“What have I done to deserve this?
“Why does this always happen?”
“What is wrong with me?”
“Why can’t I handle it?”
These questions are part of a downward spiral that psychologists call rumination. This rumination is the falling in love with the night where we become preoccupied with living in our heads as we looked at in chapter five: “Oh, night more lovely than the dawn.”
When we ruminate it means that we are in love with our sadness and preoccupied with the fact that we are unhappy together with the causes, meanings and consequences of being unhappy. As being in love with the night, through this preoccupation we become trapped in the sadness and the very pattern that we are trying to escape.
So, another way to explain being in love with the depression or rumination is that we keep running around our sadness in circles. If we see someone running in circles we think “foolish,” and this may be why the definition of insanity is repeating the same action while expecting a different outcome.
Our love for the sadness of the night and the preoccupation with our unhappiness is the mental struggle that keeps pulling us down. In the beginning of sadness it is natural for how we feel to affect how we think but during prolonged periods of sadness, such as depression, we have turned this interaction upside down as we are trapped in the thinking about the sadness.
The good news, however, is that as thoughts are only thoughts, so also this pattern of thinking is only a way of thinking. It is not who you are: your true being. These thoughts are only thoughts about who you think (or feel) you are, and luckily thinking is not your true being. Therefore, the way out of this night is to change the way you think: by changing the way you think you can change the way you feel. This is the mindful path out of the night.
Having just gone through how the truth of your being is the universal essence of all religions and spiritual traditions – as the truth – in this chapter I will focus more on Buddhism. This is not because Buddhism is the true religion but more because based on my experience it speaks a language that explains more in-depth what I want to say.
Christians who really understand the message of Jesus arrive at the same universal essence in their understanding of God. Through the Spirit of God within, consciously or unconsciously, Christians go through the same process as I am about to explain through Buddhism.
However, for someone new it would seem that there are only hints in the Bible. Jesus tells us that “the Kingdom is within,” that “God dwells in you” and that “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” While this makes sense to a spiritually mature Christian it is not much meat to go on as there is no further explanation or technique to discover exactly what that means.
Here it is said that Buddhism is the most psychological of all the religions and I find Buddhism as a tool very helpful in that it goes deeper into the psychology of religion and spirituality. It is also said that our mind can be both our friend and our enemy, and Buddhism goes deep in explaining exactly why and how our mind can be our enemy.
Like St. John on the Cross and St. Faustina, the tool in Buddhism is also meditation. Meditation is truly a gift from God and its value and benefit cannot be understated. However, again this tool is not unique for a select group of people but it is as universal as the essence it directs us towards.
As explained earlier, the state of meditation (which is simply our pure state of being) is experienced naturally by many people not even meditating, and activities such as jogging, working out, bicycling, or even washing the dishes can work just like meditation.
This is because the basic principle of meditation is to help you get out of your mind and stop thinking too much. The basic principle of the mind is that the more you think, the more you will be in your mind but in contrast, by doing something you get out of your mind. So, whether you want to take the following spiritual insights and use them during meditation or whatever activity that you like to do, the goal is the same.
The goal of meditation is mindfulness, which is the seed of enlightenment. Over 2,500 years ago when the Buddha set out to end the suffering in the world this was the remedy that he finally arrived at. While for an outsider mindfulness or meditation might just sound like another word, the reason that this practice has withstood the pressure of time cannot be explained but must be experienced directly.
In my view, it is truly a gift from God or your true self and its benefits cannot be understated. Mindfulness through meditation is what medical scientists such as Jon Kabat-Zinn and others have identified and proven as the “critical ingredient” in curing chronic diseases, debilitating condition, and psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
Meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness is a proven treatment for depression and anxiety that while originating from religion is simply a tool of purifying the mind. If we see Buddhism or meditation more as a psychology it is easier to see the pure psychology of how to overcome the dark night of the soul.
To begin with it should be said that there are many different meditation techniques, and like within religion we also find that in Buddhism there are different traditions and teachings. Also some lineages like the Mahayana and Theravada teach conflicting philosophies, like subtle self and no self, but these conflicts should not be seen as opposing but rather as levels of teachings.
In my own experience of meditation I have gone through different techniques and levels ranging from meditation on a point, sound or word to meditating on the breathing. Also within Buddhism I have meditated through the visualization of a deity, to meditating on emptiness and to meditating on the very subtle body/mind sensations.
All techniques can be helpful and all levels can serve their purpose. For the purpose of this chapter, which is an introduction to meditation and the experience of mindfulness, I will describe a very simple three step meditation that I have designed myself to guide you into a direct experience of enlightenment through mediation.
These three steps are designed to give you a step by step insight into meditation that will then culminate in the final and fourth step in the next chapter that I regard as the deepest level of meditation and a thorough understanding of what enlightenment is.
Meditation Step One:
Find a comfortable sitting position either on the floor or on a comfortable chair in a fairly silent room or place. Sitting upright you should try to keep your spine straight and you can put your hands on your knees or upper legs. Then as you sit comfortably close your eyes and try to focus on your breathing: breathe in and out in a natural and relaxed way. As your breathe in and out you can focus on your body expanding and contracting or you can also focus your attention on the air coming in and out of your nose.
