William Blake came to the practice of meditation a little later in his life, when he was in his mid-
40s. The consequent changes that occurred in his life gave him a stronger appreciation for the practice, and its wholesale benefits, than he might have recognized when he was younger.
That love of life and how to improve it through meditation runs like a fresh breeze through the narrative of his book, A Creative Toolkit of Meditations (Balboa Press), now informing and changing lives from coast to coast.
Here is part two of our exclusive interview with Bill Blake — including the question everyone asks him (and we couldn’t resist, because it’s such a great connection):
WORDJOURNEYS.COM: When was the moment in your life when the light really turned on as far as the benefits of meditation? What took place for you to say, “This will be a staple for the rest of my life?”
WILLIAM BLAKE: My long history of meditation, from 45 to 77, was necessary for my final realization, which was fairly recent. I wrote my book so that other seekers could grow up and wake up more quickly. I’m not a good example of a quickly enlightened being. Yet I know that every single flaw and every tedious effort was necessary for my final resolution. The whole part of my life that I call a “mess” disappeared when I was told by my wife, Haygo, that I had shown “neediness” for approval during my talk with a family friend who sought my help in relating more positively with her daughter.
For a couple hours, I pondered this word “neediness.” The next day, I easily observed my neediness for approval and praise when I spoke with someone. By that night, I had fully dropped all my neediness to change, to improve, or to be “better.”
For me, “neediness” concisely substituted for any thoughts of being “unworthy,” “flawed,” “incomplete,” or any other negative thought or feeling. I lost my neediness for my wife to be any certain way, for me to be any certain way, for anything to be any different than it was. I was free from my own judgments of myself or anyone else.
WB: Everything became contextual, and understood as unique and specific for that moment in time. I’ve lived from freedom since my realization: I love the objective, rational term “neediness.” I now lack any need for this neediness. What is my experience of life since this revelation? The answer is consistent mindfulness, much greater functionality, rapid change of negative lifetime patterns, and freedom.
WJ.COM: A related, actually the backbone of A Creative Toolkit of Meditations, are the phases of life – waking up and growing up. You just shared a personal example of this, but on a larger scale, how how do you define “growing up”, versus the typical social definition?
WB: I borrowed “growing up” and “waking up” from John Welman’s article in the Winter 2012 Tricycle. My rendering of these terms is distinct from Welman’s descriptions. A great question is, How is “growing up” different from customary social definitions? The first answer is that my definition of “growing up” is conscious, active investigation of what serves us, and what doesn’t. Conformity seems to be the standard brand behavior of society. What’s expected of a person with a particular class, race, education, age, and group identity? Consensus is holding on to an identity that conforms to a person’s group standards and, of course, confirms with her parents’ standards. In contrast, “growing up” implies an investigation of these standards. Do cultural expectations and norms meet my needs? Am I happy hanging out with this block’s kids all weekend? Am I compassionate when my mate returns from a hard, hard day’s work and I watch her immediately slink toward bed to sleep for an hour? Are my parents living mostly from their parents’ formatted behavior? If I’m rebelling against my parents and their culture, am I creating my own unique life style or merely rebelling because that’s all I know how to do?
The second answer comes from the questions of Who am I? How can I live my life? What school classes do I enjoy and which do I dislike? How do I manage to get the classes I want? Romantic love doesn’t last long. What are the qualities that make a really good relationship between me and a woman (or man)? Can I make enough money to take a half-year vacation to a Scandinavian country? I’d like to experience how they live. Who are my parents? These inquiries are not conventional thinking.
Growing up thus involves two distinct, fairly rare activities: 1) investigating activities of our culture and the behavior of our parents. 2) Asking ourselves what we want for this lifetime, and what are the means of fulfilling them?
WJ.COM: A section I’ve never seen before in any meditation book concerns ways of listening and investigative dialogue. Wow – if only we all knew this! Why are listening and asking the right internal questions so important not only to meditation but to a fulfilling life?
WB: Listening is one aspect of mindfulness, full presence. “Asking the right internal questions” is clarity, mindfulness aligned with compassion for the reality of another person’s inner life. Clarity and compassion are elements of full mindfulness. When these two traits exist, we begin employing investigative dialogue to help others. As Chapter 5 states, investigative dialogue is useful maybe once every ten conversations. People have to be ready for it, and the listener must skillfully and graciously ask the right questions. Therefore, if the speaker is truly seeking, he or she can find the correct answer.
Why are “right internal questions” important to meditation? Why is food important to a marathon runner? Right internal questions are the meat and potatoes of meditation that fashions mindfulness. In order for mindfulness to express clarity and compassion to another person, we must listen and ask the right internal questions. Therefore, meditation can emphasize listening and skillful inquiry. They’re the wheels driving the mindfulness cart.
WJ.COM: Can you say a few words about active, conscious breathing as it applies to creating space in which to live our lives fully?
WB: In its many forms, conscious breathing stops monkey-mind thoughts. It therefore “creates inner space.” When a thought does arise, conscious breathing quickly relegates it to Silence. When I discuss the five stages of inhaling a positive thought and exhaling another positive thought in Chapter 6’s “Meditation on Dimensions in Relationships,” I give the Step 1 affirmation on the inhale as, I am loved by the heart. Then the meditator moves into Silence. During Stage one’s exhale, the thought is I love the heart. Again, the meditator rests in Silence. Conscious breathing thus enforces two actions: 1) It creates inner Silence; 2) When a disruptive thought arises, it ends that thought and thus releases inner Silence or Space. Chapter 2 has two simple meditations, Replacement and Redirection, that also create inner space or Silence.
WJ.COM: Finally, we’d like to ask the question everyone else asks you – how are you related to your namesake from the 18th and early 19th centuries, the great poet William Blake? What about his work has inspired or influenced you the most?
WB: When I was a young boy, a distant relative checked out the history of William Blake’s descendants. I am a descendent of William’s elder brother, John. Unfortunately, Blake hated this brother. He was a bourgeois, unsophisticated fool who didn’t even like poetry. William wrote an unpublished poem that began, “My brother John in a black cloud.” So I might have the bad genes, not the good ones! (laughs)
Actually, William Blake is one of my two favorite poets, along with Emily Dickinson. He had an adventurous life instructing the younger romantic poets, including Keats and Shelley, how to use poetry to slice and dice their culture and society. Blake also built a hut in a tree and lived there with his wife for a couple of years.
Blake’s poetry nudged me more into the archetypal inquiry of What’s the truth about this particular activity or behavior?