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Blessings, Nayaswami Hriman
We say someone has a “big ego” and we know that this is not
a good thing. Yet, we probably also know that some of those who have
accomplished great things in the world could be described as having “a big ego”
or at least a “big aura,” and maybe more of the former than the latter.
Some years ago there was a lot of talk about building self-esteem
in children. Indeed, much of the training and education of a child is directed
towards learning skills and gaining self-confidence. Now that I am a
grandparent I watch with some interest and a newfound nonattachment to how
much effort adults expend eliciting a child’s likes or dislikes. It seems instinctual
to help a child to develop their ego from its amorphous and helpless state at
birth to that of a strong, balanced, intelligent, healthy adult.
Among the traits of the ego that are helpful and necessary is
taking responsibility for one’s life, developing will power, not blaming
others, learning to forgive, learning to accept what can’t be changed: just to
name a few. Among the valuable traits that reflect both a strong ego and one
that is not excessively self-involved are kindness, thinking of the needs and
realities of others, unselfishness, generosity, and creative solution-seeking:
in short, the Golden Rule!
Is that all there is, then, to this ego-thing? Pet dogs and
kiss babies, so to speak? Be good and you’ll surely go to heaven? If you are
reading this you already know that’s not where this conversation is going!
The Vedantic path and teachings of the ages and sages offer
to us a vision of reality that avers that the ultimate creator and purpose of
the creation is to pierce the veil of illusion of our separateness and reunite
with the only reality that is permanent, beyond suffering, and permanently
satisfying: God (or Bliss or whatever name you prefer).
So on the ego-thing, we have some who say the ultimate state of
existence (usually called heaven) is that we keep our egos and we rest happily
forever praising the Lord, strumming harps, engaging in angel-like good deeds,
or enjoying the everlasting pleasures of heaven.
Others say, “No way!” We “kill” the illusion of a separate self (ego)
and disappear into the great Void.
Photo by Patricia DeAnguera
And, they say further, that on the threshold of this dissolution we
experience momentarily the bliss of release from suffering caused by egoic consciousness but
then we vanish without a trace into the No-thing-ness out of which all things
have come. Hmmmm: a kind of spiritual suicide wish? I’ll take rain check, thank
Another version of egoic dissolution says that the Void is
actually not empty but full: full of bliss! Bliss, in other words, is not
temporary or born of the duality of separateness. Instead, the very nature of God
(the ultimate state or reality) is Sat-chit-anandam: ever-existing (immortal),
ever-conscious (omniscient), ever-new bliss. At least in this version we have
something to look forward to.
This is the Vedantic version espoused by Paramhansa
Yogananda. While this is a one version of ego transcendence, Yogananda took the explanation one step
further in an interesting twist. Yogananda added that inasmuch as Infinite
consciousness must, by definition, contain all that is past, present or will be
or can be in the future, then there must be contained in Infinity the living “memory”
of all those lifetimes during which my soul was
misidentified AS the doer, as the ego. Well, ok, you say, but so what?
The “but” here is intended to provide an explanation for another
phenomenon of the spiritual path. The explanation starts with this precept: no
one can achieve Self-realization without helping others. It’s not that your
final liberation awaits their own but nonetheless, you must become, towards the
end of your journey, the guru to other souls. Yogananda said, in fact, that the
minimum number of souls is six.
(I have no idea why
six. Six chakras? Who knows. I am fairly certain he was not the first to make
this statement but I accept that the principle is intact even if "why the number six" eludes me.)
The annals of spirituality include innumerable
testimonies that to disciples the guru comes in vision or in actual living form even though the guru is no longer on the planet in human form, having “died” days, weeks,
or centuries past. Some, like Krishna or Jesus, may well have even incarnated
into new human forms since the time of that particular incarnation as Jesus or Krishna.
Yet, they appear in the form held dear by their devotee.
Yogananda thus says that out of the Infinite (the Akasha),
the devotee’s devotion calls forth the past form of the guru, notwithstanding
that the guru is no longer in that form, or perhaps in any form whatsoever.
There is, as a bypath, testimony that saints, while still living in
their human body, can appear in vision or dreams to disciples and yet they have no awareness or recollection of this fact, having perhaps been even asleep at that particular moment! It
is the soul, in other words, that is ever-awake and eternally present.
Lastly, Yogananda stated that even an avatar—one freed from
all karma and who returns to human form as a savior—must don the trappings of
ego in order to function distinctly in a human form. The difference between
the avatar and most of us is the degree of identification with that form and
In his famous poem, “Samadhi,” he writes “I, the Cosmic Sea,
watch the little ego floating in Me.” Yogananda defined ego as the soul identified
with the body (which includes the personality).
