Problems in Meditation
In every aspect of life, from growing up to pursuing a career, we encounter problems. Meditation is no exception. There will be triumphs, but there will also be disappointments. There will be moments of breakthrough, but also moments of frustration.
It would be unreasonable to expect that the work of contacting the Higher Self will proceed without any difficulty or hardship. At the same time, however, it would also be unreasonable to believe difficulties will be frequent and severe.
What is reasonable is to have a good understanding of the kinds of problems which can arise in meditation, and also how to either avoid them or be prepared to meet them wisely. In this regard, there are two types of problems to discuss:
- The problems which will arise in the use of the techniques of Active Meditation.
- The problems which will arise in the use of other meditative techniques.
The techniques which are used in Active Meditation have been carefully designed to suit the temperament of the Western individual, the active involvement in daily life, and the goals of spiritual growth in the West.
As a result, unless the techniques are used improperly or distorted, the problems arising from the use of Active Meditation are not likely to be major.
They are most likely to center around the unwillingness of the subconscious of the meditator to cooperate with the process of self- discovery.
The more serious problems tend to arise when the Western individual begins using techniques which were not designed for the Western consciousness. Many of these are practices which were helpful five thousand years ago but are now out of date.
It is tempting just to ignore these problems, as they will not arise in the use of Active Meditation. Nevertheless, we need to have a thorough understanding of the kind of problems which could occur. This will give us a more complete understanding of the psychological dynamics of meditation.
There are six fundamental causes for the problems which arise in meditation. These are:
1. Resistance of the personality to change. Old habits have a way of clinging to life. Carefully rationalized failures resist exposure to the truth. Pockets of resentment will try to sabotage the development of insight and forgiveness.
Highly refined elements of selfishness and vanity will challenge our efforts to be more generous and detached. In order to grow, we must be prepared to meet these forces of resistance and gradually transform them into the power to cooperate with the higher life.
We must see resistance as the natural friction between our ideals and our actual level of thought and feeling. If we can cultivate this perspective, then the resistance of the personality need not be as distressing as it often is.
2. Using an improper form of meditation. The skillful craftsman knows his tools. The same rule applies to meditation. If we use a meditative system which will only help us relax, when we are expecting to make contact with the Higher Self, we may well end up confused and disappointed. More seriously, if we use a simplistic meditative technique too long, we may end up damaging the mechanisms of the subtle bodies. For example, practicing passive observation excessively can lead to deterioration of our capacity for discernment and awareness.
3. Meditating for the wrong reasons. For example, to escape the unpleasantness of the world by seeking out an inner world of fantasy or tranquility.
4. Rushing toward enlightenment. People who are accustomed to pursuing their goals in life with great zeal will often try to apply this same zeal to the work of meditation. But growth has its own pace. While it can be accelerated to a very large degree by actively pursuing it, there is a limit to how much we can speed it up.
When zeal becomes impatience, a great deal of conflict and anxiety can be generated.
The mature meditator needs to find the pace of growth which is suited to the needs of the Higher Self, not the expectations of the personality.
5. Excessive use of meditation. Just as our muscles can become tired from walking or running too far, so also the “muscles” of our emotions and mind can become fatigued from excessive use.
Active Meditation connects us with forces and energies which are a good deal more potent than the level of thought and feeling we use in everyday life. It is therefore quite possible to become fatigued mentally and emotionally. Problems of this nature can be avoided by not straining beyond our natural limits, and corrected, simply by resting.
6. Distractions and problems which have nothing to do with meditation. The problems and influences we carry with us day by day can have a powerful effect on our mood, self-confidence, and alertness. Naturally, this will also affect our meditations. This is just a matter of common sense.
If we begin a meditation in a grumpy, sour mood, this attitude will adversely affect the quality of the meditation. Meditating every day does not mean that we will magically become immune to the problems and difficulties we have traditionally carried with us. We must therefore be ready to adapt and modify our meditative routines to dispel and correct these problems as they arise.
Understanding these basic causes of problems in meditation, it is now possible to examine the symptoms of the problems which are likely to arise, one by one, and what can be done to correct them.
Falling asleep during a meditation is a very common problem. This is , especially common in people who are just beginning to meditate or are taking up a new and more powerful type of meditation. It can also occur in people who have become bored with the meditative techniques they are using, or are encountering resistance to their personal growth.
The remedy to the problem will therefore depend upon why we are falling asleep. There are a number of possibilities.
1. We are tired and fatigued before we start meditating. The remedy is to take a nap before meditating. If we are consistently tired when we meditate, the remedy lies in finding a time of day to meditate when we will be better rested. It can also be helpful sometimes to change the position in which we meditate. If we fall asleep while meditating lying down, we should try sitting up.
2. We start the meditation alert, but fall asleep while relaxing the body. The remedy is to instruct the subconscious that the mind and Higher Self are to remain alert even while the physical body relaxes. This instruction can be given just prior to beginning to relax.
It can also be helpful to dwell on the idea that meditation is a worthwhile activity which is meaningful to us. We therefore want to give it our full attention and interest.
3. We start the meditation alert, but fall asleep while contacting higher levels of energy. The stimulation of the more powerful energies is causing us to lose consciousness briefly. The remedy is to instruct the subconscious that it does not have to try to absorb excessive amounts of energy – just the right amount to lift us up to the most ideal level of consciousness.
4. We go too deep into meditation and lose consciousness. The remedy is to shorten the period of meditation and lighten the level at which we operate.
Many people believe that the deeper the level, the better the meditation. But this is not necessarily true. We need to be mindful that the purpose of Active Meditation is to develop better rapport between the personality and the Higher Self. If the personality falls asleep or become passive and numb, much of the potential value of the meditation is lost.
We can experience a very effective contact with the Higher Self at relatively light levels of meditation. The person who is always falling asleep because they are going too deep, by contrast, is not accomplishing very much. They need to change their habits.
5. Our meditation is dull and boring. If we approach our meditations passively, waiting for something to happen, we may fall asleep simply because we are bored. The remedy is to become more active – taking charge of our meditations so that they stir up meaningful activity.
6. None of the above. Sometimes there is no obvious reason for falling asleep during a meditation. In these cases, the problem usually arises because the subconscious is protecting itself from exposure and change.
Our resistance is so strong that we fall asleep, as though we were drugged by inertia. There are other ways that resistance can sabotage a meditation, of course – for example, playing up to our fantasies of wish fulfillment – but falling asleep is one of the ways this happens.
The remedy is to reassure our subconscious that we are not out to destroy it. We are only interested in making some minor improvements which will improve the efficiency of our subconscious. By appealing to the deeper levels of common sense within us, it is often possible to neutralize this resistance and resume having effective meditations.
We will be most prone to this problem of being drugged into a state of sleepiness by our resistance if we happen to be either an angry or a critical person. Anger and criticism estrange us not only from other people, but also from the nurturing parent within our own subconscious. The remedy in this case obviously lies in becoming more compassionate and benevolent – toward others and toward ourselves.
If none of these remedies keeps us from falling asleep, there is one more remedy which is guaranteed to work – meditating with our eyes open. It is always better to meditate with the eyes closed, but keeping them open is certainly a better option than always falling asleep. This is not as difficult as it might seem at first. Anyone who can sustain a quiet and lofty level of thought with his eyes open can also meditate with his eyes open.
Difficulty in concentrating is another problem common to the meditative state, especially for beginners. We sit down to contact the Higher Self, and soon find our mind wandering in almost every direction except the Higher Self.
We are bombarded by thoughts, impressions, images, and feelings, and do not know how to sort them out. In most cases, the problem is a lack of self-discipline. In ordinary states of consciousness, we are accustomed to dealing with a large number of sensory impressions at the same time. Distractions do not trouble us that much because they are assimilated with the rest of the impressions.
In meditation, attention is being focused on a specific technique or line of thought. When other impressions arise, they can easily catch our attention and distract us from what we intended to do.
As always, the key to improving concentration lies in using our common sense.
Above all, we must resist the usual nonsense about having to “still the mind” in order to meditate successfully. Nothing could be more disruptive to concentration. By making a negative state the goal, we almost guarantee that memories and distractions will rush in to fill the void.
Instead, we need to remember that the purpose of meditation is to increase our contact with the Higher Self. This is most easily accomplished by dwelling on themes which are harmonious to the love, wisdom, and strength of the Higher Self. The best way to increase concentration, therefore, is to focus attention on these themes. If the mind is given something to do, it will usually have little trouble concentrating.
