space. I have found using a mantra or a repeated phrase or name to be quite effective, since it tends to keep one on a single track. Which name or phrase one uses is entirely a personal affair, but once chosen it is probably best to stick with it since it isn’t the word or series of words that works but the concentration or focus it can bring about.
  7. Close your eyes and sit as still as possible, without trying to move any part of your body. Don’t force the issue, but a good example to mimic is a street mime who can stand almost frozen for prolonged stretches.
  8. As you sit, you will immediately notice how the mind begins a series of simulations or revelries. I liken these to projective envelopes that once they capture your attention take you off on first class excursions, only to depart you precisely where you started. There are innumerable such projections.
  9. Try to see if you can avoid getting involved in their respective trajectories. It is hard at first since the nature of the mind is to actually carry you along such streams of imagination.
  10. If you can avoid taking on such flights of fancy, and keep one’s attention behind the eyes (but without straining whatsoever) then one can become internally aware within.
  11. This awareness can be a bit startling. It is like a blind person first getting a glimpse of a rainbow or a deaf person hearing Mozart.
  12. Several possibilities unfold as one gets deeper into meditation. First is sleep, which is always a potential problem, particularly if one is not fully rested. Second is a state of inertia where one senses nothing is happening and gets bored with the whole affair and gets up and finds something to eat or turn on the television or check status updates on Facebook. Third, one enters into a conscious hypnagogic state that is somewhat akin to lucid dreaming, except that one enters this portal semi-aware. This is an intriguing stage since one can literally see whole panoramas that seem as real as anything viewed in the outside world. Indeed, any object, such as an apple, can manifest in one’s line of sight and one can study its minute detail and later recall it as well. This is a lateral state in meditation, as it is the zone between waking and sleep.
  13. All of these states and others like them are transitional and to be expected during meditation. However, they are not progressive or necessarily bliss inducing. They are merely topical variations of what the waking and dreaming mind does when placed under sensory deprivation.
  14. If one can stay within the focus and avoid sleep, hypnagogic surrealism, and bored inertia, something quite remarkable begins to emerge. The body starts to feel an unusual numbness, which (unlike the annoying sensation when our feet or legs “go to sleep” after sitting too long) is quite pleasant even if a bit alarming. As this numbness takes over the entire body, you will feel as if you are entering into a heightened state of awareness, such that it seems as if a lost world is opening up. The inner senses become exceptionally keen and the darkness gives way to sparkles of light.
  15. Our attention is now becoming comfortable with being within and starts to enjoy exploring what this new heightened state brings with it. Not only does our visual sense become more acute, so do our sense of hearing and our sense of bliss. Just as when we travel to a new country for the first time, we see and hear things anew, so too when we meditate and spend significant time within. New visions and new sounds arise within this emerging layer of awareness, which should not be confused with either dreaming or waking, since it belongs to neither. It is as if one is venturing into the source of where virtual simulations initially emerge. This is similar to going to a movie theatre and instead of watching the screen one turns around and looks at the projector itself. Foregoing watching moving images, one observes the source from where such images arise.
  16. This can be quite disconcerting since the mind has the habit of involving us in its manifold simulations. It is rare for anyone to avoid such outpourings and reverse course to trace, like a trout going upstream, where the source of such manifestations pours forth.
  17. With this new level of awareness, what one experiences seems more real than anything prior. The danger is that in this new state one can start to get entranced by varying visions or insights and get delusions of grandeur. The key is to stay calm and detached if one wishes to progress further and avoid being too bogged down or attached to such inner fireworks. This is easier said than done.
  18. The light that manifests is soothing to contemplate and will settle the mind. However, that very light can, like its physical counterpart, break into a spectrum and if not checked seduce one into a fantastic diversion, an enclosed world the likes of which are unimaginable. This is not dissimilar to how we get caught into the drama of a dream, forgetting that what we are chasing is our own projection.
  19. The sounds that one can hear within is at first coarse and provides no attractive pull, but eventually it too takes on a refined character and has an irresistible appeal. Its force is such that it causes one to move inwards and upwards as if taking a trip on a supersonic flight. The subtler the sound, the more enchanting it becomes. A meditator here is likened to a surfer who wishes to know how the waves he rides were created. By following the stream of light and sound to its source (and not getting too distracted by the phantasms it too can create) we melt deeper into consciousness without an object. We consciously begin to see how simulations rise and fall like sea waves, whereas the ocean at its depth remains undisturbed. Consciousness itself isn’t an object but an indefinable subject with no perceivable boundaries.
  20. Meditation can be likened to a microscope that allows one to see deeper into the nature of consciousness itself. It can also be likened to a telescope since it provides glimpses to how our awareness arises in time. In both cases, however, how far one goes depends on how willing one is to spend the time contemplating within.
  21. Practically speaking, consistent meditation (doing it daily at a prescribed time, for example) is better in the long run than sporadically meditating, since consistency tends to build a deeper groove in the mind and allows one to better understand how simulations run their course.


Whether one meditates for three minutes or three hours, however, one will feel its beneficial effects. Just as any exercise is better than none, so it is the same with meditation. Remember it is your consciousness that has given birth to the world you experience. Directly inquiring into how that consciousness arises is an exhilarating adventure. Where it will eventually lead and how we will ultimately interpret such excursions (be they neurological or mystical) is up to us.

“The problem with introspection is that it has no end.”
- Philip K. Dick

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