The Western Approach
West Meets East
The two most important elements of human consciousness are the personality, which we use in daily self-expression, and the Higher Self, which most of us largely ignore.
These two aspects of our life are linked by a bond of intelligence and goodwill.
In the ordinary person, the bond is not highly developed, and the personality operates most of the time without the benefit of the love, guidance, and strength of the Higher Self.
In a very advanced individual, the bond is strong, and the rapport between personality and Higher Self is both intimate and effective. For most of us, the development of this bond falls somewhere in between.
An intelligent person recognizes the need for strengthening this bond and will endeavor to do so by any means or technique which proves helpful. There are a number of practices which can contribute to this strengthening.
Religious worship can help, for example, by magnetizing us to the divine nature of our Higher Self. But worship has the limitation of ascribing all divine attributes to a transpersonal force which is to be adored. This tends to downplay any realization that we can form a direct and active relationship with this divinity or express it in our daily lives.
Good acts are an excellent way of strengthening the bond, too, for they draw forth the interest of the Higher Self into the responsible and creative behavior of the personality.
The good acts, however, must be in harmony with the plans of the Higher Self. If they are not, our good intentions serve only to widen the gap, not close it. Sadly, much of what is labeled “good” in the world is not truly in harmony with the life and purposes of the Higher Self.
Prayer is beneficial, of course, provided the prayers are not just for the selfish wants of the personality. But too many people pray with the odd conviction that all they have to do is “believe” in their prayer and it will be fulfilled. They are not really interested in communicating with the Higher Self, just in getting what they want.
Each of these practices has merit. There is, however, another practice to consider as well: meditation.
Properly approached, meditation is the technique for strengthening the bond between the personality and the Higher Self. It is the practice of contacting the life of our spirit, learning to identify with its nature, and then building these higher elements of life into our daily self- expression.
To put it in simple terms, meditation is the practice of communicating with the highest aspects of our humanity and learning to work in cooperation with them. For the intelligent person, therefore, it makes sense to meditate.
Little has been written about meditation, however. Oh, there are scores of books which have been published recently and in times past which allegedly describe the nature and the techniques of meditation. Indeed, this glut of books purporting to explain meditation may prompt some people, upon first picking up this new one, to exclaim,
“What, another book on meditation?”
But very few of these books have actually addressed the communication of the Higher Self with its personality.
They have taken a subject which is eminently sensible and intelligent and stripped it of its most basic virtues. Instead they present meditation as something mystical, magical, and difficult to comprehend. In the process, the practice of meditation has been debased to the point where many thoughtful and cautious people simply stay away.
They have good reason to stay away, when the practice of meditation is advocated by the likes of:
- Opportunists who will stoop to anything to make a buck. These are the con artists who, sensing the mood of the “me generation” and its craving for self-improvement, are all too willing to pluck the feathers of waiting turkeys.
- Followers of fads who will fall for anything, especially the glowing promises of greedy opportunists. These, of course, are the turkeys who are being plucked.
- Seekers of laboratory phenomena who tirelessly trivialize the subject of consciousness by discussing it in terms of brain waves and changes in skin resistance, rather than in terms of thought, quality, and inspiration.
- Reporters who have a talent for library research and writing, but who cannot distinguish a mystical experience from a good fantasy.
- Religious fanatics of all hues (and cries) who promote their dogma and traditions with dedication and fervor but fear the insights and growth that genuine meditation can bring.
- Certain psychologists who view human nature exclusively in terms of sickness and malfunction. They have no meaningful understanding of the Higher Self. To them, meditation is just a chic way to overcome stress or “get in touch with their feelings.”
- Very passive people who fall into a trance like condition and never reemerge. Even though they continue about their daily business, not all of them is ever present and accounted for.
- Anti-intellectuals, who fear clear and lucid explanations of anything.
Frequently, these types of people tend to be the loudest voices promoting meditation, but loudness alone is not a guarantee of authority. The ability to pander to a wide range of people is likewise not a guarantee of helpfulness.
There is value in meditation, even if most of the people who preach it and teach it do not yet understand what that value is.
- It is an important and effective tool for self-improvement and the exploration of the higher realms of life.
- It is an indispensable means of training the mind in various skills of abstract and concrete thinking, and for making sense of life.
It should therefore be seized by intelligent people and given its proper place and value. Properly practiced, meditation offers us access to a realm of intelligence, benevolence, guidance, and creativity. It is worthy of our investigation, and our use.
