A Little Review of the Basics
Meditation is ancient, and because it works so well so consistently, people have been raving about it for thousands of years, saying, "Check it out, this is such a great way to start your day."
The basic idea is, get clarity and relaxed focus and then plunge into action. Get centered in your essence and then go live your life.
My experience as a meditation teacher the past 37 years is that everyone can meditate. It's a built-in human instinct. When you read this site, you may be shocked, surprised, dismayed, and delighted. The primary reason for this is that the language I use is based in thousands of hours of listening to what works. The Holy Grail I pursue is, "what works for this individual?" Even though I love the old ways of talking about things, I feel obligate to tell the truth, even if it costs me. For example, people who just make their own way, develop their own techniques and don't have a guru, often do better than those who have all the "officially sanctioned" training.
Meditation is a Universal Human Ability
My work emphasizes the simplicity and naturalness of meditation. My experience over the past 38 years or so has been that virtually everyone can meditate and enjoy the practice. Meditation is a universal human instinct and ability.
The difficult part is that you can't do someone else's meditation. You have to do your own, because meditation is about your inner freedom and your unique approach to loving life.
What makes it interesting is that everyone has their own unique path into meditation. In listening to people – and I spend many hours a week just listening to meditators (beginning and advanced) talk about their experiences, I know that experience is very individual. Meditation is being intimate with life, and like all intimate relationships, it's infinitely varied and ever-changing.
Hundreds of books on meditation from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. are still in print. So when you browse meditation literature, you are time traveling. You are dropping in on a conversation that may assume that of course, you are a Buddhist of 100 B.C. and of course you are a homeless wanderer, like Buddha. Or of course you are a devout Hindu. Or of course you are Japanese, the only true humans, and you worship the Emperor, practice Zen, and also go to the Shinto temple to worship your ancestors. All these texts are interesting in the way that history and archaeology are interesting – wow, how people lived then – ten people living in a mud hut 10 feet by 10 feet, no sanitation, no health care, and you were OLD if you survived to 30! This is both good and bad. It's good because there are so many different techniques and approaches available. It's bad because the teachings are mostly rooted in the religions and tyrannies of the distant past.
I take a very different approach. I'm an American, in the modern West, and I love democracy. My work emphasizes meditation as it fits into a dynamic day, full of inventiveness, adapting to changing circumstances, and rich in ever-changing relationships. The language I use emphasizes passion, involvement, dynamic creativity, relatedness, intimacy, and adaptation – not robotic calmness and detachment.
I live in Los Angeles, where people move, change jobs, and interact with people from all over the Earth on a daily basis. In the apartment where I live, on the beach in Los Angeles, there are people from all over the United States and Canada, Mexico, South America, India, China, Iran, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and many other places. We are all here by choice. I was born here, about 10 miles away, and I live here by choice, but this is the exception. Almost everyone I know was born somewhere else and migrated here, for the freedom and opportunity, and the chance to follow their dreams. Everyone in Los Angeles is homesick for their homeland, and at the same time, they know that the homeland they love no longer really exists – there is no peace to be found back in Guatemala, Kyoto, Shigatze, Moscow, Berlin, Bombay, La Paz, Amsterdam, Santiago, Cairo, Wellington, Kabul, Buenos Ares, Copenhagen, Prague, Caracas, Taipei, Madrid, Manila. You have to find peace in your heart or not at all. At the average party I go to, there are people from all over the United States and the world.
The Way of the Ancients
In the ancient world, everyone lived in a feudal system. Birth was destiny. If you were born into the family of a potter, you became a potter. Harry Potter, or Sam Potter. If you were female, you did not have the choice of being a potter, you were married off at age 9 or 10 or 14, and had baby after baby, and almost all of them died. About 70%, on average, died before the age of 10. Everyone lived within 10 miles of where they were born, and they did whatever their father did, if they were male, and whatever their mother did, if they were female.
Resignation was Adaptive
There was very little choice about anything. Marriages were arranged. Your job was predestined. Everything about daily life – what you wore, thought, and did, was pre-arranged. You could have a lobotomy and still cruise through life, because you didn't really need your brain. A good life, in the past, was one in which you just surrendered and did what you were told. Anything creative you thought of was just going to get you in trouble, so it's better to kill off your individuality. So the meditation systems developed for those people emphasized helplessness, futility, and detachment. This was just realism – if there was NOTHING you could do about your circumstances, then you may as well cultivate resignation, and call it detachment.
Varieties of Meditative Technique
I am in love with meditation, with the incredible benefits it brings to daily life, and I am in love with the diverse ways meditation has been adapted to the needs of people in India of 200 B.C., Tibet of 1100 A.D., China of 1300 A.D, and Japan of 1400 A.D. I love all these variations in the way that I love music from all over the world. We are here, now in 2005, and I am an American. It's just that with rare exceptions, the ancient ways do not work for modern people. Very few Americans, South Americans, Canadians, or Europeans, are better off being HIndus or Buddhists. Bless them – the 3 to 5% of the population that wants to reject their own cultural tradition and embrace that of the opposite side of the world. Good on them, as they say. But that path, if it is a path, is not for everyone. Many of my friends like to talk about meditation in the old languages and old terminologies – if it was good enough for the people of 500 B.C., it's good enough for me. I love Sanskrit, but I love English more. It's a beautiful and creative language.
Meditation is a natural human experience. You go into meditative states if you just sit on the sofa, close your eyes, and listen to your favorite music. Notice you can turn the stereo off and just listen to the music in your head – you can remember the melody and rhythm. You can use any sensory pathway: hearing, vision, touch. You could sit and think of the best sex you have ever had. Select one moment, any moment, and notice how your senses are working or playing in that moment: what are you seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, how does your body feel, how does your skin feel, what do you see in your mind's eye? Simply breathe with that memory and allow it to teach you about breathing and loving. Breathe any way you want but otherwise, hold still.