Last week we started an M-1 course at the Acem House in New Delhi. The course is an advanced course for those who have done the Beginners’ Course (M-0) and would like to understand the psychology of meditation further. It is the 3rd time I am part of such a course, and the 1st time as a co-leader. Each time the main challenge that the course leaders have faced is to make the participants reflect on their own experience of meditation rather than only discuss what is theoretically correct or incorrect. In the first M-1 course I attended, I found that it was one of the first times I deeply thought about what I really do when I meditate. Many others in such courses have the same experience, being able to see that there can be many different ways of repeating the meditation sound, many different ways of coming back to it and many different responses to the times when the stream of consciousness is uncomfortable. A fact that becomes clear to the group very soon is that there is more to the meditation than telling ourselves “just repeat the sound and let all thoughts come and go.”

The participants may be highly educated but the kind of discourse that is required in the M-1 is of a different kind than what is taught at school or the university. To be in such a group, on the one hand, means to look within and remember moments in one’s meditation, trying to feel one’s way into whatever memories remain of the meditation experience. “How do I act when the flow of thoughts is so intense that coming back to the sound feels like a great effort?” “How do I use my awareness when I realise that my sound is accompanied by a movement in the body?” This is a process of stepping into those areas of the mind in which there is little light on how we act. By stepping into these areas, we illuminate them gradually, sometimes leading to clarity, sometimes to more questions. At times the participant does not remember anything but a tiny fragment of the meditation. But as the associations flow, the tiny fragment becomes a more elaborate picture of the person’s meditation which may be a reflection of his psychological structures.

Discussing one’s meditation

On the other hand, one is trying to convey these dim memories of pre-verbal meditational experiences to the group, trying to find appropriate words and analogies to bring to the outside what lies inside. “Repeating the sound feels like dragging a heavy rock.” “There is a sense of immediacy in the way in which I take my awareness to the sound. No,impulsiveness is what describes my attitude better.” The meditator often does not know what his next sentence may be. He has put aside, at least to some extent, questions of what is right or wrong, and is letting his associations on the subject flow freely.

Discussions such as these open a channel between the inner world of the meditator and the group outside to which he is talking. Even if the focus of the discussion is meditation technique rather than emotions, the discussion may activate the same process in other members of the group, in whom something that is beneath the surface level of consciousness may now seek to be expressed. Some members respond by talking about their own meditation in a similar manner, some are more comfortable with maintaining status quo.

This manner of talking reminds one of the technique of free association in psychotherapy. However, the focus in the meditation group, more or less, is on how the meditator acts in the face of the ups and downs of the stream of consciousness. It is not just feelings and fantasies that are being discovered, but the acting self. By exploring and verbalising the nature of the acting self in varied inner conditions – pleasant and unpleasant – we come to a greater awareness of the acting self, and a greater opportunity to use capacities of it that we may have not been aware of without this process of sharing.

Over the years of meditating and discussing my meditation, I have come to feel that what is more significant for me is not what I experience but how I act when I experience it, both in meditation and in life. Perhaps one of the most important lessons from the course for many of us is that discussions of one’s meditation technique, initially seeming pedantic, can be a process of discovering newer aspects of how we act and being able to use ways of acting that were so far undiscovered, not just in the meditation but also in outer life.