An Act of Cooperation
In the public’s mind, the practice of meditation has become equated with sitting still, quieting consciousness until it is blank. Then we are to concentrate on a mantra or some other device, such as the flame of a candle. This is described as “entering into the silence.” We are frequently admonished to “become passive” and withdraw from the physical plane. These ideas are so ingrained in the public consciousness that it is difficult to shake them loose.
But shake we must, because these are limited perspectives on meditation. They are engendered by multitudes of beginners who do not know any better. For them, blanking the mind is a step forward. But this is not true for intelligent individuals who seek to strengthen the bond between the Higher Self and personality. For such a people, emptying the mind is a regression into numbness and dumbness.
Meditation is much more than the act of withdrawing from the physical plane and the concerns of the personality.
The art of meditating requires much more than just a vague expectation that God will swoop down, lift us up to heaven, and bless us and bliss us. All of this is to be followed by gently setting us back down on earth, healed and enlightened. Such notions inevitably appeal to those people who do not want to have to make any effort, other than surrendering, to become spiritual.
True meditation, by contrast, is a communion with the deepest, most powerful, most wise and loving part within us, our Higher Self, or soul. The God within us. Meditation is not a surrender to this Inner Self, but an act of collaboration. It does not just establish communication with the Higher Self; meditation is the communication. And it is therefore active!
A moment’s reflection will confirm the reasonableness of this idea. We do not communicate with other people on the telephone by becoming passive and letting them pull our ideas out of us or impose their ideas on ours. We talk, we listen, and we exchange thoughts. It is a very active process. So also, is the real communication with the Higher Self, our spirit.
We must learn the proper techniques for connecting to our Inner Being. Once we have made this contact, we can expect the exchange of ideas to be lively, active, and enriching. It will help us to:
- cleanse the personality of negative attitudes and habits
- enhance the quality of our daily self-expression
- assist us as we confront the challenges and problems of daily living
- complement our attempts to interact with life in intelligent, constructive, and helpful ways.
The Higher Self never encourages anyone to enter into silence. Instead, it invites us to enter the symphony of life. Nor does it encourage us to become passive. It seeks to activate our wisdom, compassion, and talents more fully. It does not require us to recite a mantra or stare at a candle. Rather, it much prefers us to think and become intelligent.
It is important to keep this perspective in mind as we approach an understanding of meditation. The practice of meditation is designed to serve the intelligence of our Higher Self. Its techniques and goals should therefore all be reasonable, logical, and sensible.
East Meets West
Much of what has been written about meditation has been imported from the East—from India, Japan, and Tibet. There is much richness in these traditions which can be of value to the Westerner who is seeking to learn to use meditation intelligently. In many ways, the East has preserved its traditions of communicating with the Higher Self better than the West has. The Western traditions of mysticism and meditation have generally been obscured by Christian fundamentalists, much to our loss. But in turning to the East, we must be careful to choose what is valuable to us, and not adopt traditions which are unsuitable for the modern Western mind.
The purpose of the spiritual path is quite different in the East than in the West. It is a mistake to naively assume that techniques which work for one set of people will work equally well for another, especially when widely separated in culture. Different peoples make different contributions to the progress of mankind. The intelligent person learns to recognize these differences and the purposes they serve.
One of the many contributions of the peoples of the East, spiritually, is to ponder the nature of God and perfect methods of attuning themselves to divine forces.
As a result, the literature of the East and its spiritual practices describe the way to God. The spiritual contribution of the West, by contrast, has been to perfect the expression of divine virtues and qualities, in daily work, creativity, personal relationships, and behavior.
Consequently, Western religious and cultural traditions have been designed to embody and demonstrate divine qualities on earth, both in ourself and in society.
This represents a significant difference. It means we will need to translate Eastern practices of meditation into something useful for the West.
In the East, for example, it is a common practice to use meditation to withdraw from the personality and the duties of mundane life.
Quietness is prized as a proper climate in which to adore God and contemplate the abstract nature of the divine. The goal is union with God “up there”, God as a transcendent power. The Easterner is motivated not so much to know God as to identify with the divine.
Meditative techniques are therefore designed to achieve these ends.
In the West, the study and adoration of God is also important, but as part of the larger effort to internalize and express divine virtues and skills in all that we do. Before we can express these qualities and talents, however, we must become aware of them and understand them, at least to some degree.
