Samuel Sagan, Meditation, Spirituality, and the Importance of Being Dis-illusioned
Catherine Sinclair, an Australian-trained psychologist who lives in London and teaches meditation, writes that Dr Samuel Sagan, soon to be making a rare visit to Europe for a retreat with new and continuing students, is heralded around the globe to be one of today's leading spiritual teachers of meditation.
Samuel Sagan advocates dis-illusionment.
"Who wants to be illusioned?" he says, smiling broadly.
Behind the humour there is the wisdom of someone who has pushed his own spiritual practice to the limit and helped thousands of students to experience who they are beyond the discursive mind.
After all, it takes a lot of strength to see yourself and the world as it is, not as your mind wants to see it. And if you were happy with a life based on illusions, beliefs and all kinds of emotional charges, why would you want to embark on a spiritual path?
Sitting in a comfortable half lotus in front of around 110 people that have arrived from all over the world for a meditation course, he ranges over various topics: the future and consciousness, silencing the mind and transforming it, emotions and freedom from them, past lives, science, technology and the environment, great states of enlightenment and the challenges of becoming a person of spiritual dimension in a material world.
His words, often challenging, provoke reflection. His audience is lively, questioning.
Sagan's dialogue is both refreshingly simple yet passes depth of intellectual knowledge and personal experience. Although his French accent is now only faint, he still has maintained both a personal and very French inclination for theoretical rigour. No mumbo jumbo here, just serious enlightenment business.
He lived for 20 years or so in Sydney, Australia where he founded the Clairvision School of meditation, but now resides in the school's main retreat centre in Northern California.
At around 6' 1", dark haired with a beard, he looks younger than his 52 years. However in this time he has qualified as a doctor, homeopath and acupuncturist in his hometown of Paris. His interest in consciousness led him to initially study neurosurgery and psychiatry before he developed an interest in alternative therapies. He also studied Sanskrit at the Sorbonne. For his doctoral thesis in medicine he received a Silver medal from the French Society of the History of Medicine for his Chakras and Subtle Bodies in the Hindu Tradition . No small achievement within critical and discerning medical circles.
He started meditating when he was 16 (his parents despaired when he cut the legs off his school desk so he could perfect his meditation posture). In his early 20's he spent 5 years doing full time meditation practices before he started the Clairvision School in 1987 in Sydney.
Sagan has written 15 books on topics related to his meditation teachings. They range from the classic Awakening the Third Eye which is written in the style of a manual with both theory and practices, and Regression: Past Life Therapy for Here and Now Freedom on the techniques he has used with thousands of clients as an adjunct to meditation practices, to the cosmological tetralogy Atlantean Secrets which uses the medium of fiction to pass teachings. He has also written a number of impressive and comprehensive self-paced learning courses called the Knowledge Tracks .
It is obvious that this man is not only an achiever and a fine intellectual, he is someone who has had significant experiences of consciousness himself.
Sagan's aim was to create a school with substance and depth of teaching "for genuine spiritual seekers to have a high level training in meditation and related techniques."
He has built his meditation school around the philosophy of "see for yourself, know for yourself". He aims it at people who want to experience levels of consciousness for themselves, not just hear the theories. His no-dogma approach opens doors for experience. For many people with critical and discerning minds, the idea of doing spiritual work can be fluffy and means throwing all rationality out the window. In order to allow for their own experiences, he just asks students to move towards silencing the mind.
"I'm not asking you to believe me" he says."The world doesn't need believers, it needs people with their own vision, people who know that consciousness exists because they have had significant experiences". He teaches people methods to bring about an opening of inner vision and ways to have those experiences, methods that give them a different sense of themselves, out of the box.
"How is reading about someone else's experience or opinion going to bring about any significant change?" he asks.
Sagan distances himself from popular concepts of gurus or spiritual teachers where students defer to the guru. He teaches his students to become strong inside and develop their own inner vision. "What do you have left if not your own judgement?"
People looking for a spiritual path these days are faced with a myriad of choices, some promising enlightenment in next to no time. But traditionally enlightenment was the culmination of years, even lifetimes of spiritual practice. Sagan sees transformation as a process, not something that happens one day in the future but something that happens every time you bring awareness to daily life activities, engage a practice of inner vision, or practise meditation regularly. "Practise, practise, practise" is one of his mottos.
With practice his methods yield results. They must. His school began as classes he ran in his lounge room in Sydney. Largely through word of mouth it is now an international school with retreat centres in Australia and the USA. Courses have been run throughout Europe for the past 15 years. New students at their first workshops are excited at how tangible their experiences are, how when they engage the techniques, something happens - there is a pathway out of the chatter of the mind. The school also has quite a number of long term students who have seen the fruits of their dedicated practice over years.
