What is the difference between active and passive meditation?
The mind’s innate tendency is to identify all it cognates. It becomes so wrapped up in beautiful experiences that it forgets its own identity.
Active meditation is the true aim of yoga. It is the ability to always remain in a meditative state, even while talking walking, eating, working etc. Meditation is often understood as sitting quietly in a meditative asana and following a set technique. This is the other kind of practice, called passive meditation.
The Dispersed Mind
It is near impossible to take up active meditation right away as the mind’s natural state is to be dispersed. Starting with passive meditation techniques helps focus the mind and guide it towards introversion. This is so the mind can explore itself instead of focusing only on the external world. With introversion comes the ability to explore oneself and realise that all experience lies within. It is not what is happening outside of us that matters most, it is how we manage it all.
For the practices of passive meditation, it is best to sit in a relaxed, comfortable posture, where the spine can be held straight without discomfort, following a given technique. This often involves training the mind to focus on a single object, for example the breath or a sound. When the mind is sufficiently trained, it becomes still and flows towards the chosen object spontaneously. This is when meditation starts.
Four Stages of Meditation
As a general guideline, we can divide the process of meditation into four stages:
Fixing the mind on a chosen object, e.g. breath, sound etc., thus guiding the mind towards stillness and introversion. This becomes easier when the body is also trained to become still so it won’t disturb the mind. This is the main reason of practising asanas.
When the first stage has been perfected, the subconscious starts to flow freely from deep within the mind. Thoughts, phobias, visions, buried memories etc. rise to the surface of normal awareness. At this point it becomes possible to observe the lower mind and dust all the cobwebs, removing the rubbish gathered there over the years.
When the lower mind has been explored, the mind automatically turns to superconscious realms and this is where real mediation begins. One finds a fountain of knowledge and energy within. One now identifies with the greater world around oneself, not just the little personality we consider ourselves to be.
There is still a higher stage where even this greater mind is transcended and the practitioner attains self-realisation. There is not much one can say about this 4th state. It can only be experienced.
How do we move from passive to active?
Practising passive meditation regularly with enthusiasm, takes one spontaneously into active meditation over time. As the mind learns to dive deeper into its own depths it relaxes. And over time one finds oneself in a spontaneously meditative state, even while doing mundane tasks. The more one is able to explore the mind, transcending fears and insecurities, the better one is able to express oneself in the everyday world. One becomes more dynamic and creative. Things that seemed difficult or even impossible before, become easy to accomplish.
Later passive meditation is no longer needed as the mind is surpassed. One is able to abide in deep states of tranquillity while going about his or her daily work. The two worlds, material and spiritual are no longer incompatible. As they merge, one becomes joyful and full of enthusiasm.
The minds innate tendency is to identify itself with all it perceives. For example: it becomes so wrapped up in beautiful experiences that it forgets its own identity. We get so caught up in the grandeur of a beautiful sunrise, we entirely forget ourselves. And are no longer aware of being the observer of the beauty that lies before us. Thus it becomes impossible to truly enjoy the object perceived. The subject which is the observer, has been side-lined by the object. Excluding the subject completely the mind identifies only with the experience and its effect. This creates confusion and clouds the mind as the basic inception or foundation is inaccurate.
Take a moment to observe yourself right now while you read these words. Who is reading? Can you become aware that you are reading these words, instead of identifying completely with them?
Uniting the Outer and the Inner
During meditation a link is made between expanded consciousness and waking awareness. This link allows higher mental vibrations to become perceptible. While these higher vibrations exist all the time, they are not immediately discernible to all. They may come as creative illumination and inspiration from time to time. But normally we are too caught up with our own mind games.
When we are able to unite both – the inner and outer life – we find a state of being that is joyful and full of harmony. It becomes easier to focus the expanded mind on what we want and attain it. This higher state of active meditation is the legacy of all humankind and spontaneously available to all. But we are far removed from it because of the way we live. We are continually torn between what we truly want and what we think we ought to want, often living a life that may be completely opposed to our inner being. A voice in our head continuously says “this isn't enough, if I had this, if I became that, if I could do this… then I would be complete”. This perpetual striving takes us further and further away from our being as we find out true happiness eludes us. If only we could see ourselves as we are and see our desires for what they truly are, meditation would occur spontaneously.
The Higher Mind
We use the intellect’s logic and rationality to analyse every one of our own and other’s acts. We try to derive meaning from our experiences through relative knowledge, thinking of it as absolute. With limited facts and figures we elaborate our own theories and live by them. It is evident that this kind of thinking can only lead to stress and anxiety, and slowly erodes our health and wellbeing. But our rational minds continuously come up with theories on science, technology, philosophy, medicine etc.
Emotions are also experienced as knowledge. As a feeling of having seen or felt something as true. Sometimes this is mistakenly considered to be intuitive knowledge. But beyond the emotions and the rationale lies another realm of knowledge which is accessed only through meditation. True intuitive knowledge has one characteristic, the ability to see the totality of a situation. While the rational mind has access only to parts of what it perceives, intuitive knowledge understands the whole, the totality.
Through the ages, yogis and rishis have told us that we can attain the higher mind and see the entire picture with absolute clarity. The possibility of expanding consciousness and truly understanding life as it comes through the skill of observation. Through careful cultivation in passive meditation, it later flows though us, every moment, in active meditation.
The mind’s true nature is revealed when one is able to observe the object while staying sharply aware of the subject. As one becomes aware that what is before one is an objective experience, meditation starts to dawn. One becomes aware that experience does not belong to the object but to the subject. They lie within, not outside of ourselves, serving only as detonators for something that has already taken shape within. Transcendence is becoming firmly established in this knowledge.
It is then that the mind in its pristine beauty, shines as a pure lake reflecting the sun.