Roadside Distractions

Somewhat to my distress, Meditation for Dummies by Stephan Bodian gets quite mystical in places. But on the brighter side, the author often expresses skepticism and counsels non-attachment toward the farther-out zones which some people report discovering. In Chapter 12 ("Troubleshooting the Roadblocks and Side Effects") he comments on "... what consciousness researchers call altered states — nonordinary experiences of body, mind, and heart that, though essentially harmless, may be startling, confusing, or frightening for the neophyte meditator." These can include, Bodian says, visions of "angels and other transcendent beings". He writes:

Meditation traditions differ too in how they regard such extraordinary experiences. Some teach that the point is simply to be here now — and anything else that occurs is merely a potential distraction. Another New Yorker cartoon puts it succinctly: A grizzled old monk sitting in meditation turns to his young companion and says, apparently in response to a question, "This is it. There is nothing else." If a moment of true awakening occurs, according to these traditions, it merely takes the form of a shift in perspective, without fireworks or flashy signs. By contrast, other traditions view extraordinary experiences as meaningful or possibly even necessary landmarks on the path to freedom and awakening. ...

That's a slight misquotation of the cartoon caption, by the way. As per NothingHappens and This Is It, the elder monk says simply, "Nothing happens next. This is it." But no matter. Bodian continues in his next paragraph with level-headed advice:

... simply approach the extraordinary in the same way you greet the ordinary — with gentle, mindful attention. Since the point is to welcome whatever arises — and in the process to awaken to who you already are — any experiences you encounter along the way are just roadside attractions. Enjoy them and keep going. If they become distracting or painful, you may want to seek a qualified teacher.

Alas, in later sections of this same chapter Bodian appears to accept the existence of mystical energy, "... kundalini, the powerful life force that (according to the Indian tantric tradition) animates all things and lies coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent." He goes on to discuss chakras, "energy centers", rather uncritically. Probably I should just skip this part of the book. Bodian himself notes, in discussing visions, "But the point of meditation as I teach it in this book is to awaken to the present moment, not to spend your meditation time exploring the endless world of altered states." Excellent advice!

(cf. AlteredStates (2000-02-03), DreamData (2002-03-22), Atheist Spirituality (2009-01-29), ...) - ^z - 2011-04-30