Is Meditation Needed?: Meditation and the Three Principles
Meditation... Like yoga, is something you hear about more and more, as more and more people do it, talk about it, or feel they should do it. But with increased popularity, is there a decrease in understanding? Like yoga, which has gone from a deep practice of mind-body-spirit integration, to more of an American-style exercise program, some the inherent value has been lost, as it's gone from an inside-out understanding to just a another practice or technique, a thing to do.
Is it about the mind, with no understanding of Consciousness – or a de-stress tool, or at worse, just set of clothing to take on to upgrade the self-image and talk about with your friends?
In any case, even before any popularity, you may hear people in spiritual groups or outside them talk about how much they meditate, how long they've meditated, or how long one needs to meditate in order to make advances towards one's goal, whether it's a short term goal or a long term one. They may do it to reduce stress, or in order to realize some special state, such as "enlightenment" or "awakening", "liberation", "self-realization" and so forth. Or they discuss and compare what kind of meditation they do, or that they feel bad because they haven't meditated: guilty or stressed because they dropped out of the habit, like someone that jogs and hasn't done it lately. However even the sincerest meditators can misunderstand what is going on with this subtle form of self-enquiry, self-therapy, self-improvement, or whatever you want to call it.
Meditation is usually seen as a goal-oriented activity – don't we always have goals when we do something? – where one tries to improve something, such as concentration, clarity of mind, calmness, peace and so forth, or fix something, like stress and conflict in relationships or work, or achieve something, the highest form of achievement being "enlightenment" or "Self-realization" (which is assumed to fix or resolve many things). As "seekers", we are seeking to fill a lack, or find something. And if you find or achieve that, you've "made it" spiritually speaking, and then maybe become a spiritual teacher yourself, instead of following one. (That last one is meant only half as a joke – there really is that thinking out there!) So you can see how this would plug into an achievement, competitive, or comparison-oriented culture or mindset.
So this "enlightenment" or vast change is seen as something that happens through time: some are told it could take 20 or 30 years of practice, or more than one lifetime.
But what is meditation really, and what is its real value? Is it a change in mental state, a brain state, and is it in the future? The spiritual communities in general seem to value meditation highly (including non-dual Advaita school of teaching, which stresses that we are already self-realized), and often see it as a necessary tool of self-enquiry and "purification" as it were, to undue the conditioning that clouds our true nature, and undo beliefs that keep us in bondage and habits that stand in our way, on the path towards realizing the true self. Meditation is done along with the intellectual tool and investigative orientation of "self-inquiry" or "Atma Vichara" (I'll devote another article to the practice of self-enquiry, which is very important).
On the other hand, mystics (such as Sydney Banks), and "direct path" advocates may say otherwise. They will point to the fact that we are already enlightened, already happy, and what you seek is who and what you already are, if you could only see it, know it.
A seeming paradox: we are chasing after our Self, which we already are, using some technique to get there, which is here!
And within a spreading global spiritually-based psychology movement called "The Three Principles", it's often mentioned that meditation isn't needed, is seen as superfluous, or even looked down on or dismissed as a waste of time. After all, if you've seen the simple truth that innate health and wellbeing are our default state, and have an understanding that it's merely Thought taking you away from it, you can easily drop the interference and return to "Home". You are your own teacher (despite the fact that there is an enormous and growing cottage industry of coaches, teachers, counselors, therapists, consultants and so forth that want you to invest quite a bit in their teachings! But I digress...).
My view of meditation is becoming more nuanced as a result of exposure to and discussion with those in both the Three Principles Psychology ("3P") communities and the nondual understanding, and in living it (20 or so years in the 3P field, and an interest in Zen Buddhism starting in the 1980s). Sometime around 1980 I had a profound spontaneous nondual type experience, when all thought ended and "I" died; the soundless words "life and death are the same" were witnessed in 100% self-evident certainty, and the small self dissolved, merged with the Absolute, Light, the universal Intelligence of totality, the One (I had no framework or understanding of what had happened, and got lost for quite a while, but that's another story...). These experiences showed me that yes, we are that One already, there is no separate self — as if this were a sort of dream life within an infinite Mind beyond comprehension to the little, illusory mind — and yet we seem to be living this life as human beings? A very puzzling situation indeed!
