The Adventure of Meditation
The need for solitude and time to cultivate the inner life, in both its metaphysical and mystical phases, is the first imperative. Solitude is needed because the presence of others definitely disturbs the emptying process. Time is needed because the mind is habitually filled with thoughts of the outer world; it is totally essential to empty it of them for a while--regularly, habitually, and deliberately. Without a determined use of willpower it is, however, hard for most people to get solitude or find time.
If the first requirement for solitude develops partly out of the aspirant's need to be able to concentrate thought without interruption, it also develops partly from the restless mental auras that most people carry about with them. They themselves shrink from being alone and naturally introduce an antipathetic influence wherever solitary meditation is being practiced. Perhaps their terror of solitude arises because it makes them conscious of the spiritual aimlessness and intellectual vacuity of their sojourn on earth. The fear of being alone simply means that a man has no inner life at all. The scale of values that lists solitude as a frightful evil to be avoided, or considers the desire for it as an eccentric or even antisocial trait, is materialistic. The mystic who has learned the art of creative solitude can hear a mental voice in its inner silence. Thus for the mystic the loneliness, which is maddening for some, is enlightening.
For the requirement of time, for a certain period each day there must be a separation from all usual physical labors and intellectual activities, a period wherein aspirants can become and remain bodily still and mentally quiet. They must set apart a little time once or twice a day for meditation, just as they set apart some time for eating food. This is indispensable to achieving spiritual progress. It is quite practicable for most people to create a routine that, while satisfying the need of withdrawal for meditation, nevertheless would not interfere with worldly activities and responsibilities.
It is necessary periodically to put aside the things of time so as to seek the timeless, to isolate oneself from the outward world so as to seek an inward one. The psychological purpose of such isolation is to create a new habit and a new attitude. The habit is meditation. The attitude is introversion. Aspirants are led to the hard task of reeducating their powers of perception, understanding, and attention. These powers have to be cultivated through a series of regular exercises. This involves self-training in definite work and a long progressive apprenticeship. Meditation is an art that has to be learned by repeated practice, like the art of playing a piano. It comes naturally to virtually no one. Its technique requires a skill that has to be learned like that of any other art.
Here the habit-forming tendency of the mind can be an excellent aid. Aspirants will gain more by exercises regularly practiced over a period of, say, six months than by the same exercises done in fits and starts over the same period. Consequently, a fixed time of the day should be appointed for them. The ideal rhythm would be to meditate three times a day in coordination with the rhythm of the sun's movements--at dawn, noon, and dusk. But aspirants could not arrive at this all at once. They could best start with a single period and continue with that for months, or even years, until they feel ready to advance and add a second period to it. They will have to work at these two periods, be they dawn and dusk or noon and dusk, for a considerable time before the inner prompting is likely to tell them to take the further step and add the third period. Even then it may not be possible for aspirants always to adhere faithfully to the program thus laid down. Social necessities, for instance, may compel them to leave out some period or other almost every week. Hence, aspirants must do their best within the limits of their personal circumstances.
It will take some time for the mental agitation created by getting immersed in worldly business or personal affairs to subside. Until this happens, the aspirant cannot proceed with the positive work of meditation but rather must engage in the negative task of clearing out those distracting memories. This is one reason why in the East the morning period is recommended for such practice. At the beginning of the day the thoughts and emotions are still undisturbed, hence withdrawal into their center is then easier. Some, however, may find the morning--with its anticipation of activities yet to be started--unattractive for this purpose and may regard the very fatigue of a hard day's work as an inducement to relax in the evening and seek inner peace.
If the regular hour for meditation occasionally proves inconvenient, it may be postponed to a later time. Should this be impossible, the practice may be abandoned for that day. If it is possible to hold enduringly to the full period previously laid down as desirable and available for such exercise, this will help to create an advantageous habit. But if on any particular day the fatigue becomes intolerable, then also it will be better to abandon practice for that day. Aside from these fixed times, or perhaps in displacement of them, the intuitive call to abandon every physical labor and every intellectual activity will recur again and again. Aspirants should obey these calls. In the very midst of business affairs or daily work, aspirants may have sudden lapses into inward abstraction. These will ordinarily be quite brief and definitely should be kept so. But they are worth cultivating wherever and whenever they happen to come. If this is done frequently and faithfully, the power to meditate increases.