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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Spiritual Exercises and Meditation

As I get deeper and deeper into mindfulness meditation, and as I start sharing this with others, my silence meditation is also getting deeper. In addition, I realize few more things.

Learning about meditation is different from learning meditation. In learning about meditation  you have made it into a subject of inquiry, an objective field of study. That will be good to give you knowledge and will be useful if you are taking an examination on that subject. But, it cannot help you meditate. For meditation to become part of you, you have to practice, experience it.

This is true of other aspects of life and learning. It is true to about philosophy. You can learn about philosophy. But, ideally you have to make it a way of life. This is what Pierre Hadot emphasizes in his book on Philosophy as a Way of Life. This was what ancient Greek philosophers did.  In India we call it sanatana dharma, a way of life. According to Hadot, philosophy became an object of study in the west when it became a “maid-servant of Christian theology” after the period of St. Thomas Aquinus.

The other important insight about mindfulness showed me that our perceptions of the world and actions are based most commonly on our desires and fears. Our brain is made for those basic drives in its amygdala and hypothalamus and hippocampus. So are the brains of animals. But as humans we have the higher regions of our brains and language (prefrontal cortex, insula, speech and language areas) which make is possible for us to develop values. We need to develop these values to live the full potentials of being human. If we do, we will not be driven always and only by desires and fears. Now I can see why both western and eastern philosophers said that living without fear and desires can lead us to bliss in this life.

 We need spiritual exercises and reflections to develop these higher values. That should be the purpose of daily meditation. Meditations should be spiritual exercises, inner dialogues, thought exercises to locate ourselves in their proper place in nature – alone and together, a wave and an ocean at once, real in one sense and ephemeral in another (mithya of Sankara). 

Pierre Hadot points out that spiritual exercises should "involve the entire spirit, one's whole way of being".  To me, the words "one's whole way of being" should mean my physical body and the mind in their individuality as a person (the I) and in the totality as part of the Universe, in space and in time, in their historical dimension and cosmic dimension, in all their inter-connections and inter - dependence and also as they appear to me and as they truly are. That is a tall order.

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