So we are still faced with the question: is the ego real or
not? Is it “bad” or “good”? The answer? It depends!
Like Moses in the Old Testament of the Bible or Bhishma of
the Indian epic the Mahabharata, the ego can awaken to the desire to be free of
its own limitations and hypnosis of separateness but its very nature IS
separateness. The ego can work to grow spiritually but there comes a point
(after countless efforts to do so) where it must offer itself into
the Infinite (or at the feet of the guru, the Lord, etc etc).
We are given the survival instinct for a reason greater than
just the survival of the body. No such instinct could be at odds with the truth
of our Self. If all reality has as its basis pure Consciousness than the “I can
never die.” The question is “Who am I?” Am “I” the body and personality?
As Bhishma, symbol of the ego in all, was heralded as a
great hero and a man of dharma, so too our ego, in its essence, need not be identified
with the material world, the body, likes and dislikes, and the senses.
the power of individuation, this world could not exist. The so-called “Divine
Ego” is the pure ego, free of identification with thoughts, emotions, and the
world of matter and senses.
But while the ego has great power it can obviously greatly
become steeped in delusion. For its re-awakening, another outside influence is
needed. The power of God using the human channel of the guru can resurrect the
soul’s memory of its true nature. The soul, in attunement with the guru, can
then direct the ego in right action and right attitude until the ego at last
offers itself in final surrender into the Infinite at which point the ego can
be said to dissolve or to expand into Bliss.
At the moment of final surrender, the ego must accept the possibility of its extinguishment but this is its final test. It must face the abyss of nothingness and surrender to it before it can enter into "the kingdom of heavenly bliss." I call this moment the "dark night of the ego."
May you slay the Og(r)e of Ego that the Soul may reign on the Throne of God's Bliss, our true home! Swami Hrimananda
In the past two articles I made the case that the practice of (true) yoga is the future of spirituality, whether in the context of established faiths or no faith. Obviously I am referring to something beyond the practice of the physical stretches and poses (the physical branch of yoga, known as hatha yoga). Just as obviously, by "future" I don't mean next year but perhaps the next century!
While I attempted to explain this prediction, I did NOT really describe "What is this yoga I speak of and how is it practiced?" I only really went so far as to explain that the term yoga is a reference to a state of consciousness that, for a shortcut, one could call God but which, in fact, is called by many names but, allowing that poor 'ol "God" carries a lot of baggage (owing principally to some stone tablets, I'm told...there's no "d" at the end of stone, btw), let's use the term Oneness.
Further, I explained that the term "yoga" (which means "yoke" or "bind") refers both to certain psycho-physiological disciplines that lead to Oneness as well as to Oneness itself. This interesting fact warrants explanation but I refuse to give it, as I know you, the reader, are so perspicacious as to have already drawn the correct conclusion.
Unfortunately, that left a lot of readers hanging very high and very dry: both "shaken" and "stirred." Some of you muttered, "What's that got to do about 'What's for dinner?'" Or, "Why is Putin causing so much trouble in Ukraine?" In short, my prior article begs the question, "Is there a takeaway here?"
Yes, there is! For starters, let's start with where "we" are: the worldwide popularity of the yoga postures! Hatha yoga demonstrates a very practical takeaway, even if hatha yoga is only a toe in the yoga-water. Add to this the exponentially growing practice of meditation, and you've dipped an entire foot in.
[Now: I want to pause here and make my language simpler. Despite the fact that it must be obvious that I am on a campaign to educate the world that "yoga" is more than hatha yoga, I will henceforth drop using the term "yoga" to refer to true yoga. Instead, I will use the term "meditation" even though as my prior article pointed out, the term "meditation" is unsatisfactory.]
I stated before that one of the attributes of meditation that makes it a good candidate for universal adaptation by religionists and "spiritual but not religionist" is that meditation is "scientific." Meditation techniques are simple, demonstrable, and specific. Virtually anyone can receive instruction in its simple breathing or concentration techniques. Anyone who practices the techniques (as taught to them) will achieve similar and consistent results. No faith or belief system is required to get consistent results. Just search on the internet for "benefits of meditation" or "benefits of yoga."
