For several years now I’ve been describing to people why I meditate, though this is the first time I’ve written about it here. Meditation is a rewarding practice; the more I do it, the more I appreciate it and want to continue in the practice. I can list a few of the obvious reasons:

  • It’s very calming and relaxing. We all could use more of that in today’s frantic world.
  • It is visually stimulating. When you still the words, images flood into the darkness behind closed eyes.
  • It’s an entertaining experience. In quiet, you watch as thoughts, dreams and memories rise and subside.
  • Silence ┬áis valuable. 45 minutes of release from cacophony┬áis like a good night of sleep.
  • There is an inner spiritual world that is just as big — or maybe bigger — than the outer physical world.
  • There is a way of knowing God in meditation that transcends all creeds, beliefs and dogma.
  • It is a continually unfolding experience.

I have done meditation more intentionally for the past four years or so. I go to a quiet place, and sit with eyes closed, and I begin to still my mind. There is an inner “ego self” (aka: “me”) within who feels it necessary to carry on a continuous narrative commentary about everything that is happening. This constant babbling has opinions and judgments about everyone and everything. It is always making up stories about what happened in the past and why and what it all means. It is always making plans for the future, anticipating good things and bad things that might happen and deciding beforehand how “I” must behave or how “I” must feel. It loves to critique ME along with everyone else. It spends surprisingly little time being grateful for anything, but instead wants to analyze and quantify and what-if out the wazoo. What I am after first in meditation is to begin to still this voice. I am not battling against it, I am just being with it, observing it in a way I do not normally do.

I am watching the narrative as an impartial, outside observer. And I am particularly watching for those brief spaces between thoughts. As you observe yourself narrating a thought, calmly track it back to see where it started. It came from some other related thought. That’s what the inner ego voice is, a constant stream of one thought after another. Usually they come so fast you don’t notice any spaces. You may not notice where one thought ends and another thought begins. So you begin to look for these spaces between the thoughts. This takes a little practice but is not hard to do. Soon you are able to notice these spaces.

An interesting thing happens then: these spaces of no-thought, of no inner chattering voice, these spaces expand. Thoughts subside and the spaces become larger. That’s the first step in stilling the ego. Now we know the spaces of silence are there within our mind. Now as we continue observing our thoughts and the spaces between them, we begin to move into those spaces. We want to inhabit those spaces, to own them as part of ourselves. Words are inadequate to describe this. Why? Because we are attempting to enter a place where words cannot go. We are taking the mind into the spaces between thoughts, where there are no words happening.

At first, as soon as you find yourself within this space, the ego voice wants to immediately begin narrating, trying to describe to you what you are experiencing. And of course as soon as that happens you are absorbed again in ego thought. So you go hunting again for the spaces between thought.

With practice, these spaces can grow to surround and envelop you, and you find yourself suspended, without gravity. The space is silent. The space becomes large. You are in darkness — after all, your eyes are closed — but then gradually you begin to perceive visual movement. Unidentifiable shapes are floating in the darkness with you, and you’re beginning to pick up colors and textures. It is all in constant movement.

When I first encountered this, I thought it was very cool — and it is. It is like another language, a visual language sandwiched there between strings of thought-words. I could see nebulous shapes, fringed with vivid color, blooming and receding in the darkness. It was like watching clouds pass in the sky. I wanted to be able to interpret and understand. I thought maybe these were actually identifiable shapes with meaning to them. In time I concluded that these kinds of “visually rewarding” meditations were just another form of mind chatter.

So that’s another state of mind that through restful breathing and no-thought, you can begin to move beyond. The constant flow of visuals can absorb all your attention, or you can begin to search out and find still points within them. Perhaps an expanding cloud of purple or green gradually slows and stops, and dissipates. You are moving beyond the visual to a deeper stillness. Like the word-thoughts, this cloud-like imagery keeps trying to flood back in, but you begin to see there are moments of stillness within them.

I have had experiences where I think I am entering into this greater stillness. Fluffy glowing clouds part, and I am looking down from a great height onto a rainbowed metropolis, a complex machine-city rich in detail. I am so high above it the streets are thin lines, and it is so large that is stretches from horizon to horizon. This, again, is mind needing to fill emptiness, and it is trying harder, and painting a more vivid image behind my closed eyelids. And while this is a strange and delightful experience, it is also a distraction. We are in pursuit of perfect stillness. There is within us a place where all the words and all the visuals and all imagined sound and other sensing subside into a deep silence. It is a big place, high as the sky, with a great peaceful silence running through it. I meditate because I want to be in this place. Why? Well, here words completely fail.

I could say this is the place where I may meet God and hear God’s voice. I could say that I bring some of that peace back with me into this world. I could say it is deeply refreshing, and while that is true it is also trite and inadequate.

There is a place where words cannot go, where mind cannot visualize, but where “I” still exist and can know God, in a way that does not happen out here in the physical world. I feel blessed to have discovered these things, and I believe there is more to be known within the practice of meditation. And this is why I meditate.

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