Meditation as an Art of Life
According to Aristotle (De Philosoph, fr. 8), wisdom (Sophia) covers any ingenious invention and conception (all of which ultimately are gifts, sent down by the gods); therefore to do any thing well, skillfully, according to the divine paradigms and models, is to follow the way of “wisdom” which finally leads to the highest metaphysical goals, to the noetic realms where Wisdom itself, the graceful goddess, dwells. No wonder that every nation loves wisdom and has certain “lovers of wisdom” [philosophers], be they goldsmiths, artists, healers, singers, priests, or magicians.
Meditation as an Art of Life was presented in my first book: Meditation as an Art of Life – a Basic Reader.
The description of the book is:
The background for this book is the spiritual crisis, I lived through because of inappropriate consequences of yoga and meditation. Viewed against this background I started to look at meditation as an art of life.
I believe, that meditation isn't some kind of mental visualizing technique, but something philosophical, an art of life, which involves the entire cognitional, existential and ethical reality of Man. Moreover that this concept of meditation is the central core in all wisdomtraditions.
The unusual about the book is, that it claims, that all the great masters within the wisdomtraditions, actually used philosophical questions as their central meditation technique, and that all other spiritual exercises only were used to support this. In this way philosophical questions were a type of universal koans, which worked with the purpose to open the consciousness in towards the Source: the Good, the True and the Beautiful.
In the book I seek to make this clear by constructing it as a guidance in, how this quite concrete can be put into practice.
You can download the book for free in the end of this article. Here you can also find updates.
I have later further developed the concept of Meditation as an Art of Life. I consider it to be discovered and not constructed. However, in order to make the whole thing comprehensible, I use a lot of frames of references. Below I will supply the text with a series of links, so that people who want to engage in deeper studies can be helped out. If you are not engaged in self-study, just ignore the links.
As you can sense: Meditation as an Art of Life is not just mindfulness. Rather, it is Mind Training: training of mind, thoughts, feeelings and body.
Most of all, Meditation as an Art of Life is rooted in Greco-Roman philosophy, where philosophy was considered to be a spiritual practice. This practice was continued in the Christian mysticism of Mount Athos. But there are also elements of Vedanta, Platonism, the Traditionalist School, Celtic/Scandinavian Shamanism, and Tibetan Dream Yoga. The connection between all this is described in my article: Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth (A Shamanic Ritual).
In my philosophical counseling practice, the Gundestrup Cauldron is a central frame of reference (it was found in the area of Rold Forest, by my uncle´s grandfather, Jens Sørensen, in 1891).
The fascinating about this Cauldron, is that it, besides the references to ancient Celtic religion, also have multicultural references, all the way to the Near East and Asia. I believe that the Cauldron is a memory of a forgotten time age (the Satya Yuga), where shamanism and dream yoga were one and the same, and formed a, now forgotten, path of enlightenment. Furthermore, that Vedanta and Platonism are the last signs of that age.
Philosophy means “love of wisdom” and a philosopher, in the original sense, is a person who is in love with wisdom, and has invested his or her life totally to this. This is mainly inspired by Greco-Roman philosophy, where philosophy was a spiritual practice with a spiritual purpose.
Greco-Roman philosophy constituted in fact a unique European path of enlightenment, which today has been distorted, and thereby suppressed, by what I call The Matrix Conspiracy. However, thanks to a few brave scholars (see literature list below), it is possible to reconstruct central aspects of it. Inspired by this, as well as by other original wisdom traditions, I can today present some further developed aspects of Meditation as an Art of Life.
