Last week I was thinking of a story that arose from the Catholic monastic tradition. My flawed memory is that his time of year about thirty years ago I was reading Lawrence LeShan’s book How to Meditate but I cannot find it there, so I can’t properly attribute the source at this time. The story goes that a monk was new at meditation. He had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and was very pleased, seeing this as some advanced state of enlightenment. He related his good fortune to his mentor who promptly told him, “Go back to sitting, and if she appears again tell her to go f— herself.” This seemed pretty blasphemous to me at the time, but the image has lasted.
Behind this story is the primacy of meditation for meditation’s sake. The idea is that to free one’s mind totally also means freeing it of the images from the spiritual dimension as well as from the tasks of life: “Did I pay the AmEx bill?” and “Does the dog need his Parvo shot?” are equal to distractions of divine revelation from opening of the crown chakra. For instance, in The Lotus of the True Law, or Saddharma Pundarika, the Buddha, “sat cross-legged on the seat of the law and entered ipon the meditation termed ‘the station of the exposition of infinity,'” when a marvelous thing happened:
And at that moment issued a ray from within the circle of hair between the eyebrows of the Lord. It extended over eighteen thousand Buddha-fields in the eastern quarter, so that all the Buddha fields appeared wholly illuminated by the radiance, down to the great hell Aviki and up to the limit of existence.
So the draw toward meditation is perhaps that experience of “enlightenment” such as the Buddha with the curl modeled for us. I’ll have to say, that is what I anticipate every time I sit, and that’s my goal when I contemplate the station of the exposition of infinity.” That was also, by the way, the goal each time I smoked weed in the 1970s.
And meditation is often defined by our ability to anticipate and dismiss mental distractions. Dreamwork sometimes operates in a different order. In the dream we are presented with the images first. Then we write out the dream, and share the dream with another and associate on the image. We invite the image into the room. We allow the image to take form, to dialogue, and to instruct. We are no more master of the image than a chimney is master of its smoke. Dreams start with the image, the image comes to life, and the image brings meaning or experience. Meditation has a different directionality; we start with the experience, the image is banished or put to death, and undisturbed mediation proceeds. Of course, neither process is that neatly linear, and neither direction is right or wrong; I am just pointing out there is different directionality and different meaning. One thing happens if one’s aim is to banish the image; another thing happens when one is open to interplay or submission to the will of the image.
Meditation is a broad term to many people; perhaps a more narrowly defined term for those who have adopted a formal or regular practice for a number of years. In the mind of this writer, meditation and dreamwork overlap and yet are distinct: and meditation can be a tool to enhance a dream image, to allow it the live of its own much like an active imagination such as may be described in the works of dreamworkers as different as James Hillman and Robert Johnson. This morning, in approach of the New Year, it is my intention to allow an active imagination in a meditative style between the part of me that meditates and the part of me that dreams.