Structure of Natural Meditation
A Course in Meditation
by Theodore K. Phelps © 2007
-from “Classroom” Day 2 pp. 52-59
When to Meditate
When you learn Natural Meditation, you add another metabolic activity to your repertoire. So, you should schedule it wisely with respect to the other metabolically sensitive activities, especially eating, sleeping, and exercise.
Meditate before, rather than right after, a full meal because meditation lowers metabolism while digestion raises it. If you are uncomfortably hungry at meditation time, eat something light, preferably without much sugar or caffeine in it.
Meditate before a period of waking activity rather than right before sleep because meditation gives the mind a boost of energy and softens and enlightens the heart. You want to put that to good use. And, meditating before sleep could bounce you awake in the middle of the night.
If you do strenuous exercise, keep it and meditation separated by half an hour or more. Either can come first.
*the label “[Technique]” indicates advice on how to meditate.
Weaving the Fabric
Now you have experienced Natural Meditation. You may be a bit unsure about it, though. Often students have questions about how to meditate and whether they are meditating correctly—or even at all. These questions spring right out of the fresh experience with the sittings. So, hang in there. Things will settle in place, but it takes some time and further attention on your part, especially in this first week. You will never have another first week of meditating. So, savor its many flavors.
One great advantage of learning from the written word is that you can go over these ideas as often as necessary. Please don’t struggle with the ideas. Just read them. Let them come into you the way a glass of clear water does when you drink it. And keep on meditating every day once or twice.
This is an art class. You need direct experience to learn art, not just verbal instruction from the teacher. It is especially like the art of weaving. The warp or foundation of the fabric is the personal experience we have when meditating, and the weft or yarns are the ideas and techniques we get from listening and reading. Without the warp of meditation, the weaving has no existence, and without the weft of knowledge, it has no color or meaning. You will be doing this weaving of information and experience on each of the seven days.
Speaking of that, let me check that you have meditated on your own once or twice since the Guide Card meditation on Day 1.
Q: “Uh-oh! I didn’t meditate on my own yet.”
If you haven’t meditated on your own yet, do it now instead of doing this reading and then come back to this a bit later in the day or tomorrow.
*the label “[Navigation]” indicates advice on taking the Course.
Mantra and Recalling
The Heart of Natural Meditation
Part 1, Structure: Mantra and Recalling
OK, let’s do some weaving. You have had several experiences of meditation, and each has probably been somewhat similar, yet somewhat different from the others. That is the way it will always be. Experiences in meditation vary from day to day like the weather.
I will start out talking about the “rules” or “agenda” as well as the all-important style we must bring to it (one of graceful acceptance). Only gradually and tentatively will I begin to talk about the flavors and feelings of the meditative experience because those are so subjective and vary from sitting to sitting. I am careful about the way I talk about the inside of meditation, and you will want to be careful in hearing my meaning. We need to talk about what goes on inside meditation in order to become skilled in it, yet we do not want to talk about it in overly concrete and colorful terms, because those terms may not be accurate for you at this time—or ever.
At the same time I do not want you to think that the experience of meditation can be just anything. The experience does have a direction, and it does take us into the unique territory of expanded consciousness for which meditation is famous. If you spend enough time hanging out in this territory, soaking in its warmth, you will be changed forever. The change will be profound and helpfully supportive of all that you do. You can call the change whatever you like, and if you want to call it “enlightenment,” that would be fine with me.
Recall the phrase...
Recall the phrase “I am” every few moments letting thoughts flow easily.
A meditation word or phrase, such as “I am,” is called a mantra (pronounced mahn-truh), which is a term from India. Our mantra for the course is I am. At the end of today’s lesson, you will read The 10-Step Agenda of a Sitting (Chapter 1) and see that step 5 is, “Recall a thought or word…” This phrasing allows the meditator to use a variety of mantras. And, yes, you may change your mantra. But don’t even give it a second thought unless you have already felt a distinct need to change it and have some idea about what would work. If you have any doubt about it, leave the mantra as I am—even if your first (or preferred) language is not English. In Natural Meditation, we don’t need to find special meaning or significance in the mantra. The value of our sittings comes from the meditative function, not the mantra. Of course, it does matter how we use the mantra, and that’s what today’s lesson will focus on.
Without doing anything to it...
Recall the mantra without doing anything to it.
Without doing anything to it. That is the key to keeping this going for minutes on end. Now, the 10-Step Agenda uses a condensed instructional style, somewhat like a recipe. So, let’s take a closer look at what it is talking about. Let’s consider what it could mean to recall something without doing anything to it. Understanding this is the key to meditating naturally.
When we say “recall”, we mean “bring to mind” as we do when we recall something we already know, like our name.
The mantra doesn’t even have to appear in the mind’s eye or sound in the mind’s ear. It’s a quick, calm, transparent snapshot—normal thinking. We just let it be itself in whatever form it comes, without doing anything to it. It really is normal thinking. We do it all the time.
Recall someone who is not here. It could be anyone at all. Just recall a person and let the thought go.