While the same could be said of fitness routines or time-tested diets, meditation works directly with and upon our mind. By "mind" I include emotions, feelings, thoughts, insights, and levels of consciousness (ranging from dreamy subconsciousness to clear-minded everyday consciousnesss to elevated states of heighted awareness and intense feelings of joy, or peace). Meditation can produce experiences that are readily and commonly compared with, and considered to be, states of spiritual consciousness. And, it requires no drug use. Because it can produce feelings associated with spirituality and because it doesn't require or derive from any specific faith or ritual, it is ideal as a universal spiritual practice that can be integrated into any faith or no faith.
The primary tool of meditation is self-awareness. But traditional meditation practices often include some physical component to relax and energize the body. Like most faiths in general, there are guidelines regarding fasting and diet. It is much easier to meditate when the body is fit and healthy and the brain well oxygenated and the blood stream decarbonized. Indeed, hatha yoga is an excellent preparation for meditation. It can assist the body in sitting for long periods of time without discomfort.
But this primary tool of consciousness is linked to the physical body via the breath. Breath is more than oxygen and carbon dioxide; the one flowing into the body, the other out of the body. Breath includes the circulation of oxygen and of intelligent vitality the subtler aspect of which is termed "prana" (or "chi"). The awakening of one's awareness and control of this "life force" (prana) is one of the cornerstones of meditation.
Breath is life. A person is alive (usually!) when breathing and not alive when not breathing. Our breath links our mind (consisting of feeling, perception and self-awareness) to our body and this mind-breath-body conversation operates in both directions. It is easily demonstrated that quieting and calming the breath quiets and clears the mind. But the reverse is true, also: a quiet mind reflects in a calm breath. When we are excited or upset, our breathing is out of control, uneven, ragged. If in extreme fear, our "heart" leaps into our throat! (A figure of speech, merely.)
Paramhansa Yogananda in his now famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," quotes his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar describing the highly advanced technique of kriya yoga as: “Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened. The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”
At an earlier point in his story, he wrote: "Like any other science, yoga is applicable to people of every clime and time. Yoga is a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit. So long as man possesses a mind with its restless thoughts, so long will there be a universal need for yoga or control."
Meditation shows that a very effective way to calm one's restless thoughts (spurred on by our emotions) is to work with the breath in very specific ways. Thus, the real secret of yoga is to bring the breath under control using time-tested, simple, and scientific breathing methods. As the breath becomes calm, then the emotions and consequent restless thoughts begin to subside.
Once the mind is reasonably stable, it is often the next step to focus the mind on a single object, usually internal to the mind itself. Chanting a mantra, or a syllable, or an affirmation can be very effective for focusing the mind and awakening inspiration (usually done mentally, silently). Visualizing a deity, the eyes of one's guru, or an image from nature, or an abstract quality or state such as peace or love.........all of these mental images can calm the mind and in turn calm the breath. Where one goes, the other follows! They are two sides of the same coin. Visualizing the moonlight, a vast ocean, rushing water, a majestic mountain, the rising sun......all of these images drawn from nature convey higher states of awareness such as peace, power, adaptability, wisdom, strength and so on. In deeper states of meditation and using special mudras or other techniques, one can attune oneself and meditate upon certain subtle, astral sounds universally recognized in all traditions and symbolized by the sounds and images of a bell, a reed or plucked instrument, sounds of water or wind, a motor, or a bee and so on.
In some traditions one is simply given a mantra, nothing else. In others (my own, e.g.), we combine a mantra with watching the breath (two for the price of one!) The combinations are endless.
Imagine standing in a field at the base of a tall mountain, like Mt. Everest or Mt. Rainier or Mt. McKinley. It's a long way up but many people have done it: one step at a time. The peak is that state of Oneness where our ego-separateness is expanded (or dissolved, if you prefer) into Infinity! Just as one takes one step at a time to ascend the mountain, so one takes one breath at time to transcend the bondage of heart/breath that ties our awareness to the body and its five sense telephones, ringing incessantly! As we are given life when we take our first breath and as we leave this body with our last, so it is that while the breath ties us to the body it is also the only way out! What at first is an elemental obstacle soon becomes with the science of breath and mind, the way of transcendence! As I have heard it said: "The only way out, is in!"
As the breath is calmed, thoughts subside; as thoughts subside, our awareness expands (or shrinks away from the body). We do something similar every night when we sleep. We "dump" the consciousness of our physical body and personality into the peaceful realm of deep, dreamless sleep. But sleep only refreshes us; it doesn't change our consciousness. For that we must expand our consciousness, raise the level of our awareness past the formidable and thick barrier of skin, bones, organs and ego-self-involvement and everything represented by them.
