They are for going beyond the tool. We start with a technique and eventually go through it. Perhaps the most direct path is silent meditation, which has many methods to choose from. Sometimes people feel they can not easily do this. With a little practice, some lessons from a good teacher, readings from masters – usually it comes – same as learning a musical instrument or any other skill. This skill has the potential to enhance all other skills.
One can join an established practicing community. The other extreme is sit in your room and use your intuition to make something up. Somewhere between these is a personal path, informed by enlightened others but accountable to your own true nature. In seeking teachers and practice communities – do look for quality and compatibility. Look for connection to the source and teachers who practice what they preach. – e.g. inspired, authentic sources with integrity and good vibrations. This is a tall order, so make “pilgrimage” a part of your practice. By “pilgrimage” I mean going out and seeing what others do – in your own town or far away.
Many lineages will prescribe one way for everyone -one way to meditate, one way to address your teacher, one way to plan your diet. This has pros and cons, but using your good sense and staying open you can find your way. Just choose an approach and try it, then adjust as needed.
Every being has unique qualities, and a unique path to unfold. You may need to alter a prayer or a meditation guideline or a ritual in order to relate to it more fully. First you try briefly to adapt your self to the described practice, and get an understanding of its principles or the nature of its transmission. Develop a personal relationship in your heart with the source of the culture and the creator of the practice.
Adapt the practice as needed, but don’t do it frivolously. Consider your motives for changing the practice and do what’s best to blossom your strengths and balance your weaknesses. Be aware of the changes you made and monitor how the meanings may change for you over time.
I have heard many people say “I do my own kind of meditation, when I – …” (insert: play music, play sports, go fishing, work in the garden, listen to the radio etc.) It’s true these can be done meditatively, especially after some training in pure meditation. Some people are naturally more relaxed and open than others and are quite meditative during these activities. Regardless of our starting point, further cultivation can take us to the next level. A highly evolved person just does everything “consciously”, but most of us benefit from some structured practice along the way, and returning to it from time to time.
Another way to work with these “meditative” activities is to treat them as complimentary tools – do pure meditation regularly and meditative activities also. Together these work very well.
Here are a few that I have found helpful: Singing, Bowing (Prostrating), Sacred Ritual, Drumming, Fasting, any artistic practice, Chanting, Movement/Dance, Asana Yoga, Pranayam , dharma study of Masters (reading and attending in person teachings), and contemplation/group wisdom techniques. These are the content of group sessions that I lead, and, alongside the main event of silent meditation, are the content of my own home practice.
Sitting in silence is unique in that you aren’t also doing “something else”. Because you have your full attention on “being” and “observing”, much can be revealed. Sometimes we feel we aren’t ready for that. Other matters may need to be taken care of in order to move forward. This is the reason why ancient documents from all paths include ethics, physical yoga, devotion and energetic discipline as part of the meditation process. All these can seem so engulfing that we don’t get around to the meditation part.
Experiential methods are the most useful for development. If you are actually practicing meditation, conscious talks and study of text are very helpful as a support activity. We have a tendency to underemphasize the “practice” part. Many courses, trainings and mentor-ships emphasize verbal and written descriptions of knowledge. This only goes so far. In a teacher/student relationship, be wary if you find yourself “pinned” with excessive lectures or being expected to focus on someone else’s perspective for hours on end as a regular activity. A genuine teacher will want to give you skills to do your own fishing.
We want to do something with our own body, our own mind to help ourselves grow up and see what things are about. With experiential practices we can go beyond our everyday perspective and have the potential to find something vast and profound. A core systematic approach to daily practice, with occasional creative departures and days off from time to time can be very powerful in unfolding your own personal conection with the Universal.
Many tools are taught to artists, yogis and monks. In the meditation lineage I was first involved with, under the direction of a teacher who had been a Zen master for forty years, we didn’t philosophize or study historical details very much. We practiced simple things in silence, exploring a less conceptual perspective. Ordained and lay people, men and women often practiced together. This way, lay people can be exposed to more defined spiritual disciplines, and monks (she monks and he monks) can work with everyday life things.