Returning to ourselves
A meditation course is best done through weekly sessions. Such a weekly session can be a good way of reconnecting with ourselves. The setting is welcoming and completely safe. There is no pressure to achieve or experience anything during such a session. For a few hours we can put aside our worries. And because during each session there is time and attention for the body as well as the emotions, the heart as well as the mind, we can come to a whole sense of ourselves.
Though it is important in all this that we connect with ourselves without having to worry about others in the group, there is an added beauty in meditating together. Even when there is no talking, even when we have our eyes closed, we feel that we are not alone. By turning our collective attention to the inner workings of our hearts and minds, an energy builds up that ends up supporting us all.
Any true form of meditation involves the whole of our being: the body, the emotions, the heart, and the mind. But it is whole also in the sense that it honours our essential connection with other living beings and with life itself. And the two are connected because, if we are whole in ourselves, our relationship with others, with nature, and with the totality of life will also be healthy, sane and compassionate.
One way of looking at meditation is to see it as an opening up to the origin of consciousness in ourselves, others, and life as a whole. This involves the whole of our being: the body, the emotions, the heart, and the mind. It will include moments of insight, where we become aware of how we are caught in un-holistic—that is, fragmented, conflictual, or destructive—ways of being. It will also include moments of becoming ever more silent, with inner space opening up. Such moments of insight and silence open us up to that which is other, that which can never be captured in words or ideas, that which is always new. At that point meditation becomes something truly spiritual and sacred. Holistic meditation is the name we give to the totality of all this.
Connecting with our bodies and the life in them
Holistic meditation begins with the body. This does not entail any kind of exertion or complicated poses, but only the simplest of movements of the kind we make every day. It involves attention to our breath, and sensing the energies in our bodies. In this way we come home to our bodies, connect with them as living beings in their own right. And it does not matter whether we start out with a good relationship with our body or whether this relationship is fraught with difficult issues. We each start from where we are, and as we take a step closer to ourselves, things start to move and our relationship with our body changes in positive ways.
We connect with the body for its own sake, and help it find its own balance, because we value the body as a living being in its own right. At the same time we are aware that meditation can easily be obstructed if there is a lack of contact with our bodies. So we cannot skip this bodily step, if we are to gain a deeper sense of meditation. This is because when there is insufficient contact with the body, the insights and understanding we may come to during meditation can easily fail to bring lasting change. So it is important that we allow the body to let go of any old patterns of thought, any old emotional reactions, that may be kept in place at the bodily level.
So a shift we make in our relationship with the body can open the way to positive changes at the emotional and cognitive level. This will help us be more harmonious in our daily lives, and it will enable us to go deeper into our meditation.
Becoming aware of patterns of thought and feeling
After having made a connection with the body, we turn our attention inward. We do this initially by focusing on the body, the wellbeing we find in it, and what our bodily sensations are telling us. This part of inner observation flows seamlessly out of the body work mentioned earlier.
At some point we then may enter into a process of pure observation, where we do not try to change anything in the flow of experience, but follow it from moment to moment. This noticing involves the whole of our being, because we are interested in everything that happens in consciousness. But our interest is one that accepts whatever comes up, neither rejecting nor trying to cling to any particular experience.
Being aware of what goes on in our heart and mind, we may notice ways in which we are caught in things like worry and anxiety, frustration and anger, blame of ourselves or others, inner conflict or any number of all-too-human struggles. And often it’s enough to just become aware of patterns of thought and emotion. The mere attention may suffice to free us from their grasp, so that we can open up to life again both in and around ourselves. But freeing ourselves of our inner turmoil is never an aim, and we allow for whatever comes up to also pass again, because the inner world is never the same from one moment to another.
Some of this part of introspection, where we close our eyes and turn inward, there will be a guided inquiry into inner experience. At different times during the course, we will look at the relationship between the one observing the inner world and the thoughts and feelings that come up; we will look at the way our thoughts, feelings, and sensations are ultimately all one; we will look at what happens when we truly stop trying to change what we experience. And throughout it will be clear that these processes of thought and feeling are ever-changing. We will see that, though these processes of thought and feeling may slow down and at times even fall silent altogether, there is no end to the movement of life itself as we find it in ourselves.
Deepening our understanding of the human condition
Each session has a regular sequence. After having come together as a group, we begin by connecting with our bodies, and then turn our attention to our inner thoughts and feelings. This then gives us a basis from which to focus on those things that we have in common with all of humanity. As was said earlier, the holistic approach begins with the whole person, and does not see that person as separate from other living beings, human, animal or plant. In other words, holistic meditation is not merely an individual affair but connects us with the whole of life. And we are motivated to delve into the depth of the psyche not only for ourselves, but for all living beings, all of whom are at some level one.
