Every human being is a spirit incarnating through living channels of energy and attention which create a connection to the physical body. Not every human being is aware of this. Instead, most human beings are only vaguely aware that their existence is spiritual in nature, because the physical is so overwhelming to our consciousness. Physical experience has a way of overpowering and overshadowing our own spiritual nature, to the point of creating literal shadows in our minds, dark areas in which we lack awareness of ourselves, and function instead as if we were simply physical bodies and minds, but haunted by these shadows, and even seemingly at their mercy. This is why most religious and spiritual traditions tell us to gain some kind of mastery over the physical body and its senses. This can go too far, however, especially if we try to do so without gaining any kind of spiritual awareness of our real nature. This is why the primary tool for both spiritual growth and mastery of our own physical life is meditation. It is in meditation that we coordinate the physical life and mind with our deeper spiritual existence, and create the functional connections in energy and awareness that allow us to make genuine use of this incarnate life.
People often ask what the purpose of life is, without even knowing what their life is to begin with. The first purpose of life is to find out what life actually is, since without knowing that, we cannot come to any greater purpose within it. To find out what life is, it's actual structure and nature, we cannot merely read about it, or take the word of others, even the greatest spiritual sources. We can't merely believe in reincarnation, in various cosmological models of the universe and the self, we have to actually examine ourselves as we are. This is what meditation is for. It doesn't matter if we meditate in silence, sitting still and quiet, or if we do so in the midst of our ordinary life of action, we have to observe ourselves with a real intent to know who we are. Self-enquiry is the epitome of that intention, but every form of meditation takes a similar route, and resolves itself in the end in an enquiry into our true nature.
The early forms of meditation are not upon the Transcendental Self, however, they are merely a direct observation of our own homely, human awareness, our sense of being and life. Meditation is not aimed at a discursive form of objective knowledge about ourselves, of the kind that is obtained through any objective scientific process. The findings of science are a step removed from our own awareness, and it is this that we must become observant of. The mind is subjective in nature, and it's own experience of the physical is also subjective. Meditation observes this subjective connection to the physical that we actually experience moment to moment, day after day, until we die. Objective science cannot access this subjective experience, but we can, through meditation, because it is what we are.
So meditation, first of all, is merely the observed experience of who we already are. The awareness that experiences the body and the senses is, if we simply observe it subjectively, already a spiritual being. We don't need to have "spiritual experiences" to tell us this. Of course, if we persist in observing ourselves directly in the form of awareness itself, we will probably begin to notice things, and begin to have conscious spiritual experiences. But none of these are as important as the simple experience of being aware of our own conscious existence, our own spiritual being, which we already exist as and connect to the physical from. Becoming aware of who we are and where we come from involves a step-by-step process of simply observing ourselves, our minds, the connection between our minds and our bodies, in the most ordinary of processes. And that is what meditation is, fundamentally.
In meditation, we are not primarly directed to meditate on any object, though that may be useful as a tool. The primary direction of meditation is to become aware of the process of awareness itself, to be attentive to ourselves as a self-aware being. This means knowing the mind, rather than merely using the mind to know objects we can see or feel or think about. It is not a process of learning to think more clearly, but of learning to see the root of thinking, which is the observing awareness itself. And this means knowing ourselves as spirits, as free beings who live in a spiritual dimension beyond the physical which connects to this physical world through an incarnation process, the nature of which is a living, organic growth process by which the spirit body and they physical body become intertwined through channels of energy and attention.
Meditation is a way of relaxing both the brain-mind and body such that they can naturally integrate with our spiritual nature. There is not a great deal that needs to be done for this to occur. It is a natural process that, like growing plants, merely needs sunlight, water, and proper nutrition. The sunlight is our own awareness, which when turned upon ourselves, illuminates the dark places and allows them to grow living connections of conscious awareness that spread and eventually flower. The water is our own living breath and spirit, which infill the body and mind with the pure energy of life. And the nutrition we need is all of the many aspects of living intelligence, physical and spiritual, which feed this process, from spiritual teachings to the various needs of the body itself which support its growth.
