In today’s fast paced, on-demand world, there is little time or incentive for anything that slows us down or shows little immediate benefits. Modern magicians want instant results and immediate effects from their magick. With a growing array of techniques, chemicals, and technology offering quick and easy access to altered states, there seems to be little room for meditation with its requirement for patience and long term thinking. It comes to seem more of a relic practiced by Hare Krishnas and executives looking for stress relief. But there is most certainly a place for meditation in the modern world, and it offers benefits that other practices cannot.
Advances in our understanding of the brain have given new insight on the practice of meditation and the amazing realms it is supposed to offer access to. Medical imaging of the brain during meditation shows that electrical activity is almost non-existent, very much like in deep sleep. When one part of the brain shuts down, another can start up. When we close off the ordinary consciousness we gain the ability to enter other modes of consciousness not normally accessible.
From an experiential standpoint meditation is simply the stilling of the constant whirlings of thought associated with the conscious mind, which feels the needs to be in motion at all times. When the internal dialog is stopped a great deal of the ego ceases as well. There are many forms of meditation, but this sense of inner quietness and non-activity is common to them all. We each enter into trance states or meditative states daily without realizing it, daydreaming, or staring at a wall thinking of nothing. Studies have shown young children enter in these states more frequently and spend a good part of the day in a meditative state.
Meditation is the state of the void mind, consciousness without attributes. Eastern thought, Qabbalah, and modern science place the void as the source of all creation. From the unmanifest void mind is any state of manifest consciousness achievable, the possibilities are truly infinite. But the mind does not easily let go of its attachments to thinking and motion, so meditative techniques usually offer something for the mind to latch on to as it is slowly soothed into quiescence. Some forms of meditation focus the mind on an idea or godform and all other thought is stilled. Others focus on breathing. The form with which I have the most experience is that which focuses all attention on the sounds within the immediate environment. It is this fixity of one part of the mind which allows the rest to relax.
In the few years I have been meditating daily I have noticed certain changes in my normal consciousness that have greatly aided in my magick and self-alchemy. Many of these revolve around an increasing ability to be in the moment. The present is the basis for all action and change, the hadit point which is stillness itself, yet ever moving. When all fears, desires, thoughts of the future and past, and all cognition is stripped away, then one can be truly aware of the present moment and act within it.
There are many important benefits, even beyond this: it keeps the mind sharp, adds precision to thought, discrimination to perception. But first let me dispel a few misconceptions surrounding meditation. I am no sadhu or monk, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to meditate for several hours a day. Like you I have a life to live, change I would see made in the world, and experiences to enjoy. These things require time, and I cannot spend my life in meditation. Fortunately this is not required to gain some very real benefits from the practice of meditation. Results can be seen from just a few minutes a day of real meditative trance; the important thing is regular practice not length of practice. The temptation with brief practice sessions is to sit and cogitate, not putting in the effort required to still the mind long enough to get into meditative trance, then still call it meditation. With a little serious practice, you can learn to enter a meditative trance quickly and easily, even in the midst of chaos.
One of the first things I noticed changing, after only a few months of practice, was that I began to notice changes in my mental state as they occurred rather than afterwards. For example, I would notice when I entered into an agitated state because of something happening, and this would give me the opportunity to change my state before it pushed me into doing something careless or counterproductive. This added awareness can be used to combat your personal demons/negative states and become more of the person you want to be.
Also very quickly I made a quantum leap in the precision of my mind. Previously I had allowed my thoughts and decision making process to be hazy at times, tending to leap to the first conclusion that presented itself. With greater mental stamina I examined things more carefully and dispassionately and found that my conclusions and judgments were much more sound.
One of the best benefits for the magician, is that meditation teaches the mind to turn inward, which allows for deeper and more detailed examination of the self. I think the real key to magick is exactly this sort of self exploration and self discovery that leads to the higher mysteries. Another thing of critical importance to magicians is being able to step outside of the unconscious, automatic “zombie-mind” and make life decisions from a fully conscious, fully aware mind. The longer I have pursued this practice the more time I find myself being fully aware and the quicker I snap out of the “zombie mind” when I do lapse into it.
I also found meditation allowed me to enter magical states prior to and during working much quicker and easier as I first put my mind into the void as a sort of mental neutral, then changed gears into magical mode. It has smoothed the transition between states considerably. Once I became really comfortable with getting into meditative trance, it also offered a wonderful safe zone that was always accessible. This has allowed me to overcome some pretty hairy demons (fear, jealousy, etc), because no matter how overwhelming the emotion feels, in the void there is peace and objectivity. This, for example, is what allowed me to conquer my fear of heights long enough to: ride roller coasters, rock climb, and rappel, and it will be what I use when I decide to go sky diving and bungee jumping.
If this isn’t enough to get you wanting to experience some of this for yourself, I have also experienced greater mental balance, an improved outlook on life, more spontaneous creativity, and a much more powerful intuition (which for those of you with psychic gifts, means more frequent and reliable psychic impressions). And since most meditations are done with the spine perfectly straight, it will probably improve your posture as well. An added benefit for the already advanced explorer of altered states is that the increased mental control is useful in any kind of altered state, and meditative techniques can be mixed very well with other kinds of trance techniques: drugs, drumming, sex, S/M, etc, etc, etc..
If the mind is a sword, by which we cleave truth from falsehood and pierce the deepest mysteries, then it behooves us to learn the art of swordsmanship that we may wield it with skill. Meditation is the foundation for and prerequisite of mastery over the mind. Far from being a relic relegated to the past, superceded by new technology, meditation becomes ever more important as life becomes more hectic and the information we are required to process reaches the overload point. It is very easy to lose ourselves in the series of events which are our lives, unless we take time each day to find ourselves within the stillness of our own minds.
"Be thou athlete with the eight limbs of Yoga; for without these thou are not disciplined for any fight" The Heart of the Master
"It is by freeing the mind from external influences, whether casual or emotional, that it obtains power to see somewhat of the truth of things. ..Let us determine to be masters of our minds"