This is just a matter of common sense. Anyone who is able to become fully absorbed in a good novel, a movie, or an interesting conversation should have no problem concentrating during meditation. It is just a question of making sure that we work on themes and projects which are interesting to us!
Still, distractions do arise and must be managed. It will therefore be helpful to evaluate the different types of distraction and their remedies:
1. External distractions. If we are attempting to meditate in the same room where people are talking, the radio is playing, or there are other disturbing noises, it will be extremely difficult to concentrate.
The obvious solution is to meditate in a location which is relatively free of distracting noises.
2. A boring technique. Quite often, it is the meditative technique itself which is the principal distraction. It is so boring that there is no incentive to continue focusing on it. Staring at an empty plate is not going to hold our attention for long if we have the opportunity to go over to a lavish smorgasbord and help ourself.
3. Our attitude. The ideal attitude for meditating is a mood of quiet optimism and confidence that something worthwhile but very subtle is happening. We want to learn more about it, so we pay attention – at every dimension of our awareness.
Unfortunately, many people do not spend enough time cultivating this ideal attitude. Instead, they get themselves all worked up, as though the Dalai Lama or the Pope were coming for a visit.
Or, they strain and strain to see a vision or make contact with the Higher Self, as though aggressiveness or pushiness will improve the intensity of the meditation. Usually, it just interferes with the subtle levels of the experience.
Still others approach meditation fearfully, as though they were about to plunge into the unknown, where a wrathful god will come to judge and punish them. Such distracting attitudes can easily destroy our capacity to concentrate.
When attitude is the major distraction, it is important to treat the subconscious to a series of pleasant and constructive meditative experiences, so it will be eager to cooperate in the future.
Some people need to approach their early meditations as an experiment in exploring the higher reaches of their humanity. They should deliberately cultivate an attitude of looking for the highest, the best, and the most mature elements of their consciousness – as though they were visiting a wonderful art museum.
There will be time enough later on, once they have acquired a decent level of concentration, to look in the overflowing wastebaskets, inspect the cobwebs in the corner, and clean up the mud on the floor. For the moment, they should avoid these aspects of the subconscious, and look instead at the real beauty which is in their higher nature.
4. The fanatical pursuit of “total concentration.” Over the centuries, the meaning of concentration has been blurred. Instead of representing a relaxed, enjoyable focus of attention on an interesting technique or subject, it has come to represent a perfect and unwavering fixation on a single point, totally oblivious to all intruding sensations.
As a result, many decent people have become intimidated by the idea of concentration, as though the merest whiff of a stray thought while meditating indicates that they do not have good concentration. This is a totally unrealistic view.
The remedy is to adopt a more moderate definition. For example, something which would be roughly parallel to the kind of concentration we use while talking to a good friend in a crowded restaurant. There are many other people talking all around us, but we are not distracted by them, because we are so interested in our conversation. In the same way, we should become so interested in what the Higher Self has to say to us that we just do not pay attention to the distractions which arise.
5. The fanatical pursuit of all impressions. At the other end of the spectrum are those people who have trained themselves to pursue every stray thought, memory, or flash of mental vision which “spontaneously” appears to them in meditation.
These are people who have become habituated to the self-observation of their train of thought, because they have been encouraged to do so, either as part of psychoanalysis or a system of “spiritual growth.”
Yet this practice can be very destructive to our capacity to concentrate, because it encourages distractions while reducing our capacity to control them. We become more and more passive in dealing with the subconscious, until the associative mechanism detaches from our conscious focus.
There is no question that the exploration of our associations and memories is a vital part of self-examination and self-discovery. Yet this activity must be kept within rational limits and seen as only one of many facets of self-improvement.
To make the pursuit of stray thoughts the most important activity of a meditation is perhaps the greatest distraction of all. It takes us away from our real work – contacting the love and wisdom of the Higher Self. Common sense alone tells us that many stray thoughts are just that – entirely trivial impressions unworthy of any attention.
6. Too much interest in things which are not our business. Some people are too outwardly directed, allowing virtually any perception or sound that arises to command their attention.
These people will go off to a restaurant and spend much of their time observing, or being irritated by, the other diners. They will be obsessed by snatches of their conversations and absorbing the ambience of the restaurant, instead of enjoying the good food and companionship at their own table.
Sometimes this outward directedness is just a habit, but other times it is a way of avoiding their own attitudes and memories. In either case, the tendency carries over into their meditations, producing difficulties in concentrating.
The remedy is to break the habit and put more of a premium on the inner tapestry of life. This is not easily done, but it can be done, if we want too.
A good way of doing this is to take a little time to carefully plan what we will do in our meditation before we begin, then build up our enthusiasm for paying attention to these worthwhile projects.
7. A lack of ease in working with abstractions. Meditation is an activity which introduces us to worlds of subtle forces and abstractions. Some people are not very comfortable in working with abstract and symbolic thought. Without the stabilizing focus of concrete data and images, they become uneasy. This creates a distraction which disrupts concentration.
One way to remedy this problem is to use our creative imagination to visualize a comfortable mental retreat in which we can meditate. This might be a beautiful place in nature, a pleasant private study, a small private office or chapel, or any other kind of retreat which will convey the feelings of privacy and safety.
This simple act stabilizes our inner state of consciousness by imposing imaginary boundaries on our memories and associations. It is then very easy to concentrate on the specific meditative techniques we intend to pursue.
There are additional practices which can also help us become more comfortable in working with abstractions and symbols over a period of time. These include reading good fiction and fantasy novels, the study of mythology, and working with mantic devices such as the Tarot, the I Ching, and Sabian symbols.
All of these practices will help us go beyond the literal aspects of life to seek out their inner significance, causes, and implications. In these ways, we stimulate the same skills and abilities that we need in order to handle symbols and abstractions in meditation.
8. A guilty conscience. Everyone has thoughts and feelings they are not proud to acknowledge, but some people take the condition of a guilty conscience to an extreme. The problem comes when this guilt is projected onto the Higher Self. This is done in the assumption that the Higher Self is acting as an omniscient nag that will condemn them for every mistake they have ever made. They therefore fear the Higher Self as some kind of wrathful god that will punish them.
The image of the wrathful god is primarily a product of Western religions, especially the more fundamental sects. It has done immeasurable damage to the well-being and self-expression of millions of people.
There is no easy way to overcome the pervasiveness of this deadly poison in society, but individually we can work to make our relationship with God and the Higher Self more wholesome.
This is done by appreciating the fact that an active conscience is a necessary part of any healthy and mature person. Ideally, it preserves the values and principles of the Higher Self. When we have violated these values and principles, the conscience lets us know, thereby helping us stay attuned to the best within us.
The only time a problem arises is when we choose to feel excessively guilty about the mistakes we have made, in lieu of correcting them!
Believing we deserve to be punished, we “give permission” to our conscience to become highly critical of our behavior.
This problem can be corrected by training our conscience to be a constructive influence on our life, not just a critic. Instead of struggling with our conscience, we draw up a truce in which we invite our conscience to work as our ally in self-improvement.
We train ourself to respect our conscience, not fight it, and we teach the “critic within us” to help, not condemn. This may take a fair amount of work using the techniques for increasing self-esteem and mental housecleaning, but it will immeasurably improve our capacity to work effectively in meditation.
The ultimate remedy to the larger problem of pervasive guilt is to fully comprehend that our redemption is never achieved by our suffering alone. Our forgiveness is worked out through personal growth in our capacity for compassion, patience, forgiveness, charity, and selflessness plus their expression in our daily activities.
The other step to take in this regard is to make sure we are tuning into our Higher Self in our meditations, and not just the conscience. The conscience is an aspect of the personality – not a part of the Higher Self.
If we embark on our meditation full of guilt, fear, and anxiety, this focus of attention will almost guarantee that we will align ourself only with the lowest levels of our conscience, not the healthy part – and certainly not the Higher Self.
If we must visit the lower levels of our subconscious, we should at least try to avoid doing it during meditation.
Meditation should be reserved for the exploration of the noblest levels of our thought and feeling:
- the courage which will help us master anxiety
- the goodwill which will help us become forgiving
- the wisdom which will rout confusion
- the joy that will overcome guilt.
It is a time for healing, not the gnashing of teeth in self-condemnation. We should therefore cultivate a reverence and aspiration for the Higher Self which will neutralize these interferences and distractions.
9. The feeling of worthlessness. A personality that feels rejected by the Higher Life is likely to resist all efforts to grow, including meditation.