An Analysis: Being or Doing, And Understanding or Not
I see we have these two axis at play: meditation as Being or Doing, and understanding or lack thereof. So let's codify this so we can play around with the combinations:
As Being: a mental state, or a quiescent mind, or a silent mind, or no-mind.
As Doing: a practice, a technique or goal-oriented activity.
Understanding / Not Understanding:
An understanding of what’s going on.
A lack of understanding of what’s going on.
Combining these 2 into 4 possibilities, with some examples:
1: Doing a Meditation practice, with No Understanding
You sit with some friends and let your mind settle, and feel a good feeling well up as your thinking quiets down, and attribute it to the technique and new habits that need reinforcement from this technique. You may feel bad about yourself, or in a bad mood if you miss your meditation sessions, or even become "addicted". You might beat yourself up thinking you aren’t being good and disciplined, or maybe your mind gets scattered and lost in a stressful state and you attribute it to lack of meditation practice.
2: Being (in) a Meditative state, with No Understanding
Walking in a park, you start seeing so much beauty, feeling a happiness, like an expansive, spontaneous love, Life welling up inside, seen everywhere, and thinking it’s a reflection of this park where you’re walking, and your city, so you keep going back to the same park trying to get the feeling. Or you have some incredible sex with a partner, where you seem to dissolve into a vaster self of ecstasy and peace, and see it as the sex and/or the partner that caused it. Or you take a drug that seems to release you from all thinking and drops one into a (relative) peace. So you keep going to try and repeat the experience. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe you become addicted.
3: Doing a Meditation practice, with Understanding
You sit, meditate with some friends and let your mind settle, and feel a good feeling well up as your thinking quiets down, and understand it’s a quiet mind that’s allowing the reality that’s always there to surface. You’re able to see this happen at other times too, but the practice is a nice opportunity you took advantage of.
4: Being (in) a Meditative state, with Understanding
Walking in a park, you start seeing so much beauty, feeling a happiness, like an expansive love for life welling up inside, and understanding it’s a reflection of a deeper reality that’s always with us but is obscured by what we do with our minds. This could be healing or be an upward shift in consciousness, or if less profound, simply enjoying what is, Life. "Noncausal happiness" if you will.
The conclusion I draw from this is that meditation as a practice can be useful and enjoyable, but generally is not necessary. Meditation as a mental state — or more accurately, a non-intellectual understanding that delivers the goods as it were — is necessary, and more or less tantamount to what makes a happy and fulfilling life.
Furthermore, with a deep enough understanding of life, or for those naturally knowing or inclined, a meditative state is a common and spontaneous occurrence. As the underlying patterns of habits or learned tendencies that take us away from spontaneous living in the flow are abolished or dissolved, the natural living in meditation even when engaged in activities, comes to be more and more experienced, effortlessly. One doesn't even think about it. Life flows, harmoniously. It just is.
Curious to get other's perspectives on how they saw meditation in light of the Three Principles, I had some online conversations with various practitioners from the field.
Elena Castro, a Three Principles coach, said it like this, first quoting Sydney Banks, the supposedly enlightened man from which sprang (with the later help of some psychologists), the whole field of Three Principles Psychology:
From "The Ultimate Answer" (an audio CD of Syd Banks speaking):
"You are looking for silence. That is why people meditate all over the world, trying to silence their mind so that this wisdom will come in. Now, that's one way of doing it, and I am not going to say any more about that. But you know what 3 principles do? They direct you into it."
- Sydney Banks
My own experience, Eric, was kinda similar to yours: decades of meditating with nice feeling while doing it, having no idea what that really was. 3 principle made it clear what was happening while meditating and that that experience is not a result of a practice, but it is me feeling mySelf. Never had a need to meditate afterwards - I experience myself, knowingly, relaxing into myself regardless of what I am doing.
I found this in an early audio tape of a Sydney Banks talk from 1975, in Victoria, Canada:
I've been picked on so many times about [meditation]. It's a beautiful thing for your mind, it's a beautiful thing for your body, it's a little like taking a tranquilizing pill. The state you get from it will [inaudible] last two hours or who knows. But the mind searching for itself cannot find itself, this is the game of life. If you sit thinking about Life, you'll never make it. The mind searches for itself belongs to a form. And we're all forms playing the game of life. This is what we're supposed to be. We're not supposed to know what the game of life is. This is what we call the game of life. And what we're supposed to do is to try find our way back...
