I am recognized to some extent as having helped to advance astrological technique, at least on the computer side. I can tell you from experience that astrologers did not go gently into that log-table goodnight. Computers were not an instant favorite by many astrologers, but were viewed with disdain equivalent to holding up crossed forefingers – the devils’ instrument. I received letters from well-known astrologers attacking the fact that astrology calculations were being computerized. And yet, looking back on it, today most astrologers use computers and are very glad of it. Nowadays computers are considered just something that astrologers have to learn, another tool of the trade.
In this post I want to present another tool that is, in my opinion, even more important than the computer, a tool that will have a lot more astrologers howling and crossing their forefingers than the computer ever did, and that is meditation. If we are computer-phobic, then we are really meditation-phobic. Either that or we think of meditation like meditating on world peace or something, which is not the kind of meditation I am presenting here.
Worse, many think that to meditate or not-to-meditate is a private matter, like politics and religion, and not a tool they just can’t do without. I have given you fair warning so please take note and act accordingly. This article may not be your cup of tea.
To make matters more confusing, the word meditation in this country is about the only word we have, while in Asia there are scores of words and terms for this general concept. Meditating on a Shakespeare sonnet or meditation on world peace is NOT the connotation for the word ‘meditate’ used here. By mediation, here we mean something more formal; let’s call it ‘mind practice” or “mind training.”
The concept of mind practice is not well known here in the West. How many people do you know who consciously practice using their mind for its own sake, anyway? Most of us assume that the mind is already quite usable just as we find it, and does not require any special exercise or training.
However, in many countries in the East, mind practice is not only common knowledge; it is considered an essential part of the education of every person. And these folks far outnumber westerners. This is true for countries like Tibet, Nepal, India, and much of China and Japan, where it is understood that the mind, by its inherent (or inherited) nature, is unruly and hard to manage.
By ‘unruly and hard to manage’, we mean that our mind is subject to a wide range of emotional reactions, everything from sudden anger to intense feelings of loss, happiness, fear, and so on. By fear, for example, I am speaking of the fear we can have when we lose our job or our 401K. That is fear.
We are subjected to these emotions and often get carried away by them. In Eastern cultures it is assumed that little can be accomplished in life without first learning how to calm, stabilize, and focus the mind. In short, basic mental stability or mind practice, as it is called, is considered an essential part of education for life in many parts of the world.
While it is true that Western countries have a long history of mental disciplines, most of them are academic. Aside from some philosophical interest in introspection, there is little general concern in looking at the mind itself, much less a formal discipline or method of training that average persons subscribe to. Universities here may have advanced philosophical logic, but the common people know nothing about it. In the East almost everyone practices some form of mind training as an integral part of their upbringing.
We might ask why the eastern type of mind practice has never caught on in Europe and the Americas. The answer to this question would require a small but fascinating book, but one thing is for sure: the concept of ‘meditation’ would be a core issue. Another feature would be the difference in the concept of the ‘Self’ in the East versus the West. Here we are told on the one had to find our self and on the other, not to be selfish – a basic contradiction. In the East, the concept of the Self is considered like the game of Pick-Up-Sticks, in that when the last stick is gone there is nothing there. This could another post.
In the East, there are hundreds of specialized words for examining the mind itself, while here in the West most (if not all) such concepts have been bundled under the single word ‘mediation’. As mentioned earlier, it is further confusing (and unfortunate) that meditation here in the West has come to be understood as something akin to relaxation therapy, a way to relax and get away from the worries of our day-to-day world, perhaps in the contemplation of some quiet inner landscape or a poem or theme.
This concept of meditation as relaxation, although valid in its own way, shows little resemblance to its Eastern counterpart, which is not concerned with various methods to temporarily relax and get rid of tension. Instead, their focus is on the root and cause of our unrest, our conflicting emotions, and they seek resolution at that level. And, while the end result of mind practice may be a more peaceful you, the actual practice of sitting meditation is anything but restful. The Tibetan or Zen Buddhist concept of meditation or mind practice involves very intense use of the mind, methods that can stir up our mind, bring confrontation that shows to us our mental instability. It is not helpful that here in the West these more active forms of mind practice have been subsumed under the more general label of meditation as relaxation therapy. Two poems about my practice.Testing the Rest
Learning to rest the mind,
Really puts my practice to the test,
So sometimes I just need to take a break,
And simply get some rest.The Rest of the Mind
You cannot rest the mind,
But you can let the mind rest.
Just let go,
And don’t mind the rest.