The Higher Self does not reject the personality, of course, but many religious people have been led to believe that it does. Self-appointed experts have preached that the human personality is sinful, wretched, and worthless, and that the only way to redeem it is to annihilate it totally, by “getting the self out of the way” so that the life of spirit can enter.
They view the personality as an impediment and insist on destroying it.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but if anyone believes these distorted views of life, they can seriously contaminate our mindset, confidence, and outlook.
The remedy to the distraction of self-rejection is to acknowledge the personality as a temple of God, no matter how imperfect it may be.
It may well need remodeling, but no good can be served by tearing it down! Instead, our goal should be to steadily improve it, making it always a more fitting temple for the expression of our indwelling wisdom and love.
One of the many reasons why the detachment drill is used to enter the meditative state is to review the value and purpose of each aspect of the personality.
The intellect and the emotions may seem to have an existence of their own, but they also serve as the agents of the wisdom and love of our Higher Self. We need to appreciate these higher purposes before shifting our attention away from them and focusing on the Higher Self.
The Higher Self needs:
The physical body to act in daily life,
The emotions to set a tone of quality and love in living, and
The mind to make sense of the many variables and principles of life.
It respects the personality and seeks to use it as a vehicle for its strength, love, and wisdom.
The Higher Self has no other outlet except for the personality attached to it. It is in its best interests to work with the personality to purify and enrich it – not endlessly criticize or condemn it.
If we have a problem with self-rejection, we should make sure to dwell an extra moment on these stages of the detachment drill, communicating wholesome messages of approval to the subconscious.
10. The Dweller on the Threshold. The various distractions of resistance from the unconscious create problems not only for beginning meditators, but experienced ones as well. Indeed, these problems can occur at any time in the growth of the spiritual aspirant.
Technically, they are not problems of meditation at all, but rather problems of human growth. But since they are often discovered in the meditative state, they deserve examination here.
As we grow and evolve, we may well strike deep substrata of old memories, habits, feelings, and convictions that strongly resist transformation. The deepest levels of this resistance are part of what is known esoterically as the Dweller on the Threshold.
Many people melodramatize this Dweller on the Threshold, thinking it will sweep them away in “the dark night of the soul” or eternal conflict. It is much healthier to use our common sense and see the Dweller for what it is – the sum of our strength, redeemed and unredeemed, at the unconscious levels of the personality.
It contains a great measure of resistance to any effort to change the status quo, but is also one of the strongest elements of our individuality.
Nothing is gained by provoking direct confrontations with powerful areas of unconscious resistance. If we draw our sword and try to kill the Dweller, it will fight back.
A far better alternative is to work quietly at increasing our dedication to and reverence for the light of the soul and its spiritual will, coupling this with an enlightened self-expression.
The steady effort to be the right person and do the right thing in life is the most efficient way to neutralize the resistance of the Dweller on the Threshold, and ultimately transform it.
Selfishness, for example, is never corrected by trying to become selfless. That is just a denial of selfhood. Rather, it is corrected by harnessing our self-expression to the impersonal life of the Higher Self.
In this way, we fulfill the design of selfhood and raise the individuality embodied in the Dweller on the Threshold to its noblest level. This is a classic example of the enlightened way to “confront” the Dweller on the Threshold.
Common sense tells us the best way to lessen the strength of any kind of resistance is to build up the strength of its counterpart in spirit.
If, for example, we are troubled by a persistent habit of hostility and resentment, we should spend time at least once a week building up the strength of our tolerance and goodwill. We should learn to express gratitude for the help we have received and the growth we have made.
Then we would integrate these qualities of goodwill and gratitude into the mainstream of our attitudes and associations.
It is not to the advantage of the average meditator to confront and provoke the full force of the Dweller on the Threshold. There is a time when this can be safely done, but only after there is a full and constant rapport with the Higher Self. The person who provokes the Dweller prematurely will discover the prudence of these warnings.
In the final analysis, the central point of any effort to improve our concentration in meditation is to realize the Higher Self is interested in helping us make our meditations succeed. It cares for the personality and will respond to our honest aspiration and efforts.
As we attempt to pursue the themes and ideals the Higher Self cherishes, our effort to concentrate will be magnetically reinforced by the life and love of the Higher Self.
As always, it is the partnership between the Higher Self and the personality which makes meditation successful, never the solitary efforts of either the personality or the soul.
Old resentments, guilty feelings, and frustrations sometimes will recur quite unexpectedly during a meditation or shortly thereafter. Often, this is the result of a rebound phenomenon at work. The personality is reacting negatively to the light of the Higher Self.
It is as though the Higher Self has scolded the personality, and the personality is responding by pouting.
If this response occurred “out in the open,” where we could see it, we could see that it is just a reflexive response and manage it quite easily. But it usually occurs at subconscious and unconscious levels, below the threshold of our conscious awareness.
As a result, we only become aware of the symptoms of the problem, typically a sense of guilt, an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, anxiety, or resentment. Because we do not perceive the cause, it is extremely easy to be swept away by what we may assume is a personal crisis we must confront. Thus, we can be tricked into refighting old battles, stirring up old resentments, mentally ranting about old injustices, and rehashing old mistakes.
As with any problem, the rebound phenomenon can occur in either mild or severe degrees. It can sneak in during the actual meditation, or more commonly, pop up as a delayed reaction to our meditative experience.
The proper way to remedy the problem depends on its severity and frequency. If it only occurs after unusually long or intense meditations, or when we meditate an unusual number of times during a single day, the best cure is simply to cut back on the amount of time we are meditating.
Sometimes the rebound problem occurs because we foolishly decided to promote peace, harmony, and justice for large groups of people. If we insist on exceeding our capacity for affecting large groups, we can expect some unpleasant feedback.
We must be mindful that large numbers of people are comfortably convinced that the bulk of their resentments, demands, and complaints are fully justified. Someone suggesting that they begin forgiving and “making nice” is likely to be rejected and yelled at (at least telepathically).
While our intentions may be noble, we must not neglect the free will of those who wish to remain angry and upset.
In this instance, these symptoms are primarily a sign that we are overworking the personality! But if our meditations habitually stir up troubling and unsettling reactions, we will have to take more substantive action.
The one thing we do not want to do is directly attack the symptoms which have been stirred up: the feelings of resentment, fear, guilt, or sadness.
This is a matter of common sense. If a child is crying and we want to quiet him down, we do not spank or scold him harshly. Such punishment only makes the child cry more intensely. The best remedy is to cheer up the child.
The same principle applies to remedying the rebound phenomenon in meditation. The child within us is doing the equivalent of crying. We therefore turn to the parent within us and act to generate a mature mood of goodwill, confidence, cheerfulness, courage to soothe the child.
In other words, the key to resolving rebound phenomena lies in taking action on a long-term basis to reduce the possibility of the personality responding in a negative manner. We may also need, temporarily, to cut back in the intensity and length of our meditations. This will reduce the excessive stimulation of the personality by the divine energies from the Higher Self.
Three specific suggestions can be made in this regard:
1. We should improve our rapport with the Higher Self, building an ever stronger bond of affection, reverence, joy, and goodwill.
Mass consciousness is full of the memes and thoughtforms created by people who have been taught to view God as a harsh, scolding taskmaster. As result, many see the Creator as a tyrant that apparently does not believe we are capable of doing anything but sin. Therefore, there is a strong cultural bias which subtly rebels against divine authority.
This is a completely erroneous view, of course, but it has been reinforced by centuries of bad teaching and even worse theology.
The average person subconsciously transfers this picture of God to the Higher Self, even if they intellectually know better! They feel they must approach the Higher Self with trepidation and contrition, which sets the stage for the rebound phenomenon in the personality.
The best way to correct this problem, therefore, is to devote some meditative time, perhaps ten to twenty minutes each week, in building dedication and reverence to the benevolence and wisdom of the Higher Self.
If the rebound phenomenon should become a severe problem, it could even be advisable to spend an entire week’s worth of our meditations in rebuilding our devotion and trust in the Higher Self. During such times, we are not looking especially for profound insights or messages from the Higher Self. Our main intent is to train the personality to love and trust the Higher Self fully.
2. We need to exercise greater self-control. If we find ourself regularly refighting old battles or ruminating on old conflicts, we should recognize that the greatest problem confronting us is not the memory of these difficulties but rather our lack of self-discipline.
