The word ‘mindfulness’ gave rise to a recent post [The Being of Here and Now] that examined the work of controlling the focus of consciousness, and how the development of that control, through ‘concentration,’ along with the the evolution of one’s ideal, can give rise to what Hazrat Inayat Khan called ‘contemplation.’ Some interesting comments were posted in response, but–perhaps from politeness or perhaps because no one actually read to the end of the post–no-one mentioned the omission of the third phase or exercise described by Hazrat Inayat, that of meditation.
The earlier post used the image of a person in a small boat, surrounded by heaving waves, beset by changing winds and threatened by ominous skies. Probably everyone can identify with that image to some extent, but in order to understand the final step, that of meditation, we have to step back from that picture, and recognise that the boat metaphor is not a description of reality. It describes our experience or our perception, that is true, but our experiences very often do not correspond to reality in the absolute sense. Imagine, for example, that one is journeying in a far land, and one day, upon going to a cash machine, one receives a message that one’s account is empty. Suddenly, one faces great difficulties, a disaster, total poverty–and one might have a sleepless night on a park bench as a consequence. But later one discovers that it was only a technical error; the funds are there, after all. For a time one had the experience of being completely penniless in a strange land, but in fact one’s wealth remained unaltered. In the same way, we experience anxiety and even torment from our thoughts and feelings, but they are transitory, merely temporary waves upon the ocean of consciousness, and not at all as real as we think they are.
There are different ways of describing the spiritual path. A religious person might say, “I don’t know if it is permitted, but I long to know God. It is that knowledge that I seek.” A Sufi might–perhaps–say, “I want to know the Source so that I can understand my own Self. By knowing the One, surely I can solve the mystery of my own apparent existence.” But however the search is understood, it originates from an inner certainty that there is more to life than the limitations and disappointments that we face in this world. Whether one longs for Truth, or Light, or Love or Perfection, or Self, the name does not matter; the seeker is always looking for the Absolute.
When we embark (referring again to boats) on the control of the mind, we may discover a wonderful paradox. On one level, we are exerting a tremendous effort of will to be simply present in the moment: to be honest, for once, and admit that all the thoughts and speculations in which we chronically indulge ourselves have little relation with the here and now. And paradoxically, as we learn to dwell more and more in the present, we discover that our horizon expands infinitely; unshackled from the non-existent past, and liberated from the shadowy future, we may learn that the absolute moment is infinite: infinite Truth, infinite Love, infinite Compassion.
From here it is only a stepless step to the stage of meditation, to relaxing the mind, opening the heart, allowing the mask of ‘me’ to fall away, and permitting the infinite to flow through, like a cosmic wind, without impediment.