Advanced meditation techniques, like kriya yoga, might start with the physical breath but then leave the physical breath behind in favor of working with the astral breath (a term that describes the life force, subtle energy, prana or chi). As the physical breath subsides, this subtle energy is withdrawn from the senses and the periphery of the body and organs and is directed by advanced techniques to return to its main spinal channel through specific psychic plexuses (doors) located along the spine called "chakras." From there, life force is coaxed or magnetized up the subtle spine to re-unite with cosmic energy at the point between the eyebrows. It is here that enlightenment occurs. But to go further in this aspect of meditation is to go beyond the scope of this article.
The fact that the techniques of meditation bring enhanced health and well-being even to the veriest beginner attest to the substantial and elemental nature of the techniques and their goal. It feels like home; like Om; like the real "me."
But meditation is more than hygiene for the mind, kind of like brushing your teeth everyday. Instead, it becomes a way of life, a life of living yoga. Why seek inner peace through daily meditation if during the day (when you are not meditating), you are angry, irritable and selfish? Makes no sense! Hence, meditation as a way of life is supported by a lifestyle that includes a simple diet, pure thoughts, calm emotions and harmonious actions. As we become transformed by meditation, we become less and less self-referencing and more and more Self-realized. We become more joyful, happy, content, compassionate, wise, and on and on!
There's another aspect to meditation. This aspect is more personal. It is also easily misunderstood and is most certainly rejected by the ego. (Yogananda described meditation, in general, thusly: The soul loves to meditate but the ego hates to meditate.)And yet for all its subtlety it is also essential, even if the form it takes is unique to each person. It's called devotion and it's the fuel that powers the engine of meditational motivation. If the fuel is diluted by a weak will or unclear intention, the engine runs rough and has no pulling power up the mountains of life's challenges and temptations. If the fuel is high octane it drives us quickly up the Mt. Carmel of the soul's aspiration toward liberation in God!
In its traditional and outward forms throughout the world and throughout history, you will see devotion expressed in poetry, dance, prayers, hymns, chanting, rituals and sometimes extravagant displays of self-offering and even, seemingly, self-abasement. Ok, so, I've let it all out. These outer forms are NOT the essence of devotion; they are but its husk. Sometimes a husk is dry and empty, other times it is like the discarded first stage of a rocket.
Devotion is related, in some ways, to the disciple-guru relationship. We see Buddha, the founder of Buddhism; or Jesus, the founder of Christianity. We see the great disciples of these world teachers as great devotees, whether they lived with their "christ" or whether they lived a thousand years afterward (like St. Francis).
I say devotion and discipleship are related and I mean this in many different ways, but for now I mean it in the sense that both are personal and neither can really be faked (except to outer appearances, that is). For God watches the heart.
What we have here is the intuitive recognition by the ego that it must die or at least surrender to the higher power of grace, of God, or of God in the form of the savior/guru (who leads us to God and who is God incarnate for this purpose).
Admittedly, most meditators, most spiritual aspirants, most orthodox religionists are considered candidates for heavenly reward if they just try to be good; go to church on Sunday; take the sacraments, punch their meditational time card, and so on. But devotion and discipleship are the inner "meat" of what meditating for long hours every day symbolizes for the average meditator who struggles to do so for even just a few minutes each day. But we don't gain much by measuring ourselves by the yardstick of giants. We might only get discouraged (much to the delight of the ego). Yet, if we don't have the courage to see where the path leads we are far less likely to get there anytime soon (in relation to repeated rounds of rebirth, that is).
Real devotion is what you see in the lives of great saints, like Milarepa, Tibet's greatest yogi. Fortunately for us, we are encouraged to start where the sign says, "You are HERE!" Krishna promises us in the Bhagavad Gita that "even a little bit of this practice (of meditation), will save us from dire fears..."
However hot or tepid may be your inspiration and devotion, you can be sure that without at least some of it, regardless of what form of expression it may take, one cannot make real progress on any spiritual path. Dedication to truth, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda once said, is a form of devotion. Dedication to your daily meditation practice, too, is a kind of devotion. Don't fret about it. Your inspiration to meditate is already a kind of devotion. Let it guide you but be open to what the real winners (the saints) have modeled for us.
Indeed, as stated in the beginning, yoga presents such a high goal that it, too, suffers from the same tendencies of being dumbed down to feed the ego just as much as other high ideals or other forms of religion and spirituality. Someone told me, for example, that there exist yoga classes called "naked" yoga classes (I guess you practice sans clothes for some reason not difficult to imagine.) All aspects of spirituality can be polluted by ego consciousness.
