Item ID : 2657

Zajonc, A. (2009). Meditation as contemplative inquiry. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne

Zajonc, A. (2009). Meditation as contemplative inquiry. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne

Item ID : 2657

The ideas developed in Zajonc (2006) are brought much more elaborately in Zajonc (2009) Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry. In this book Zajonc presents a broader account of contemplative inquiry, its rationale and phases. He infuses these with various personal stories, and offers many exercises most of which are based on Steiner’s Anthroposophy.

The book opens with an appeal to “wakefulness” that expresses “a steadiness of mind, largeness of heart, and a deep equanimity in the face of new and significant experiences.” (p. 10). These are manifest in the Buddha but also in figures such as Nelson Mandela or Rigoberta Munchu Tum. Contemplative practice is a way to develop wakefulness. Its goal is “the joining of insight and compassion, wisdom and love” (p. 13). “To accomplish this requires that we find deep peace within and learn to be ever more awake and thereby be of greater benefit in all we undertake” (ibid.).

Zajonc attends the conceptualization of contemplation as rifted from the active life, and strives towards contemplative inquiry that incorporates “the contemplative life into the active life” (p. 15). He seeks the transformation and extension of scientific methods. “The same values of clarity, integrity and collegiality can infuse contemplative exploration as have supported natural scientific exploration” (p. 16). Contemplative practice seeks objectivity just like conventional science. However, “when conventional science strives to disengage or distance itself from direct experience for the sake of objectivity, contemplative inquiry does exactly the opposite. It seeks to engage direct experience, to participate more and more fully in the phenomena of consciousness. It achieves “objectivity” in a different manner, namely through self-knowledge and what Goethe in his scientific writings termed a ‘delicate empiricism'” (p. 35).  Contemplative knowing is personal and experiential. Therefore, in order to communicate it fully we must find a way to lead others to the same experience.

The power of Zajonc’s book lies in the special rhetoric it uses: “Much of the language of meditation has been co-opted, commercialized, or otherwise distorted, and religious or spiritual terminology has also become an obstacle for many…While I may use spiritual language where it seems necessary, I attempt to stay close to the practices themselves and the experiences that arise through them” (p. 17)

Zajonc discusses an appropriate attitude towards contemplative practice, for meditation alone does not guarantee moral virtue. “Contemplative practice means, among other things, becoming practiced in solitude” (p. 20). This does not mean self-indulgence but rather learning to be properly solitary “and to carry the depth of our solitude into the world with grace and selflessness” (p. 20). He describes phases of a contemplative practice session: It begins with humility that leads to a “path of reverence…for the high principles that we seek to embody” (p. 24). It then moves to ‘inner well-being’ (or inner hygiene) based on equanimity, leading to Merton’s ‘silent self’ – “the calm captain of the sailboat or the witness on the hillside” (p. 30). It is here that the process of meditation on a certain object begins. He then discusses a highly intriguing concept of cognitive breathing (p. 39), which involves alternation between focused and open attention. This breathing of attention to one’s object of research is the essence of contemplative inquiry (p. 43,p. 93, ch. 7).

Zajonc describes a progression from the physical, to the mental (thinking, feeling and willing) (These if I take correctly correspond with body, mind and soul on page 38). The final stage is of most interest to our case here and refers to Spirit: “I shift my attention away from the body and even away from my thoughts, feelings, and intentions. I attend instead to a presence or activity that animates but transcends all of these. It lights up in thinking but is not the thought content I experience. This third aspect of myself is the most elusive and invisible, and yet I sense it is that essential and universal aspect that is both truly me and non me alone. I only sense it in reflection. It might be considered my Self, but in a way that is not gendered or aged or possessed of any particular characteristics. Without it I would be body and mind, physical matter, feelings, thoughts, and habitual intentions, but my originality and genius would be missing…In turning my attention towards this silent self, I sense the intimations of a Self that is no-self. I recognize it also as a part of me, or perhaps I am a part of it” (pp. 37-38). After the meditational phase we continue towards ‘integration’ in which we integrate our insights towards the enrichment of life. We then conclude with an attitude of gratitude.

The middle chapters of the book describe diverse contemplative practices with rich references to wisdom traditions. The final chapter discusses contemplative inquiry and what Zajonc calls an “epistemology of love” as the fruit of such inquiry. Zajonc appeals frequently to Goethe, and to his claim that one can know truly only that which one loves. This appeals to an empiricism based on identity with the object. Such epistemology is based on respect for the other, on gentleness, intimacy, participation, vulnerability, transformation, organ formation, illumination, and insight (p. 187) all of which Zajonc describes in this chapter.

In the final pages of the last chapter Zajonc defines a process in which meditation moves from an outer object, to its “soul” afterimage. The afterimage then becomes the object of meditation, over which “cognitive breathing” is practiced. This leads to a void in which an additional afterimage (third-order of the object) now appears. The meditation on this third-order is called “spiritual activity”. This stresses the immaterial nature of this image. The next phase is the application of “cognitive breathing” over this third-order. The void now yields the agent/being of meditation, which leads to what Asian traditions call the “non-dual” awareness in which subject and object are merged (p. 192-193).

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