You will experience that your thoughts are many and random; one will lead to another and then another. That’s perfectly alright as the aim is not to stop thinking but to focus on your body and breathing. The aim of this first step is to take your focus away from your mind and bringing it to your body and your breathing, and as you focus your attention more sharply on your body and breathing, you will experience that your mind begins to clam. This is the aim; by focusing on the body and its breathing your mind will begin to become calm.
Try this now…
Meditation Step Two:
From doing step one you show have had the experience of your mind becoming calmer and this calmness should bring a lighter sense of being to your mind and also maybe even a smile. A big smile and a sense of freedom is a good sign, while if you have experienced none of this and no change, you should go back and do step one over again until you experience a change.
Having experienced a sense of lightness from focusing your attention on your body and breathing instead of your mind now makes way for the next step in meditation: letting go of wandering thoughts. As your mind becomes calm by taking your attention away from it you should also notice that your thoughts will begin to slow down. Again your thoughts will not disappear completely but by shifting your attention away from your thoughts you should experience a slowing down of your thinking.
Rather than trying to suppress your thoughts, the aim of this step is to simply watch and observe your thoughts. Your thoughts are there and that is OK but the exercise here is to try to observe your thoughts as they come and go. You simply let them be and by letting them be you become an observer of your own thoughts.
The aim here is to stop identifying with your thoughts. When you identify with your thoughts you will experience that you become your thoughts and this will feed them energy. However, when you simply let your thoughts be and become an observer of your thoughts, you will experience that as your thoughts come and go, you – the observer – is still there. Also as you make the swift from being your thoughts to simply observing your thoughts, you will experience that you are no longer feeding our thoughts energy and this will slow down your thinking.
Try this now…
Meditation step three:
As your thinking starts to slow down and you swift from being your thoughts to simply observing your thoughts, you will experience that your mind wanders from time to time. This is perfectly normal as one thought feeds the other and as soon as you enter and feed a thought energy it will grow. However, the aim here is to stop feeding your thoughts energy and enter the stillness of your mind from where you are simply the observer of your thoughts.
To help us be a better observer in meditation in Buddhism we find the concept of non-attachment. Non-attachments is letting your thoughts be by simply observing them and when you are non-attached to your thoughts it means that you are no longer entering them and feeding them energy. By stopping to send your thoughts energy and letting go of your attachment to them you are also stopping to identify with your thoughts.
Through non-attachment you will find stillness in your mind. The calm stillness of your mind is what some Buddhist call emptiness. This emptiness is not empty but full of the qualities of your true being: peace, joy, love, etc. The way to reach this emptiness of your true nature is to become confident as the observer. As the stillness and emptiness is not empty, you will experience that as your thoughts slow down or maybe even disappear at times; while you – the observer – is still there. By being non-attached to your thoughts, you will experience that you – the observer – is the foundation of your true being in the emptiness.
Now try to find your true self in this emptiness…
When you have gone through these three steps of meditation and experienced the swift from being your thoughts to observing your thoughts, it is time for a little insight into why this is important. Having experienced your thoughts slow down through the two first steps of meditation the profound insight of enlightenment is that as you change from being your thoughts to observing your thoughts, you are also liberated from your thoughts. This liberation from your thoughts is called the seed of enlightenment and it means that as the observer of your thoughts you have the freedom to choose your thoughts.
Another way to describe this freedom from your thoughts is surrender. While meditation is a tool to reach the state of enlightenment and cultivate mindfulness, the state of enlightenment is not an activity or an action that one can carry out. In fact, the enlightened true nature of your inner being is a natural state that simply is and you do not have to ‘do something’ in order to be what you already are.
Ultimately enlightenment is really about letting go, surrendering to who you really are and embracing your inner essence by being passive. This important point relates back to what we have gone through in chapter five on Embracing the Dark Night, where the embrace of the dark night and being passive in the face of your suffering is the only path out of our suffering.
The rumination is the preoccupation with the meaning and consequences of being unhappy and the root of this preoccupation is our patterns of thinking. By continuing to think about your unhappiness you are continuing to be unhappy and the path out of this rumination and preoccupation with your patterns of thinking is to stop thinking.
In The Power of Now, Tolle drives home the point of passive surrender to the dark night of the soul from the point of view of meditation. He makes the point that people who have found God through suffering, did not actually find God through the suffering because suffering is a struggle. While the pain is what pushes us to finally give up the struggle of suffering, it is the surrender and embrace of the suffering that leads us to the end of our suffering:
“Since resistance is inseparable from the mind, relinquishment of resistance – surrender – is the end of the mind as your master, the impostor pretending to be ‘you,’ the false god. All judgment and all negativity dissolve. The realm of Being, which had been obscured by the mind, then opens up. Suddenly, a great stillness arises within you, an unfathomable sense of peace. And with that peace, there is great joy.”
