Where Did Meditation Come from?

Meditation was probably discovered independently by hunters, singers, dancers, drummers, lovers and hermits, each in their own way. People tend to encounter meditative states whenever they throw themselves with total intensity into life’s callings. The knowledge of how to intentionally cultivate meditative states is a kind of craft knowledge -- those handy tips people pass on to each other. Meditation does not come from India or Tibet -- those are just places the knowledge rested for awhile, and the hermits in those wrote it all down. Bless them.

Human beings have been using tools for hundreds of thousands of years, according to the archaeologists. I consider it very likely they have been using sophisticated mental tools for tens of thousands of years.

Hunters, for example, sometimes have to make themselves still for hours. They have to merge with the forest and not even think, lest they scare the prey away. Then they leap into action with total precision at a moment’s notice -- that’s Zen in a nutshell. Hunters teach each other these skills, through verbal instruction and example.

Singers and dancers often enter meditative states through their passionate expression. Singers work with breath awareness in ways far more sophisticated than yoga. Lovers are often in a state of heightened appreciation which borders closely on meditation. Hermits are the ones we have heard the most from, because they kept the best notes. That is why we always think of yogis and bearded guys in the Himalayas when we think of meditation. But their way is only one small subset of the many different gateways into meditation.

Meditation comes from the human heart and is a way of warming your hands and your life at the fire always pulsing there in your core. It comes from the depths of your instinctive wisdom. Human beings are always wondering and inquiring, and meditation is a natural emergence of that adventure.

On the other hand, cats obviously meditate. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway. So it may be a genetically encoded, instinctive talent in mammals. Cats don’t need to be taught to meditate, but humans need a little coaching.