Before we can actually put these problems to rest, therefore, we will have to increase our self-discipline to a point where we are not overwhelmed by these rebounding memories. In severe cases, this may well require months of dedicated work to stay detached from the recurring memories, giving them as little attention as possible.
Instead, we need to work to develop whatever quality will neutralize the negative feelings we have. Most often, this means we need to become more compassionate, tolerant, forgiving, or cheerful.
Before we confront and resolve this struggle and the resentment or despair behind it, we need to discipline ourself to give greater priority to the healing power of the Higher Self than to these memories. Then, using the technique for healing the emotions described in chapter ten, we will then be able to confront and resolve the struggle or resentment itself.
3. We need to mobilize the power of our will and convictions. Because the rebound phenomenon occurs primarily in the emotions, it is important to mobilize the power of our will and convictions to manage it. Many people prolong the problem because they fail to do this, working instead only within an emotional context.
The emotions are an important part of our consciousness, but emotional problems are most easily solved if we can approach them from the perspective of our wisdom and will, rather than our feelings. In other words, we need to add our constructive intentions and convictions to our positive emotions. This will do much to empower the personality to overcome assorted fears, resentments, and disappointments.
If all we do is float around in nice sentiments, feeling good about overcoming our conflicts, nothing much will change.
But if we charge up our strongest intentions and convictions to stay detached and confront these difficulties with self-control and dignity, we will tap the strength which will enable us to succeed.
Distress From Too Much Meditation
If we exercise the physical body too much, it becomes fatigued and achy. In very much the same way, if we exercise our subtle bodies too much, in strenuous or overly-long meditations, they may become strained, congested, or depleted. And because the physical body responds very quickly to the condition of our subtle bodies, it, too, can experience discomfort from too much meditation.
Naturally, the amount and intensity of meditation which constitute an excess will vary from person to person. As always, common sense rules.
Our capacity to meditate increases with practice. It would be foolish for a beginner to try to meditate forty-five minutes or an hour. But for the advanced meditator, these lengths may be no problem at all. The other significant factor is our current state of mind. If we are tired, upset, or irritated before we begin our meditation, our tolerance for lengthy or intense meditations may be greatly reduced.
It is useful to be able to recognize the symptoms which arise, both mentally and physically, from mild, medium, and major amounts of excess in meditation.
These can be listed as follows:
The mental symptoms of mild excess: mental fatigue, difficulty in concentrating and remembering things, and irritability, lasting for brief periods.
The physical symptoms of mild excess: mild headaches, fatigue, a vague sense of fullness or a dull ache in the head or chest, a tendency to cough more than usual, and perhaps mild nausea.
The mental symptoms of medium strain: vague disorientation for up to an hour after meditating, an annoying forgetfulness and difficulty in concentrating which might last several hours, and a detached or “spaced out” feeling.
The physical symptoms of medium strain: moderate headaches, sinus congestion, a persistent cough, lung congestions or wheezing, moderate gastrointestinal disturbances, or the aggravation of preexisting illnesses.
The mental symptoms of major strain: Very spaced out – the focus of attention drifts in and out between the physical plane and a deeply altered state of consciousness bordering on a trance. Sometimes, a rather goofy, pseudo-mystical state will persist for quite some time, making it impossible to work effectively at any significant task.
The meditator becomes very irritable, especially in public; the slightest distraction, even the presence of another person, can become a source of severe irritation. There may even be hallucinations and delusions.
The physical symptoms of major strain: Damage to the etheric web, the structure of the etheric (energy) body. This web can be torn by intensive meditations, commonly involving the practice of concentrating on the movement of energy through the chakras.
Once the web is torn, the damage is very difficult to repair, and there may be permanent conditions of uncontrolled muscle spasms or rippling of the muscles in the extremities and the back, irregular heart rhythm, disturbed motility of the digestive system, shaking and burning sensations in the pelvis and lower spine, and rushes of excitement.
Sometimes so much energy will “leak” out of the hole which has been torn in the web that a condition of persistent low vitality and uncontrollable sapping of vitality from others ensues. The chronic low vitality leaves the physical body vulnerable to a variety of common physical ailments, especially infections and rapid advancement of degenerative illnesses.
It would be very rare that any of the severe forms of psychological or physical distress would ever arise out of the practice of the techniques of Active Meditation, unless the techniques were distorted or used fanatically.
Common sense alone is enough to protect the meditator from significant distress. If we start to feel spaced out or nauseated, we should break off our practice of meditation until our consciousness has once more become stabilized.
As obvious as this basic principle is, there are nonetheless meditative systems which pointedly ignore it. For instance, some systems might insist that the student meditate exactly twenty minutes in each session, regardless of the discomfort which might be experienced.
Other systems set no limit on the amount of time which can be spent in meditation. It is not uncommon to hear tales of students of these systems meditating four or five or even ten hours straight, without a break! Almost always, they damage their physical and subtle bodies to some degree when they do.
Such systems are usually devoid of common sense and respect for the individuality of the person practicing the techniques. They are developed by authoritative teachers who insist on conformity to rigid, traditional practices.
Quite often, these teachers have very little genuine knowledge about human nature, psychological processes, or even spiritual systems. If a student comes to them with a complaint about distress while meditating, these teachers will actually insist that the cure is more of the same!
When major psychological or physical problems develop during or after a meditation, then all meditative work should cease immediately, and not be resumed until the distress disappears and consciousness is stabilized.
Even a number of non-meditative but passive activities, such as prayer, contemplation, and significant amounts of reading or television watching – should be drastically curtailed – in favor of vigorous activity in the physical which forces the attention to be in the outer world.
The idea behind these recommendations is to restore balance to consciousness by utilizing the natural stabilizing influence of the physical plane.
“Vigorous physical activity” means exactly that. The idea is not to become earthly, by taking recreational drugs, eating meat, or pursuing hedonistic pleasures. These things are sometimes advocated as “cures” for the serious problems of meditative distress, but they are no real help. The genuine cure is to become focused, active, and productive in the physical plane.
If the use of a meditative technique or system produces a major psychological or physical distress, it ought to be permanently abandoned in favor of something more constructive. Once again, this is just common sense. Yet, it is amazing how seldom this simple dictum is followed.
There are several people who, in their formative years, experienced extreme distress from improper meditative techniques, both physically and psychologically. But having recovered, they have become gurus who teach the same improper techniques to others. Surely this is the height of ignorance.
Naturally, far less drastic measures are required to correct the imbalances of mild or medium distress. In most cases, not meditating for a day or two will be sufficient to relieve the difficulty. Once balance is restored, the meditator should then be more careful not to exceed their practical limits of endurance and intensity.
Almost every serious meditator will have problems of this nature until they learn these limits. In this regard, it is a little like sunburn – we do not know how much is too much until it is too late. But once we have learned the hard way, we never have to expose ourself to an excessive degree again.
If the problem is a mild amount of congestion in the subtle bodies, the unpleasantness can usually be reduced by shifting attention away from the affected area. It is generally not necessary, in these cases, to break off the meditation.
For example, if we are meditating quite intently on a divine archetype, using it to better understand a specific problem, we might accidentally stimulate the mental body to an excessive degree. This could produce stuffed sinuses (congestion in the forehead chakra) or a headache (congestion in the center at the top of the head). In such an event, shifting for a while to devotional and adorational exercises, which will center us in the heart, may well relieve the achy sensation.
As a rule, intensely focused mental meditations and those which involve concentrating intently on the will tend to produce more problems than devotional meditations.
This is because the power contacted by thought and intention is many times greater than the power invoked by goodwill and devotion.
This is no reason to stick with purely devotional meditations, however. The ideal is to cultivate a balanced approach to spiritual growth. This means we need to engage:
- part of our time in meditation enriching the emotions
- part of our time developing our mental powers of discrimination and discernment
- part of our time exploring creative self-discovery
- part of our time building the spiritual will.
If we balance our meditative activity in this way, there will seldom be any distress, and when there is, it will be quite mild.
The people who develop problems of congestion while meditating are usually those who are concentrating
on a specific line of development at the time:
- Those who are rapidly developing the discriminating use of the mind are those who are most prone to congestion in the throat center and difficulty with coughing.
- Those who are working vigorously to integrate the Higher Self with the personality are the ones most apt to experience congestion in the forehead and sinuses.
- Those who are cultivating a more conscious use of the will are the ones who are likely to develop headaches and mild difficulties with memory and irritability.
In these cases, it is the intensity of the work they are doing which is causing distress, not the technique they are using or the goal they are pursuing. They need to decrease this intensity somewhat, but not eliminate their work altogether.
