HOW MANY times have we read that we should meditate to improve our lives? It is commonplace instruction from the loftiest strata of secular spirituality to all the self-help gurus of populist culture. They are not wrong.
It is an amazing game-changer to practice meditation, or work towards quietening ‘the chattering monkey’, as the mind is so aptly called.
Yes we all know how meditation calms the mind from stress, the body from tension and brings clarity so that we can function optimally in our world. But, lets not limit the possibilities here and take a more expansive look at the big, cosmic picture to understand why we meditate.
So let’s jump in the deep end and talk about the underlying and quintessential reason why we meditate.
Ultimately, we meditate for freedom. We do all the spiritual work in the service of freedom. Freedom from conditioned existence and freedom from suffering to realise the intrinsic, true Self.
The Self that is already there, but occluded because of our inability to perceive reality directly in the mass illusory dream (maya) we call life.
Maya is the mass hypnosis that makes every human being believe in the same illusory ‘reality’ of creation as perceived by the senses. In meditation this ‘darkness’ of sensory dependence diminishes and intuition prevails, revealing the light of the true Self in the magnitude of a whole universe of light.
Self-realisation is yoga or ‘oneness’ with truth. It is the direct perception of truth by the all-knowing intuitive faculty of the soul.
A soul with a body
Meditation enables the soul to regain memory of its oneness with the omniscient, omnipresent Spirit.
The common thread amongst those who awakened from the ‘hallucination’ is that we are all consciousness experiencing itself subjectively.
We think of ourselves as humans searching for a spiritual awakening, when in fact we are spiritual beings attempting to cope with a human awakening.
We meditate to eliminate the consciousness of being related to the body and human limitations so that we can remember that we are a soul.
Our essential Being is our ever-present nature that lies shining quietly in the background of all experience and when it is recognised, overflows into the foreground, pervading all experience with its qualities.
This is our natural condition that we imagine to be an arbitrary, extraordinary state but this is because we find it so difficult to sit with ourselves in stillness long enough to recognise it as our abiding truth.
In fact it has been said that all our woes and the woes of the world would dissipate if we could all just learn to sit in silence to experience real inner peace.
‘Who am I who speaks, walks, stands and functions on this elaborate stage known as the world? I should find this out.’ - Yoga Vasishta
We are predisposed for spiritual awakening
At the core of all our longing and underpinning our embodiment is a desire for transcendence, even if we are unaware of this.
We are all biologically programmed to experience the entire spectrum of psycho spiritual possibilities from the paranormal states to the unitive consciousness of temporary God realisation to permanent enlightenment (Samadhi).
We all have an upright, sensitive and receptive spine with corresponding chakra energy centres - predisposed for Divine enlightenment or spiritual awakening.
Indeed every tradition and religion makes its own attempt to maximise our spiritual and psychic powers through different types of meditation.
Such practices include intentional solitude, deep reflection, silence, fasting, prayer, blessings and visionary quests alone in nature.
It is not important how complex meditation techniques may be, what is essential is how we deal with immediate experience in the present moment.
Among the multitudes of meditation methods there will be one that is the right fit for us, because at some stage in our exploration, in order for the spiritual growth to unfold, we will need to commit to a certain path.
Don’t just do, something, sit there
Every meditation technique has one focal point that we return to again and again; it could be our breath, a thought, a mantra, a sensation or even a prayer. The goal of these practices is to reach a higher realm of consciousness in which bodily needs, busy minds and emotional longings can be transcended.
It is not meditation to ruminate on the question of our biggest mystery ‘Who am I?’ (although this can drive our practice); however when we clear our mind of thoughts and the conditions are right, what was hidden to us before about our true nature is revealed to us.
Gradually we will experience a deepening of our understanding and find answers to our questions through the calm intuitive state of inner perception.
All we need to know is within, in the complete voidness that constitutes ultimate reality.
Meditation has its own pace and gradually when we are ready, we develop the witness consciousness as our default setting, whereby we watch the transient nature of thoughts and how we continually talk to ourselves.
We watch how all experience arises in the present, does its dance and disappears; and impermanence becomes a feeling, not just an intellectualism.
Meditation is not an end in itself or a way to hang out in altered or very relaxed states to escape our stress and emotional pain.
Meditation is a process to temporarily dispel the repetitive thoughts of the everyday mind and open the psyche to new and unscripted experiences that engage us in uncertainty without fear.