The Three Principles coach Lian Brook-Tyler put it like this:
Mindfulness can bring some benefits and like other techniques, is something that makes sense to practice when we don't understand how things work and we're trying to manage and improve our experience.
The Three Principles is a description of how human experience is created. It's useful to understand because it often results in an experience that feels a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. :)
And Elizabeth Lovius, another Three principles-inspired practitioner, who calls herself an "agent of change":
Mindfulness = prescription (something to do). Three principles = description. (Something that is/to understand)
And Damian Mark Smyth, "author of Do Nothing!: Stop Looking, Start Living (Volume 1), about the principles that create our inborn happiness, clarity and calm in business", put it succinctly:
Mindfulness is balancing... the [Three] Principles are Gravity
Do what makes you happy, and not because you should. See meditation as what you are – a human Being – and not a human doing. Use meditation as an investigation into truth and reality, because you are interested. And "meditation" can be whatever calms or silences the mind, including art, writing (especially on questions that are deep and paradoxical, where one has to go silent and listen for the answer, without expectation or agenda), riding a motorcycle, sex, washing the dishes, gardening, watching the sports channel, sitting on a Zen cushion.... or as occasional tool to "see" such things as a feeling you just can't seem to get a handle on, or a mood that you can't shake. Don't make it mechanical habit. It's a beautiful "thing", and life is not a thing!
And finally, draw your own conclusions (from experience, not intellectual opinions). I'd love to hear your thoughts and insights.
Nov. 11, 2020
Jan. 25, 2019
June 28, 2018
May 6, 2022
Eternally grateful for this blog! I am a “Spiritual Companion” and have been teaching a method of meditation called, Centering Prayer for over a decade. Even before becoming acquainted with the 3P’s, my personal experience with meditation was a constant mind battle. But because I’d been convinced that it was absolutely necessary to enter into the Oneness with the Divine, I refused to do otherwise. What else was there? Now, as an apprentice with the 3P’s Global Community, I have wondered how “meditation” fits into my understanding. Thus far, this article has opened up Insight and given me immense clarity. I’m so grateful. Please continue to update this year after year. The world needs to know there is another way.
Hi Ricky – Thank you for the kind comments.
What is a “Spiritual Companion”?
Regarding the mind battle, which is an interesting sport, I wrote an article a while back about this tendency to want to control the mind, which is a funny thing.
Good luck with the centering prayer. It sounds beautiful.
Spiritual companionship is a relationship in which a companion allows through deep listening the spiritual story of the other to unfurl. Through this relationship, the person seeking companionship is empowered to explore a deeper relationship with God, Allah, Tao, The Universe, or however you may refer to the Ground of All Being.
It seems to me that Sydney Banks had a misunderstanding about what meditation is and used it as a straw man to plug his own approach.
Thank you. I think we all come from our own insights and understanding. Although I can’t go so far as to say that in anyway was Sid “plugging” his own approach. He would be the first to tell you….”Don’t listen to me. Listen to your own Wisdom”. Since I posted my comment back on February 9, 2022, I’m learning to follow my own Wisdom that tells me that there are different forms of meditation and to practice what works for me. I’ve also learned that there is the practice of meditation and the “state of meditation”. Maybe that is where we get confused.
Joel – Apologies for the slow reply (and please take not of the new site address).
Syd was pointing to a legitimate issue, that of the phenomenal, feel-good, temporary effects of meditation, while at the same time he was pointing to, or trying to point to what was timeless and permanent Truth with a capital “t” – what he experienced in his epiphany and continued to unfold in his life (and life of his students). He knew, from the reactions of people, many who were spiritual seekers, how controversial this was.
It’s very interesting how many “paths” there are to the same Truth, and endless ways to find one’s way back to who or what we really are. Not everyone can simply drop thought or understand what is being pointed to by “universal Consciousness” or “Mind”, or what the 3P or Syd were pointing to, etc… and many need some kind of self-inquiry, possibly aided by meditation, possibly by a “spiritual” teacher. But of course this begs the question, what is meditation? There are countless things that people call “meditation”.
So let me ask you: what do you call “meditation”?
And finally, if one is going to meditate, shouldn’t we ask, “what is the goal?”.