The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, 
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December 2017 / More


Convictions & Concerns

TAT members share their personal convictions and/or concerns

Meditation & the Spiritual Path

Meditation is apparently universally regarded as central to a spiritual path.

But why do you meditate? Precisely—why? What do you expect from the effort?

Your answer is fundamental to how you define your spiritual path.

Do you seek spiritual experiences—or knowledge?

If your definition of your spiritual path, and therefore your definition of progress on that path, is to have spiritual experiences, increasingly profound ones, then that is where the focus of your attention will be—no matter where you imagine you are focusing that attention. The desire for, and expectation of, some experience as the reward for your effort makes you especially vulnerable to self-hypnosis, wherein you generate the experiences of which you have heard and read so much about. (But not true self-transcendence or answers to what is beyond mind and beyond death.)

If your definition of your path is a search for knowledge of self, or self-definition, then it is obvious that the focus of your attention would be on yourself—self-observation and self-inquiry. In this case you really don't know what to expect. Sure, you have concepts based on your readings and conversations, and you are susceptible to postulating answers that you have not actually discovered for yourself—and then believing them. But the path of self-inquiry, by definition, has a built-in safeguard against self-delusion.

"First Know Thyself" is the prerequisite of "To Thine Own Self Be True." Sadly we are rarely that. We are blinded by, and lost in, experience that affirms every imaginary facet of the self we desire to be forever, and our lives are spent in service to that which is false about us—or at least that is fleeting, impermanent, and cannot be transformed—all while we are blinded to that which we are at the core.

If your desire is to know yourself, then your path better be about more than just sitting once or twice a day staring at a wall or focusing on your breath.

Meditation alone is insufficient for success in finding the ultimate answer to who and what you are, where you came from, and where you are going. Your very life—24 x 7—must be your spiritual path, and it is your job to figure out the ways and means by which you achieve that—all while continuing to feed, clothe and shelter yourself—and those to whom you may have likewise committed to do so.

Indeed, I have heard the stories of enlightened people who did not have any meditational practice, in the conventional sense. (They did not sit in formal practice at set times, employing prescribed techniques, with any notion of personal gain or achieving some state or enjoyable experience.) What they did all have in common was an inwardly focused momentum of the attention—an obsession with understanding their lives and the world-drama in which they were entangled. This they lived—24 x 7. It became the center of gravity in their lives. You could say they were meditating all the time. Always asking—without even consciously knowing it—Who am I?, What is my life about? Why do I do what I do? Why do I feel as I feel? Why do I think what I think? It became the resting place of their attention when it was not preoccupied with the mundane exigencies of daily life.

Personally, I never practiced meditation as conventionally defined, other than as a brief prelude in my sittings to relax the body and quiet my thoughts, to better concentrate on observation of myself. Such observation would take various forms, from recalling scenes from my past that involved some strong emotion such as anger or anxiety, to staring at my current life situations and questioning what am I really doing—and why?—to staring directly at consciousness-of-self, not concentrating on my breath, my body, or any form of my-this or my-that, but rather peering into the very sense of being alive. This, I take to be the end-point of Ramana Maharshi's and Nisargadatta's "Who am I?"—though I had never grasped that at the time. I did this while sitting and while walking, while eating and while falling asleep—whenever my attention wasn't engaged in earning a paycheck, or feeding the body, or hijacked by glandular-induced reveries! I say: "I did," but it would be more accurate to say that my attention was driven by the doubt sensation that had lodged in my mental throat—because Richard Rose had taught me to question and had made me aware of the mind's capacity for self-delusion! (Belief is the enemy of doubt, and doubt is your best friend on your spiritual journey! And if you don't think you are deluding yourself in some way—then you are truly self-deluded!)

My concern is that many spiritual seekers are kidding themselves about meditation. They think they are focusing their attention inward, when in fact it is focused outward, on something quite external to their self—on the rhythmic lullabies of breath, or the sleep of resting in their bodies—resulting in a temporary and false "remission of ego" due to a temporary suspension of ego-reinforcing thought. Their focus is a selfish one—on having wonderful experiences. (No one aims for unpleasant experiences!) They are deluded about the degree to which they control their attention, and overlook how their body and their actions and external experience dictate the focus of the attention and the true vector of their mortal lives—which is one of seeking experiences and following thoughts that protect, magnify and affirm the body-mind self.

My concern is that that they'll never discover what can only be found by subtraction—which only occurs by active questioning and challenging of the self they see in front of them every day, which they avoid by looking away, and which amounts to a lousy bargain of trading easy-to-come-by, fleeting feelings of peace for permanent, transcendental knowledge of Self. That self is made visible in one's actions. It is hidden in one's dreamy meditations. (Look at what you DO, not what you think. Suspending your thoughts is not looking. LOOK, and you might just transcend thought. Look at the doer. Look at the looker.)

My conviction is that it is more expedient to focus one's attention on one's self—in all its manifestations—during one's waking hours, not merely when sitting cross-legged—and that the ability to do that is constrained by how one lives one’s life. Hence Richard Rose's emphasis on a three-fold path, the need to "live the life" (conservation of energy), and the need to "take action" beyond a meditation practice—in a nut shell, making of your life a vector, and a reverse one at that, away from un-truth—which it turns out, is all that is external to you—which ultimately includes the "you" that comprises your current definition of self, and which amounts to nothing more than a transient experience….

~ Thanks to Bob Cergol, a TAT member since TAT's 1973 inception and who has continued being active in TAT's operation. To hear more of Bob's perspective, check out Shawn Nevins's interview of Bob at SpiritualTeachers.org/podcasts. Bob can be contacted by . If you have comments for the TAT Forum, please email the .

Return to the main page of the December 2017 TAT Forum.


TAT Foundation News

It's all about "ladder work" – helping and being helped

Downloadable/rental versions of the Mister Rose video and of April TAT talks Remembering Your True Desire:

"You don't know anything until you know Everything...."

Mister Rose is an intimate look at a West Virginia native many people called a Zen Master because of the depth of his wisdom and the spiritual system he conveyed to his students. Profound and profane, Richard Rose was not the kind of man most people picture when they think of mystics or spiritual teachers. Yet, he was the truest of teachers, one who had "been there," one who had the cataclysmic experience of spiritual enlightenment.

Filmed in the spring of 1991, the extraordinary documentary follows Mr. Rose from a radio interview, to a university lecture and back to his farm, as he talks about his experience, his philosophy and the details of his life.

Whether you find him charming or offensive, fatherly or fearsome, you will not forget him, and never again will you think about yourself, reality, or life after death in quite the same way.

3+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

2012 April TAT Meeting – Remembering Your True Desire

Includes all the speakers from the April 2012 TAT meeting: Art Ticknor, Bob Fergeson, Shawn Nevins and Heather Saunders.

1) Remembering Your True Desire ... and Acting on It, by Art Ticknor
Spiritual action is like diving for the Pearl beyond Price. What do you do when you don't know what to do or how to do it? An informal discussion centered around the question: "What prevents effective spiritual action?"

2) Swimming in the Inner Ocean: Trips to the Beach, by Bob Fergeson
A discussion of the varied ways we can use in order to hear the voice of our inner ocean, the heart of our true desires.

3) A Wider and Wilder Vision, by Shawn Nevins
Notes on assumptions, beliefs, and perspectives that bind and free us.

4) Make Your Whole Life a Prayer, by Heather Saunders
An intriguing look into a feeling-oriented approach to life.

5+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

Return to the main page of the December 2017 TAT Forum.

Did you enjoy the Forum? Then buy the book! Beyond Mind, Beyond Death is available at Amazon.com.

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