We cannot just express the light blindly. We must understand the skillful way to support the unfoldment of the divine plan for humanity and civilization. If we are to contribute to this work, we must connect heaven (the indwelling God “down here” in us) with earth (our character and self-expression). As a result, we are charged with enlightened living, actively involving our self in work, relationships, and the duties of a citizen of earth.
Given this assignment, the passive approaches of the East will not be very effective in the West unless there are major modifications.
We must do more than just contemplate esoteric schemes and ideas. We must comprehend and apply them.
We must likewise do more than just love an abstract God. We must love the God we find indwelling in all life forms.
Our expression of goodwill cannot be made in the silence. It must be made in daily life.
In no way should these comments be interpreted as suggesting that the destiny of the West is superior to the East. They are described here only for the purpose of showing that differences do exist between East and West.
These comments are not intended to suggest that no one in the East teaches or practices a life of compassionate service. Neither should anyone presume that everyone in the West is a saint in disguise.
Common sense indicates otherwise.
But common sense also tells us that a rose does not serve its spiritual heritage by imitating a petunia. It is not productive for the people of the West to try to imitate, in every way, the lifestyle, culture, and spiritual path of the East, and vice versa.
Nonetheless, the West does have much to learn from the East in terms of techniques for contacting our higher nature and aligning with it.
Westerners, oriented to action, often seek to master their nature and self-expression before they have found the sources of virtue, wisdom, compassion, and talent which will enable them to succeed. They frequently become so absorbed in active pursuits that they exclude the spiritual life. When that happens, they very much need to be inspired by their Eastern brothers and sisters and turn to the Higher Self.
At the same time, the East has much to learn from the West. This is especially important regarding the value of demonstrating and expressing the divine powers and qualities which have been contacted.
Eastern individuals normally have been taught very little about integrating the higher qualities and insights they have contacted into their personality and daily self-expression. In fact, throughout much of the East it is considered a virtue not to be very involved in the outer expression of self.
Rejecting the importance of our opportunities to be helpful at the outer level is a deception wherever it appears, either in the East or the West.
The goal of meditation is not to become absorbed in an otherworldly rapture of divine bliss, to the exclusion of practical activity. It is to increase our effectiveness as an agent of the Higher Self.
Throughout this text, we will try to honor the best elements of the Eastern tradition, as they suit the needs and challenges of the modern Westerner. But we profess no allegiance to any one tradition. Our sole allegiance is to the Higher Self. Our guiding light will be common sense. We are interested in setting forth what will work in the West, now and in the future, not what helped ordinary Chinese or Indian people three thousand years ago, or Sufi mendicants in the glory of Islam. We will therefore rely on what our own experience has taught us to be practical for the average, intellectually oriented Westerner who seeks to know more about his or her spiritual potential, and what to do with it.
The ideas presented in this book are meant not to be believed in, but experimented with, in the great laboratory of experience. They are to be taken into your mind and heart and tested. If they prove effective, as they have for us, then use them. If not, then try something better. This is the key of the Western tradition.
Tapping Inner Depths
The Western approach to meditation is not a program which has been handed down from on high. It is a natural outgrowth of the basic Western tradition for solving problems, enriching culture, governing ourself, and discovering scientific truths. A thoughtful review of our civilization will reveal a definite pattern of characteristics which are typically Western in nature. These include:
- The Western approach is intelligent, thoughtful, goal oriented, and logical. It seeks to understand.
- In exploring the phenomena of life, it gives more importance to the results of intelligent experiments than the formulations of dogma and tradition. It seeks to discover.
- It is active, not passive. It seeks to make a contribution.
- It assigns tranquility and good feelings to a secondary importance, emphasizing results as a higher priority.
- It constantly aspires to greater efficiency, by examining and reviewing the effectiveness of what has been done.
- It adapts to new conditions as needed.
- It prizes intelligence. At times, this has caused the Western mind to overvalue doubt and skepticism, but that can be corrected by blending faith and hope with sound practices of the mind.
- It is pragmatic in its purpose, always looking for practical results, not just theories, philosophies, and rituals.
- It dares to challenge opinions and socially accepted values.
- It cherishes individuality and places a high value on the responsibility of the individual to contribute to society.
Any good approach to meditation in the West should be compatible with these fundamental characteristics, and for a very sensible reason. Being born in the West, we possess subconscious and unconscious taproots which have been developed over many centuries. They are our inheritance from earlier generations.