As our work progresses, we will notice how the pause between two thoughts and breaths expands and we come to know how awareness is so much vaster than thought.
We start to get glimpses of transcendent states that are blissful but fleeting. Such altered states keep us on our path, inspiring us to persevere with our practice to return home to this profound peace.
Minding Mind Mayhem
We humans are not so proficient or diligent about controlling our thoughts in everyday life; incessant, routine, repetitive and self-serving thoughts run through the undercurrents of our psyche.
The human brain is a hard working organ. Its long-term memory (which develops up to the age of 40) can hold one million billion separate bits of info in a lifetime.
This is a lot of data to draw from and indicates the mind’s busy predisposition and the challenging task we have to subdue its overwhelming ebullience.
Our lives are shaped by what we think, what we say and what we do. Thoughts create experience and our subjective reality; thoughts kindle feelings and feelings fuel action.
It is usually mayhem inside the normal human mind with anywhere between 12,000 and 50,000 thoughts per day.
Each thought generates a measurable electric charge, which stimulates the release of neuro-peptides; the messenger molecules that affect our cells, emotions and health.
Mind is compulsively divisive, forever separating everything into categories.
The far-reaching effects that repetitive, unbidden and unexamined thoughts have on our overall well-being reveals why regular mind hygiene is so important.
To effectively quell the unspoken noise in our heads frees up the faculties of the brain for worthier, higher insight, intuition and function.
The task of controlling and actually stopping the fluctuations of the mind is not easy by any means and is possibly the singular most challenging task we are called to do because our usual subconscious inner world will continually reassert itself.
The mind does not become concentrated just because we tell it to; we will need much dedication and perseverance. When the changing states of body/mind are simply left to themselves without any interference or judgement by the controlling will, a new quietness emerges by itself.
Eventually, when we stop talking to ourselves and thinking is ceased, we discover there is no past or future, only the eternal present.
'When consciousness is released from the thousands of mental, vital, physical vibrations in which it is buried, there is joy.' - Sri Aurobindo
A case of mistaken identity
Our non-wakefulness (Avidya) places the physical brain on a high pedestal, instead of venerating the inner Spiritual Self.
We are living a life of mistaken identity, whereby we identify with our ego and not with our soul. The conscious brain usurps the place of the real knower and enthrones our false personality.
To be fully awake is the normal human condition.
It expresses the deepest truth of our nature, our oneness with the energy of the universe. We meditate and study and practice to penetrate into, or relax into, this spacious awareness.
Yoga teaches us that true Self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of non-self elements. There is no separation between self and other because everything is interconnected.
Once we become aware of this we are no longer caught in the idea that we are a separate entity, because all is seen as Self.
It is said that there is no enlightened human, only enlightened actions. It is the inner meditative practice, especially in the midst of outer conditions, that leads to the unification and eventual reconciliation of inner and outer, self and other.
There’s no switch that turns on enlightenment, we move toward it with our effort and devotion when we let go of the striving and grasping.
Our meditation practice is a work in progress, beginning with baby steps into self-perpetuating renewal, like the saying: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins under our feet.’
We exhale and we let go of the old moment, it is lost to us and in so doing, we let go of the person we used to be. We inhale and breathe in the moment that is becoming.
We repeat the process and watch how thoughts are set free just as they arise.
Uncluttering a busy and frustrated mind of unnecessary thoughts is stabilising, making us lighter and able to develop inner strength.
We call on our natural curiosity as we focus inward and try to let go of any preconceived ideas and instead listen in a kind, receptive way to our body and heart.
We have to be soft, curious and open to whatever it is that results.
Sitting in the seat of the Soul
Meditation works with a type of trusting surrender as we learn to simply let things be as they are; we stop interfering with things as they ‘come up’.
We let the mind go on talking to itself, only we disengage, just by being aware, thoughts start disappearing; there is no need to struggle because our awareness is enough to destroy them when we relax in silence.
We naturally move into altered states where we become more aware of the field in which the thoughts are arising.
We eventually practice this type of surrender within the context of our own body by ceasing to interfere with the breath, our senses and the whole flow of the mind and emotions; we utilise them to transcend them, we hold on to nothing.
We begin to realise that none of these things are who we are and that they are coming from our inner Source and as a consequence nothing fazes us when we completely accept our circumstances.
