The basic premise that I took from these varied but limited sources of information was basically that the mind was a movie-making machine, an illusion factory. That the world and its many forms were nothing more than maya that needed to be witnessed, simply observed with the intention of deeper and deeper detachment from the senses and the world, until finally the true nature of reality revealed itself in pristine clarity, this of course being the desirable state - nirvana, enlightenment.
At the time of this initial escapade into the so called spiritual life, I had just come off of a very severe alcohol and drug addiction, which I will not go into at any great depth here but needless to say the peak of this metaphorical mountain I proposed to climb was high, high above the clouds and seemed a very daunting task.
I would sit on a small cushion facing a white wall, cross-legged, light a small stick of incense, close my eyes and begin to focus on my breath. Whenever my mind wandered from this simple task I ordered it back to the simple act of observation. I treated any thought other than my focus as the enemy and was determined to sharpen my will of intention and slaughter this monkey mind.
The hour or so I would try and meditate everyday was, to put it bluntly, shear agony. My mind raced, my body ached, my breath faulted. No matter how hard I tried I could not free myself from myself and simply observe my breath. After a very short time I began to feel like I was going to war every time I would sit to meditate. At no point was there a sense of serenity, an illuminated light of awareness, a surrender into some longed for nirvanic state. Instead there was hours upon hours of saturated self, severe discomfort, and ultimately, frustration.
I would return to the Buddhist centre and ask the teachers there various questions about my meditative dilemma. They would always laugh, generally in a group, whereby I felt everyone was laughing at me rather than with me. They would offer some ‘words of wisdom’, which instead of enlightening me would leave me feeling like they had just looked down from their condescending spiritual mountain at this useless, now-ex-junkie wannabe.
Time after time I would sit, sure in the fact that at some point I would acquire the knack of stillness but instead all that happened was a deeper and deeper loathing for this thing called myself, and a depressive sense that I would never rid myself of this flawed human condition.
So for the next few years I would swing from periods of devote austerity, intent on denying my humanity, then the pendulum would swing to intense periods of sensual saturation with food, sex, violence and any other forms of extreme behaviour - apart from the dreaded drink and drugs of course.
These pendulum swings would set themselves up into a pattern after a while and I would binge in one extreme for a month or so before then swinging and spiralling off into its polar opposite. A very unsatisfactory state of being began to pervade with a deepening sense of duality and almost psychosis.
Then a couple of things happened to me that changed my life forever.
The whole philosophy and anarchisticly independent shamanic world-view seemed to fit me to perfection.
So there I was already mastered in the arts of internal journeying through years of drug use and withdrawal, now fighting my way through upper, middle and lower worlds; shot forth into the inner realms, not on a handful of LSD, or a heroin filled syringe, but on the rhythm of my breath to the beat of a shamanic drum.
The second thing that happened occurred as I sat meditating one day in a small apartment I was renting in northern Arizona. In a vision a small boy, dressed as a Buddhist monk walked up to me. In the past I would have struggled to ignore this, but now from a shamanic perspective, I decided to observe and even communicate with him as I would with any other allie in the spirit world.
He was beautiful, dressed in the deep burgundy of a Tibetan Buddhist. He simply stood there for a while, his hands gently clasp in front of him. Then he began to chant a three-syllabled mantra. As the sounds emanated from his lips it impacted directly into my consciousness and my whole body began to vibrate with the transmission of this mantric vibration. I too began chanting as my body filled with its resonance. After a while he stopped - the transmission complete - raised his hands in prayer to me, bowed and dissolved back into the darkness.
I have never shared that mantra with anyone, nor will I. It was a gift given to me and I have chanted it now for the past twenty years. It has completely transformed my attitude to meditation and has brought me to many a peak and, dare I say, enlightened moments. The irony of a Buddhist monk from the spirit world transmitting a chant to me - and its subsequent revelations - considering my previous experience at the Buddhist centre, is not lost on me. I now consider this chant my calling song to the universe. Whenever I am stressed, in pain, or even when I am asleep and having a nightmare, my consciousness returns to this mantra and it carries and protects me through whatever situation I find myself in.
As I said before these two experiences changed my entire attitude to the way I come to my meditative practice.
For a long time now I have dropped all previous teachings on how to meditate and just considered how I would approach meditation if I had no preconceived ideas of how it ‘should’ be done. I figured that this would be a more authentic engagement with a truthful and honest experience of myself and the universe. Dropping all notions that I had previously been taught - that somehow my mind was bad, that the world was illusion and that my desires and dreams were the cause of my suffering - I would instead enter every meditation from a more shamanic viewpoint to converse with myself, and see how deep into my internal reality I could wander, exploring whatever I discovered there.
Nowadays my life’s work is spirit; I'm either working with people in one-to-one sessions or in a group setting. I continually journey and work with my Allies, trying to maintain the tender balance between the three worlds, and I meditate for only for 20 minutes a day. I simply sit, breath, gently chant and allow whatever needs to be there, completely uncensored.
The funny thing is now I allow everything, the all of who I am, in a true shamanic sense I journey beyond myself, into the fundamental floor of being, and consistently dissolve into an ever pervading blue light, pure awareness.
It’s so simple, all of itself becomes silent with an empty fullness. I reach the distant shore that the Buddhists were trying to tell me when I first started but not through ascetic denial but from shamanic embrace until even the chant disappears into everything.
Maybe I can explain a little easier and it may help you...
I understand that it can be confusing at first, so bless you with your meditations...
When you sit for say 10 to 20 minutes, just be there, with everything that's going on for you. Don't try and stop your thoughts, or stop anything. If you can just breathe into whatever you are feeling or thinking, just get into it. In other words simply learn to be present with however you are in that moment. Forget about anything you may have read or learnt about meditation, just really be with yourself.
Let your mind wonder, go with it, breathe into it. Let yourself feel, feel it, go into it. Let yourself think about past, present or future, be with it.
Come to your seat with the attitude of exploration and adventure instead of austerity and measure. So for 20 minutes, simply learn how to be with yourself with whatever’s going on. Now, while being with Self, every now and then (and only when you can remember, or feel to do it) begin the chant. Not so you must follow it or strictly adhere to it but rather simply enjoy it.
As your thoughts, feelings or even a quiet centeredness may arise, stop chanting and go deeply into that, with no pressure to return to the chant. Just breathe deeply into what ever arises, get really into yourself. Then when you again feel 'oh yes, it would be nice to chant now', begin the chant for as long as it arises.
Learn to more and more uncensor yourself and simply go with what is, and definitely don't try to stop the mind chattering - you'll loose every time!
So this is what in turn may occur after a while of experimenting...
More and more you'll accept and simply enjoy yourself, be that the pain or the pleasure.
More and more the simple joy of chanting will arise and you'll get more into it.
After a time even the chanting may stop by itself and you'll be left simply in the all loving presence of yourself, in which case just go with that.
After a while longer the thoughts and feelings of Self will even begin to dissolve
And ultimately… Well, that's for you to discover!
Bless you, may this inspire your presence in each moment!