How many of us find ourselves worn out by the physical anxieties, the frequent nerve-tensions, and the jittery tumultuousness of our period! We tend to get entrapped in our own activities, to multiply them by the dozen, to be everlastingly busy with this and that. We are, in a sense, the unwitting victims of our surface-life, the unconscious slaves of its activities and desires, the dancing marionettes of its interests and possessions. There is no real free movement of our wills, only an apparent one. We have only to look at the faces of the men and women in our big cities to realize how desolate of spiritual repose most of them are. We have become so extroverted that it has become unnatural to turn the mind upon itself, artificial to direct the attention inwards for a while. All this causes us to miss the most important values, keeps us on the plane of being merely higher thinking and mating animals and little more.
Everyone wants to live. Few want to know how to live. If people permit work to take up so much of their time that they have none left for their devotional prayer or mystical meditation or metaphysical study, they will be as culpable for this wastage of life as they will be if they permit transient pleasures to do so. Those who have no higher ideal than to chase after amusement and to seek after pleasure may look upon religious devotion as senseless, metaphysical studies as boring, mystical meditations as time-wasting, moral disciplines as repulsive. Those who have no such inner life of prayer and meditation, study and reflection, will necessarily pay, in emergencies or crises, the high price of their hopeless extroversion. The needs of external life are entitled to be satisfied in their place, but they are not entitled to dominate a man's whole attention. The neglected and unnoticed needs of internal life must also receive their due. It is quite true that man must eat, find shelter, wear clothes, and amuse himself. And it is also true that if a fortunate fate has not relieved him of the necessity, he must work, trade, scheme, or gamble to get the money for these things. But all this is insufficient grounds for him to pass through life with no other thoughts in his head than those of bodily needs or financial strivings. There is still room there for another kind of thought, for those concerning the mysterious elusive and subtle thing that is his divine soul. The years are passing and he cannot afford such a wastage of time, cannot afford the luxury of being so extroverted at the cost of having lost touch with the inner life.
It is bad enough to be a sick person, but it is worse to be sick and believe you are well. Yet the complete extroverts are in this condition, because they regard complete extroversion as the proper state for normal healthy living! The fact is that to let ourselves be swept into the whirlpool of unending act without intervals of inner rest and physical quiet is not only unworthy but also unhealthy. Such a complete suppression of the inner life and such a complete immersion in the outer upsets Nature's balance and may express itself in disease. Unfamiliar and irksome, unpractical and inconvenient as it mostly is, exercise in meditation does not attract the modern man. In former times it was a kind of pleasant duty. In present times it is a kind of bitter medicine. Yet his need of it still remains, indeed it is even larger than the medieval man's need. The more we suffer from the psychic and physical sicknesses bred by our incessant extroversion and by our disequilibrated materialism, the more does it become imperative to swallow this valuable medicine. Here we ought to be guided by the importance of effecting a cure rather than by the importance of pleasing our taste. Meditation provides men with a sanctuary from the world's harassments, and those who would not enter this sanctuary of their own accord are being driven by the harsh experience of contemporary life itself to do so. They are being forced to seek for new sources of healing peace. They need it greatly. There is only one safe retreat for the harassed emotions in these turbulent times and that is within themselves, within the beautiful serenity which the mystical can find at will. The world will inevitably witness a large-scale reaction against its own excessive extroversion and an inward search for mental detachment will then arise. For it there is waiting the message and the panacea of modern meditation.
Meditation must be restored to its rightful place in the human program. Only those who have tasted its wonder know how bare, how poor, is a life from which it is always absent. Only those who have become expert in the art know the major pleasure of lying back on its velvet couch and letting their burdens fall from them. The benefits of meditation apply both to mundane life and to spiritual seeking. Think what it means to be able to give our mental apparatus a complete rest, to be able to stop all thoughts at will, and to experience the profound relief of relaxing the entire being--body, nerves, breath, emotions, and thoughts! Those whose nerves cannot endure the extreme tension of modern existence will find ample healing by resorting to mental quiet.
The need to practise meditation is an obligatory one upon us as beings who have become conscious that we are human and not merely animal beings. Yet few men ever recognize this obligation. Most men either do not perceive its importance or, perceiving it, they try to establish an alibi by suggesting to themselves that they are too busy fulfilling their other obligations and consequently have no time for meditation. But the fact is that they are too lazy to disengage themselves from the common state of complacent indifference towards the soul. We must strike a healthy balance between work and retirement, activity and contemplation, pleasure and reflection, and not remain victims of prevailing conventions. A few minutes invested every day in meditation practice will more than pay for themselves. We must not only introduce it as a regular feature of the human day but also as an important one. We must reorganize our daily lives so that time can be found for the leisurely cultivation of the soul through study, reflection, and meditation. Such periodical intervals of withdrawnness from the endless preoccupation with external affairs are a spiritual necessity. We must learn to bring in the new factor of introversion and turn inwards, tapping our finer reflective resources and liberating our profounder possibilities. To know that man has a sacred soul and to know this fact with invulnerable certitude, is the first reward of right prayer and philosophic meditation. The true soul of man is hidden and concealed from his senses and from his thoughts. But it is possible for him by these methods to awaken a higher faculty--intuition--whereby he may reach, know, and be lovingly received by this soul.
-- Perspectives > Chapter 3: Relax and Retreat > # 15