Meditation as an Art of Life consists of five spiritual exercises (on the philosophical counseling page, you can find a simpler description):
1) Learning to Live
3) Critical thinking
4) Investigation of the Shadow
5) Learning to Die
1) Learning to Live
Learning to live is something entirely different than you hear about in coaching. It requires that you fall in love with wisdom. This is philosophy in the ancient sense. The Stoics, for instance, declared explicitly that philosophy, for them, was an “exercise.” In their view, philosophy did not consist in teaching an abstract theory – much less in the exegesis of texts – but rather in the art of living. It is a concrete attitude and determinate life-style, which engages the whole of existence. The philosophical act is not situated merely on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a person who goes through it. It raises the individual from an inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he attains self-consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom. The philosophical act is an act where you try to live in accordance with what I call "The Four Philosophical Openings" instead of "The Four Philosophical Hindrances" - see intro to my book: Meditation as an Art of Life - a Basic Reader, or, the expanded version in my article, The Four Philosophical Hindrances and Openings.
Meditation is trained through the Relaxationmeditation (in Greek philosophy called incubation. In Eastern philosophy called Yoga Nidra) and the Harameditation (in Greek philosophy and Christian mysticism called Omphalos Psychism) - see the page: The Compass - The Forgotten Secret of Hara Healing. Together they aim at stillness (Greek: Hesychia). In this stillness you begin to ask philosophical questions in a meditative-existential way: How does man preserve peace of mind and balance in all the relationships of life? How do we learn to appreciate the true goods and flout all transient and vain goals? Is the destiny of Man part in a larger plan?
Dream Yoga is a deeper going part of meditation. It is about practicing meditation while sleeping and during the death process. But it is also about realizing the illusory aspects of the daily life. See my book Dream Yoga. Also read my articles: What is Dream Yoga? and: On the Nature of Dreams.
Furthermore: Dream yoga in my context should be seen in relation to shamanic journeys: see critical thinking: level C.
Finally: I don´t teach traditional Tibetan Dream Yoga. As in all my teaching: my starting point is spiritual crises, and how to navigate through dangers and pitfalls on the spiritual path. The other levels of critical thinking are therefore also central when I teach dream yoga.
3) Critical Thinking
Critical thinking (Greek: kritikos) has to do with three levels. The levels refer to the personal, collective and universal images, which form the structures under thinking and language. Beginning with words and sentences, and going deeper into symbols and images.
The levels are:
A) Refutation of sophisms (Greek: Elenchos – this was Socrates´ basic method of clearing the thoughts, called The Socratic Method. It is noteworthy that the method also is called midwifery (maieutics). The concept of "midwifing the soul" is pure shamanism. Today this is utterly distorted due to that modern scholars refuse to see that it was a part of a spiritual practice. This distortion is continued in numerous New Age books, where Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, and their use of logic, are described as the roots of all evil. However, when reading Plato (Socrates) in the context of shamanism, and on the whole, reading mythology as real descriptions of shamans, spirits, shamanic practices and journeys - Plato, and mythology as such, gets a revolutionary other meaning. More about that below.
B) Discrimination (the ability to discriminate between reality and illusion, good and evil, true and false - emphilotekhnein).
C) Flexible thinking (learning to see, or rather, think about, things "from above", from alternative viewpoints). This level is also called Anamnesis, remembering Beauty, Goodness and Truth. Tools in this proces areThe Art of Dreaming, The Art of Mythic Imagination, or, The Free Play of Images. In my philosophical counseling practice they are taught in combination with dream yoga techniques.
The interplay between the three levels ensures the balance between logic and imagination, rational and irrational, philosophy and poetry/storytelling. The two first levels ensure that you, when practising the third level, not are getting stuck in "feelings", or "intuition" (= subjectivism and/or relativism). This would be the Sophist/Postmodern/New Age viewpoint. Instead you are opening your personal images to more collective and universal images (from subjective idealism to objective idealism). When this happens, the Wholeness itself begins to dream, and are starting a "remembering process", or, a "waking up proces". This is the direct experience of animism, or inner tantra. In my free Ebook, Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien, I have described the "waking up proces", in chapter 2: Philosophical Theology, part 2: Divine Providence and Free Will, and in chapter 8: Philosophy of Language.
