Liber XVI is a meditation described by Aleister Crowley. The details and the entire sequence for the meditation are beyond the purpose of this entry, however, examining the first line of the meditation is a useful practice.
To paraphrase, one is to look within one’s mind as carefully as possible and find the spot in the brain where subjective experience suggests that your thought arises. If you can’t find that spot, then find the spot where you judge your thoughts.
I am fully aware that there is not an identifiable location in the brain where one can measure thoughts as they arise. This is of no matter.
Practice this a bit, and consider what this subjective sense means to you or suggests regarding the reality of thoughts.
Where do they come from?
This is somewhat akin to the yoga aphorism: “I have thoughts, but they are not me. I have emotions but they are not me.” Perhaps an aphorism that would bring some sanity to the world of division.
Nevertheless: does it mean anything that you can identify where “thoughts come from?” And if so, where were they before you experienced them?
On of the rather powerful technologies that I have found for entraining particular brainwave states is the light-sound machine. These use not only the binaural sound beats in stereo headphone, but also flashing goggles that stimulate the visual fields. Due to the flashing lights it is important that individuals with seizures should probably not use these devices, or if they do, they must choose the color of the light goggles carefully: refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Please discuss the use with this technology with your own neurologist if you fit in this category.
These devices range from the quite simple to the technologically sophisticated. Some, such as the newer David Paradise units also may include cranial electro stimulation if preferred. A number of them allow for audio input from your favorite music to be included in the sound portion of the experience. The newest versions of the devices actually allow the sounds from music to alter the light frequency for stunning visual effects.
These devices have multiple built in programs for specific brainwave pattern entrainment, and allow for the download of additional programs from the manufacturer. Some even have a computer interface program that allows for you, the user, to create your own programs. Note: for those of us Apple users, none of the companies have direct Mac compatible software or even downloads, although some of them allow Windows emulation software to allow for this function.
MindLightz is one of the newest versions which you can use from an iPhone or iPad based software, just buy their goggles and download the software.
An exciting element for personal change is the ability to record self suggestions to play as an audio track with some of the devices. Check this out as a possibility before purchase to find the ease of bringing in an audio track.
It seems that the effectiveness of creating some form of binaural beat technology was discovered on a practical level long before modern technology. The traditional Tibetan “Tingsha” cymbals or bells were slightly off pitch of one other to create form of sound wave prominent only when both bells sounded. These are commonly used in various meditation retreats announce the beginning of a meditative practice or to create a sacred space with sound.
As with many of these technologies, test the bells first to make sure they provide a relaxing and positive experience for you as an individual. They are a highly portable means of producing a clear sound that many find conducive to meditative practice.
Tibetan bowls also produce unique sound frequencies which may aid in reaching a deeply relaxed state. Some of these come in sets with tones specific to particular energies of the body.
We can take the candle flame meditation a bit deeper in terms of experience.
Notice is that after studying the flame for several minutes, intently, and with minimal blinking, it will appear either in the mind’s eye or vividly against a white wall [look away from the candle in this last instant] in reversed colors. A yellow candle flame will appear blue-ish or purple-ish. You can test this with various other objects, as was done both in the Indian Tattwa meditations, and in some Western practices as well. If you focus attention, as an example, on a red triangle, the afterimage on a white wall or in the mind, will be green. You do have to stare intently without much eye movement for a minimum of 30 to 60 seconds.
The Golden Dawn and other groups made intense meditation diagrams using these complementary colors together. They referred to them as “flashing colors.” You can experience the intensity, for example, by drawing or printing a bright red triangle upon a bright deep green background. In using this object for visual meditative practice, the red triangle will jump out at you during the eyes open contemplation due to the maximal contrast between foreground and background. You can create any object at this intensity by using the exact complementary color as a background to the color of the object. This effect can be so jarring than many artists painting in a more subtle style will avoid the exact complementary color as being too bold.
To move away from breath based exercises for awhile: here is a meditation loosely based upon a meditation from the yogic traditions that has the potential of leading to rather profound results.
Take a few moments to relax and allow your breathing to become calm and regular, but don’t really focus upon it.
After you’ve allowed some space from the immediate concerns of life, focus upon your foot with as much mental clarity as possible, but certainly don’t allow frustration to develop over lack of absolute clarity. Once the idea of your foot occupies your mind, mentally say to yourself: “This foot is not me. If I was without this foot I would still be me. What then am I?” During the final part of this mental statement, imagine that your foot disappears. Repeat this sequence with each area of the body: the other foot, the calves, the thighs, etc., up to and including the head, face and brain.
What is “I” in absence of the brain. . . . . ?
What insights arise from this exercise after a few weeks of daily practice?