Notice that you didn’t need to think the name in any particular way. You might have made a mental picture of the person, sounded the name, or seen it spelled—or all three at once. When I just did this exercise, I thought of my friend Karen. I don’t think I even sounded her name. I just thought of her. But if I had mentally sounded her name, it would have been a faint inner sounding. I wouldn’t have had to hold it in my mind and make it ring like a bell: KAAAR-RINNN. I am sure the same is true for you. The only reason I mention this is that when it comes to recalling words and phrases in meditation, some styles aim at sounding them internally like a bell or chant. It would be like thinking of Karen by sounding her name, KAAAR-RINNN, KAAAR-RINNN, KAAAR-RINNN. But with a natural style of meditation, such as we are learning, we don’t do that. That is why I like to use the word “recall” for our action with the mantra. I prefer it to “repeat” or “think.”
*the label “[Action]” indicates something to actually do right now in the Course.
**the label “[Technique]” indicates advice on method of meditation.
Do you see this point? Restate it for yourself in your own words and then write it out. Then, maybe you should reread what I wrote and see if your text still seems correct.
Heart of Natural Meditation Notebook
What you just wrote can be the beginning of something quite valuable. It was your own informed statement about how to meditate. I will prompt you to make additional notes like that as we go along and will refer to these notes as your “heart of Natural Meditation notebook.”
In asking you to write instructions in your own words, I am not asking you to invent your own style or method. This is not the time for that. You will seek to understand what I am saying and then make it come alive in your own understanding by putting it into your own words, as if translating for a person who doesn’t have time to take the course.
As you go through the course, and over the coming months and years, you can return to your heart of Natural Meditation notebook to tune it up with further nuances you gain from deeper learning. It will also be useful in framing questions to a meditation teacher.
Recall It Again
Step 6 of the 10-Step Agenda says,
“Recall it again and then whenever awareness allows.”
This instruction has two pieces. The first and most obvious part is something we could have guessed—that we are to recall the mantra and then keep on doing it throughout the remainder of the meditation. The intriguing piece comes when it says, “…and then whenever awareness allows.” The instruction recognizes that there will be times in meditation that our awareness will shift and we will not be able to recall the mantra.
That should match your experience. Right? If not, you are trying too hard and need to lighten up.
Step 6 implies that a shift in awareness is OK. And indeed it is. Following the open, accepting inner intention implied by this instruction is critical if we are to allow this to be a natural process. We will talk more about it in Day 3, and you can read a lot more about it in Chapter 3, Thoughts and Wandering and Chapter 8, The Inner Power of Intention.
Q: How Often?
Q: How often do you have the mantra? Should it go with the breath the way mine does sometimes?
That is one of the most common questions people have with “mantra meditations.” When using a mantra in a natural style meditation, you don’t worry about this. If it were important, it would be there in step 6. But that said, it is fair to say the mantra will be recalled every few moments, like the breath, but not always on a rhythm or matching the breath. It often becomes much slower than the breath and sometimes melts into a single, sustained flow. It can become somewhat like looking out the window or listening to a bell and can also melt away into simple awareness or get lost in a forest of thoughts.
In the canoe image I gave in the Open House, I likened this moment of recall to putting the paddle into the flowing water. The current and breeze are already taking us where we want to go. So, paddling is a light thing, perhaps even an unnecessary thing—unnecessary except to keep a sense of participation and to be part of the flow. How often do we need to put the paddle in the water? There is no required timing or cadence. The ride is the thing. And nature is doing the work. We are there to enjoy it. If you notice your mantra happens to be matching your breath at some point, just don’t make a big deal of it and don’t try to keep a connection between breath and mantra. Most of all, don’t think of it as a good way to make sure the mantra stays in place. All such aspirations to capture the mantra and hold it in place impede the natural process. They hold the mind in place. Natural forms of meditation open awareness to its already-existing expansive nature. The practitioner is interested in flow, movement, and transcendence. We will talk more about this on Day 4.
Don't try to become different
“Do not try to become different, to mentally go anywhere, or to stay still.”
Do you see how different this is from a method of concentration and focus? We do not try to make the experience be meditative. We do not hold tightly onto the mantra or our awareness. This is a chief executive’s style of management. We are not micromanaging this operation. We have our intention to meditate, we have set up the physical surroundings, the chair and room, the clock and the timing, and we care about what we are doing, but we don’t try to make it work. Instead, we think something like this:
“OK. During the next 20 minutes, my operations team, the meditative function, will be coming in and doing some cleaning and healing for me. I will let it do that. The work my team is doing does not require my constant attention and does not get its fuel from my repeating the mantra. So, when my awareness lifts naturally off the mantra, that’s fine. The work continues in the background. My job is to allow it to keep going. But, as soon as my awareness returns, I will again recall the mantra. I will not just stand around staring at the team. And, whether my experience during the meditation seems far away or right here, in either case I will not try to push or pull my experience to make it be more like something I prefer.”
Q: My other thoughts!
We will discuss this in more detail tomorrow, but the instruction does more than hint at this. It tells us to let thoughts flow as they will. Don’t try to become different by having fewer or different thoughts. Don’t try to go into a deep meditative state, whatever that might mean to you. Don’t try to stay still by pushing off thoughts.
Think about these ideas and write them in your own words in your heart of Natural Meditation notebook.