… Some may recognize that as the punchline of the old joke “What did the Buddhist ask the hot dog vendor?” The idea of being one with everything is at the core a desire to feel like we belong and to feel like we are essential to the universe and it’s machinations. It describes a transcendent type of experience that people with and without faith traditions have sought for thousands of years (homo sapiens only being on this planet for a few hundred thousand years, give or take). When we ask ourselves what is the point and purpose of life, where do we fit in, is there a plan for us we find ourselves on divergent paths. Some seek comfort in the idea of a loving God, of righteous prophets, of temples and cathedrals and communities of the like minded. Others seek this on their own, finding point and purpose in the natural world and the laws of Newton, Einstein and Darwin. My own path has had twists and turns which have lead me from Christianity, certainty in Presbyterianism, doubt as a deist, and eventually to atheism.
I suppose if you wanted to be very technical I am in a sense agnostic on the notion that there could be a higher power somewhere in the universe, though a lack of evidence for an intervening all all knowing God seems to me to rule out the theism believed in and practiced by almost all religious people. It was Marcello Truzzi who said “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof,” (later popularized by Carl Sagan and others) and the evidence for the validity of religious claims comes up short time and again. Since I do not believe in the theistic claims that religions make, I am left with being an atheist.
But the purpose of this post isn’t to debate religious claims or evidence for and against those claims (though I’m happy to have that discussion). I just want to establish where I’m coming from when I talk about my own experiences with meditation, mindfulness and transcendence. As I previously wrote, I’ve recently read “Waking Up: Spirituality Without Religion” by Sam Harris in which he discusses the ideas of meditation and mindfulness, and I’ve (more or less) followed his instructions for meditation.
I make sure I have some period of time (at least an hour) where I’m fairly certain I will be free of interruption (I’ll make sure Bogey is outside- nothing breaks the meditative mood more than a cat jumping on your foot to bite it). I try to make sure I’m not tired, but that I’m fully awake and alert, because it’s very easy to fall asleep in a quiet and restful position (and I’ve done that before). I don’t sit cross legged on the floor, but rather settle into a very comfortable chair. I close my eyes and try and focus on my breathing. I don’t do big deep breathes, but rather steady breathing and I focus on the rising and falling of my chest. I’ll notice how my hands and arms feel in the chair, and then how my head is resting, then my legs and my back. Just noticing the weight of my body in the chair. With my eyes closed I can make out light and shadows in front of my eyelids, but the room itself sort of melts away from my being aware of it. I keep breathing, tracing the breathe from my nose, into my chest and out again. I can feel my heart beating, a steady rhythm. In my wrists I can feel a tingle of my pulse and I’m aware of the blood flowing. In a few moments I’m conscious of the breathing, the heart beat and my pulse all simultaneous, a biological machine humming. My arms and legs feel lighter. I have a heightened sense of feeling how my clothes are touching my skin, whether they’re smooth over one part or if there’s a crease. The hairs on my neck and arms tingle. I’m breathing in and out and all of a sudden I am floating. Not really, of course, but I have the sensation of no longer being in the room, no longer sitting in a chair, just floating gently. I open my eyes and I see the room, but it feels like seeing it in a dream. I’m not sure if I can move my arms or legs. I close my eyes again. I move my fingers and toes, stretching them out, and then my arms and legs. I roll my head on my shoulders and open my eyes. It’s over and I’m just sitting in the chair, but I’m more relaxed and content than I was.
I see meditation as a form of treatment- a way to both relax and exercise my brain and my emotions. Did I experience a moment of transcendence, where I was “one with everything?” I won’t make that claim, but I will say that in that hour I am mindful of myself as a complete being and person. I don’t have any thoughts or worry. I simply experience my own existence. For someone like me who struggles with anxiety and depression, I am free of those things during the moments when I’m meditating. I am without worry. After meditating my mind seems better equipped to deal with the anxiety and the depression. When I get anxious I begin spinning out escalating worst case scenarios, and they snowball out of control. But I find that this has slowed down since I’ve started meditating. The negative thoughts may still come, but not as fast. I can get a handle on them sooner.
I don’t need to be one with everything- just one with myself.