What we do between meditations can also be helpful in diminishing the discomfort of mild distress. If we notice congestion of our subtle energies occurring, for example, something as simple as taking a walk can help start them circulating again.
Headaches, stuffed sinuses, and hoarseness can usually be remedied by shifting our attention away from these problems and involving ourself in engrossing and productive activities and responsibilities.
Usually, the best cure is just to get busy and do something constructive with the energies which have built up!
Unquestionably the greatest danger of distress to the meditator is the uncontrolled release of kundalini energy.
This is not a significant problem in the Western tradition of Active Meditation, which places the emphasis on the energies of consciousness, not the energies of form.
But it is a real and present danger in many of the meditative systems which have been imported from the East.
Kundalini energies are the subtle forces of matter – the “fire” of matter, to put it symbolically. They are the most highly refined and subtle energies of etheric, emotional, and mental substance.
In the human system, the kundalini energies are concentrated in the chakras or force centers along the spine from its base to the top of the head.
As these energies rise in their natural channels, overlying the area of the physical spine, they transmute the subtle matter of the etheric, astral, and mental bodies so it becomes progressively more pure. The action of the kundalini also helps prepare the subtle matter of these bodies so it will be more responsive to integration with the energies of spirit.
Kundalini is designed to rise naturally, as contact with the Higher Self is established and the purification of the subtle bodies progresses. The problems associated with kundalini all arise from one source: trying to stimulate the arousal of the kundalini energies prematurely.
Strangely enough, however, this premature arousal of the kundalini fire is the avowed goal of many Eastern meditative systems: kundalini yoga, laya yoga, and a number of systems which put heavy emphasis on breathing exercises.
The stated intention of these systems is to purify and raise the quality of consciousness, but in practice little or no direct effort is actually given to improving the quality of thought or feeling in the meditator.
Almost the whole of the meditator’s attention is directed at acceleration of the movement of kundalini throughout the subtle bodies. It becomes a mechanistic attempt to bypass the integration of spirit and matter and forcibly cause the fires of matter to activate.
When these exercises succeed, the result can sometimes be a rather abrupt and vigorous change in the structure of the subtle bodies.
The actual impact of arousing kundalini in these ways will vary from individual to individual. But when the etheric (energy) body is involved in these drastic changes, the kundalini can produce strong burning sensations along the spine and in the major chakras, shaking movements in the extremities, significant alteration of physical functions, especially those governed by the autonomic nervous system, and various degrees of confusion or delirium.
Yet none of these problems need ever arise in meditation! There may well be various physical sensations accompanying the natural arousal of kundalini, when this stage of development arrives, but they will never be uncomfortable, and certainly not harmful.
The key, as always, is to use our common sense. The kundalini has been designed by the Higher Self to serve a specific role in the integration of spirit and matter.
This role is understood by the Higher Self far better than the personality. If the Higher Self is our true source of wisdom, which it is, then surely the better part of common sense is to let the Higher Self choose the time and the manner in which the kundalini energies will be awakened.
We need not fear that the Higher Self will be asleep and miss the opportunity. Instead, we should concentrate on making sure that the personality is attuned to the wisdom, love, and strength of spirit, and able to express these qualities maturely in daily life. If we can do this, then we will be well prepared to handle the challenge of kundalini when it arises.
The problem with the techniques of the East which seek to arouse the kundalini consciously is that they all end up encouraging the meditator to focus their attention on the material form (the subtle substance of the etheric, astral, and mental bodies) instead of the quality of consciousness. They have the cart before the horse.
The transformation of consciousness is meant to awaken these changes in our subtle bodies, not the other way around. When full attention is given to improving the quality of our attitudes and thoughts, the awakening of the kundalini is spontaneous, well-modulated, and for the most part, uneventful.
If the techniques of Active Meditation are being used as the core of our meditative enterprise, it is highly unlikely that any adverse disturbances will ever arise in connection with the arousal of kundalini.
If, however, an individual is using a different system of meditation and begins to experience the symptoms of kundalini burnout, it should be viewed as a major concern of both the meditator and their teacher, if they have one.
The first step is to stop all meditative work and keep the attention off the body and the symptoms. If the symptoms are severe, it is important to cultivate an environment and lifestyle which is very stable and calm, until conditions improve, at least for several days. In other words, physical, psychological, and spiritual rest are essential.
Once a reasonable improvement is registered, it is essential to avoid repeating the kind of meditative practices which caused the problems to develop in the first place.
Too Many Visions
The average person is so grounded in the concrete use of the mind and the materialism of daily life that it can be strange, at first, to deal with abstractions and the invisible qualities of the Higher Self.
For such a person, the use of the creative imagination, as described in chapter six and elsewhere, can be a vital and important skill during the beginning stages of meditation. It can help translate abstract realities into images that can visualized and manipulated.
Nevertheless, visualization is really nothing more than a kindergarten practice in Active Meditation.
After we have been meditating for a year or so, our dependency on images and visualizations ought to begin decreasing. We still use them from time to time, as appropriate, but ought to begin to learn to interact with wisdom, love, grace, and courage at their level, not ours.
In some people, however, the use of images does not decrease. They become more and more dependent upon visions and visualizations, not less. This can be a very serious problem, but strangely enough, it is almost never recognized as a problem. Some meditators, in fact, assume that a flood of images in a meditation is a sure sign that enlightenment is right around the corner!
There are several other factors as well which contribute to this danger:
- Most people find images quite fascinating, and so they continue to watch them and hope for more.
- There are several spiritual and psychological traditions which encourage the invocation and observation of images in the mind.
- Even though there are none, shortcuts to enlightenment are always appealing to basically lazy people. The idea that we can learn about ourself and maybe even become enlightened while playing with images is guaranteed to attract a large following.
It is instructive to understand exactly what happens when we become too obsessed with images and visions in meditation.
Instead of building contact with the Higher Self, we are encouraging the subconscious to churn out all kinds of dreamlike images and memories, most of them irrelevant. At this point, genuine meditative work ceases, because we have become absorbed in the subconscious and ignore the actual presence of the Higher Self.
The process becomes more like self-hypnosis, we are hypnotized by the images we are observing so intently.
For a year or two, nothing much will happen to alarm us. If the habit is not changed, however, it will grow in intensity, and one of two conditions is likely to arise eventually:
- Our awareness mechanism becomes connected to the department of the astral plane which stores the accumulated thoughts, dreams, and fantasies of the entire human race.
This is an infinite reservoir of images which can best be described as
“thought garbage.” It contains the remnants of thoughts and images once entertained by humans but
Their appearance can be quite deceptive and fresh, however, as though they sprang to life only yesterday, in order to bring us a brilliant new revelation. They show no signs of wear – no bite marks or old stains of spaghetti sauce – to tip us off. If we penetrate these ideas, we quickly find that they are only shells, devoid of meaning and significance.
But people who observe images and lust for mental visualizations seldom have learned to penetrate ideas.
Their concept of “thinking” is to observe the outer appearance of images, not their inner meaning. So they are fully deceived and duped by this thought garbage, quite content to passively watch it hour after hour, while the rest of their life deteriorates.
Eventually, they are unable to think about any subject or theme without the intrusion of these irrelevant images and feelings. Slowly, without realizing it, these people become victims and then slaves of the thought garbage which has accumulated in the lower psychic planes.
- If our interest in mental images has been only to observe them, we can become so detached from daily life that we damage our associative mechanism. We lose the ability to use the associative mechanism for normal purposes such as
- remembering important items and relevant facts connected to them
- analyzing the significance and influence of events and ideas
- focusing on the appropriate emotion at the appropriate time.
If uncorrected, this disconnection gradually leads to periods of dissociation in which our body of thoughts separates from the rest of the personality. This can be similar to what is seen in schizophrenia.
As might be suspected, this is an intensely regressive step, and a problem which is very difficult to correct.
Of course, even this devastating blow to the evolution of consciousness has its champions, for example, people who are terrified of thoughts and condemn the mind as “the slayer of the real.”
When we disconnect the mind from the rest of the personality, a lot of the problems which characterize the unenlightened mind go with it.
To the unintelligent observer, it may seem that a mighty breakthrough has been achieved. The rapture of abstract feelings becomes more possible, more frequent, and more seductive. But believing this to be a step forward is like claiming that having amputated our legs, we are now much lighter, and we do not have athlete’s foot anymore, either!