In essence this is the critical ingredient in meditation and mindfulness that cures our pain and suffering. Enlightenment as the end of suffering is based on this simple principle of surrender to your true being and rest in your inner nature of peace, joy and love.
But it is important to understand that as our patterns through the ego is trying to survive there is great resistance towards the surrender to our true being. This surrender can be the attachment to the pain of our depression but the ego can also resist through clever arguments. The ego, or our conscious mind, is like water that chooses the path of least resistance, and therefore, it is very creative in coming up with clever arguments to resist the change.
Michael was suffering from obsessive–compulsive disorder and depression when he contacted me. He had read another book of mine, where I also talked about meditation and mindfulness but somehow he had not quite understood what I meant by mindfulness yet.
This is what he wrote to me: “When I try to be present I see how boring it is and I feel like I have to get out of the present moment because for some reason my mind feels bored. Maybe I’m doing it wrong?”
My reply was this:
“Yes, the part of you (your ego) that thinks the present is boring is not real mindfulness – it is a thought. Real mindfulness is free of thoughts and the present moment is not boring but full of peace and joy. Mindfulness is your true nature and inner being and this is not boring. However, your ego or thoughts do not want you to go there and therefore it tells you it’s boring. So, you need to go deeper into the mindfulness and let go of all the thoughts.”
A few weeks after, he wrote back to me with great joy: “I have found peace! Through my inner being I can be present without thinking how boring it is and it feels so peaceful. I feel a lot better.”
This is what mindfulness and enlightenment does to you. When you truly understand what it is, not intellectually but when we dive into the direct experience of the concept you will experience the peace and joy of your true inner being.
What happened to Michael here was a swift in consciousness, from his unconscious preoccupation with his patters of thinking and behavior to a new consciousness where mindfulness liberated him from his patterns. This is the power of mindfulness in that it frees us from our patterns of thinking about being unhappy, and I encourage you to go through the three meditation steps or even begin your meditation practice at a center or retreat until you experience this insight for yourself.
On my first meditation retreat I had my breakthrough on the second day. This was a very powerful experience that left me almost with a sense of being outside my body for 12 hours. My experience of emptiness was so deep and strong that it was in fact scaring me. I had a very strong sense of: I am not my body and even looking myself in the mirror it looked as if my face and body was nothing but an empty shell.
I remember clearly leaving the meditation tent and walking up on a nearby hill, looking out at the view, releasing my arms up in the air and feeling: “I AM THAT.” It was such a powerful sensation that even today, ten years later, I still feel this strong connecting in nature that I am it – I am part of nature.
Now, I actually caused a little commotion as this happened on the second day of the retreat where the questioning period had not begun yet. Because my experience was so strong (or new to me) I became afraid of the sensation of not being my body and I wanted to ask: why I am not my body?
So, I put up my arm after meditation and the teacher asked me to come outside. Here he told me if I could wait with my question since we hadn’t really started yet. I agreed and finally when the question period came, I had lost the state and I was back to normal. I did think some time after what the last eight days would have been like if the teacher had been open to my question. But then I have learned that the questions dissolve into being by simply letting things be.
I tell you this for two reasons. First, as just explained many questions simply dissolve into being and become irrelevant after a short time. This is good to know as many practices and retreats are designed with strict focus on their goal, and a teacher will often reject or be unable to answer your question because he or she wants to go (or is) somewhere else.
This relates to the second and most important point: trust yourself. Of course, if you experience a serious issue and need to ask a question you should, but otherwise always trust yourself. As we finished in the chapter on truth; ultimately only you know your truth and the truth of your being.
Trust is also the remedy to the fear that I was experiencing. As we went through in chapter five embracing the night and our emptiness takes courage to surrender, and the acceptance of this surrender is based on love. The courage of this surrender is found within ourselves and not a teacher or guide. These can inspire us and point the way, but only we can make the choice of surrender.
Philosopher, Heidegger explains that to embrace your being in its essence means to love yourself. This is what he calls the “homecoming” – coming home to yourself – and in order for us to come home to ourselves, we must love ourselves. One of the reasons that I like Heidegger as a philosopher is that he calls for an end to thinking and thereby also philosophy. Thinking of being is thinking of nothing in essence as: “Being is the most universal and emptiest concept.”
Thereby, Heidegger understands the Buddhist concept of emptiness and he also understand how our state of mind is created by the choices we make in our mind. When a certain mood takes over our state of mind, “It comes neither from ‘outside’ nor from ‘inside’.” A mood is a state of mind whereby we choose to direct ourselves towards something and the freedom of truth or emptiness lies in letting go of directing the mind towards a mood and simply “Letting something be encountered.”
Letting something simply be encountered is the Buddhist technique of equanimity by applying non-attachment to what is being encountered within our mind. By letting thoughts be and not directing them towards a mood or pattern of behavior, we can now experience the freedom of letting go of what distorts and covers up our true being. This letting go then results in the openness to who we really are and leads us to our homecoming: the coming home to our being.