We notice how experience comes into being only tentatively, for a little time in a certain form; then that form ends and a new form replaces it moment by moment.
The deepest level of the mind, according to Buddha, is constantly in contact with body sensations.
We may experience a sense of resonance within the core of the body that allows the mind to dissolve into its background, ushering us into a direct experience of the here and now.
Mind under new management
It is very human to wonder how on earth we could come to know the absolute reality of Self that is changeless and unmoving when creation itself is not static, but dynamic and a continuous ebb and flow into and out of form. Especially when we are told that everything else we think we know is illusion!
It is going to take a concerted effort with dedication and devotion for us to know that we are but a unique individualised expression of universal consciousness, as a wave is to the ocean.
The more we practice, it becomes increasingly more obvious that we will need to put mind under the new management of our more discerning higher intelligence.
Mind is merely the thinking instrument of perception, it is not who we are.
Meditation is not about getting rid of thoughts as such; on the contrary, meditation helps us to not fixate on them because thoughts are not what they appear to be; most exist for the purpose of maintaining and serving the ego.
Thoughts have an emotional component that gives them power over how we think about our self and how we behave.
Thoughts define the false self and limit us. By not identifying with the thought stream, all we lose are images and ideas of the false self.
This is precisely why we meditate, because inside all of us, awaiting our rediscovery, there is a pristine mind or consciousness unscathed by life experiences.
Seductive superpowers are not enlightenment
After much practice, the mind settles down and gradually comes under some degree of control. It becomes focused, physical sensations are heightened and feelings of serenity become strong.
This deep inner peace and healing can be highly seductive and quite addictive.
We should note that our attachment to perpetuating this pleasure is like any other thing we crave and that even these temporary states will eventually have to be transcended in order to attain the freedom (Moksha) we seek.
We also might notice that with sustained meditative practices, certain charismatic and seemingly magical powers (siddhis) arise naturally.
They are the spiritual fruit of practices when the emptiness and openness of the mind is realised and are actually accessible to all humans.
Sometimes visions and mystical experiences occur and however inspiring they can be, they too are ultimately a distraction to be transcended.
We recognise those people with such spiritual attainments, because their inner light burns brighter than most.
Again, we cannot become attached to spiritual powers or lose ourselves in their glamour, if the true liberation of Self-realisation is ultimately why we meditate.
Like Jiddu Krishnamurti said: ‘All these powers are like candles in the sun; they are like candle light when the brilliant sun is shining.’
The light they have cast still illuminates
The culmination of our practices occurs as the unlimited dormant energy that lies in the root chakra is roused and coaxed up through the central channel to full manifestation and we become aware of who we are in our multi-dimensional nature.
How can we possibly know this? We are very fortunate to have the legacy of thousands of years of enlightened wisdom from the innumerable realised masters who have trodden this path before us and illuminated the way.
In fact not just the Yogis, Rishis, Buddhas and Saints (including Christ) but every spiritual tradition has their share of awakened souls whose words, deeds and writings contributed to the rich body of spiritual knowledge that has passed down to us.
For those enlightened ones, their soul is unblemished and always at peace and they allow life to unfold without attachment or detachment, not identifying with anything, not even with the state of bliss that they experience.
The gift that these sages, who realised the supreme truth and eternal knowledge, continues to bestow upon us today is the possibility that the limited scope for what we believe to be humanly possible is massively expanded. We carry the seeds of their knowledge each time we attend to our practice, yet despite their inspiration we will have to travel our spiritual path alone as mere knowing is of no use unless it is internalised by practice.
It is understood that what we have attained with our spiritual practice does not end with the transition of our passing, but will continue on our soul’s journey, along with whatever karmic seeds that have not yet been scorched (or resolved).
Awareness neither dies nor is reborn; it is the changeless reality itself.
The flowering of consciousness
Enlightenment may seem overwhelming or unattainable in this lifetime, yet daily meditation gives us a doable and helpful process in which we can gradually shed the falsities that obscure our true Self so we can begin to live life more authentically.
On the journey towards the Ultimate reality of Self, if we stop obsessing over the end goal of waking up; we discover the joyful process itself of waking up to each present moment one breath after another.
When we become less reactive and able to respond intelligently and creatively to whatever arises in the moment, life gets a whole lot better.
