Also published on Medium, the platform for writers
STRUGGLING TO MEDITATE? FOCUS ON WHAT INTERESTS YOU.
At the end of two months alone in a Canadian forest, I had a profound ‘spiritual’ experience. It’s likely that so much time in nature brought it on. Leaves, birds, sky, wind. There was nothing else to distract me. Who knows. It happened.
Having said ‘spiritual’, admittedly, I’m not too keen on using that word. It’s grandiose and the sort of thing a hippy-bum would say on a Goan beach after too much charas. The trouble is I just can’t think of another word.
Was the experience amazing? Yes.
Was it profound? Yes.
Was it peaceful? Yes.
But there was something more. And after a bunch of conversations with people who know more than me, it looks like ‘spiritual’ is exactly what it was.
Here’s how it went.
Naff all spiritual stuff happened in the two months I’d been at the Canadian cottage. As a psychic medium, I’d expected something. Sure, a couple of dead people stood in the kitchen watching one evening but that wasn’t anything to write home about. Other than that. Zip.
But on the second to last day, I came out of another deep sleep. Lying under the Little House on the Prairie patchwork quilt, I heard a bird make a single call in the distance. I heard two or three drops of rain falling onto the tin roof from the trees above.
And that was it.
There was no thought.
There was no me.
There was no ‘to do’ or ‘I must’.
Or ‘I wonder what the time is’ or ‘shall I get up?’
I did not exist.
I was part of the bird, the rain … and then as the minutes passed, the wind in the trees, the lake lapping against the floating boat dock, twenty feet from my window.
I was nothing. I was empty.
I didn’t have a body. It was as though you could wave a stick through where my body was meant to be and it would just cut right through. There wasn’t anything there.
For the rest of the day, the feeling stayed with me.
Going for a walk, I felt part of the trees that stretched out on each side of the trail. I was one of the trees.
The next day, the experience persisted. I was the sky. The clouds. The air. The leaves. The rain. The birds.
When I tried to tell my friends about it, saying, “I felt I didn’t exist,” they looked worried, as though I was describing depression. But this was the opposite. I knew all about depression and this wasn’t it.
The feeling stayed with me to a greater or lesser extent. So much so that back in the UK I mentioned it to a Buddhist-shaman friend and he said it sounded like ‘samadhi’.
Having never heard that word before, I looked it up.
The dictionary definition was, “Perfect union of the individualized soul with infinite spirit. A state of oneness; complete absorption.” Lofty stuff.
It went on. Samadhi is when someone perceives, “… the identity of his soul as spirit. It is an experience (of) superconscious perception (when) the soul perceives the entire universe. … Samadhi is the state in which experience is whole, infinite, and single.”
That sounded more like a kundalini experience to me. You know, when the head opens and all of the universe and beyond is revealed? I’d had brushings with that in an ashram north of Delhi many years before. In an attempt to escape a choking heatwave I got a bus out of the city and washed up at the ashram where B.S Goel was the Guruji. Third eye. Serpents. Rotating spine. You name it. But this Canadian to-do wasn’t that. It wasn’t massive so much as gentle, beautiful and so, so quiet.
On further reading, “Samadhi may be attained through deep, continuous, and correct meditation. In this state, the three aspects of meditation — meditator, act of meditation, the object of meditation known as God — are finally united. Just as the wave melts into the sea, so too the human soul becomes one with the supreme spirit.”
I can’t vouch for the God talk, instead preferring the concept of Universal Energy. But I can vouch for this notion of melting and becoming one with … whatever it is that connects us.
The useful point the definition made is that this state is achieved through meditation. I hadn’t been actively or consciously meditating in Canada. But my attention had been taken up by everything around me — the leaves, the trees, the birds, the clouds, the rain, the wind. I was absorbed.
From a personal development point of view, this may have had a dramatic meditative effect, which allowed for a spiritual experience.
Firstly, nature is grounding and so being around all that nature must have earthed my base chakra without me noticing. And we all know that grounding is the number one proviso of spiritual development.
Secondly, intense focus on the likes of a leaf, would be akin to meditating on your breath or a candle. It doesn’t matter what you focus on as long as you focus.
A further chat with the Buddhist-shaman and he said there is a condition known as, ‘holding on to what doesn’t exist’ in Buddhist practice. This is where followers attempt to hold onto this very feeling of nothingness. I understood what he meant.
I’d had what’s called a ‘glimpse’ many years before, when I was anorexic. The reason I bring it up is that it seems the ‘glimpse’ and the Canadian experience both followed intense focusing on something, leaving no room for ‘monkey mind’. That jumpy thing that darts from one thought to another.
The ‘glimpse’ happened after walking down Whitehall, Westminster on my way to the Tate Gallery. It’s a grand, wide road that’s home to the Prime Minister and many government offices and ministries. I’d never paid attention before but that morning I was absorbed by the impressive architecture against a cloudless blue sky.
Musing, it seemed there must be some sort of universal consciousness for buildings to be built at all. Surely, I pondered, a stack of architect’s plans, a site foreman or whatever he was called back in the day, a heft of workmen and a flint of stonemasons weren’t enough? There had to be some kind of universal consciousness for a group of people to hew huge, magnificent buildings like the ones in Whitehall.