To put the phenomenon of too many visions into its complete perspective, two other observations must also be made:
1. During the twilight phase between wakefulness and sleep, or between full alertness and a meditative state, it is possible to tune into special streams of images which circulate around the planet like jet- streams of thought shells. If this occurs, it will tend to be a spontaneous event which will last as long as we continue to concentrate on the streaming images.
The distinguishing characteristic about this stream is that the images are moving at a pace which almost defies our ability to count them and they are all of a similar type – in other words, all faces, all landscapes, or all buildings. Their appearance at these times is totally meaningless. No matter how fascinating, they are a pure distraction.
2. The problem of too many visions is far more likely to arise in people who use recreational drugs, especially marijuana and hallucinogens like LSD, than in anyone else. This is because of the toxic and long term damaging effect of these drugs.
Unfortunately, this type of person is apt to believe that the appearance of these images and visions is proof that they are undergoing a profound mystical experience. The truth, of course, is just the opposite.
Even people who have been off these drugs for some time will continue to tune in primarily to images in their meditations, and very little else.
The impact of these drugs is to bind the attention of their users to the lower psychic levels of consciousness, while damaging the etheric body.
The cure for an excessive number of images and visions is to remember that the major purpose of effective meditation is to enrich consciousness. The focus of attention must therefore be kept on improving the quality of consciousness – the quality of our thoughts, feelings, and intentions.
When images appear, we should seek to grasp their significance, if any, and understand what we can do with them. We should never just passively let the image itself fascinate us. In other words, we must penetrate beyond the appearance of the image and deal primarily with its meaning, its implications, and its power.
If the problem of too many visions is severe, they can be displaced by creating a neutral but stable mental image, for example, imagining that we continue to see our physical surroundings even after we close our eyelids. Or, we can try meditating in a relaxed state with our eyes open, if the physical surroundings are not too distracting.
Perhaps the best suggestion is to make sure we have a definite focus for every meditation, so that whenever stray images turn up, they can be easily ignored.
Excessive Use Of Symbols
Working with symbols is an important skill of Active Meditation. As in dealing with images, however, it is possible to overdose on symbolism to such a degree that we are not really meditating any longer.
The primary problems which arise in working with symbols are:
1. We pay too much attention to the form of the symbol – the image – and ignore its meaning and power. The value of symbolism is that it helps us become aware of the inner dimensions of events, appearances, and images.
The symbol represents a certain inner quality or force which can be used to enrich our attitudes, creative self-expression, or understanding. But the symbol is not a magical genie that will perform all of these things simply because we have rubbed the lamp of guided imagery. We must learn to look past the outer image and appreciate the real life behind the symbol – what it means to us and how we can use it to change our life.
2. We become a collector of symbols. People who work intensively with dreams frequently develop this problem. They become fascinated by the symbols which arise in their meditations or dreams, and compile volumes of notes on the symbols they have received, but they never do much to integrate these symbols into the structure of their consciousness.
One of the great characteristics of symbols is that they are a primary language of the subconscious. To a large extent, the associative mechanism of the subconscious operates symbolically. This is the reason why dreams are such a fertile source of symbols – and meditations, are as well.
But if we summon symbols and then do nothing with them, it is the equivalent of stocking our pantry with food and then never preparing or eating it.
One day, we may discover that our pantry – the subconscious – has been raided by rodents who are gorging themselves on the food we did not use. The rodents, of course, would be our own bad habits, worries, and fears – and maybe even a few of our friends and colleagues who secretly delight in their ability to manipulate us.
The solution to this problem, of course, lies in learning to use symbols maturely and competently – not a common skill in meditative circles. This means learning not just to collect symbols, but more importantly learning to communicate with the subconscious symbolically – and conversely, learning to listen to the Higher Self symbolically.
3. We tune into only the group mind associated with a symbol. Many symbols represent powerful archetypal forces. Most of these forces have been well-known for a long time, especially in religious and mystical traditions. As a result, the symbols are also well-known, and have been the subject of much commentary, both by intelligent and ignorant people, for centuries and centuries.
Instead of using the symbols to become aware of the archetypal forces they represent, many meditators take the much easier route and tune into the standard interpretations of these symbols which have been popular over the centuries.
It could be a Christian tuning into the popular Christian interpretations of the cross, the fish, or the star. A Hindu experiencing Shiva or Vishnu. It could also be a psychic tuning into the gypsy fortune teller associations of the Tarot. Or it could be a student of astrology tuning into the simplistic interpretations usually given for the various planets and signs of the zodiac.
It is much easier to tune into these predigested interpretations of universal symbols than their actual archetypal power and force. It also gives us the sense that we are very, very good at interpreting symbols. But this would be only an illusion.
4. We go on a color binge. Colors are a special form of symbolism, representing the quality and force of a certain type of energy. Some meditators will get so carried away with color that they will spend
hours and hours visualizing it, wrapping themselves in color, breathing it in, or seeing their whole body saturated with it.
As is so often the case with symbolism, this use of color is more a digression from the real work of contacting the Higher Self than anything else. It becomes a game played by spiritual children, not a meaningful exercise in the lives of spiritual adults.
Glamours And Illusions
Like all human activities, the act of meditating has a tendency to build up certain glamours and illusions. We create expectations about what will happen while we meditate – and often these expectations have little to do with the actual experience which will follow.
As a result, we get temporarily lost on our journey to the higher levels of consciousness. We wander around in a self-created maze of wishes, self-deception, and a fascination (morbid or positive) with images and moods. These habits tend to be self-rewarding and will continue until we realize what we have been doing and break through the fog of our illusion.
There are a number of “standard” illusions, glamours, and other distractions which seem to ensnare many meditators for a while, until they see their self-deception. They are:
1. The glamour of contacting a “master teacher” who has taken us under his wing and will now provide us with careful tutelage and specific instruction in the ways of enlightenment.
There is often the hint that we have been chosen for a “great mission” which will require a long and difficult period of preparation and probation. The fact that the instruction we receive usually seems obscure if not obtuse only serves to heighten the sense of mystery and reinforce our belief that we still have much to learn.
The meditator who “buys into” this illusion can go around in the circles of their own subconscious for years and years, if they are naive enough to do so. What makes this illusion at least somewhat credible is that there are teachers who can be contacted psychically, and there are great missions that advanced individuals undertake. But for the average person, the most important mission is to discover and explore the Higher Self.
It is our Higher Self which is our real “master teacher,” and to pursue a fantasy about being chosen for a great mission is only likely to delay the true beginning of genuine spiritual instruction. If our dedication to the spiritual life is strong enough, we will not accept such illusions.
It is also important to realize that we are under no obligation to trust every voice and whisper which arises in our meditations – and, in fact, we would be very foolish to do so. It would quickly lead either to schizophrenia or to utter chaos in our life.
Of course, there are always times when it is difficult to discern the merit or truth of the impressions we receive in meditation – especially if they involve something we very much want to believe.
Whenever we are in doubt, all we have to do is rededicate ourself to the truth and our own highest good. As we hold our aspirations and thoughts in the light of this dedication, we will find that the strength of nonsense and mere fantasy is weakened, and we are able to see the truth more clearly.
As always, the key is common sense. And yet, common sense is the one faculty that the victims of “the great master from Jupiter” or the “teacher of the New Age Christ” or the “president of the Federation of Thirty Galaxies” never seem to possess. They never seem to wonder why such “great beings” are coming to them with such outlandish and often absurd missions.
The cure for this self-deception is to ponder on an ancient mantra: “Ignorance is its own punishment.”
2. The glamour that a nice, warm feeling of bliss is the highest state of enlightenment. Many people sincerely believe that the ultimate meditative experience is total suspension in a nice, warm state of bliss. They want nothing to do with techniques or growth or even the Higher Self. They just want to be able to rest in a pleasant emotional mood.
If they do include the Higher Self in their meditations, it is so that the Higher Self can cater to their need for praise and adulation. The genuine Higher Self would never actually do so, of course, so they create the illusion of a Higher Self out of their higher emotions to play the role. The subconscious is always quite willing to play this kind of game.
Positive emotional states are a vital part of the meditative process, but they do not constitute the crowning glory of meditation. Feeling good about spirit is not enlightenment. It is not even samadhi. It is just a pleasant emotional experience.
The value of positive emotional states in meditation is to:
- help boost our aspiration and devotion to the Higher Self
- heal our negative emotions and associations
- enrich our attitudes and self-expression with the higher qualities of abstract emotion.