It is important for the majority of us to remember that the most spiritual growth does not happen when we meditate or on the yoga mat; this lays down the foundations for the growth to occur.
It is amongst the conflicts and chaos of everyday life that real growth manifests; when we notice how stuck we are with our entrenched habits of doing the same old thing and suddenly we realise that we have a choice to do it differently.
We can choose mindful responses rather than automatic reactions.
We can respond to life from our spiritual practice with enlightened actions of compassion and loving-kindness, not our emotional programming.
We come to appreciate that enlightenment is an ongoing, unfolding, process of becoming; an unravelling of the construct of self, rather than a final destination.
Who and what we are is the composite of that which our awareness has awakened.
If Self-realisation is the knowing in body, mind and soul that we are one with the omnipresence of God, then we can find great comfort and blessing that as human beings we are so well equipped for this great life work to awaken fully to the Divine Consciousness within.
The name for God in Sanskrit is ‘Sat-Chit-Ananda’. Sat (eternal Being or Truth), Chit (infinite Consciousness), Ananda (ever new Bliss.)
• Establish your sacred space where you love to be
• Reduce external stimuli or distractions
• Before meditation, do Asana or exercises to settle the body
• Before meditation, do conscious breathing (pranayama) to settle the mind
• Establish a firm but easeful ‘seat’
• Lengthen rather than straighten the spine (sustain its natural ‘S’ curves)
• Soften the jaw and the muscles around the eyes
• Relax and release tension both physically and mentally
• Cultivate real devotion to find true Self or God
• Daily, earnest and steadfast effort
• Practice, patience and detachment
• Cultivate calm and quiet watching
• Develop a loving attitude to whatever arises
• Practice with joy and enthusiasm
• Surrender the individual ego identity to God (our higher Self)
• Complete meditation with prayer or gratitude
YOGIC SCIENCE espouses that we have six senses; the five external and mind that is the internal sixth.
Universal mind flows through the senses and the thinking instrument and becomes modified and tainted by our individual mind.
It can be helpful to dissect mind’s subtle anatomy that helps distance us from its tyranny to observe dispassionately how it operates. In yogic science, the human mind consists of sixteen parts, which are condensed down to four essential parts: Buddhi (Intellect), Ahamkara (Ego, identity), Manas (Thought) and Chitta (Feeling or Consciousness is the closest translation).
The four functions of mind are like spokes on a wheel; the wheel engages with the world, while the centre remains in stillness.
Meditation reconditions the mind into presence
‘Manas’ is the everyday consciousness of the ‘lower mind’ that coordinates the senses and the mental screen on which thoughts and images occur.
Manas carries out directions, but it is not well suited to be the key decision maker. That is the job of Buddhi.
Manas calms when we meditate, containing its energy rather than allowing it to shift about.
Meditation quietens the sense activities so that wandering thoughts settle down and attention becomes focused.
When Manas is calmed, it awakens Buddhi, the more discerning dimension of the mind that assigns meaning and value to experience.
When we practice meditation, Buddhi witnesses mental activity and becomes the doorway to inner wisdom, lending a sense of detachment to inner life.
When Buddhi is clarified, it provides a refined reflection of consciousness itself that is usually clouded over and tainted with the impressions in Chitta.
Chitta is the feeling part of mind that is rooted in the cerebellum and accumulates impressions, blending them with current mental imagery to give understanding and richness to experience.
Chitta is continuously filled by the sense doors that create waves of excitement, pleasure and displeasure throughout our days.
The aspect of chitta allows for subjectivity, one’s emotional reaction, affected by what it sees and its own nature.
Chitta is the memory bank that stores the unending latent impressions and psychological imprints that are called ‘vritti’.
Stored impressions are driven back onto Manas in the form of habitual behaviours (vasana) or desires.
In meditation this can take the form of a distracting thought, a simple desire, or a strong emotional urge.
Chitta is the only part of mind that operates in the present; therefore it is at this level of mind that we need to work on reconditioning.
'When unwanted thoughts come, pay no more attention to them than to the words of an idiot.' - St Teresa of Avita
Overcoming the stranglehold of ego
The process of meditation deposits overlaying impressions of peace and concentration in the Chitta that provides support during future meditation practice.
It is a foremost task of spiritual practices (sadhana) to clear away the fog that obscures Chitta so that with a clean lens of consciousness we can make fresh, clear and conscious choices that lead to realising our highest potential.(Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha - yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.)
