Extreme meditation. Sounds catchy, right? Something new, something next, something…extreme. Well, there is nothing extreme except perhaps the level of intention one brings to the task. Because there comes a time in your practice when it seems that your search for God, reality, It – whatever the word is that you use to describe the Thing you are looking for when you look within – there comes a place where it seems you can go no further. It is like a wall, a barrier between you and that ultimate something that you believe is there but cannot quite touch.
Most people do not even know there is such a place. I am not being elitist or egotistical when I say this – it is simply the fact. For most, the world we live in – the world of sight, sound, smells, tastes, and sensations – is the only world there is. Around the edges of that world, there may be intuitions, hunches, and maybe even some quaint superstitions, but for the most part, the world of everyday experience is the only “real” world; anything else is not only “unreal” but delusional. And this is what separates such people from mystics. Mystics know there is more. They may not have experienced it yet to their satisfaction, but the knowing is what drives them in their search.
There is a story by the science-fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, that illustrates this difference beautifully. A spaceship carrying thousands of people has left Earth on a voyage that will take many generations to accomplish, ostensibly to explore the worlds around the nearest star, Alpha Centuri. What the astronaut population does not know is that the journey is a one-way trip, sort of like the forced migration to Australia in the 1700’s – they are the literal outcasts of the world they are leaving behind. Along the way, there is a failed mutiny, and the rebellious ones flee to the upper decks, which due to the cylindrical shape of the vessel have less and less gravity the closer one gets to the core. Once there, they could travel to the far end of the cylinder to the observation deck, the only place in the entire spaceship where outer space is visible.
Unfortunately, all those old enough to remember where they were from were killed in the fighting, leaving the children to grow up on their own knowing nothing of the nature of their mission or the craft they inhabit. They struggle for mere survival. Their world consists entirely of decks, hallways, cabins, common rooms, and steel bulkheads. The outermost bulkhead, the one past which there are no others, is simply the end of reality for them. They not only accept it as such, but the very notion that something might exist on the other side of the hull is beyond the capacity of their imagination. The question is un-askable.
But one of them finally and with great trials and tribulations, makes his way to the upper decks, is taken in by the inhabitants (called the Muties because of the mutations they suffered from radiation during their exile) who appear as hideous and frightening creatures to our hero. He is escorted in a kind of initiation ritual to the observation deck. There he is confronted with reality for the first time, an experience so overwhelming that it sets his mind reeling and his body into nauseous convulsions. But once he is acclimatised to the truth, he sets out to return to his own people, those who have never seen what he has seen, nor have they even wondered about the forbidden zone he has explored. The story ends with a kind of integration of the two populations, the inner and the outer, those who have seen and those who have not seen. And for the first time their destiny not only becomes apparent but is to a much greater extent within their control.
The bulkhead. This is what we encounter if we persist in our meditation practice, and it appears impenetrable to our gaze. Something within us tells us that there is something on the other side. But try as we might, we cannot even imagine what that “something” might be. What we do not yet know, but what saints and sages both ancient and modern have told us, is that the “something” within us that compels us to find out is the same “something” that is on the other side of the barrier. And it is by a certain kind of spiritual osmosis that the two “somethings” are drawn together. But in order to make the journey, the hero has to go “deeper in and higher up,” as C.S. Lewis said in his Chronicles of Narnia, into the heart of the ship and straight up its core to the place of vision where the truth is unveiled before him.
What the mind cannot fathom, the mind should leave well enough alone. This cannot be figured out. Knowing, on the other hand, is deeper than the mind and is fully capable of turning your world inside-out. Joseph Campbell once said, quoting a yogi, that unless a man is as eager to find Nirvana as one whose hair is on fire is eager to jump into a pool of water, do not attempt this. Jesus said, referring to this same journey, not to begin a task that you are unwilling or unable to complete. In other words – preparation is key!
So, the point of this article, which I am reaching by means of pointillism (one dot here – one dot there) is that there is no such thing as extreme meditation; there is only your intention and how much will power you put behind it, how persistent you are in knowing that something lies on the other side of the wall. It is there, and you are seeking it because It is seeking you. Or, as the Sufis are fond of saying, “That which you are seeking, you are seeking with.” And St. Paul said, “We love because He first loved us.” If you know long enough and hard enough, that which you know will be made manifest.