Some of you will think this post unspeakably arrogant. Some of you will think that I am merely self-deluded. There is no objective way for me to counter that you are not correct. But it's a subject that is incomprehensible to some, perhaps obvious to others - the moving beyond meditation.
To most of us who are or were regular meditators, the idea that meditation may or may not at some point in our lives become unnecessary or even inadvisable, is not one that is commonly held nor encouraged - certainly not by those whose livelihood, whose social position or even self-esteem is supported by the meditation enterprise. The majority of us come to it in the first place at a point in our lives where life without meditation, more or less what Socrates called the unexamined life, is either not worth living, or feels incomplete. Whereas Socrates was probably referring more to a kind of philosophical self-examination, the meditation which many of us have sought comes from both Eastern and Western traditions which encourage a kind of transcendence of the merely rational.
The traditional meditations - assuming we have a common enough understanding of that word to use it - of the West mostly died out or were killed off long before our era. The Druids and the shamans of Western Europe were annihilated by the demons from the desert in the form of the Christian Church by the end of the first millenium A.D., though they are rumored to have survived in pockets and in various schools of lore. The Church taught blind obedience to authority, and suppressed the pockets of revitalized meditative, Gnostic practices are they re-arose both from the traditions and from the natural inclinations of man who wanted something more than slavery.
There could be a lot of discussion of the relationship between meditation and prayer; at time the two merge, become the same. But that's a topic for another time, a totally internal navigation and distinction between inner and outer direction, a definition of greater subtlety than may initially appear, which is either best reserved for another time and space or left to the individual altogether.
While admitting the possibility of isolated and individual exceptions, sociologically speaking, meditation "returned" to America and the West by way of the East; beginning in the nineteenth century, for the most part, the teachings of the East, notably India, and to some extent the Orient, returned to the a West which was sufficiently "liberated" from the grasp of the Church (although arguably - as I will argue - subject to other forces just as mind-altering or oppressive or both) to consider non-Christian teachings, and to adopt them on a large scale. As a whole new world of prosperity and seemingly limitless possibility opened after World War II, particularly in the US, Eastern teachings flourished - from the "Zen" of the Beat Generation (check Kerouac's Some of the Dharma if you want to see how far off-track from "real" Zen this really was) to the more authentic but somewhat watered teaching of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (see Transcendental Meditation). America was a gullible wonderland for false teachers who were able to slip in with the more credible ones, into a culture which had no antibodies, no filters for these charlatans). Even in the case of good teachers with good intentions (see Sunryu Suzuki and read Shoes Outside the Door), the traditional teachings fell into a cultural vacuum and became lost, distorted or perverted when the original teacher was gone.
This is not the place for a debunking of American Zen - which I maintain is to some extent a theatrical production, and is definitely as much of a reconstruction of medieval Japanese practices as Asatru is of ancient Nordic or Germanic ones. Modern American Zen, regardless of its relation to the original, culturally embedded teaching of Dogen, has a lot to offer. Like any other institution, those who rely on it for their identity or sustenance - the Priest class or its lay equivalent - pose a separate issue. Those who of necessity seem personal gain, even in the most non-materialistic sense, in issues so central to the self-realization of practitioners, always pose a danger, albeit sometimes unconsciously. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that direct and unfiltered meditation upon the "self" and ultimately through the "self" is a necessary step in liberation from what William Burroughs calls Control.
I stopped doing zazen meditation in the formal sense a bit over a year ago, several years ago after the activity in which I was engaged, on a subjective level, had become something entirely different anyway. Meanwhile over the last few years I had become engaged in Asatru, largely as a result of realizations I had during zazen. I hesitate to dwell too much on my subjective experience, both because of its intensely personal nature (which leads to and constitutes a kind of vulnerability) and because of its necessary uniqueness; I would and should not expect anyone else to duplicate my experience. Nonetheless, it has become clear to me on a level of intuitive perception that others have had experiences which are similar in type and direction, if not in content.
To put it briefly and in the context of a metaphor I have used often: after long periods of zazen (and again, this is for me) at some point the self - the consciously and socially formed sense of self, of identity, what Ramana Maharshi calls the I-thought, not just drops off, but breaks up. I tend to visualize it in reconstruction as the self exploding into a mass of ball bearings which go bouncing across the concrete floor of sheer being/nothingess. That is when one, or at least I, perceive(d) emptiness. But upon sticking with that - with staring into Emptiness, I came "in time" (or outside of it) to see another self, which I saw as a true self, emerging from behind the curtain.
