Meditation and the sea of life

By Monika Wirkkala

“The sextant helped me determine my position at sea. I was at an unidentified position in the Pacific, with no captain, and still I could find my way. But I had no map of my inner self, nor any course through life.”

It is easy to identify with the main character in Carsten Jensen’s novel We, the Drowned. He navigates unknown waters with ease, but experiences great uncertainty when it comes to his own life. What does he wish for – from everyday life, his career, relationships and the private realm?

Meditation is not about wishing. The repetition of a meditation sound, effortlessly and with an open mind, does not mean choosing a specific direction for ourselves. Meditation does not involve pursuing an objective or a goal. Rather, it brings us closer to the ongoing spontaneous activities in our mind, and to the resonances they generate.

Meditation is a means of creating an inner space, where thoughts, experiences and impressions have room to expand, and where memories, impulses and dreams can circulate. The effortless repetition of the sound initiates processes of change and eventually brings about a new direction in our lives.

Sea of life

The man at sea struggling to hold his course is a suitable metaphor for the meditation process. Imagine the mind during meditation as an inner sea. How would we describe the winds that we encounter? As gentle, fierce, annoying, or perhaps overwhelming? And how do we experience the hidden motions deep beneath the surface?

In a strong wind, visibility tends to be reduced. We become nearsighted, focusing on the challenge posed by the powerful waves. In a light sea it is easier to maintain a broad perspective and let our gaze rest gently on the horizon. The water also tends to be clearer, allowing us to be near- and far-sighted at the same time, seeing things in the distance as well as details close at hand. In terms of meditation, this means being able to take in all the various impulses that arise when the mind opens up.

Navigating

It’s impossible to “learn”, once and for all, how to navigate the stream of consciousness with a free mental attitude. Yet, sometimes we manage quite well, as we pass smoothly in between rocks and reefs, or drift along on the open sea.

It can be quite hard to steer in stormy waters or unexpected undercurrents. The meditation sound may become lost in the flow of impressions and therefore difficult to repeat. We are torn in different directions. Moods and emotions obstruct our vision. The inner sea becomes changeable and difficult to “read” in an open and effortless way.

The usual reaction is to do something about it, to attempt to “solve the problem”. We may try to change course by repeating the sound more vigorously or distinctly, only later realising that we are in fact concentrating too much, and that this in itself has blown us off track. Inner tensions build up, the free mental attitude is reduced, and the free and spontaneous flow of impulses is impaired.

What to do? What actions or attitudes could help us relate to the motions of our inner sea in a more fruitful way?

Dissolving distress

The most effective approach to meditation is to try and relate to things as they are, not as we would like them to be. The mind should be allowed to dwell on whatever comes its way: thoughts or fragments of thought, feelings and sensations, restlessness, fatigue, dreams, etc. By bringing ourselves closer to the stream of consciousness as it fluctuates between progress and setbacks, we are sometimes able to discover the inner dynamics between what we feel and what we do. How do our inner selves shape our course of action? How do our spontaneous impulses affect and sometimes disturb the way we meditate?

The path to calm and quiet is through repetition of the meditation sound. We adjust our repetition when we notice tendencies towards concentration. And when we discover the meditation sound is gone, we start repeating it again.

By redirecting our attention to the sound, we increase the freedom of our mind. The distress produced by fighting to control its motions dissolves away. When we are not tied to specific goals, we are able to navigate with an open attitude amongst islets and reefs, amongst all the feelings and impressions that so easily capture our attention. The sound and the free mental attitude become tools for exploring the inner selves that define our lives.

A wider range of choices

By using the sound to establish a free mental attitude, we give ourselves a wider range of choices – in meditation and in life. We become more creative and open to new options and alternatives.

Repetition of the meditation sound with a free mental attitude provides some calm and helps us navigate the unknown when we lack a map of our lives, like the man at sea. We may not always know where we are heading, or even what we want from life. But gradually we learn to appreciate how sailing into uncharted waters provides new opportunities for change.

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