THE FOUR STREAMS OF MEDITATION
by Dr Graham Williams
Did you know that there are actually four streams in the meditation tradition? They form a complete package containing all the different ways you can apply the skill of meditation.
Calm and concentration
Calming your mind is where it all starts – finding and holding your mental and emotional balance. Your body relaxes and your mind becomes clearer. It’s the state where your mind, emotions and body are balanced and connected.
You are doing for your mind and emotions exactly what you learned to do with your body before you could walk, let alone run, ride a bike or swim – balance yourself. Both our mental and physical health depend on being able to do this, and so developing the skill of meditation is now recognised as being an extraordinarily valuable skill for sustaining our own well-being.
This stream also leads you to explore all of the deepening stages of meditation; those incredibly blissful states where your body relaxes to the point of sleep while your mind remains clear and alert. They are extremely beneficial for your mental and physical health as they release the deeply held habitual tensions in your body.
At the same time, being able to relax your body and calm your mind so quickly and easily enhances your ability to concentrate. This is why concentration and calm belong together in the same stream – the one enhances the other. The other three streams depend on this one.
The stream of Mindfulness is for maintaining your emotional and mental balance through all the activities of your daily life, no matter what you are doing – just like keeping your balance when you’re walking or running.
Obviously you can’t sit still meditating all of your life – it’s a profound misunderstanding of meditation to believe that you can only do it by sitting still. Mindfulness meditation does not depend on a deep state of calm, in fact it is counter-productive. It embraces your thoughts and feelings and keeps you connected with your body and what you are doing.
This is Embodied Thought where your mind and body are working together. It is the optimum state for using your mind and this is where Spot and Informal Meditations really come into their own. These short mindfulness exercises enable you to have control over your mind and emotions in the same way that you have control over your body when you’re riding a bike. You don’t fall over.
This stream also includes the techniques of Insight Meditation for exploring the big questions about our human consciousness. You can see how your mind works and discover that, when it is still and there are no thoughts present, it is like open space, clear and infinite.
Whereas Calm and Concentration and Mindfulness are dedicated to ‘keeping your cool’, this stream is dedicated to being warm; feeling good in yourself, opening your heart and bringing together a cool head with a warm heart. The exercises in this stream are also designed to build inner strength and resilience.
In Mindfulness you see how thinking is not a problem, it’s getting caught in your thoughts which is the problem. In Integration you can discover the deep emotions which drive your actions and decisions and, in the same way, see how not to get caught in them. You find you are able to harness their energy to sustain a warm bliss in your body. This can range from a peaceful feeling of contentment to the highest states of sexual ecstasy.
By bringing your mind and body into harmony your discover that not only is your mind open, spacious and clear, but your heart can also open way beyond your expectations to experiences of love which can embrace the whole of life on this planet – an infinite, clear mind with an open, loving heart, in a finite body.
Ethics: Meditation in action
Because we can think, we have the extraordinary ability to make choices and not just be driven by our instincts. This stream deals with how you make decisions, where they come from, and what you base them on. It’s not about lists of rules but seeing how your values form the foundation on which all your actions are based.
Values are something we learn when we’re so young that it doesn’t even occur to us to question them. How then do you develop a coherent system of values which supports your decisions and your actions?
With meditation and mindfulness you can become aware of the immediate responses your body has to everything – instinctively valuing every sensation as pleasant, painful or neutral, in other words as life-enhancing, life-threatening or neutral.
Meditation enables you to re-discover the language of your body and listen to what it is saying so that your values, decisions and actions can be based on what is truly life-enhancing, for you, your community and your environment.
Dr. Graham Williams has over thirty years’ experience teaching both meditation and mindfulness, is the Director of The Lifeflow Meditation Centre and an adjunct lecturer in the School of Medicine at Flinders University. He has written two books, Insight and Love which is in its third edition and Life in Balance. They are both available online. The Lifeflow Centre provides regular meditation courses in their city studio and retreats in a relaxing hills setting.
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