Meditation is the Practice of Dying

“The meditative experience is, to my mind, the practice of dying, the practice of letting go. The more you practice letting go, the more you begin to understand the journey of your soul or your spirit as it detaches from the material nature of existence. There is a river, and as soon as you unmoor the boat and you start to enter that river, you end up on a journey. Not all of us have gone to the mouth of that river, but I think we are all aware, in the meditative process, that the journey exists. As you go deeply inside your psyche you’re aware of the similarity of this journey to the journey of the soul after death.”

Bruce Rubin

Bruce Rubin writes, “The meditative experience is, to my mind, the practice of dying, the practice of letting go.”  That is the meditative experience to my mind, too.  Yet, there are two points on which I have difficulty following him.

The first is this notion of “detaching from the material nature of existence”.  That word “material” is tricky, isn’t it?  I assume Rubin means the material nature of existence as distinct from the spiritual.  But maybe I am just being a very good Westerner in making that assumption — for isn’t it one of our basic Western presuppositions that when we detach from the material nature of existence we inevitably enter a spiritual nature of existence?  And does Rubin really assume that?  Does he really believe the spiritual side of things is distinct from the material side of things?  Is he, too, being a good Westerner here?

However, let’s assume for a moment that the predominant Western religious tradition is right and we have — all of us have — a material side and a spiritual side.  We might call those sides “body” and “soul” to be brief.  Now, if we further assume the body is distinct from the soul, then it would seem to follow that the epistemology whereby we know the body must be distinct from the epistemology whereby we know the soul.  We know the body through our senses, but through what or how do we know the soul?

Well, I think it is obvious we would know the soul through meditation.  Meditation that is — as Rubin and I both understand it — the practice of dying, the practice of letting go.

That is the only way we could know the soul.  By letting go of the “body” — the material nature of existence.  For if the soul is distinct from the body, then knowing the soul must require an entirely distinct epistemology from knowing the body.  Right?

Ah! How wonderful that we have solved that problem in less than 450 words!

So, I can see where Rubin might be going with all this if — if — he is like any good Westerner assuming the soul can be distinguished from the body.  IF that is his interpretation, then meditation is the means of realizing that distinction.

As for myself, though, I cannot get my mind around this notion of a soul that is distinct — or can be made distinct — from the body.  So far as I know, I have never experienced anything like that.  Even in my most “profound” meditations, I have not “detached from the material nature of existence” — albeit, I have otherwise done some pretty good dying in my day.  There you have it, then.  The first point on which I have difficulty following Rubin.  Of course, I am not saying he is wrong and I am right.  I am merely saying our experiences differ on this point.  In the end, each of us must go with his or her own experience.

As you might expect, the second point on which Rubin and I differ are the ISO standard specifications for the g-strings worn by erotic dancers.  In my humble opinion, Rubin’s reckless interpretation of the specs would create monstrous g-strings resembling diapers, and thus lead to the worldwide collapse of civilization!  Trust me! You do not want to follow Rubin’s g-strings specs!

Ok.  I confess I made that up.  Please, let me try again….  The second point on which Rubin and I differ is this notion of a journey.  Frankly, I have not observed the meditative process to be a journey.  What I have observed is my brain trying very hard to see it as a journey.  To treat it as a journey.  To frame it as a journey.  But I have not seen a journey.  I have not seen anything genuinely progressive in the meditative process.  And, so, I must disagree with Rubin’s notion, “…we are all aware, in the meditative process, that the journey exists.” For me, giving up the notion I am on a journey is part of the letting go of meditation.

Again,  I am not saying one of us is right and the other is wrong.  I am merely saying that Rubin and I share some observations but not others.  Both of us have approached meditation as a dying, a letting go.  I suspect both of us have shared many similar observations, but on two points we differ.  First, I do not have any evidence from my meditations for thinking there is a spiritual side of existence distinct from a material side of existence, and second, I have not experience a genuinely progressive, journey-like meditation.

Naturally, both of these differences pale in comparison to the intense debate Rubin and I are involved in over g-string specs.  You see, anyone can observe for themselves, and hence, reach their own provisional conclusions, about such trivia as the material/spiritual nature of things or the progressive/nonprogressive dynamic of meditations.  But only an authentic expert such as myself knows for sure that civilizations rise or fall based upon which g-string specs are internationally adopted.  So, do not trust me when it comes to meditation.  But trust me with your daughter’s wardrobe.  Please.  For the sake of civilization.  Please.

15 thoughts on “Meditation is the Practice of Dying

  1. This is all complicated by the fact that there are so many types of meditation – some of which try to impose a journey, others that are about letting go.

    I don’t meditate much these days, but when I do and it goes well I find the result is to feel more alive, more aware of what my senses are saying, of the now poised between past and future, of the satisfying and infuriating thereness of the material world.

    The softness of breath, the eventual knee and foot aches despite how carefully you arranged the cushions, the warmth of the room, the uncomfortable riding up of that g-string…

  2. Hey Lirone! You’re spot on — as usual. Indeed, there are several kinds of meditation, and one way to categorize them is to distinguish between those that attempt to impose a journey and those that don’t. What works best for me, of course, is simply letting go. I seem to get similar results as you. So, I wonder if the two of us both approach meditation as a letting go?

  3. The best description I can think of is a “being there” rather than a “letting go”. Though of course, to just be there does require letting go of everything not there, if you know what I mean!

  4. I don’t know if I am qualified to speak on this topic but as an amateur Meditator, I believe letting go happens when you sit calmly and stare at an insignificant object and breathe, while you think about nothing. And by Nothing it also means you shouldn’t think about G-strings 🙂 I’ve been reading a little bit on Zen. Alan Watts is interesting.

