I recently conducted a meditation retreat in the States with meditators from different meditation backgrounds. It was an intimate, experienced group, unified by practising the same sound-based method throughout the weekend. The experience stimulated the following reflections:
For me ‘Sound Meditation with eyes closed’ is like throwing a line into the water. It bobs for a while then gradually sinks as its weight increases. The fish of the deep become interested, and if one takes the line it is drawn deeper and becomes one with the fish and the Deep itself. However, the meditator has not left the bank, and is still aware of the birds, the wind on the skin, a bee buzzing past. Bestride both worlds, exposure to the Deep extends one's Field of Being and Knowledge.
My experience of 'Breath -pure Awareness- eyes open' meditation reminds me of navigating to a still pool. Gradually turbulences settle, the awareness extends and widens whilst holding very still. Fish splash gently, rising and sinking in the water, the wind barely ruffles the surface, and air and water are light and clear as is the meditator, whose Being has become transparent and insights shine like crystal.
However, it can happen that after long lifetime practice, the grooves created by any method may need an overhaul or re-vision. Sound is penetrative but can tend towards inversion and insufficient attention to the varieties of experience. In principle sound can be followed back and back, into silence, into the unknown depth, into mystery, from where the new and creative arises, but a tendency towards introversion might become a limitation.
Some Breath/Awareness meditation methods are more outwardly focused, wider, and are often described with Light imagery. Although insights arise, they can be emotional or intellectual in nature, and like reflections on water, lack depth or transferability into practice. Long-term practitioners may reach a stage of wanting more knowing-as-being, and the power which accrues from the Unknown.
But serious meditation is often equated with deep or extreme concentration, known as samadhi, jnana, dyana, and similar states. Reaching these concentrative states, can involve many forms of breath, visualisation, and sound techniques. Indeed there is a vast range of meditative states, every flavour under the sun.
However, my conclusion - which I’m sure I was told 40 years ago when I began to meditate – is that meditation is beyond any 'state'. Your 'state' at any one time, is a product of emotional, intellectual and physical factors and forces, and it changes. You can observe these changes, and describe them. Samadhi states end. But your Psyche/Totality has no end while you live, and is not a state. It ‘runs’ you, it is you; it is the whole living operational system, in and through which your states manifest. At the heart of your Totality is your individual Will, including the will to meditate.
When the psyche is activated through meditation, in an emptiness free of its usual obscuring ‘states’, it is experienced as a force, an arising, a power, Knowledge. But all these descriptions are effects. It is not possible to say what it is, only what it is not: it is not anything we know in our familiar world, or in any of our states. This compares exactly with the Christian Via Negativa: we can only say what the Divine/God is not. Otherwise 'God' would be an item in our agenda, limited to what we can grasp with our minds and thinking. Likewise it is never possible to grasp the ‘I’ which I am.
However, a meditator can dip into the Unknown, ride whatever wave arises in Infinity, and then returning, express it through a particular personal or collective organisation. There are similarities and regularities of course. We clothe the formless according to the cloth at our disposal.
I like the analogy of finding a lost bucket at the bottom of a well. After diving down, it is brought to the surface, but the actual finding took place at the bottom of the well when it was not possible to speak or express it. The announcement, the pleasure of having it and all that follows is memory, post hoc, not direct description.
Similarly with the dive into the Deep, except these depths are deeply satisfying, for they are the true home of the mysteries of psyche. There is peace beyond the turbulences of the world, and potency and energy. It is an enormous temptation to remain as long as possible, but pursued for its own sake as an object, a ‘state’ of concentration is established.
So for me, it is back to the fishing metaphor. Throwing the line into the water over and over, sinking with it, and returning to the bank one has never left. It is a method of constant generation, constant exercise of will to sustain the process, and constant immersion, allowing the Deep to penetrate and work its magic as It wills.
Action in the world which originates in this unity of Will is creative, and progenerative in the truest sense -- essentially human.