‘Stages’ of meditation

I want to describe the ‘stages’ or ‘states’ of meditation that I have gone through. To do so, I won’t be relying upon doctrine, only on lived experience and on metaphorical language (such as ‘states’ or ‘stages’). The latter is necessary since any non-discursive experience will have to enter into language in order to be intelligible. Drawing on metaphorical language, therefore, enables me to make sense of such an experience. In addition, it may assist as well as enhance my practice.

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I will argue that I have experienced three ‘states’ or ‘stages’ of non-ordinary consciousness, and I have had intimations of a fourth. In what follows, I will be especially interested in the transitions from one state to another.

1. Preliminary Struggles. Posture is uncomfortable, breathing irregular, the perceptible world quite present to awareness, and thoughts angled toward memories, anticipations, and interests. One feels strain, effort, struggle, fight. Typically, some technique has as its aim that of moving one beyond these preliminary struggles.

Transition: One comes to–and quietly affirms–a weak metaphysical view according to which there is a real elsewhere that is other than and distinct from the ordinary reality of the perceptible world. This ‘elsewhere’ is at once an ‘other than…’ and a ‘more than…’ One senses that this ‘elsewhere’ is worth exploring to find out what it is and what it is like. What it is = what it is like.

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Hunger and spiritual exercise

Hunger can come over one with such force that one feels gripped by the claim that one must eat now. This is urgent, serious business, and one must do something about it forthwith. Not always or not often is hunger signaled so discernibly by a growling, turning, or twangy-sounding tummy. Mostly, it is indicated by a loss of control or of sense-making.

For instance, hunger may show up in sudden impatience with a lover, in a floppy tongue which unlooses silly thoughts or complaints, in a sense of basic disorientation to one’s surroundings, in motor confusion, and, not the least, in a greater sensitivity to being startled. It is not lethargy that undoes one so much as the vices that come forth in subtle or harmful perturbations.

Hunger is a kind of forgetting of what matters most. Upon reflection, one may conclude that hitherto hunger has been accompanied by (or has been identified with) a must. I am hungry, and I must stop what I’m doing, I must stop paying attention to everything and everyone else, and I must eat soon. The world thereby is transformed into Impediments and Pursuits, and the person into a Forceful Agent: long food preparation being but one impediment, a quick delivery of, or access to, substance being the most urgent, vital pursuit. (In this respect, one may liken hunger to the consumption of caffeine.)

Hunger needn’t be an implicit must or ought; it needn’t be motivating in this way. Over time, one can observe all the ways that hunger has affected one, has transfixed one, and through spiritual exercises (ascesis) one can relish becoming the kind of reasonable person who can be motivated by higher sources. One stands back, holds back, has a light sense of humor about things and oneself. Being patient, focusing one’s attention concertedly, being humbled by the competency required in order to make food for oneself and others, delighting in the prospect of speaking less when one is hungry, returning to the basic movements of living: this knife, this vegetable, this cut, this moment living softly and then sliding away. Coming by attention to savor everyday hunger.

What is it like for someone not to ‘get me’?

“[E]loquence consists of saying the right things and only the right things.”

–Rochefoucauld

What is it like for someone not to ‘get me?’

She can be focused on me but ask the wrong questions. He can be focused on me but look at the wrong things. She can care for me but fail to recognize me. He draws the wrong conclusions about everything I say.

He can be kind but this kindness can lack all beauty or grace. He can offer me gifts but the gifts would be wrong, the manner ill-suited, the returns already anticipated. She can show me affection in ways that cannot permit me to respond at all or in kind. I can be the object of his care and well-wishing, of her concern and fear but be lost and alone all the while. I can feel stuck, lacking autonomy, voiceless and removed.

In a word, I can be the right person but around the wrong people.