Most who meditate gain rest and relaxation, and little more. The shortfall is due to a flaw in traditional methods. This flaw prevents the growth of practice skill, holding benefit to the beginner level. (Some get even less effective with practice.) Meditation’s flaw is the lack of feedback necessary for learning. Let me explain.
Meditation: What’s Missing?: To a research psychologist with an interest in skill learning, meditation is missing something. Practicing any skill leads to improvement only if you can see what you are doing. In basketball for instance, shooting hoops in darkness would only waste time because knowledge of results is required for learning. The rule applies equally to meditation.
Shooting Hoops In Darkness? Why Meditation Requires Feedback
In meditation, attention is the skill you need to develop. Benefits increase with power of concentration. While attending however (to your breath; a mantra, etc), attention slips away unseen. Like shooting hoops in darkness, you practice meditation without knowing you’re on target. You lose attention without knowing you are losing it, and find out only later when you wake from a daydream.
All traditional methods share this flaw. They lack feedback. They offer no way to monitor attention, yet amazingly, the necessary feedback is right before our eyes and has been there all along, unrecognized. Throughout meditation’s long history, sensations of light have been noted. “Illumination” is described; light is seen at enlightenment. We failed however, to see the cause of this light. We never knew it was visual feedback – the very thing needed to excel at meditation.
Light sensations are produced when focused attention holds the eyes still. Here a “fixed image” (an image held in the same place on the eyes retinas) uses up photo pigment (like exposing photographic film). Retinal fatigue follows, and with it distortion in the form of light. This light signals attention. It tells you you’re on target. When your mind wanders, your eyes wander too and the light disappears, signaling loss of attention. Use the light as feedback and you can see what you are doing. You gain the same advantage as seeing your target shooting hoops. Practice skill improves automatically. The key to great benefit is right before your eyes.
The Feedback Meditation Method How-To: Producing feedback is as easy as gazing at a spot on the floor. Focusing Discs however, specially designed to facilitate feedback, are freely available at the Straight Line Meditation website. These assure beginners instant success. Focus on the bull’s eye and feedback comes within seconds. Attend to the light and you anchor attention. Then you can hold attention the way you would grab a rope for a tow. You’re taken straight to the best meditation.
Feedback upgrades meditation practice by eliminating the shortfalls of traditional methods. It puts an end to:
* Wasted practice time. (With traditional methods, even with the best intentions, time is spent dreaming and drifting when you’d hoped for attention.)
* Slow, or even no practice skill development. ("After twenty years," warned a Zen Master, "you can finally say you’ve begun to learn how to sit.")
* Slow, unreliably progress. (Traditional methods yield slow, unreliable benefit. “Just sit,” says Buddhism, “Maybe after many lifetimes you will come upon the truth.")
These shortfalls are due to the inefficiency of traditional methods. Feedback counters the problem with precision self-guidance. It gives you a personal (meditation) trainer with a constantly vigilant eye. The outcome is fast, sure, practice skill development and productive use of every minute of practice time. It’s how well you meditate (not necessarily how long), that determines your benefit. Feedback lets you trade hours spent meditating for minutes on target. Great benefit awaits the best meditation, and the best meditation requires feedback.
About The Author: As a National Science Foundation Trainee, Dr Carol E. McMahon.
If you would like to learn more about meditation, visit: http://www.suanmokkh-idh.org/talks/meditationindailylife.pdf