One of the primary forms of meditation recommended in most traditions is to meditate upon one's own breath. Many reasons are giving for meditating on the breath, but the primary one is that breath is not merely a physical process by which we ingest oxygen for the physical body and exhale its by-products such as carbon dioxide. Breath is the primary means by which the spirit energy of life is circulated in our bodies, and brought into the physical dimension from the spirit realms. Our spiritual connection to the body is not merely one of remote awareness viewing the world from afar, but is a living, sensual connection of deep feeling, of energetic immersion of spiritual forces in the physical body. Not only do we as spirits requires this energetic immersion, the physical body itself requires the spiritual energy we bring to it for its survival. It would not live very long without its spiritual connection to our own subtle life, and the primary way it gains this connection is through the breath. This is why we are told to meditate on the breath, because it is our connection to the spirit itself. It's no accident that the breath is of course our most necessary physical requirement. The same is true on the spiritual level - without the spiritual dimension of breath, the body could no more survive than it can without oxygen.
The word "spirit" literally means breath, and if we observe ourselves as spirits, we will begin to notice how this is literally the case. The breath is alive with spirit-energy, and it communicates this spiritual energy to the body with every inhalation and exhalation. It's not necessary to manipulate the breath, to do special exercises with it, to practice "pranayama" or other yogic techniques of breath-control. It's only necessary to observe and feel the breath from the position of spiritual awareness itself, meaning simply from our deeper awareness of mind. As Ramana Maharshi taught, the root of the breath and the root of the mind are the same. This is not merely true at the deepest level of the very and Transcendental Divine Self, but even at the spiritual level of the incarnate human being. Even our ordinary mind and our feeling-breath both arise from the same place, and thus meditation involves a natural process of coordinating these two, rather than unconsciously separating them, as happens when we are not consistently observing ourselves, but identifying instead only with the physical dimension of human experience.
The human experience is not merely a physical experience, it is a hybrid of the physical and the spiritual. Becoming aware of this means locating the mind as a spiritual phenomena, rather than merely as some kind of process in the physical brain that allows for sensory experience to be processed and respond in kind through physical action. Rather, we have to become aware even of the senses as spiritual experiences, as a way of extending our spiritual nature into the physical dimension. If we were merely physical creatures it would be natural enough to merely allow ourselves to be driven by sensory experience and respond in kind, but we are not. Because we are incarnate as humans, rather than merely arising as physical creatures in the flesh, we have to bring a spiritual awareness into our bodies, and become aware of ourselves primarily as spirit-beings, not merely as physical selves. To master the physical means nothing more than not forgetting this in the midst of our physical lives. By not forgetting this, by remaining conscious as spiritual beings while physically alive, we begin to form the kind of connections to the physical which allow us to incarnate responsibly, humanly, sensually, and spiritually, without becoming aberrated in the process, or overwhelmed by the physical to the point of forgetting what we are and where we come from.
Ever kind of spiritual growth comes from this basic process, even the most profound and highest non-dual realization. Without this kind of spiritual foundation, there's not much sense in even talking about non-dualism. It's merely a theoretical trap for the mind, if it is not part of a literal and living process of spiritual awakening. As Ramana taught, the mind must become strong, if it is to become able to fulfill the process of self-enquiry and realize the Self. It can't become strong if it is unable to spiritually recognize itself even on this basic level, and grow the human spiritual connections which form the basis for higher spiritual and transcendental understanding.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, this process requires becoming aware of oneself as attention, which emerges into the physical dimension of life at the Ajna Door, the place behind the eyes that we tend to automatically locate ourselves as "mind". The ordinary mind associates itself with thoughts, and thinks that thoughts are what the mind is about. But as we observe the mind, we will begin to notice that the mind is not really about thoughts, or even about emotions, feelings, and other sensations. The mind is primarily a process of awareness. It is only that our awareness tends to be directed towards objects, in which case it becomes mere attention, rather than free awareness. As it become more aware of itself through simple observation of itself, the fixation upon objects and thinking begins to relax, and we become more aware of the emergent quality of awareness itself. We will also begin to naturally become aware that awareness emerges from this place behind the eyes, the Ajna Door as it is called in some of the Hindu literature.