To the degree that we recognize these taproots and draw our nourishment and inspiration from them, we can grow rather quickly in our capacity to explore consciousness. But if we adopt techniques which are fundamentally opposed to our cultural origins, we will experience a certain amount of frustration which will be hard to trace and overcome.
If we attempt to render ourself passive and immobile, for example, the active nature of our cultural heritage will be offended, and it will let us know.
Or if we fail to use our intelligence in pursuing spiritual growth, the intelligence of the Western tradition within us will sound an alarm, which we had better heed.
A good way to conceptualize these somewhat abstract characteristics is to think of the way an intelligent person would embark upon the exploration of new territory, be it a jungle or desert or forest.
They would take with them suitable tools of exploration: a map, a light to shine on the path, and a compass. They would use these tools often, to check their bearings and keep themselves progressing in the intended direction.
Moreover, they would have a definite purpose in mind for making this trip. They would be seeking to discover something they could bring back with them, something which would be useful in their career or personal progress.
They would therefore keep a record of what they encountered and experienced, and where they found it, so they could return to the same place for further exploration. The more frequently the return, of course, the more efficient they would become in traversing these new regions.
Eventually, they might even settle there.
Much the same can be said about the intelligent Westerner’s approach to the exploration of the inner depths of consciousness. We would not enter these regions unprepared, leaving behind us our capacity to think or our common sense.
We would see these as necessary tools for exploration, and not listen to anyone who suggested that we should not think or reason while making the trip. Indeed, before we left, we would consider the purpose of our journey and develop a thorough plan for proceeding.
This plan would then help us stay focused in our intent. We would not be vulnerable to the advice of others who might lounge around the border of the territory, nor the grandiose stories of “tour guides” who might offer to lead us to places they had heard about but not explored themselves.
The intelligent explorer would be intent on staying alert throughout the whole journey, rather than going into a trance or becoming absorbed in what their body or feelings told them. They might laugh at the old traditions that say they should wear a certain color shoe, or regulate the heartbeat.
They would be surprised by the notion that they did not have to make any effort on this journey, or that there really was no object to the trip, or that all they had to do was enter a mild state of passiveness and “just be.” Common sense alone would guide them otherwise.
Indeed, they would work to establish techniques and clear paths in consciousness they could follow time after time. In doing this, they would not just follow paths which had been blazed by ancient travelers.
They would pursue trails of exploration suited to their modern needs. They would seek to contact the treasures of intelligence and, having found them, bring them back into their own conscious awareness and use.
Meditation is an activity in consciousness that links the Higher Self with the personality. Because it is an activity, it needs to be correctly motivated to be effective. Understanding these motivations, and separating the false ones from the genuine ones, is part of the practice of meditation.
Far too often, the need to relax and escape the problems of daily living is the principal motivation for what is loosely called “meditation.” Many people, especially active and thinking individuals, become stressed and tense during the course of their daily activities. They need a way to soothe their symptoms of frayed nerves and distressed bodies. For these people, a simple relaxation technique is all that is required to manage these problems.
However, we must take care not to label these elementary techniques “meditation,” for they are not. They are techniques of relaxation and recreation. While many devotees of certain popular brands of “meditation” will deny this, such techniques only treat symptoms, not the cause of them.
Why is simple relaxation not justifiably labeled meditation? The explanation is simple. The purpose of meditation is to establish better communication between the personality and the Higher Self.
A technique which directs its practitioners to empty their minds of all content may possibly be useful in reducing stress, but it certainly is contrary to the goal of enriching consciousness. One does not build a better fire by removing the embers which are already burning!
This is not to say, however, that the only proper motivation for meditation is the determination to improve communication with the Higher Self. Many people, discouraged by unimaginative religious zealots, will not be interested in the “Higher Self” or the God within them. For them, the motivation to meditate will be to contact a greater resource of goodwill, insight, peace, and strength.
Others will be motivated by a strong impulse to grow. They are constantly seeking to overcome the limitations of their consciousness and discover what is unknown and hidden.
Some are inspired by a strong motive to serve, but they realize they cannot serve the Higher Self effectively and wisely until they have established a meaningful contact with it.
Still others are spurred on by the need for healing of mind and body or for creative inspiration they can focus in their work.