He has fashioned a school for modern people who live in the world. People who engage in busy lifestyles and who want to integrate a spiritual awareness into their life.
In his meditation CD "Meditation Portal to Inner Worlds" he discusses some aspects of the benefits of bringing the awareness of the third eye into daily life. "The consciousness of the ordinary mind is separative in essence. When people are locked in their mind, they have no idea what other people feel. The ordinary mind makes you live in a state of isolation. Whereas when tuning into people, animals, plants or even stars from the third eye, there gradually arises the sense of a profound underlying unity."
It's fair to say that Sagan is a visionary. This extends to his vision on consciousness and how people undertaking a spiritual path today require different methods to transform their consciousness than perhaps what was necessary 100 or 1000 years ago.
Karen Kingston, groundbreaking author of global best selling book Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui says of the Clairvision School "If you're looking for the most advanced school of meditation in the western world today, you just found it".
Techniques that were aimed at people in the past are not necessarily appropriate for a modern day lifestyle. He not only includes techniques for awareness, but teaches students to apply their awareness to energetic management whether spending time in nature or living in big cities and working with modern technology. He sees no point in shrinking away from the challenges of modern life. "Technology is a double edged sword - it can numb consciousness or help it to awaken" he says pragmatically. "Let's face it, computers are going to increasingly permeate every single aspect of human activity." "A modern spiritual path needs to apply spiritual discernment to technology and use it for enlightenment".
Sagan has designed a two pronged approach for his teachings - one of 'construction' where students cultivate subtle energies and inner silence through meditation, and the other being 'deconstruction' - undoing emotional patterns. The underlying philosophy being that without addressing core emotional charges, any relaxation, depth or clarity will be short-lived. His teachings therefore involve meditation practices but also practices that are aimed at self-knowledge and undoing emotional blockages.
Sagan tells a story of when he was undertaking long term meditation practices over 5 years. On one 75 day block he experienced a painful spot in his back that started as he entered meditation every morning, intensified as his meditation deepened and then at the end of the day would ease. This continued every single day. This experience is a common one for meditators and relates to the 'samskaras' of the mind. Samskara is a Sanskrit word which refers to 'emotional/mental imprints'.
Sagan quotes the Upanishads, ancient Vedic texts that say "as soon as the last knot of samskaras in the heart has been untied the highest state of consciousness is cognised, absolute freedom is reached and the mortal becomes immortal" (Sagan, 1996, p. 6).
Traditionally the fire of meditation is aimed to burn through the impurities of the mind. But understandably at the end of the 75 days of excruciating pain, Sagan was looking for shortcuts.
So he designed a technique of regression and past life therapy, now called 'IST - Inner Space Techniques', based on the inner space of meditation, that works with the blockages of the mind. It came about when he and two experienced meditator friends locked themselves in his Paris flat for 10 days and pressed points on the body while employing meditation techniques. Sagan tells that after three days he started to have vivid experiences of past lives that left him a changed man. He no longer had the painful spot in his back but most importantly he was able to experience a depth and peace in meditation unknown to him since then. He had broken through an inner wall.
In his book on Regression: Past Life Therapy for Here and Now Freedom he describes samskaras as blockages that, like a boat with it's anchor down, stop people from moving forward. Even if you were to meditate for an hour each day "if the boat is anchored, twenty years later you will still be in the same place". The solution is "not only to row, but to get rid of the anchor" (Sagan, 1996, p.58). It is only when these blockages are released that true inner freedom and peace can be experienced. Of course it's not only in meditation that samskaras are active, but in daily life too.
Together with his students he has put together a sophisticated model of consciousness. He uses a process of mapping consciousness - a systematic method that helps bring objectivity into these very subjective realms. He sees it as critical that people develop a spiritual awareness that they can integrate into all aspects of life. Sagan is a scientist by training and respects the rigour of science. But he can see a danger in reducing all experiences of consciousness to physical ones. “How long before we read in the newspapers that the gene for nirvana has been discovered ?” he says.
While Samuel Sagan has his finger on the future, he also does so well what spiritual teachers are traditionally supposed to do. That is to guide their students on the steep and rocky pathway of a spiritual quest, the mountain of experiences where some students may choose to walk part way and others journey to the apex.
In August 2010, he will be paying a rare visit to Europe where he, along with some of his senior students will be running an 11 day course in Sweden at the Ängsbacka retreat centre. The course will focus on the foundation methods of the Clairvision School - meditation and the Inner Space techniques. It's a wonderful opportunity to sit with this extraordinary teacher and modern visionary and to experience the joys of dis-illusionment.
As he says in his book 'Sleeper Awaken' - "expect surprises!"
Sagan, S (1996) Regression: Past Life Therapy For Here and Now Freedom. Clairvision: Sydney.
© 2010 Catherine Sinclair