Past Whitehall, past the Houses of Parliament and making slow anorexic plods towards the Tate Gallery and I was overcome with what can only be described as joy. I loathe that word too but again, there is no other word to use.
In that state, I turned left off Millbank and walked onto Lambeth Bridge. Halfway across I stopped and looked left over the wall, back at the Thames and London.
At that moment everything seemed to be in its place. Really, properly, exactly, precisely, perfectly in its place. The aeroplane in the sky was in the right place. The red double-decker buses crossing Westminster Bridge were in the right place. The people walking across the bridge were in the right place. Even the barge carrying rubbish was in the right place. Everything was in slow motion and I could see that everything was as it should be.
Despite being desperately ill, I was in the right place too. Everything was going at the right speed. Everything fitted together as a whole.
I have no idea how long I stood there. Perhaps five minutes. It could have been 50 minutes.
Still standing, tears of joy streamed down my face and I started to sing Hallelujah. I’m not religious. Nor musical. A few days later, on talking to my mum, it turned out she’d put the Messiah on the record player at the exact time I started singing it.
Still in a 'glimpsey' trance, I more or less floated into the Tate Gallery, right down the wide stairs into my go-to cosy, noisy cafe. There, I started automatic writing. All these words poured out onto my notebook about Universal Energy. I’d never used that language before. I didn’t recognise the handwriting.
Whilst I’m on about architecture, art seemed to bring on something similar. During the anorexic years, I found comfort in visiting London’s galleries. Two pictures, in particular, broke through my tired soul. Paying attention to the minutest of detail, paying attention to the feelings portrayed within the pictures and their sublime workmanship, I’d crack with tears of wonder and then, here it is again, joy.
The pictures were The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca and The Death of Procris by Piero di Cosimo, which depicts a half-man-half-beast and a dog grieving over a dead woman. Even though the subject matter in the second picture was tragic, when I truly looked at the moving depiction of a satyr mourning, the dog hunched and watching on, even down to the different herbs in the desert earth and the light gossamer shawl over the woman’s body, I saw beauty and went somewhere other than tragedy.
Being utterly absorbed in Whitehall’s architecture seemed to bring on this ‘spiritual’ experience. In the Canadian forest, being focused on nature seemed to bring on a ‘spiritual’ experience. Concentrating on great paintings brought on something that might not have been as dramatic but was certainly ‘an experience’. On all occasions, my mind was in thrall to something other than my own thoughts.
After the Canadian trip, I took up a role at The College of Psychic Studies in London. A month in, I joined a meditation class led by Geoffrey Beitz. He guided us to focus on our breathing. No pressure. Just focus on your breath. In and out. In and out. He said not to worry about thoughts. Don’t try to banish them. Just sit and breathe. Focus on your breathing.
After a while, thoughts melted away and in their place came compassion. Good ol’ fashioned, Dalai-Lama-style compassion. I’d never understood what the DL meant until then. Even though I’d sat amongst monks in Dharamshala listening to the DL for three days, I still hadn’t cottoned on to what this monumental, peak word, ‘compassion’, meant. Was it sympathy? Was it encouragement? In the meditation class, it snuck up on me. It was the feeling of a very sensible person doing the right thing for another. It wasn’t an exalted and unattainable concept.
On we breathed. At another point, I’m not sure what entirely happened but I became aware of not existing.
There was no thought, no feeling. I wasn’t there.
Further still, I wasn’t there and something was there. A consciousness. This consciousness was still and quiet but … stable and solid. It didn’t come and go but stayed, watching, silently. It wasn’t judge-y. It wasn’t even seismic. It was just … the destination. There was no place after this.
The trite way of describing it goes this way. You know when you’re on a plane and you have a night flight? Everything has been done. You’re in your seat, you’ve had your food. The tray has been cleared away. The lights have been turned off. You’ve got your water. You’re just in your seat. Nowhere to go. It’s all good. You see the person three rows in the front asking for a whisky. You see the person to your left on the other side of the aisle get up for the loo. It’s just that. Nothing to comment on. Nothing to act on. Just being.
A couple of days after that meditation class, I interviewed Geoffrey for social media material. During the filming, I asked him what the difference is between meditation and mindfulness. He said that with meditation you can go very, “deep, to your spirit, to your soul and even further to the non-judgmental observer within … and freedom.” I understood what he meant. In his meditation class, I had gone further than not existing to a place of just … awareness and knowing … where I felt unencumbered by thoughts, the past, the future, anything. I was indeed free.
I don’t know why but I can access the feeling of not existing — of having no self — relatively easily now. The only pre-requisite is that I’m not stressed and it’s not noisy. The deeper place of awareness and knowing happens at night. Several times I’ve woken up to that feeling. I just was. No thought. Just being.
I know this all sounds like toot-toot blowing my own trumpet, but I’m saying completely the opposite. If I can do it anyone can. It seems that concentrating on something is the way in. Whether that’s concentrating on your breath, buildings or birds. Something that turns your attention away from your thoughts takes you to a place of oneness, nothingness and knowing. I don’t know this but I guess if you’re into motorbikes just focus on a motorbike, every inch of a beautiful bike. If you’re into cakes focus on a cake, the icing, the sponge, the smell. If you’re into shoes …