  5. “it also means you shouldn’t think about G-strings”

    I’m kind of partial to the E-, A-, and D-strings anyway.

    Oh, you meant… never mind.

    – Emilio Litella \”0

  6. “The meditative experience is, to my mind, the practice of dying, the practice of letting go.”

    I have a REALLY hard time LETTING GO….but I think my latest post is actually the 1st STEP in letting go of my anger and sadness over certian health issues…

  7. @ Lirone: I believe I’ve noticed the link between letting go and being there, too.

    @ Dinesh: I think you are describing a valid and useful way to meditate that unfortunately does not work for me. I’ve tried it to no avail. Perhaps I was doing it wrong, or perhaps it’s just incompatible with me — I’ve no idea which.

    Alan Watts is very interesting, isn’t he. He’s had some influence on my thinking, and would probably have more of an influence if I study him more.

    @ Meowlin: LOL!

    @ Meleah: Here’s the link to your post for all who are interested: I could. But I won’t. I am glad to hear you have begun the process of letting go.

  8. There are many different forms of meditation. I think it is a matter of finding what works for you. Some people find no method that works. That is ok too. Or different methods work at different times or for different purposes.

    Nobody’s experience is right or wrong – all are equally valid. It is a very subjective area even though certain states of mind can be replicated by others if the right techniques are employed (the Buddhists are excellent at this with their investigative approach).

    Could the state of meditation be likened to Air on a G string?

  9. [quote]Could the state of meditation be likened to Air on a G string?[/quote] Close, zunuria. More like “hot breath on a G string,” providing you are using the proper form of meditation. I’ve been practicing Buddhism for 22 years and find that “earthly desires are enlightenment.” The best way to approach the Buddha nature within is through compassion. That compassion can be achieved in your daily life interactions with others, when you use the earthly desires that you find in common with another and enter into really meaningful dialogue. Helping another being find ways to overcome the suffering they are experiencing is the best way to live our life. This is from a Mahayana perspective. If you desire to become an arhat and gain complete freedom from desires, that desire is, itself, a hindrance. What to do?

  10. @ Zenuria: I think you make a very good point that methodless meditation is also a valid form of meditation for some people. Thank you for bringing that up!

    @ Leguru: What to do? I think dispassionate curiosity has worked the best for me.

  11. This just makes me desperate to hear what your experience of meditation is!

    I’m thinking of learning to meditate as a means to alleviate stress and learn to control or detach from strong or overwhelming emotions, e.g. depression, anxiety before an exam, etc. I’ve seen evidence that meditation can affect brain behaviour and patterns. What is your experience of its value outside of the view of it as a religious practice?

  12. Yes, I definitely agree. Meditation is the practice of dying. This is great if you are married or are in any kind of a relationship. If you are attached then when you meditate you have to let go in order to die freely. Each time you meditate you have to be ready to die that very moment. This is the only way that you will feel happy in life. When you are ready to die at any moment, have no regrets, no desires, no attachments, no wishes that you could do one last thing, then you are headed straight for nirvana.

    The longer you sit and observe the more attachments will float up, and you have to let them all go.

    This is meditation.

  13. @ Clare: First, please allow me to apologize for not returning much, much sooner to address your comments. I do not even know what happened now, but I do know that I am not always good at remembering which posts I have responded to and which I have not.

    To my mind, the questions you raise are in some way key to understanding meditation — at least the kind I’m familiar with. Since, to me, meditation is letting go or dying, it does not properly occur until one has even let go of secular goals — such as the goal of reducing stress. So far as I know, the only motivation for meditating that seems compatible with the nature of meditating — that does not seem to interfere with it — is dispassionate curiosity.

    In my experience meditation often does reduce stress, Clare — although it does not cure a biological depression. But I think if you set out with the goal of reducing stress, you will be defeated.

    Perhaps the most important thing to know about meditation — at least as I practice it — is that it is counter productive to force anything to happen. And if you have a goal, then that is no less than an attempt to make your goal realized. But trying to resist having a goal is also an attempt to force something to happen. So when meditating resist nothing! When your mind is trying to force something to happen — don’t even resist that, Clare! But observe what your mind is doing.

    I hope this helps.

  14. @ Nikita: Spot on and well said! Welcome to the blog!

    I would only suggest there seem to be other kinds of meditation besides letting go or dying. I don’t know much about them, however, because I don’t practice any of them.

  15. I think the problem some of you are having might be a lack of precise instructions. Ajahn Brahm cleared up a whole lot of confusion for me in his book “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” which is available at http://www.bswa.org and focuses primarily on breath meditation. The mistake a lot of beginners and intermediate meditators make is going on to the breath too early, Ajahn Brahm says that we need to establish a strong foundation first and not rush before building the “house of peace” or else it will sink in the sand. The foundation is awareness of the body and making it reasonably comfortable (smiling helps). Once this step has been acheived you are ready to focus on the present moment, you instruct your mindfulness at the beginning of this stage so that any time a thought of the past or future comes up you bring it back to the present moment. Then when the mind has stopped wandering to the past and future for a considerable amount of time you focus on the silence of the mind between thoughts. This means if a dog barks, you don’t think “I wish that dog would stop barking” you just notice it without making a mental comment about it. Once the mind is silent THEN you bring it to the breath, having established a solid foundation your awareness is less likely to wander. If your mind does wander at any point, bring it back to an earlier stage. For more details buy the book. 🙂

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