Over the course of time, sometimes months to years, meditative practice allows the diligent student the ability to remain consciously aware at different rates of brainwave activity than that of waking state [beta]. It has also been observed that various types of drumming, from tribal to raves, provide a rapid access to trance states based upon the rhythm combined with overpowering volume of sound. In some manner these sounds alter brainwave state through a process usually referred to as entrainment. Once a particular brainwave state is achieved in this manner, it becomes easier to access the state without necessarily having to use the technology again.
For the individual wishing to experience a more solitary experience of binaural beats than tribal drumming, there are several options, ranging from CDs to light-sound machines. Robert Monroe studied the ability of sounds provided at slightly different pitches to cause an entrainment of brainwaves which related to the difference between the sound frequencies in each ear. This technology is designed to entrain brainwaves to more rapidly move into the frequencies often associated with meditative experience: low alpha to mid-theta. Most studies have suggested that people do not become reliant on these methods to reach meditative states. Rather, the technology can help them reach the states initially, but is not required to return to those same brain states in the future.
The alchemical tradition from the Western perspective developed a philosophy and system of spiritual growth which was shrouded in symbolism. Part of the reason much of the material from that time was communicated in such symbolically dense terminology was the need to hide the true meaning from church authorities. The work of Carl Jung, M.D., in the early twentieth century led to the revitalization of much of the symbolism and artwork of the alchemists. His suggestion was that the alchemists were encoding deep psychological symbolism in the spiritual imagery.
Many of the diagrams and images developed by the alchemists showed mandala-like patterns that were quite similar in form to the Yantras from Eastern paths. These images tend to flood the mind with symbolic expression, such as the image of the Azoth shown below. It can be used as a focus of meditation, much like the Yantra image from an earlier post.
The four fold symmetry, three fold symmetry and seven fold symmetry have specific meanings the alchemical literature. Dennis Haucks “The Emerald Tablet” is one of the most user friendly books to introduce the layers of meaning.
The aspect of focusing on mental repetition of words or phrases may be combined with focus upon an external image. In Eastern traditions, this may take a Mandala form, such as the Shri Yantra, below. To use this form of visual meditation, focus your attention on the central [bindu] point and allow your eyes to soft focus. Try to minimize blinking, but don’t let your eyes get too dry. When combined with a mantra, this can be a powerful tool to focus attention and still the mind.
Another quite common meditative practice across multiple traditions worldwide is the repetition of a word or short phrase. In the yogic traditions this referred to as a mantra based meditation. In the Christian versions, it is called contemplative prayer. This is the form of meditation practiced in Transcendental Meditation, with the mantra in this case given in the course of training.
The practice consists of choosing a word or phrase, and then allowing it to flow gently through your mind in a repetitive manner. When other thoughts enter awareness, and they will, gently bring back awareness to the word or phrase. Sounds simple! Hardly. Once the practice starts, the mind begins to bombard you with random impressions which form distractions. This is normal, though. No reason to become upset or feel that you’re failing, just gently bring focus back to the word or phrase. Try for twenty minutes once or twice daily. Monitor your results over weeks or months.
Although the contemplative prayer version of this meditation uses some form of phrase in your native language that has a religious connotation, most people find the practice more effective if they choose sounds without immediate meaning attached. Sounds that end with …..MMMMMM are more relaxing for many. Hence OMMM or AAUUUMMM can be excellent choices, or a brief phrase such as OM MANI PADME HUM is quite popular. Use any phrase you like, but try different sounds and see which work best for you.
Back in undergraduate school, I had the opportunity to take a class in Transcendental Meditation [TM], over a weekend during my freshman year. The concept that a simple practice could have potentially profound effects on both the physiology and psychology of a person was a stunning idea back then. The weekend progressed with lessons, audio tapes of the founder, and eventually the private revealing of the secret mantra alleged to be somehow specially chosen for me. A fellow classmate and I faithfully met each morning for the rest of the academic year and spent the twenty minutes in silent meditation. We figured that if we practiced together it would increase our likelihood of making the practice regular. I noticed throughout the year that I generally felt more relaxed and found the practice useful.
An equally profound realization crystalized later in the year, however, when attending a class led by the priest of our local Episcopal Church. He had described this as a course which would demonstrate a different form of prayer, called contemplative prayer, distinctly different from the more recognized prayer of petition common in church services. The Reverend at least provided some information that this earlier form of prayer had been quite central to the practice of early Christianity. As that weekend class continued, it became rapidly clear that the actual practice of contemplative prayer was in virtually every way identical to that of TM. The focus of contemplative prayer was a short phrase silently repeated, a mantra, but one in English.
What was special about this practice of quiet mental repetition? How or why did traditions so disparate as Hinduism and Christianity feature a practice identical except in the phrase of repetition itself. What kinds of benefits might accrue from such a practice? Does science have any information to bear on such an esoteric topic? What exactly is meditation, and what is the range of meditative practice? Good questions, and few enough answers.