The levels described in detail:
Level A (Elenchos, refutation of sophisms) is mainly about yourself. The Platonic dialogues was simply about master (Socrates) and student relationships in a spiritual practice aiming at enlightenment. You should therefore not go out and attack others with this technique, though it of course can be necessary when someone is trying to force you into their own thought distortions. Remember that it is a spiritual exercise. You can use the philosophical diary, but what´s most important, it is meant as a way of having a dialogue with yourself.
It is not a level you should get stuck in, since it is entirely fixed in the head (words and sentences). It can easily develop into a form of over-intellectualization, discursive thinking and, worst of all: a polemic attitude (unethical). It can also lead to that released energy is flowing upwards in a top-down awakening, or other spiritual crises. Meditation as an Art of Life is enlightenment through embodiment and the open heart. Level A should therefore be finished. Personally, I knew that I had to finish my cultural criticism at a certain stage. However, level A was also the tool that made me able to navigate in the enormous market of spiritual misguiding we see today.
It is important to see Level A in combination with the other exercises, as for example Learning to Live and Learning to Die, where you simplify your life, and begin living in a way that is completely devoting a waking up process. In that way you can avoid involving yourself in complex situations, where you are required to use level A all the time.
I have called sophisms thought distortions. I introduced the concept of thought distortions in my supporting exercise the philosophical diary, where I described a Socratic inquire technique. Here they especially deal with psychological and personal matters. I have developed them further in my book A Dictionary of Thought Distortions.
Level B) discrimination (the ability to discriminate between reality and illusion, good and evil, true and false - emphilotekhnein). Discrimination is central in meditation. It was this practice Shankara called the Crown Juvel of Discrimination (Viveka). Day by day, year out and year in, it is necessary to keep the Crown Juvel of Discrimination clear. This is done by discriminating between neutral observation and distraction, again and again. It has also other functions, as illustrated by the Zen Buddhist concept of Makyo. Here, discrimination is used in order to deal with the realm of demons and monsters, which you might be confronted with in a process of awakening. Makyo is quite central in the discrimination between base magic and higher magic. In base magic you haven´t got any tools in order to discriminate between spirits, or between real spirits and your own psychological constructs/interpretations (or psychic illness!).
One of the reasons I stopped working as a shaman was due to the many psychic ill people in this environment who, due to New Age subjectivism and relativism, confuse their psychic illness with spiritual constructs, as for example kundalini and shamanic awakening. This is often the case with people who would be diagnosed as skizophrenic, delusional, bipolar, or simply disconnected and untethered from collective reality. Often they even work as shamans, therapists or spiritual healers (see my article: The Faust Syndrome and the End of the Time of Enlightened Masters. Makyo is therefore also central in dealing with spiritual crises, as for example ego-inflation. I have described how in my article The Ego-inflation in the New Age and Self-help Environment).
It is thought provoking that critical thinking, hereunder the art of discrimination, in New Age directly is taught to be “negative” and therefore wrong thinking, and that you must rely on pure subjectivism and “intuition”. This is often followed by postulations about that reality is an illusion (metaphysical solipsism), or simply doesn´t exist (metaphysical nihilism). Such postulations are due to a tragic confusion of Eastern philosophical ideas of Maya (misperceived reality) with western philosophical ideas, such as subjective idealism - see my ebook: The Tragic New Age Confusion of Eastern Enlightenment with Western Subjective Idealism.
Level C: flexible thinking (Anamnesis: remembrance through imagination/poetry/storytelling) is, in the philosophical counseling form, which I have called The Godgame, intimately connected to rune lore and Hallowquest cards. This is a kind of role-playing game, or, a storytelling game. It is inseparable connected with forest therapy. This is the most advanced counseling form in that it requires familarity with my cultural criticism, hereunder the general concept of The Matrix Conspiracy, and, the underlying occult structure: The Godgame. When that is said, this counseling form is also a kind of children´s game, which requires an ironical distance to yourself. You play a role such as a forest wanderer, or a Grail seeker. As suggested in my article Counseling in the Mythic Forest of Rold, you are a person trying to awake from The Matrix Conspiracy and The Godgame. You are trying to become a member of the resistance, a "Godgame Hacker".
