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  • Karl Thunemann

Checking in with an Old Friend

How could I be so mistaken about the book I once characterized as my bible? For many years I loved the first edition of Lawrence LeShan’s How to Meditate. And then, when I laid it aside to take up other contemplative pursuits, my memory must have begun building a false altar to this estimable little book.

Until now.  I tucked LeShan under my arm early on when I started writing these memoirs, but I read selectively. I picked out chapters about the psychological and physiological effects of meditation, about mysticism and the paranormal, about alluring traps, about whether you need a teacher, about the integration of meditation with psychotherapy and its social significance.

Lawrence LeShan warns against equipping your “safe harbor” with a boat. But I couldn’t help myself.

And I went on inflating LeShan’s catholic approach to his topic. I wondered: How many different meditations did he hand us the keys to? Twenty-five? Thirty? I sat down to pore over these pages and make a note of every last one.

There are ten, count them: all laid out in Chapter 8: “The How of Meditation.”

  • The Meditation of Contemplation.

  • The Meditation of Breath Counting.

  • The Meditation of the Bubble.

  • A Meditation of the Theraveda type.

  • The Meditation of the Thousand-Petaled Lotus.

  • The Mantra Meditation.

  • The Meditation of “Who Am I?”

  • A Sufi Movement Meditation.

  • A Sensory Awareness Meditation

  • .The Meditation of the Safe Harbor.

And finally, he devotes three or four pages to the unstructured meditations. Loving-kindness—not mentioned elsewhere—must fall in with this group. What a large cosmos he sketches!

After this review of LeShan’s offerings, I feel a series of dueling emotions, punching one another out and vying for supremacy:

Chagrin. Of these ten central meditations, I have made concentrated efforts to follow only five of them. I thought seriously of two others, yet only scraped their surface. The other three were over my head, beyond my competence and out of my league. So I’m feeling as if I’m not very advanced—not quite worthy to be writing these memoirs.

Self-reproach. If this book really was my bible, how much more might I have grown spiritually if I had taken it to heart and more fully explored its many dimensions?

Gratitude. As a student of LeShan, I may have been scattered and sometimes inattentive. But the meditations I entered deeply really did work for me. And the book left me with an impression that still feels like a legacy. The cosmos of meditation is vast, and I have explored many of its peaks and canyons. Some were meditations I devised on my own, and many of them held my attention for months. I do not think I could have done this without the seeds planted by LeShan.  I’m also grateful for having encountered some big-time meditations that really do require a teacher—tai chi, the healing sounds of the Shaolin Temple, and the microcosmic orbit, or little circle of heaven.

Since these memoirs are about gratitude, that is where I will hang my hat. But chagrin and self-reproach? They seem like good candidates for working through the Thousand-Petaled Lotus, one of LeShan’s meditations I have yet to try.


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