This is not the place to go into the techniques involved in meditation practice, but I would like to briefly point out some of its characteristics. Beginning meditation is difficult, not easy. For most of us it is a challenge that we have never faced in our lives - learning to look at the mind itself. Physically sitting still for more than a minute or two is difficult enough, but facing our wild and untrained mind is much more challenging and often downright humiliating. Those folks who tell you that they need to go sit for an hour to relax (like going for a run) are probably using meditation in the sense of meditating on peace or some other topic. Adept meditators of the ‘mind practice’ variety would not need to go anywhere to relax and those who think they do mind practice and speak like that are dreamers, literally day dreamers - fooling themselves. For most of us beginners, proper meditation is very tiring and filled with difficult moments, at least for the first few years. Why is this?
For one, we are not used to grabbing the mind any more than we could grab the tail of a tiger and expect no response. The mind won’t be grasped that easily. There is a technique to calming the mind, a technique that can’t be faked, one that for most of us takes a long time to get the hang of. That technique is called mind practice, mind training, or simply: meditation.
Learning to meditate in this way involves first recognizing that the mind is anything but calm most of the time. It is filled with doctor’s appointments, itches, longings, anger, irritation, and above-all side trips - distractions. The harder you try to focus the mind, the more easily you tire and wake up later daydreaming this or that. You wake from a distraction and remember that you sat down to meditate and simply focus on your breath, but you wake up daydreaming, again and again. The tradition tells us that we have been doing this all of our lives.
Beginning meditation technique is mostly about what you do when you wake up from a distraction and recognize that you have been absent,. You are present again for that very brief time before the next distraction. Otherwise you are gone away somewhere. We spend most of our lives gone in this way. Beginning meditation is about bringing your mind gently back to whatever focus you set out to place it on. It is about taking our life back, moment by moment.
Advanced meditation is like when you take your computer mouse and place the cursor anywhere on the screen and take your hand away. What happens? The cursor stays where you left it until you decide to move it again. Good meditation is like that. You place your mind on an object and there it sits until you decide to move it. Just try it. It takes years to learn.
This is not the place to get too detailed about meditation technique, which is best done working live with someone who knows it. It is hard or pointless to learn from a book. The idea here is to point out that as a group, astrologers do not know how to meditate and are often too proud to learn it. To them, their mind is already ‘right’.The Benefits of Meditation for Astrologers
Why learn meditation? The benefits are beyond calculating. For one, there is being present and awake more of the time than you are distracted and daydreaming, and you have been constantly distracted your whole life. Think about that.
It is like getting a second chance at life. Instead of a nest of mosquito thoughts buzzing around your head all day, instead of a crowd of inner voices reminding you to take the trash out, instead of an endless supply of meaningless thoughts you must entertain, you have instead some space in there – room to live in. And that added room or space gives you the time to do the things you really want to accomplish, some breathing space.
I am amused by those who tell me how busy they are and that they don’t have time to do this or that. Time is something we make. We make time for the things that are important to us. Meditation can give us back the time we are now wasting by freeing us from the distractions that take up most of that time.
Above all, I want to point out that meditation techniques like I am describing here are not part of any religion. I meditate, but I am not what I would call a religious type. Meditation has helped to give me back the time I otherwise have wasted all my life in endless daydreams and distraction. That is one of its values – time saved, and the quality of life provided.
Another value is clarity of mind and this is what in my opinion would benefit astrologers the most, seeing more clearly, each of us.
Meditation teaches us to focus the mind, but the result of that practice is the ability to actually rest the mind and let the creative areas of the mind bring impulses and ideas to our attention. We learn to discriminate better what thoughts are really important to us.
So the pitch here is that mind-practice techniques are a required tool for astrologers, not merely an option. The analogy of the eye glasses is a good one. If we have been peering for centuries through a dirty pair of glasses fraught with fear and distraction… and if we are going to counsel others… then we owe it to ourselves and to those others to check our prescription and make sure we are seeing clearly. Right now it is an option, but in the future every good astrologer will learn these techniques just as today we all have computers. It is a tool we cannot be without.
A little adjustment of our eyeglass prescription is a whole lot easier than trying to change everything in the outer world to our satisfaction. A change in our attitude affects everything we see and touch. If you are unsure how and where to learn the basic meditation technique, email me at Michael@Erlewine.net
and I will do my best to find a center near you that teaches authentic meditation, probably of the Tibetan or Japanese tradition.
- Michael Erlewine