On this journey we will discriminate between base magic and higher magic. For base magic (divination, shamanic journeys and healing) we will use some tools, such as Hallowquest cards and runes. For higher magic we will use Meditation as an Art of Life. The whole thing is in other words paradoxical: we use tools of base magic in order to understand the delusional aspect of base magic, and in this way enter into higher magic. Base magic is in other words a "Gatekeeper". Central in this counseling form is the healing art of storytelling.
As I write in my book, Meditation as an art of life - a Basic Reader:
[...] an important part of the opening in towards the Source is the realization of what hinders this opening. Unless you know, for example the Ego´s, fundamental essence, you can´t recognise it, and it will deceive you to identify with it again and again. But when you realize the hindrances in you (for example through the question Who am I? as Ramana Maharshi did it) then it is the Source itself - the Good, the True and the Beautiful - that makes the realization possible (page 11).
Background story and Godgame resources: Nordic Shamanism and Forest Therapy.
The goal with this storytelling game (rune lore and Hallowquest cards) is to exchange negative automatic thinking with a spiritual and poetic remembrance. Or, said in another way: the goal is to transform our closed, grey reality tunnels into a painting by Marc Chagall - see paintings in the end of this article (also see my article: The Value of Having a Religion in a Spiritual Practice).
The important is, with an expression lent from the Navajo:
To think and walk in beauty.
Storytelling and mythtelling are also quite central in Plato´s works. But again this has been completely distorted by modern scholars, who describe it as the last remnants of an age of superstition, which Plato sought to surpass. No, the stories and myths in Plato´s work are in fact descriptions of shamanic journeys. And, mythtelling and storytelling (mythic imagination, dreaming, the free play of images), were used as spiritual exercises; they were shamanic journeys back to the archaic past; ways of remembering The Lost Paradise where Beauty, Goodness and Truth were dwelling, and still are dwelling, available deep within ourselves and in nature, here and now: animism. I see the experience of animism and the experience of beauty as one and the same (as mentioned: I also see it in relation to inner tantra, the experience of transformations in the chakras).
The special about Socrates was that he moved from base magic to higher magic: enlightenment, going beyond all ideas and images. The Greco-Roman philosophers were in fact master shamans - see my articles: On Beauty and the Art of Growing Wings, Storytelling as a Spiritual Exercise, and: Five Basic Exercises in Philosophy as a Spiritual Practice.
I will understate, that all this, besides how different it is to anything you have heard on modern educations about Greco-Roman philosophy, not something I personally make up. Besides what you yourself can sense when reading the texts, it is scholarly supported: see the scholarly literature list at the end of this page).
4) Investigation of the Shadow.
This hasn´t anything to do with Jung´s solipsist concept of the shadow (see my cultural criticism). It is philosophy as a Therapeutic of the Passions. Feelings can be a reflection of a whole thought-pattern. A thought-pattern can create an enlarged and energy-charged reflection of itself in the form of a feeling. This means, that the whole of the thought´s past also can create a reflection of itself in the body. And if this past is filled with pain, then it can show itself as a negative energy-field in the body. This is the emotional painbody. It contains all the pain you have accumulated in the past. It is the sum of the negative feelings which you have ”saved together” through life and which you carry. And it can nearly be seen as an invisible, independent creature. Therefore we also could, as H.C. Andersen does in his fairy tale, call it the Shadow.
The whole complex constitutes what I call The Ancient Inertia. The Ancient Inertia resists any kind of change. At a certain point in your spiritual practice you will be confronted with this ancient inertia. It is the Guardian of the Threshold.
There are two ways to deal with The Ancient Inertia: A) ethical thinking and B) heartmeditation.
A) In ethical thinking you break out of the self-circling solipsism (I alone), and move out into the self-forgetful spaciousness (the I-Thou relationship). You replace the ongoing self-confirmation of the ego (and it´s negative thoughts) with a spiritual remembrance. This spiritual remembrance is the I-Thou relationship. It is the basis for prayer, a dialogue with the Divine.
