Reflections on Chapter 4 of Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.
Meditative states are usually hard, often impossible, to describe. Language is created through shared experiences, and meditation is a purely internal experience, so it makes sense that we lack the vocabulary.
Even so, it is possible to understand varying degrees of consciousness by starting with two very familiar states: Sleep and Awake.
We can expand this further – sometimes we feel drowsy, sometimes we feel alert. So we can see that there are at least two wakeful states of being. Also, we know that there are two states of sleep: NREM (quiet sleep) and REM (active sleep). So, based on this, it’s possible to understand:
- Active sleep state
- Quiet sleep state
- Awake state
- Alert state
Now that at least 4 states of consciousness are obvious to us, it’s not impossible to imagine additional states.
I don’t think of these as a ladder, gaining higher and higher states of being. Rather, think of consciousness as a tree – we can tune in (or branch out) to being more perceptive, more focused, more creative, calmer.
It appears to me as though there are two main boughs to this tree, which I refer to as hot and cold meditative states. Being hot allows you to give your full attention to a single task, laser-focused to the exclusion of all else. Being cold allows you to clear and calm your mind, allowing positive emotions and creative solutions to surface.
I have experienced a hot meditative state many times while programming. Being “in the zone”, also referred to as achieving “flow”, is a common experience for software developers, who become hyper-focused – locked-on with the whole body and mind (often ignoring hunger, thirst, and even the need to use the bathroom).
There’s a whole subreddit (unknowingly) dedicated to being in a cold meditative state: r/showerthoughts. Often our best ideas come to us we’re relaxed, with a quiet mind, such as in the shower or drifting off to sleep.