It should be noted that these are all active uses of the emotions. The practice of passively resting in a bland but pleasing emotional state is merely a surrender to the emotions, not a constructive use of them.
3. The glamour that psychic contact with a spirit guide is the highest form of meditation. Many people are quite enthralled with the phenomena of mediumship, especially the possibility of contacting spirit guides who will help them solve their difficulties.
They may be attracted to learning certain meditative techniques which will help them contact spirit guides and perhaps even develop some mediumistic attributes.
It is certainly possible, and often useful, to contact various entities of the subtle realms in a meditative state.
But if contact with these entities becomes the central core of our meditative experience, it can usurp an even more important kind of contact – contact with the Higher Self.
4. The glamour that meditating on the center of the universe is the highest form of meditation. Some people assume that as their meditations become more and more cosmic, they are becoming more and more advanced. So they spend the vast majority of their time meditating on the intergalactic Christ force, the origin of the universe, the destiny of the Planetary Logos, or some obscure point about life during the Sathya-Yuga.
Yet the Higher Self does not actually share their intense curiosity on these subjects. In fact, by spending too much time on esoteric nonsense in meditations, they run the risk of estranging themselves from the Higher Self.
They need to ponder on the fact that excessive concern about the latest doings on Sirius or Arcturus is probably just a glamorized escape from the realities and responsibilities of their personal life.
5. The distraction of subtle physical sensations. From time to time in meditation, some people experience odd sensations in the physical body, buzzing noises, warmth in a particular part of the body, tingling sensations in the head, throat, chest, or back, or the feeling of spinning or being stretched out. Most of these minor phenomena are simply physical associations the subconscious connects with the inflow of new energy or slight alterations in our subtle bodies.
We are not really spinning in our chair like a whirling dervish, we just have the temporary illusion of it. Yet many people take these sensations as signs their meditations are becoming “really deep and powerful.”
It is simple to prove they are not. If we ignore them and concentrate instead on the productive work of meditation, they will quickly disappear. The only danger that can come from these sensations is the temptation to devote too much attention to them.
Since energy follows attention, we can easily magnify these sensations to the point where they are uncomfortable, forcing us to end our meditation. If this were to happen too frequently, we would run the risk of becoming locked into an earthbound state, more aware of what is transpiring in the body than what is happening in spirit.
6. The illusion that a trance state is a high level of meditative experience. Many people firmly believe that the goal of meditating is to fall into a near coma and lose contact with our body, our physical surroundings, and everything else.
An intense focus of interest on inner themes often does cause our awareness of the physical plane and body to recede, but this lack of awareness of the physical level of expression is incidental.
It should never be enshrined as a goal of meditation, because when it is, many people end up tuning out everything, not only the physical body but also the inner focus of interest! This is definitely not desirable.
We are meant to stay active and alert during meditation, not drop into a coma where we totally “black out.”
As obvious as this is, many practitioners of Eastern systems of meditation consider it perfectly acceptable to lose consciousness during a meditation, as though it represents the ultimate detachment from the “dreaded” physical plane. They entertain the pleasant self- deception that somehow their meditative work is continuing on at higher but unconscious levels.
There may well be times when any meditator briefly loses consciousness during a meditation. It is not an alarming condition, in most cases, but it is certainly nothing to covet or brag about. It is generally a sign that we need to cultivate a stronger measure of concentration and self-discipline.
When individuals try to blank out during a meditation, however, they are likely to gain from the meditative experience exactly what they put into it – nothing! It leads to advanced dopiness – not enlightenment.
Over a long period of time, the personality will become more and more passive, and the mind will become dulled.
Even if the unconscious does benefit, which is debatable, it is certain that the conscious personality does not. No integration between the Higher Self and our self-expression is occurring.
7. The glamour of out-of-body experiences. It sometimes happens that the consciousness of the meditator detaches entirely from the physical body and is able to travel at will throughout the astral plane. When the meditator then returns to his physical body, they are able to remember the experiences they have had out of his body.
Most meditators never experience this phenomenon, as it is quite rare. But an intense glamour has been built up among spiritual aspirants about the “value” of out-of-body experiences, causing a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding.
There are two types of people who spontaneously experience the out- of-body phenomenon. The first would be people with natural mediumistic talents, developed in earlier lives. The second would be people who have damaged their subtle bodies through the use of psychedelic drugs.
The seductiveness of the out-of-body experience is that the person who is able to detach in this way usually becomes convinced that it is a sign of profoundly effective meditation. It is not.
In fact, most people, including mediums, who regularly travel out of the body start ignoring all other meditative practices in favor of astral travel. They abandon the daily needs of mental housecleaning, healing the emotions, training the mind, and learning more about the Higher Self, as though they are now above all these “common needs.” As a result, the quality of their consciousness badly deteriorates.
It must be understood that most people who are able to travel out of the body journey only through the astral or lower psychic plane. They may be standing on a different landscape and able to converse freely with different entities, but they are still basically trapped in a mundane focus on life.
Were they to travel through the mental plane and seek to make contact with the higher levels of consciousness, there would be value in their journeys. But the vast majority do not. Sightseeing is still sightseeing, even when it masquerades as an out-of-the-body experience. It can be interesting, but it is not a substitute for meditation.
Those who have difficulty in halting involuntary out-of-body experiences should try:
1. Spending an extra amount of time in bringing the spiritual qualities to earth, instead of continuing to operate on the assumption that they must rise to them. This is achieved through the attractive force of their devotion, interest, and dedication to the life of spirit.
The physical body is not a barrier to spirit, but an obsession with the physical form is a barrier. Spirit is meant to come to earth, and meditation should be designed to help spirit do just that
2. Meditating with their eyes open.
3. Using the creative imagination to visualize their subtle bodies of thought and feeling enveloping the physical body, while contemplating their ideal attitude toward meditation.
4. Reviewing their attitudes about life to see if they have a tendency to want to escape from conditions of dullness or distress. It is usually the thrill seekers and drug users who have a problem with out-of-body experiences, not people with a serious dedication to the higher life.
A common problem with many meditators is that their meditations begin to dry up after a while. They become sterile and unproductive because they are just going through the paces, and nothing much is happening.
Of course, it is natural for anyone to have an “off day” every now and then, whether in meditation or any other activity. The occasional “off day” is not a cause for concern. But if our meditations in general become tepid, boring, and unproductive, then something definitely is wrong.
It is highly unlikely that this problem will ever arise in the use of the techniques of Active Meditation, which are designed to enrich consciousness, not dry it up. If it should, it is probably an indication that we are concentrating too much on a single technique. In this case, the solution would be to put some variety back into our meditative endeavors.
Drying up may also be a sign that we have been looking too much for spectacular experiences instead of genuine contact with the life of the Higher Self.
In other approaches to meditation, however, drying up can be a major problem. There are a number of reasons why:
1. The technique itself is boring. Many systems of meditation limit their students to a very simple practice, such as reciting a mantra or concentrating on the breath. The intelligent response to such practices is to become bored and recognize them as unproductive! The sooner they are abandoned and the meditator moves on to more enriching practices, the better.
2. The technique encourages the meditator to render himself utterly passive and wait for spirit to guide him. The Higher Self, however, is not looking for a tree stump to sit on, but rather an intelligent partner to act through.
If we become too passive, the Higher Self is far more likely just to ignore us than to try to reactivate us. Indeed, too much passiveness and surrender in meditation can actually disconnect us from the Higher Self.
At that point, our meditations will become progressively more and more sterile and unproductive. The solution, of course, is to become more active and incorporate spiritual self-expression into our meditative experiences. We must try to understand how the Higher Self would ideally manifest through our personality and behavior, and then make it our top priority, in and out of meditation, to help the Higher Self do exactly that!
3. We are focusing too intently on one line of development to the exclusion of all others. The adoration of God, for example, is an important part of meditation, but if our entire meditative practice consists of adoring God, day in and day out, we are likely to get rather tired of it. Even God is likely to get tired of it.
Thus, we would want to expand the scope of our meditative exercises, and include techniques which will help us understand God’s nature and respond to God’s will, as well as adore Him.
4. We have substituted an intellectual line of thought for meditative contact. The act of meditation occurs as we contact the Higher Self and direct its qualities of love, wisdom, and strength into our character and self-expression.
Some people fall into a bad habit of merely thinking intellectually about this process, rather than actually doing it. They end up thinking about meditating, instead of meditating. As a result, their work becomes sterile and unproductive. They are not tapping the actual power and love of the Higher Self, even though they devoutly believe themselves to be highly esoteric in their thinking and practices.
