When asked whether there are any prerequisites to meditation, the Advaita Vedanta teacher Francis Lucille replies that there are two: “Our intention has to be directed towards the impersonal, the divine” and “our attention has to be free from any object” (The Perfume of Silence, pp. 70-1). A similar answer is provided by The Upanishads where that toward which the aspirant longs is ultimate reality (the first prerequisite), and in order head back to the Source one must be de-fixated from objects: the external world, perceptions, feelings and sensations, and thoughts (the second prerequisite).
While this answer may strike you as obvious, it is anything but. For “[t]he intention to get rid of a problem, to solve a psychological issue, to acquire powers [siddhis–AT], or to become healthy, is not the kind required for meditation. Such an intention inhibits meditation” (p. 70). But then much of what Western practitioners, schooled in secular meditation and in McMindfulness, aspire for today is not meditation, stringently understood.
To be calmer, to be healthier, to feel steadier, to resolve some psychological problem or another, to be more productive due to greater powers of concentration (see Jack Dorsey): no–all these are ways of getting attached to objects, broadly understood. None flow out of the love of truth, and it is the love of truth, of knowing what is ultimately so, of, at the same time, knowing who one really is, that is the essence of meditation. The rest is the maintenance of an illusion.
Therefore, much of what goes by the name of meditation today is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Attempts to simply observe thoughts and feelings are only a start. If we remain there, we remain in “a trance” (Stephen Wolinksy). Instead, the only way to keep our intention to surrender ourselves to the Source is to de-fixate from objects. What carries us upward? None other than falling in love with higher levels of reality, and for that to be so, we must genuinely, and lovingly, consider the possibility that the limits of the body-mind are not the presumed limits of consciousness. Oh, but then who I am is not what I’ve taken myself to be.
Lucille’s remarks, stated so plainly, almost matter of factly, actually shimmer with danger. If we were to let them sink into our hearts, they might just show us all that we’ve gotten wrong so far and how, all our lives, we’ve been holding fast to shadows. The bad news would be that we’d have to give up our sense of being separate selves. The good news would be that we’d also be giving up all the misery pouring down down down on what we thought we were.