Meditation exercise – Transcending tack
In the art of Zen meditation, one can learn to focus so intensely on the everyday world that the act of focusing, in and of itself, creates its own special sense of transcendence. With the ‘transcending tack’ meditation exercise you’ll begin exploring this type of experience for yourself by focusing on some of the more bizarre aspects of the world in which we live.
Begin this meditation exercise by visiting a local museum (either a cultural or natural history museum). You can’t find a museum? Then if worst comes to worst you can substitute the museum with your local bookshop or library.
Your goal for this meditation exercise is to visit three separate exhibits representing three distinctly different human cultures. (Alternatively, you may review the artifacts of three cultures by flipping through photographs in various books). As you explore the objects, don’t allow yourself to become overly analytical. Instead, just spend your time absorbing the overall experience.
For example, if you were in New York’s American museum of natural history, you could investigate the hall of Northwest Coast Indians with its giant totem poles, dyed blankets and carved rattles. Then you could visit the Central America exhibit and encounter an Aztec sun wheel, stone fertility figures and artifacts of gold. Finally, you could explore the hall of Man in Africa to study the shrunken heads and skin drums.
As you encounter the various objects, imagine what everyday reality must have been like for those who created them. How do your feelings toward reality shift as you move from exhibit to exhibit? How do these feelings differ from your usual feelings towards everyday reality?
For the second phase of this meditation exercise, return home and choose some synthetically produced object that could have been manufactured only in contemporary society. Although many people mistakenly believe that transcendent experiences can only be achieved through meditating for years on so-called sacred objects, this is not the case. By focusing on something ordinary, like a garden gnome, a tin of sardines or a baseball card, you can learn to appreciate transcendent levels of reality in the here and now.
The object you choose for this phase of the exercise should be as unredeemably tacky as possible. It should ideally (though not necessarily) represent something in the natural world, yet not be natural at all. A plastic Halloween mask of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck or some other cartoon character would be ideal for this portion of the exercise, as would a bunch of plastic flowers, a rubber band, a piece of wax fruit or a toy stuffed animal with fluorescent fur.
Sit in a comfortable position with the object you have selected directly in front of you. Take a deep breath, feel all the muscles in your body letting go of any residual tension, and allow yourself to relax. Then close your eyes for a few minutes and calmly reflect upon your remembered mental images of the objects you encountered in the museum earlier in the day. Remember how those objects made you feel about the worldviews of those who created them. Then allow the memory of these ancient objects to fade.
Now, without otherwise moving your body, open your eyes and begin focusing exclusively on the contemporary object before you. Then imagine that you are an anthropologist from another culture, perhaps even another world – studying this object for the first time.
How does this object make you feel about the worldview of the culture that created it? Notice how these feelings differ from those you had earlier in
the day, while you were examining objects from the past.
After you have maintained this focus for at least 10 to 15 minutes, gradually let go of any intellectual reflections about the object in question. Instead, focus on its independent existence as a thing in the universe. Note that the object exists apart from human values, history, or culture. Intensify your focus until all preconceived ideas about the object dissolve, and you feel as though you are appreciating its unique existence for the very first time.
You should be able to recognise when you have achieved this intense focus, because the object will cease to appear tacky and mass-produced. In fact, it won’t appear to have any particular human value or function at all. Instead, it will seem to reflect an almost transcendent dimension of reality, placing you in touch with an ineffable inner truth. You should then feel as though you have finally recognised the object for exactly what it is – in and of itself – for the very first time.
Once you achieve a sense of transcendence, again allow yourself to experience the object as a somewhat surrealistic reflection of the day-to-ay reality in which you live.
Aztec statue of Quetzalcoatl
Transcending tackiness: Chinese lucky cat