The Ajna Door is, like the breath, another traditional focal point for meditation. Spiritual aspirants are often directed to meditate on the Ajna Door, and to cultivate whatever spiritual experiences are gained by that concentration. However, it is often not fully explained what this means. It's often described as some kind of secret technique, and people will try to focus upon this yogic center as an object of the mind, like anything else we desire or seek. But that is not the meaning of the admonition to meditate on this center. Instead, we are to see our awareness as emerging from this center, rather than seeing it as an object to meditate upon. We are merely to notice what is already the case, which is that our spiritual awareness enters into the body through this Ajna Door. It is literally a door, in other words, by which we enter into this world. The proper usage of this door is to come in, rather than to go out, as some tend to think. It's not that we are supposed to leave this world and enter into the spiritual worlds through this door. We are already in the spirit-world, and this door is the way to come into incarnation. The practice of "meditating on the Ajna Door" is one of entering into the physical body through this door, and bringing with us the full complement of our spiritual awareness and energy. Simply re-orienting ourselves to meditate in this way clears a great deal of tension and confusion from the spiritual process, and allows us to coordinate the mind and the body in a fashion that is not only natural, but actively and consciously so, rather than passively and unconsciously, or in the mode of escape from the physical "into the spiritual", which has it entirely backwards.
It's common in religious and spiritual literature to see the physical dimension as lower, inferior, and something to grow beyond, as if that were the true purpose of life, to get into higher worlds. If that were the case, there would be no reason to incarnate at all. We, as spirits, would simply not bother with physical worlds. We are not being sent here as some kind of punishment, such that we have to do penance here for a while, be good, and eventually get out of here. We do not meditate in order to quicken that process. Instead, we are here to incarnate spiritual awareness into the physical dimension, such that we can form a spiritual basis for transcending all forms of dualism from the lowest to the highest dimensions of the cosmos. So meditation is a process, first of all, of incarnating, of growing our spiritual connectivity even into the lowest physical worlds, not excluding them, but including them in our spiritual awareness. We are all tantric Aghoris, in a certain sense, embracing the lowest and grossest in order to truly embrace the highest and most subtle. By doing so, we can transcend both dualisms. Whereas, if we flee from one to the other (and this applies to both directions of that impulse) we fail to transcend dualism, but instead we merely swing to one side on our pendulum of attention. And of course, we eventually will swing back to the other side as well. The process of conscious incarnation is one of embracing both dimensions at once, and with full awareness, such that neither can be exclusively sought, but instead, are integrated as a single-minded spiritual process.
So these two basic approaches to meditation must also be combined. We must observe our spirit-breath, from the position of the Ajna Door, aware of ourselves as a spiritual being who dwells in the spirit world beyond that door, who is entering into this world through this body, through this door, and through each breath, connecting spiritually to all of it, and thereby becoming more and more aware of the full spectrum of our human existence. Primarily, we learn to be at rest with ourselves in this manner, no longer at war, in conflict, seeking or desiring anything here for its own sake, or seeking to escape this place either. This mode of living can be the foundation not only for meditation, but for life itself no matter how active. And yet, very little activity is actually required for it to progress. One can live in great simplicity and without seemingly doing much at all in any outward, or even any inward sense. Merely being aware allows the living process of the mind and the spirit to grow at its own pace, without us trying to interfere or guide it along. Rather, it will begin to guide us and lead us along.
The Ajna Door is also, traditionally, the place where the Guru contacts us. If we abide as awareness at the Ajna Door, the Guru will indeed appear there, at the very root of our subtle mind, and inspire us, and instruct us, and fill us with the spiritual force and consciousness that is the true foundation of human life. Where that will lead us we cannot altogether say. It requires basic faith and submission on our part, and these two are given us if we abide as awarness at the Ajna Door, and breath the spirit-force of this growing awareness into and through our bodies. The whole body begins to open to the Guru in this way, and the peace and happiness of the spirit worlds begin to make their appearance in our own life and minds and bodies, and even in the world itself here. This is the process whereby heaven does indeed come down to earth, and the human incarnation its secret.