The I-Thou relationship is a communicative view of Man and Nature. In reality it is a variation of animism.
The I-Thou relationship is a term inspired by the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Religious studies scholar Graham Harvey defined animism as the belief "that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others.” He added that it is therefore "concerned with learning how to be a good person in respectful relationships with other persons." In his Handbook of Contemporary Animism (2013), Harvey identifies the animist perspective in line with Martin Buber's "I-thou" as opposed to "I-it." In such, Harvey says, the animist takes an I-thou approach to relating to his world, whereby objects and animals are treated as a "thou" rather than as an "it."
An example of I-Thou related animistic art is Marc Chagall - see paintings in the end of this article.
You can read more about the I-Thou relationship in my book, A Portrait of a Lifeartist, in chapter V: The Lifeartist as a Communicative Being.
In connection witht the I-Thou relationship, I would also advice you to learn about humility. Read for example my free Ebook: Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien. Tolkien said that The Lord of the Rings, despite it´s pagan content, is a Catholic work. Christian philosophy is central in it, hereunder the important concept of humility. The Dark Lord, Sauron, only understands power. He doesn´t understand humility, and therefore it is humility that in the end defeats him. There is incredible wisdom in this, and I know how liberating it is for many former New Agers, who for years have practiced the I-Alone relationship, to find out that they already are loved and forgiven, despite how unperfect they are, and that the final liberation is a gift of grace from a Divine Being, who is greater than themselves.
B) As a Heartmeditation I use the Tibetan Tonglen exercise. It is described in my book Meditation as an Art of Life. Concepts such as humility, compassion, forgiveness, gratefulness, resurrection and transfiguration, are central here.
In other words: The Ancient Inertia can only be resolved through ethical thinking, heartmeditation, humility, compassion and love (see my articles: The Emotional Painbody and Why Psychotherapy Can´t Heal It, and, The Value of Having a Religion in a Spiritual Practice).
My concept of The Shadow (the painbody) is in other words not a psychological concept, but a metaphysical concept with roots in original sin and negative karma. Read more in my book, Lucifer Morningstar - A Philosophical Love Story (also note the updates to the book).
5) Learning to Die
Plato said that those who go about philosophizing correctly are in training for death. Paradoxically, learning to live is the same as learning to die. Most of us connect life with the thinking´s past and future. The thinking´s past and future is the same as the Ego (the painbody), and therefore our identity. It is an identity in an absence. If you begin to live in the now, all this falls away. Going into the now, into presence, into being, is a kind of death.
All the ancient schools of philosophy engaged their disciples upon a new way of life. The practice of spiritual exercises implied a complete reversal of received ideas: one was to renounce the false values of wealth, honors, and pleasures, and turn towards the true values of virtue, contemplation, a simple life-style, and the simple happiness of existing. This radical opposition explains the reaction of non-philosophers (people not in love with wisdom), which ranged from the mockery we find expressed in the comic poets, to the outright hostility which went so far as to cause the death of Socrates.
The individual was to be torn away from his habits and social prejudices, his way of life totally changed, and his way of looking at the world radically metamorphosed into a cosmic- “physical” perspective.
Learning to Die is known as Divine Madness. It was later adopted into the Byzantine culture, where the philosophical way of life was called Foolishness For Christ.
Learning to Die has also to do with the last step in spiritual practice, namely going beyond all ideas and images. This is described on the page: The Compass - The Forgotten Secret of Hara Healing.
I offer philosophical counseling in Meditation as an Art of Life. This happens in connection with forest therapy in Rold Forest, Denmark.
Philosophy as an Art of Life – Spiritual Exercises From Socrates to Foucault, by Pierre Hadot (Free Ebook, which provides a certain scholarly documentation of the above, though my own depiction of course is based on a subjective reconstruction).