One could certainly argue - and the argument has been made to me, rest assured - that the new Self I saw is false, and there will be a series of others behind him. The Zen metaphor is of an onion, which is pealed repeatedly until at the center is, again, nothing. Perhaps. Yet I am quite sure that the second self, I saw, is a true self which exists at a totally different level that the one I started with. I am someone, after all. Some distinct. No concept has been more harmful to us, especially to children as reared by this society (or fertilized and left to grow randomly like weeds, more like) than the idea : You can be anything! Nothing could be further from the truth. For the most part, you are what you are, and that is that, and much of succeeding in this life comes from accepting that fact.
Anyway - I am someone! I have genetic traits! And more than that, I have ideas and perceptions that are distinctly mine. Things I've always known. Things I was never taught but immediately perceived as true. Things that may be true for me, but not for you. Ways in which I am much more like my family and those more like me, than others). And I live in a world that tells me that that the ways in which I am unique or different, are wrong and unacceptable. But that is just one more circumstance of the life, existence and current manifestation with which I have to deal.
My intuition tells me that I am more than just this one mortal life, on earth. It has nothing to do with anyone's spiritual teachings - it is what I directly perceive, and more, know. What or who exactly that is - is to be examined further.
But back to meditation. By the time I left Zen, I was already quite involved in Asatru. I think that to the extent my culture and my genetic pool's cultural heritage has survived, it is there - this despite the fact that modern Asatru is of necessity a reconstruction, and the understanding of that heritage should be supplemented by the understanding of parallel developments (notably both paganized Christianity, which is the basis of Western civilization as we know it, and Hinduism, which represents the flowering of an unrepressed Indo-European heritage which is yet blended with another, authentically Eastern tradition). Not that I am not fascinated by other traditions. But the proselytizing, Universalist nature of the "demon from the desert" religions (and the Universalist though less messianic tradition of Buddhism) misleads us from the perception that most of the world's religions are True for their own people. All the indigenous, ancestral ones, anyway. And pretty much useless for converts.
Asatru is for the most part a right-hand path. A social religion, like most of Christianity. To get at its essence, at one's own essence, for those so inclined, it is necessary to go inner, inside, via the left hand - to accept one's one uniqueness and existence as more than a social entity - to approach god(s) directly. There are such paths available; I am a member of an organization called the Rune Gild, but there are teachings, paths to follow, made available to all. Such as Edred Thorsson's Nine Doors of Midgard. The Nine Doors is.. well, more than I can say in this space which I am making a vain attempt to limit. It involves a lot of Rune work on a lot of different levels, and a lot of meditation. In accordance with its suggestions, when I took up its program in June, 2010 - pretty much simultaneously with my last participation in organized Zen - I abandoned any practices outside of its tradition, which is the pre-Christian Western one. I think I accomplished a lot. I learned a lot. I am not through with it, yet.
Yet for the last couple of months, I find myself not wanting to do formal, seated meditation in any tradition. When I first started meditating, years ago, it was often hard to make myself go and do it, because it was hard. Now, it's not that - it just seems hollow. Shallow. Nothing seems different when I "meditate" than when I don't. It's as if the process worked its way into my consciousness until the states were no longer differentiated. I could speak more about this, but I won't, because most of you have no idea what I'm talking about, or have already decided that I'm delusional. That's ok.
I know people who are seeming addicted to meditation. Something is wrong with their day if they haven't done it. I remember that. And probably it's a necessary thing; it seems to me from my experience that it is necessary, to get a "benefit" (which Zen practitioners in particular deny seeking, so words fail) to do it regularly for some time - and to do it A LOT at certain times. It took me the experience of long periods of meditation, day after day, to have the experience described above.
I do know of long-time Zen practitioners, teachers, who have after many years and careers in meditation, have abandoned it. And not in exasperation, either. I only did it for a few years and can't compare myself to those people; I know only my own experience, but I know it well. And I won't say that I'll never meditate again; I undoubtedly will. As life demands; I have no doubt that the universe will call for such a thing. I'm just saying that right now, I don't feel the need to do it. I'm very glad I did what I did. And someday maybe I'll do it again.
Please don't be a slave to enlightenment. Unless you want to be. But like everything, it can be transcended, and then encountered again and again, as the wheel turns.