5. We have failed to balance our inner effort with an equally strong outer effort. In other words, we are not taking adequate steps to ground our new realizations and insights in our active self-expression.
We have therefore become congested.
As described in chapter fourteen, and this congestion blocks off the inflow of new insights and qualities. As a result, our meditations dry up. The solution in this case, of course, is to make a stronger effort to translate the qualities of the Higher Self into an active self-expression.
The state of being tied to earth is not limited exclusively to those people who are intensely materialistic in their attitudes and priorities. It can be found even in people who have made it their professed goal to become spiritual and who make it a daily practice to meditate.
In fact, certain systems of meditation are almost guaranteed to make the meditator earthbound, if he or she pursues them for two or three years or more.
These are systems which put a great deal of emphasis on practices involving the physical body, breathing exercises, physical postures, and diet, instead of the development of consciousness. While all of these systems do have initial benefits in terms of calming agitated nerves and producing greater vitality in the physical body, the more they are used the more the meditator may become absorbed in the physical body.
Over a long period of time, this can become quite harmful.
The problems which arise, however, usually develop so gradually that they are not obvious to the meditator himself, only to others. The consciousness of the meditator becomes progressively denser, producing such changes as a loss of imagination, a slowing of the associative mechanism, a loss of memory, and a dulling of alertness, awareness, and creativity. At the subtle levels, there is an actual hardening of the etheric and astral auras, almost a crystallization.
Consciousness is literally becoming more materialistic!
This is a high price for anyone to pay, especially someone who believes he is spiritualizing matter. In fact, it is just the reverse. The capacity to contact the Higher Self is being lost.
The treatment for this problem is to permanently cease all practices which lead to earthbound conditions and to work at reintegrating our thoughts and feelings with the Higher Self.
This cannot be done only in meditation. In fact, the bulk of the work must be done non-meditatively, by immersing ourself in pursuits which will lead to a refined appreciation of the symbolic and abstract subtleties of life. Specifically, this means the enjoyment of the fine arts, music, good literature, and poetry. Gradually, there must be a reorientation of our consciousness to appreciate the refined virtues of life and the subtle aspects of human creativity.
Most of the work, therefore, will have to occur in consciousness. The problem cannot be corrected by physical changes such as altering our diet or exercising.
We must always remember that it is not possible to eat our way to God, or stretch or jog our way to God, either. There is, however, one physical treatment which is useful – frequent exposure to sunlight.
Being out in the sun will expose our subtle bodies to the healing radiations of the sun and help break up the hardening of the auras.
The best solution, of course, is not to practice techniques which might make us earthbound.
Problems Arising From Group Meditations
In addition to the problems which can arise in individual meditations, there is an entirely different set of difficulties which can arise from meditating in a group format.
It is important for anyone who meditates in groups to learn to recognize and correct these problems, for many of them can lead to individual problems if left unchecked. These can occur whether we are meditation for our own self-improvement or the purpose of helping others
The most common problems are:
1. The group mind inhibits effective meditation. In the individual, there are many distractions which can interfere with making contact with the Higher Self. These distractions include the wishes and fantasies of the subconscious, preconceived notions of what the Higher Self will be like, overheated expectations, prejudices, and resistances of the personality.
When a group of people gather for the purpose of meditating together, these potential distractions will be magnified many times over.
An individual who has largely succeeded in neutralizing their own inner distractions may suddenly find that they must now contend with the distractions of those around them! This can make it much more difficult than normal to make contact with the Higher Self.
This condition should in no way discourage us from participating in group meditations, as there can be great value in working in this way. But it does suggest that we should be careful about the groups we participate in. It also reemphasizes the value of each member of the group making contact with the Higher Self in their own way before the group meditative work begins.
It also implies that we should get in the habit of comparing our individual meditations with our group meditations.
If our group meditations are more enriched than our individual meditations, and the contact with the Higher Self seems to be of a more refined quality, then our association with that group is worthwhile.
But if we tend to be more troubled by distractions, temptations, and weird ideas while we are meditating with a group, and we do not have these problems by ourself, then we ought to reevaluate our participation.
2. Sapping. Some people love to meditate in groups because it gives them the opportunity to plug into other members of the group and sap their energy.
But sapping is never part of the road to enlightenment.
It is just a psychic form of theft which leaves the others in the group with a variety of unpleasant symptoms – irritability, anxiety, fatigue, headache, mild nausea, and a generally dopey state of awareness.
As a rule, however, if a group is composed of intelligent and sincere spiritual aspirants, there will be little problem with sapping. Their collective aspiration and intent will keep the group climate wholesome.
If sapping is a persistent problem in any group situation, there are two ways to solve the problem. Either the group can suggest to the person who is doing the sapping that they not return in the future – if the offender is known – or the people who are victimized can drop out.
3. Silly techniques. Sometimes the members of a group are good and sincere people, but the direction given by the leader of the group is not very knowledgeable. The group ends up using techniques which are more inane than useful.
One such technique which is very popular among meditative groups at present is for everyone in the group to join hands and stay in physical contact throughout the meditation. There are even very precise ways the hands are to be interlocked! Once the circle is formed, the leader then instructs the members of the group to circulate the energy they have contacted around the circle.
This instantly puts every member of the group in contact with the group mind, and makes it almost impossible to contact the Higher Self.
Moreover, it guarantees that the only energy transfer which will occur will be from personality to personality within the group. It is a real boon to the psychic sapper, but everyone else in the group will end up with something he did not expect – the psychic and psychological equivalent of taking a bath in someone else’s dirty bathwater!
4. The limitations of the group. Many groups serve a useful role in helping people learn and develop meditative skills, but are unable to carry the meditator beyond a certain point. Perhaps the leader is limited in his or her understanding. Or the group as a whole is limited by preconceived notions and beliefs.
Once an individual member in that group has reached the upper limits the group has to offer, therefore, it is time to leave. If they try to stay, they will find the accumulated force of the group mind and the psychological pressure to conform to the group experience to be deadening influences on their own meditations, by themselves or with the group.
5. Brainwashing. In some groups, the impact of the group mind on the individual is a bit more pernicious than just imposing limitations. Specific suggestions regarding conduct and attitude may have been fed into the group mind by the leader, in order to control the thinking and feeling of the individual members.
This is a classic instance of brainwashing – at psychic levels. The individual member is made to conform by coercion, not by individual choice.
If the member continues to insist on his or her individuality anyway, the group mind will retaliate, stirring up immense guilt, fear, and threatening images in the member’s meditations.
Once again, the best solution to this problem is to leave the group and focus attention on meditative themes which are different from the usual themes of that particular group.
6. Irresponsible leadership. Some groups have no purpose except to enhance the ego and bank balance of the leader. The leader is usually quite charismatic and charming, but has little to offer in terms of constructive help to the other members of the group.
Quite often, the leader exploits the group not only physically, but psychically as well, sapping their energies and manipulating their thoughts. No meditation, either individually or in a group, should ever be dominated by someone other than our own Higher Self. If it is, then once again this is a sign that it is time to leave the group.
In no way should these comments be interpreted to mean that as soon as something happens in a group not to our liking we ought to leave.
This would just be escapism, and we would soon find we were unable to participate in any group activity.
But some of the problems which arise in groups can be a genuine threat to our individuality, and there is often no alternative but to drop out. As always, the ruling factor should be our own common sense.
If we are by and large getting more benefits out of the group experience than problems, then obviously our continued participation in the group is worthwhile.
In a group dedicated to self-improvement, the benefits would be a sense of well-being, greater alertness, mental poise, a higher level of contact with spirit, and better health.
In a group which is dedicated to helping others and humanity, the benefit would be more sublime, the opportunity to focus our self- expression into a worthwhile channel.
The One Problem
Ultimately, there is only one problem of meditation, and it is a problem all meditators must confront. This is the essential difference between the personality and the Higher Self and the difficulties which arise in harmonizing and integrating these two dimensions of selfhood so they begin to work together, as partners.
The many practices which have been outlined in this chapter are problems only because they aggravate this essential difference instead of diminishing it.
Undoubtedly the intent in using most of these practices is sincere, but sincerity does not count for much if it only serves to make the problem worse.
The techniques of Active Meditation are all designed with one primary purpose in mind – to help facilitate the integration of the Higher Self and the personality. It is for this reason that the major problems outlined in the preceding pages will not arise in the use of these techniques. They solve the one fundamental problem of meditation, rather than compound it.