Plato, Shamanism, and Ancient Egypt, by Jeremy Naydler (article. Scholarly documentation of, that Plato´s mythtelling and storytelling in fact were descriptions of shamanic journeys).
Iatromantis (Wikipedia. Iatromantis is the Greek word for shaman. The English scholar, Peter Kingsley, has in his book, In The Dark Places of Wisdom, described a line of Greek philosophers, who also were shamans).
I would also recommend books by Algis Uždavinys. However, these are much more difficult than Pierre Hadot´s. But in the beginning and end of this page, you can see two quotes from Uzdavinys, which documents his point of view.
Updates to my book Meditation as an Art of Life – a Basic reader (download it below):
1) The Yoga Cycle (in the introduction to the supporting exercises I advice people to practice some Hatha yoga exercises. This link is a guide to the exercises I myself perform daily).
2) The Compass - The Forgotten Secret of Hara Healing (longer introduction and update to the Hara Exercise. Here there is included an important "Supplying Hara Exercise". Furthermore there is advice to how to use Hara in combination with spiritual crises and kundalini awakening).
3) The Heartmeditation. In the supporting exercises, I advice you to practice the Heartmeditation (Tonglen) half an hour each morning, after the Harameditation. I won´t recommend this anymore, since the exercise tend to develop into some kind of automatic mind struggle. Instead I recommend that you keep the exercise as an ethic rule in the back of your head, and only practice it a couple of times when you have heartfeelings; that is: when you feel an genuine need for it.
4) The Nine Gates of Middle-earth. An update to the whole book, where the spiritual development is seen in relation with the chakra system.
5) On Asking Philosophical Questions (a short introduction to the main theory of the book).
6) What is a Life Artist? (the book encourages you to become a life artist. Here is a short description).
7) Meditation and the Philosophical Diary. An update to the supporting exercise The Philosophical Diary
8) The Eckhart Tolle Show - a Critique. This is a correction of my praise of Tolle.
9) Meditation as an Art of Life – The Ancient Logos (about how I recently have discovered the book´s similarities with new scholarly depictions of Greco-Roman philosophy).
10) A Dictionary of Thought Distortions (update to the philosophical diary. In the Socratic inquire technique I presented a few common thought distortions. This book is an expansion of the list. In many ways this book is part of my own philosophical diary, and how I used critical thinking as a way of coming out of my spiritual crisis).
11) Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth (A Shamanic Ritual) – (update to the relaxationmeditation. In this article I describe the similarity between the relaxationmeditation and the incubation exercise in Ancient Greece. Its similarity with Yoga Nidra and Dream Yoga techniques are also explained).
12) Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien (I´m talking a great deal of the importance of philosophy in Meditation as an Art of Life. This Ebook is written as a course in philosophy).
Below you can download a free PDF version of the book. Begin with this book, and the first three supporting exercises: The Relaxationmeditation, The Harameditation and the Heartmeditation. Use all of the above, when questions begin to emerge.
The book is also available as paperback and kindle ebook. My pages on Amazon:
Remember that the book also is available from other Amazon sellers, as well as most major online booksellers around the world. Check the ones which are closest to your country.
Free PDF version:
Ancient Hellenic and modern European ’philosophy’ have nothing in common but the name. Ch. C. Evangeliou therefore contents the uncritical assumption that ancient Hellenic philosophy is the origin of Western or European ‘philosophy’, arguing instead that the Socratic tradition, to which Plato and Aristotle belong, has more affinity with the Egyptian wisdom and the ‘remote philosophies of India and China’.
Three "shamanic" paintings by Marc Chagall
(Note the animism (inner tantra) in the below paintings, and how the awakening of nature happens through a flowering of thoughts and words (critical thinking, level C). Also note how the flowering of thoughts and words is depicted like song and music. I see the experience of animism and the experience of beauty as one and the same. Read more about "The Artist as Shaman" and "The Art of Song Healing" in the "philosophy links" in the end of my article: Nordic Shamanism and Forest Therapy).
Copyright © by Morten Tolboll.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.