All of these are proper motives in addition to the central spiritual motive of seeking a close relationship with our innate divinity.
Enrichment, Not Escape
By seeking to rise above our human nature, we move toward the source of our life, wisdom, and goodwill. We are entering a realm of consciousness enhanced by a more intense quality of love, intelligence, and strength than we have experienced before. It is this enrichment of awareness which is the true goal of meditation. The technical term for it is transcendence.
Transcendence always involves the act of entering an enriched and active state of mind. It is not just an escape from something unpleasant or mundane.
There are many steps which must be climbed before transcendence is achieved. It is not the simplistic act of “getting ourself out of the way” that many people want it to be. A concentrated effort to forget our body, emotions, and mind can cause us harm. For example, it can disconnect us from our capacity to be aware and mentally alert and unplug us from our daily activities. It can also diminish our capacity to receive the greater wisdom, goodwill, and strength of the Higher Self.
While “getting ourself out of the way” can relieve some stress, the price we pay for the benefit is high. It makes no more sense than does amputating an arm in order to cure a rash.
The purpose of transcendence is enrichment, not escape. If our expectation in meditating is simply to escape a dull and disappointing existence in the physical plane, we will have no chance of entering a legitimate state of heavenly consciousness.
Instead, we will go directly to the fantasy department of our own emotions, where we will play with papier mâché dolls of God and saints and angels—and maybe a demon or two. We will pretend to be meditating, just as children who play with dolls pretend to be grownups, and we will believe in our pretense. We most likely will be communicating with our wish life – not our Higher Self.
Transcendence is comparable to visiting a bank, whose vaults are filled with the treasures of ability, wisdom, faith, courage, love, and benevolence, rather than money. But visiting the bank is not enough. We must also make withdrawals. We cannot make these withdrawals unless we have cultivated, to some degree, an active, intelligent expression of the treasures of the Higher Self.
In other words, meditation is a skill which, when sufficiently practiced, provides us with access to the inner, transcendent realms of life. It is important to recognize that it is a skill which can be learned and mastered. It most certainly is not a passive state of quiet, blissful expectation in which the divine will do all the work of life for us.
Returning to the metaphor of the bank, we know that the teller does not throw money at us as soon as we walk in the door of the bank. We have to learn to make out a withdrawal slip and present it properly. A similar amount of common sense and intelligent enterprise is expected in the process of meditation, and transcendence.
It is important to understand that meditation is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is rather amazing that anyone has ever thought otherwise, but many have. Yet this illusion is still illusion, no matter how many people accept it and believe in it. The goal of meditation is enrichment of consciousness. The skills of meditation are designed to enhance the richness of self-expression. Its focus is to bring heaven to earth, not to escape to heaven and stay there.
A House Condemned
Many good people will read these ideas but miss the message. They might agree with the advice but then proceed to practice meditation as a passive observation of their thoughts, feelings, and associations.
A certain measure of self-observation is an important part of any program of self-understanding. However, this is useful only if coupled with intelligent activity. All such passive forms should be avoided as directly contrary to the goals of meditation.
In this regard, we have conducted extensive experiments to determine the value of passive observation in life. We have done this by observing the dirt and dust in our kitchens and living rooms without interfering with it. We just let it be. These experiments have indicated to us that mere observation does not clean dirt and dust! Of course, these are only preliminary results. More investigations under careful, scientific controls will be necessary to verify these preliminary conclusions.
There is a basis for concluding, tentatively at least, that observation alone is not sufficient activity, either in the home or in the mind and heart.
This evidence will probably not be enough for lovers of laziness, however. For them, it should also be reported that one of our friends did allow an experiment in observing household dirt to run for several years. He declares that the dirt ceased to bother him after the first year, and he has not noticed any increase in dirtfulness since the fourth year. Of course, no one is visiting him anymore, and the Board of Health has condemned his house. But he is quite happy.
For the rest of us, this little parable should remind us that responsible and intelligent action is an important aspect of meditation and the work of transcendence. Meditation requires the effort to cooperate with our inner life. Our Higher Self has much in store for us to receive.
Our emotions must be used actively and skillfully to love the value of a close relationship with the Higher Self and its ideals. .
Our mind must be used to trust and comprehend the nature of our Higher Self and to act and think as the Higher Self would have us act and think in our daily life.
Keeping alert and awake and involved in what we are doing will be as vital in meditation as it is in driving a car, and for the same reasons!