Marvels: Letters from an Elder, Part 14
Letter # 10, November 4th, 1948
Imagine, then, that you are floating on your back in a swimming pool, in a shallow depth so that you can simply stand up if you feel a need to. It might feel strange to have water around your ears while your nose and mouth are in the air, but this is something that you can get used to. A key step forward would be to be able to put out your arms at a right angle to your body so that your body forms a ’T’ shape. You will have noted that this would involve letting go of the side of the pool, but having your arms extended like this will give greater stability. If floating for the first time, taking a deep breath will fill your lungs with air, ensuring that your body will float.
How does all this relate to meditation?
It is unlikely that you will have made much satisfactory progress since my last letter. I can tell from your reply that you are finding this frustrating. This is highly common at this point. Meditative practice by its nature takes time and concentration. However, having some idea of where you are heading with it can help to keep you going along what can sometimes appear to be a difficult road. Keep in mind, though, that the whole purpose and function of meditation and prayer is to bring about change in the actual world around you. Too many people fall inward, believing that the focus of their efforts is self-improvement or self-worth, turning the practice into a quest for sensation, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. What you are learning in truth is how to do God’s Will for the world, the universe at large: your own soul will blossom and flourish to the degree that it recognises and accomplishes its role in the whole.
Our working analogy is the swimming pool, then, and the idea of learning how to swim. Floating on your back in a swimming pool equates to achieving a point of disassociation in meditation. By now, it may be possible for you to imagine, if not actually achieve, this point. You will most likely drift off into sleep, or that state which you have so far called ‘sleep’, but which, as I have explained, is exactly the condition of disassociation from the material world which you are aiming for. Images, events, people and emotions may manifest themselves to you in ways which your conscious mind will probably regard as odd, even bizarre, perhaps even menacing. Should things become alarming, though, you are still at a shallow depth in the pool, and can awaken the conscious functions of your mind and return to wakefulness should you need to.
Disassociating with the mortal world may well feel as strange as having water around your ears while your nose and mouth are in the air: you are, after all, still operating in the mortal sphere, and your ego-driven instinct may well be to connect more with it rather than move the other way towards disconnection. But, as with learning to swim, this is something that you can get used to.
In learning to swim, putting out your arms at a right angle to your body means letting go of the side of the pool, as we have said. The equivalent to this in meditation is when your attention can shift from your stable point — the point which you are firmly ‘gripping’ mentally in order to permit the rest of you to ‘float’ — to something else. This ‘something else’ is normally something of significance which you may find recurring in the dreamlike state into which you are progressing: it may be a place, a person, an image, or a feeling. It can be anything which seems to arise again and again in your floating state. For many people, it is a symbol, like an eye, or a mantra different to the one you may have developed consciously as a stable point or a piece of music. This can take some time to develop, so your patience will be further required.
Part of the apparent difficulty which arises while you are practising this is that the dream world which takes shape around you, while you are in it, feels perfectly natural. You make no differentiation, while there, between it and what your conscious mind calls ‘normality’. To all intents and purposes, while in your disassociated state, you are just as present and alive and ‘normal’ as in the material world. So the notion that you might be able to discern a particular symbol or shape or person or other point in that world which is claiming your attention might seem a far-fetched one: how on earth are you going to be able to learn to ‘think’ in the dream state so that you can observe anything or make progress of any kind?
The first point about this is that there is no need to be anxious. Your presence in the dream plane is just as natural and ordinary as your presence in the waking world of matter and time. You can always ‘wake up’ from one to the other should you so wish. There is no need to grow frustrated or feel that you are ‘failing' if you arise from a session of meditation and feel no different than you would have done had you ‘fallen asleep’. You may be coming to realise that the very ordinary state of falling asleep has much more to it than you have supposed through most of your life. Simply lie back and continue to float; let the ‘water’ of the dream plane carry you through any disturbance of composure.
The equivalent of taking a deep breath in these circumstances is just to enjoy your experience and reflect a little upon it when you awake and are functioning in the mortal plane again. You may want to remind yourself that, no matter what has happened when you were disassociated, you have been on a journey. Some call this ‘astral travelling’. You may not feel ready to frame your experiences in these terms, but it can help as an encouragement to recognise that wherever it was your mind took you, it is a safe assumption that it was dissimilar enough to your mortal surroundings to qualify as ‘somewhere else’.
Ponder this: you are, through disassociating, learning to travel. You are going somewhere, every time you ‘sleep’ or enter this dream plane. Recognising that fact can help you to become orientated to what is occurring in new ways.