The entire journey in yoga culminates in the removal of the stored reactions (samskaras) through the sustained observation of the Chitta by the conscious mind during meditation.
The part of mind called Ahamkara is the maker of an ‘I’ and when we use the word ‘I’, we imply an identity (ego) constructed within the mind itself.
Indeed the ego is necessary for survival, however we human beings are mostly completely subjugated by its autocracy.
Accordingly, we tend to cling to this limited false self or ego and the objects with which it identifies.
Meditation gradually dispels the falseness of ego-identity and reveals a deep and true Self, a manifestation of a vast field of pure consciousness.
When we lift the veils that obstruct and distort our perception, our view of reality shifts to perceive God as the transcendental totality of existence and the essential Nature underlying the human personality.
Words will remain inadequate and clumsy to describe the ineffable majesty of ultimate reality until we experience this for ourselves.
‘The state of complete tranquility of the feeling (Chitta), attained by yoga meditation, in which the self (ego) perceives itself as the Self (soul) and is content (fixed) in the Self.’ - The Bhagavad Gita
YOGA’S eight-limbed path offers a sound system to help us reach deep meditation, beginning with the yamas and niyamas, which are the ethical guides to living soulfully in the world and provide the fertile ground from which our spiritual practice can grow.
This yoga lifestyle is highly conducive to cultivating a mind and body very capable of meditation. Asana, or physical exercises, awaken all the cells (before their inevitable death) in our body and render it more comfortable and spacious so that we can sit in stillness for prolonged periods.
We focus on rhythmical breath work (Pranayama) to regulate and enhance our Prana (life force) so we are ready for the next indispensible prerequisite to all altered states - Pratyahara.
This is the withdrawal of the senses and the inward flow of our awareness away from the lures of the external physical world into our interior world.
When the senses are no longer tied to external sources, vital force flows back to Source within. It is difficult to control the sense organs that owe their natural outward-bound tendency to a human legacy of millions of years.
We can use the senses themselves to relinquish their control over us; having sensation in the body is a powerful doorway for the mind to be drawn inside.
A steady posture with rhythmic breathing and restraint of distracting senses helps a concentrated mind to withdraw itself from the rest of the peripheral world.
Resolutely abiding in ‘good space’ is the foundation for a fruitful
We don’t meditate we practice meditation
We often use the word ‘meditate’ to mean, ‘to think’, but in yoga, meditation is not thinking; instead, it is a deep sense of unity with an object or activity.
It should be noted that we can not actually make ourselves meditate as such; we can only make ourselves concentrate which is called Dharana.
In concentration we learn to devote our entire perceptive ability in a concerted application of brain and mind to a chosen object in the objective world.
Meditation (Dhyana) occurs when the attention on one object is sustained for some time in ‘one-pointedness’ and the individual mind becomes uninvolved.
Eventually, all the horizons of perception continuously expand spontaneously and naturally.
All of our meditation practices lead us to the same place - complete absorption when we merge to become one with the object of our dedication.
In yoga terms, this is Samadhi, the flowering of our individual consciousness into universal consciousness and realisation of the Self. The ancient Seers have taught us that Ultimate reality is utterly blissful; this bliss is not merely the absence of pain or discomfort, nor is it a brain-dependent state.
It is beyond pleasure and pain, which are states of the nervous system, even beyond mystical experience. This is described as there being no longer any distinction between the knower and the known, the seer and the seen; only perfect knowing.
Only our own experience within, however, will reveal what is occluded by our continual conceptualisations.
The Yogic masters talk of two kinds of Samadhi, the first to arise is ‘seeded’ (samprajnata) Samadhi, where there are still vestiges of attachment to the material world. The second, more advanced Samadhi is ‘un-seeded’ (asamprajnata) and arises when the focused spiritual fires have scorched those last karmic seeds and complete absorption occurs.
In the latter seedless Samadhi there is no longer a need for an object of meditation and one gains the knowledge of one’s own Self and its identity to the Cosmic Self.
‘The devotee who sits in a good posture and meditates at the point between the eyebrows learns to practice yoga, the uniting of ego and soul; in deep concentration, he finds his mind and heart (chitta, feeling) free from sensory distractions and emotional likes and dislikes.’ - Paramahansa Yogananda