In our inquiry into the human condition the guiding insight is that part of what gets in the way of a truly meaningful life is common to all of humanity. So there will be moments of dialogue, where we explore together our common hopes and fears, struggles and moments of joy. The aim is not to come to a conclusion or a blueprint for how to live, but to extend the clarity and transparency that is beginning to come into our bodily, emotional, and mental lives to those aspects of our lives that we share with all humans. If given a chance, any such clarity would then also begin to operate in our daily lives, making us more aware and harmonious in our relationships with ourselves, others, nature, and the world as a whole.
For each course there will be a particular theme, which can range from self-awareness to connecting to the source of life; from intimate relationships to our relationship with society as a whole; from nature to love or death or creativity. Doing a specific theme gives us the opportunity to connect deeply with a particular aspect of human experience over a length of time. At the same time, the themes are all connected, because they are part of the same human condition. And they point towards the same human possibility of a life that is truly free and a world where life can truly flourish.
Such an inquiry into the human condition is an integral part of holistic meditation. It helps integrate meditation into our daily lives. We do not start off with any particular tradition that would give us a sense of being part of a larger whole (say Buddhism or Christianity), but we do want to honour the fact that we are not separate from other humans or the rest of the natural world. In many ways human consciousness is one, and by exploring what is common to it, our meditation becomes more holistic and more relevant, in that it may illuminate how we live our daily lives. And inevitably, this will have an effect on society as a whole.
Connecting with that which is sacred
The holistic approach to life has a connection with the sacred. It is this that gives meditation its spiritual character. I understand the sacred to be that which is true, good, and beautiful in a way that has not been touched by thought. So, the sacred is not an idea, not something we have made or something we do. It does not depend on us in any way. But in it lies the origin of all life and we experience it most directly, if and when we do, as love.
For holistic meditation to be complete, it needs to both begin and end with a sense of the sacred. There is a link here with the understanding of true religion as that which binds together, that which unites all the different elements of life. But because we will not pin our colours to the mast of any particular religious movement, it is probably better to speak of spirituality rather than religion. Mediation, then, is not merely secular—in the sense of being only of the material world—but has a connection with that which is spiritual in a way that is not linked to any particular tradition or ideology.
So you do not have to believe anything to take part in holistic meditation, but it helps if your heart is open to the possibility of there being something sacred in life. That which is sacred is whole. Our connection with it is not the result of things we do or think, because it starts not from us but from out of itself. Such a connection with the sacred bring with it a holistic sense of spirituality, because it includes the body, the workings of our inner minds and hearts, our relationships with each other and with the world as a whole (including the natural world), as well as that which lies at the origin of all life.
Of all the elements of holistic meditation the connection with the sacred is the least explicit. This is because only a very quiet mind can come into contact with it. Words get in the way. Fears and desires get in the way. Even thought itself gets in the way. So we will touch the topic of the sacred only lightly, lest we distort it. But we may talk about life and death as two poles which we tend to keep as far apart as possible, but which in the sacred come together as one. And we may talk about love, to clarify the ways in which we tend to misunderstand its meaning, to clear the way for that which is truly other to reach us and touch us.
Starting where we are
You do not already need to have experience meditating to take part. This is so, partly because in this course we honour one of the most basic of all educational principles: any learning starts where you, the learner, are and it tries to go only as far as you, the learner, are ready go. Because there is nothing to achieve, there are no entry requirements other than the willingness to learn—and this, of course, requires us to come with an open mind.
Another reason why we do not need previous experience to meditate is that the inner world of consciousness is always new, from moment to moment, from day to day. In that sense, every time we enter into the stillness of meditation, we do so as if for the first time. So we all need to be beginners, if we want to truly meditate.
A true beginner is one who does not know anything about meditation. So though in describing holistic meditation we may mention some of the positive effects it can on our lives, it is important to remember that we are not trying to achieve anything. We do not aim for certain experiences. We do not make any effort to get away from the here and now. We do not even aim to become free of our struggles, because it is only by being fully in the present moment that meditation can come about.
This kind of meditation is, therefore, not only holistic in the sense that it involves the whole of our being in connection with the whole of life, but also in the sense that each moment is complete in itself. We are not separating past, present, and future. We are not projecting states to be attained. The endpoint of holistic meditation is always the here and now, because only the present moment is complete in itself: it contains the whole of life and the whole of time.