Friday, 27 February 2015

The Importance Of Meditation

"Many years ago I was once much preoccupied with this sonata. That was during the period of my free studies, before I was called to teaching and later to the post of Music Master. At the time I was ambitious to work out a history of the sonata from a new point of view; but then for a while I stopped making any progress at all. I began more and more to doubt whether all these musical and historical researches had any value whatsoever, whether they were really any more than vacuous play for idle people, a scanty aesthetic substitute for living a real life. In short, I had to pass through one of those crises in which all studies, all intellectual efforts, everything that we mean by the life of the mind, appear dubious and devalued and in which we tend to envy every peasant at the plough and every pair of lovers at evening, or every bird singing in a tree and every cicada chirping in the summer grass, because they seem to us to be living such natural, fulfilled, and happy lives. We know nothing of their troubles, of course, of the elements of harshness, danger and suffering in their lot. In brief, I had pretty well lost my equilibrium. It was far from a pleasant state; in fact it was very hard to bear. I thought up the wildest schemes for escaping and gaining my freedom. For example, I imagined myself going out into the world as a itinerant musician and playing dances for wedding parties. If some recruiting officer form afar had appeared, as in old tales, and coaxed me to don a uniform and follow any company of soldiers into any war, I would have gone along. And so things went form bad to worse, as so often happens to people in such moods. I so thoroughly lost my grip on myself that I could no longer deal with my trouble alone, and had to seek help."

He paused for a moment and chuckled softly under his breath. "Naturally I had a studies adviser, as the rules require, and of course it would have been sensible and right as well as my duty to ask him for advice. But the fact is, Joseph, that precisely when we run into difficulties and stray from our path and are most in need of correction, precisely then we feel the greatest disinclination to return to the normal way and seek out the normal form of correction. My adviser had been dissatisfied with my last quarterly report; he had offered serious objections to it; but I had thought myself on the way to new discoveries and had rather resented his objections. In brief, I did not like the idea of going to him; I did not want to eat humble pie and admit that he had been right. Nor did I want to confide in my friends. Nut there was an eccentric in the vicinity whom I only knew by sight and hearsay, a Sanscrit scholar who went by the nickname of "the Yogi". One day, when my state of mind had grown sufficiently unbearable, I paid a call on this man, whose solitariness and oddity I had both smiled at and secretly admired. I went to his cell intending to talk with him, but found him in meditation; he had adopted the ritual Hindu posture and could not be reached at all. With a faint smile on his face, he hovered, as it were, in total aloofness. I could do nothing but stand at the door and wait until he returned from his absorption. This took a very long time, an hour or two hours, and at last I grew tired and slid to the floor. There I sat, leaning against the wall, continuing to wait. At the end I saw the man slowly awaken; he moved his head slightly, stretched his shoulders, slowly uncrossed his legs, and as he was about to stand up his gaze fell upon me.

"'What do you want?' he asked.

"I stood up and said, without thinking and without really knowing what I was saying: 'It's the sonatas of Andrew Gabrieli.'

"He stood up at this point, seated me in his lone chair, and perched himself on the edge of the table. 'Gabrieli?' he said. "What has he done to you with his sonatas?'

"I began to tell him what had been happening to me, and to confess the predicament I was in. He asked me about my background with an exactness that seemed to be pedantic. He wanted to know about my studies of Gabrieli and the sonata, at what hour I rose in the morning, how long I read, how much I practiced, when were my mealtimes and when I went to bed. I had confided in him, in fact imposed myself on him, so that I had to put up with his questions. but they made me ashamed; they probed more and more mercilessly into details, and forced me to an analysis of my whole intellectual and moral life during the past weeks and months.

"Then the Yogi suddenly fell silent, and when I looked puzzled, he shrugged and said: 'Don't you see yourself where the fault lies?' But I could not see it. At this point he recapitulated with astonishing exactness everything he had learned from me by his questioning. He went back to the first signs of fatigue, repugnance, and intellectual constipation, and showed me that this could have happened only to someone who had submerged himself disproportionately in his studies and that it was high time for me to recover my self-control and to regain my energy with outside help. Since I had taken the liberty of discontinuing my regular meditation exercises, he pointed out, I should at least have realised what was wrong as soon as the first evil consequences appeared, and should have resumed meditation. He was perfectly right. I had omitted meditating for quite a while on the grounds that I had no time, was too distracted to or out of spirits, or too busy and excited with my studies. Moreover, as time went on I had completely lost all awareness of my continuous sin of omission. Even now, when I was desperate and had almost run aground, it had taken an outsider to remind me of it. As a matter of fact, I was to have the greatest difficulty snapping out of this state of neglect.I had to return to the training routines and beginners' exercises in meditation in order gradually to relearn the art of composing myself and sinking into contemplation."

With a small sigh the Magister ceased pacing the room. "That is what happened to me, and to this day I am still a little ashamed to talk about it. But the fact is, Joseph, that the more we demand of ourselves, or the more our task at any given time demands of us, the more dependent we are on meditation as a wellspring of energy, as the ever-renewing concord of mind and soul. And - I could if I wished give you quite a few more examples of this - the more intensively a tax requires our energies, arousing and exalting us at one time, tiring and depressing us at another, the more easily we may come to neglect this wellspring, just as when we are carried away by some intellectual work we easily forget to attend to the body. The really great men in the history of the world have all either known how to meditate or have unconsciously found their way to the place to which meditation leads us. Even the most vigorous and gifted among the others all failed and were defeated in the end because their tasks or their ambitious dream seized hold of them, made them into persons so possessed that they lost the capacity for liberating themselves from present things, and attaining perspective. Well, you know all this; it's taught during the first exercises, of course. But it is inexorably true. How inexorably true it is, one realises, only after having gone astray."

The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

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