The essential appeal and beauty of true yoga is that it really is for everyone. You can start with the motivation to improve your health, both physical and mental. As you "awaken" to the "joy within you," you may "fall in love with your (higher) Self!" You begin to identify and realize that happiness is within you; it is a conscious choice! This is increasingly freeing. Bit by bit your are bitten by the cosmic snake of divine joy lifted up the brass staff of the straight spine (a reference to Moses in the Old Testament) and cured of the satanic bite of delusion.
Just as life begins with the first breath, you can say that yoga begins with the first conscious breath! Start with "watching your breath". There is a pleasure, a little bubble of happiness that comes when we come self-aware. Follow that thread, like Theseus in the labyrinth, to inner freedom!
In the renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," the author, Paramhansa Yogananda, relates how a skeptical scientist once visited Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and expressed his disbelief in God. Sri Yukteswar responded with the suggestion that the scientist spend a day carefully tracking and examining his thoughts. Then, Sri Yukteswar posited, wonder no more at the absence of the godhead!
By this he meant that our thoughts are so restless, random and self-involving that we have no interest or space for perceiving a higher reality and consciousness. In the same book is a quotation of an ancient poem that avers that conquering nations or wild animals pales in comparison to taming the mind.
No one who has attempted to meditate deeply and consistently can fail to recognize the truth herein. While some meditators may struggle with physical discomforts or distractions, all meditators struggle with restless, random, and even negative thoughts and their royal attendants, the emotions.
Am I less aware if I stop thinking? Or more aware? When we are distracted, busy, or frantic, we lack the clarity to address tasks successfully. When emotionally upset we can't think straight and we make mistakes. If you have ever stopped to gaze at a sunset or an entrancing scene in nature, you can only appreciate it deeply if you let your thoughts be still and drink it all in, isn't it so?
Those who have had experiences that are often described as "peak experiences" enter into a state of awareness that goes beyond thought but includes an heightened sense of awareness.
Take a moment to try something: Look up (as if peering a foot or so just past the upper eyebrows). Do so with an attitude of curiosity, of interest, and even calm adventure. Let a subtle smile play upon your lips as you do this. Cock your head to the side as if attempting to listen to someone soft-spoken (or a distant sound) whose words are important to you. Or, hold this pose (looking up and turning your head as if to listen) as if you need a moment to remember some past event or task you wanted to accomplish (but couldn't yet remember). In this pose, we automatically and instinctively release our thought processes in order to focus on recall (or perceive) something important. It's not unlike a computer which, when you click to retrieve a file, the cursor spins and all other computations or processes halt while it searches the hard disk for a file.
Try this little experiment sitting in your car waiting for the light to turn green. Or, before turning to the next task at your desk when you've just finished some other. Turn and gaze out the window with this "mudra" pose of curiosity, interest and listening! Each time you'll find that the mind obediently relinquishes its tight grip on your consciousness so that you can focus.
Another experiment is to imagine yourself attempting to thread the eye of a sewing needle. After wetting and curling the tip of the thread, you position it in front of the needle's eye and very carefully attempt to ease the thread through. At that moment your breath and heart becomes quiet and your thoughts quiet while focused on your task!
All this is fine in respect to outward tasks but when we sit to meditate, close our eyes, with the body relaxed into an upright natural position, we find almost immediately that we can barely count (mentally) to 10 without wandering off like some little curious monkey or puppy.
To meditate deeply one needs an effective technique and proper and sustained training with someone who has experience. No recorded meditation, book, or online lessons can substitute. Such things can "tell" you what to do but cannot convey the art of doing it.
While a heightened state of meditative awareness supercedes any techniques, the techniques prepare the body and mind to transcend the pressing and habitual demands of the body and mind. A superior athlete or performer uses warming up exercises and routines to get into "shape," both mentally and physically. So, too, does the yogi: one who undertakes the consistent disciplining of the mind as part of the journey towards self-understanding, increased awareness and Self-realization. A yogi is a kind of metaphysical scientist, exploring the realm and realities of consciousness using the tools of body and mind conditioning. The body needs conditioning in order that it cooperate rather than fight the effort to explore the mind. In fact, it goes much deeper than that but let's hold that for later, or, not.
Ultimately the state of true meditation is aptly stated as a kind of aphorism from the Old Testament, "Be still and KNOW THAT I AM---GOD!" I don't want to run off on a God-subject right now, and so for my purposes here, I want to stay on the theme of how to still restless thoughts in order that we can see, and therefore become a SEER (of reality) in an enhanced state of self-awareness and perception. The point is well made and more clinically by Patanjali in the second stanza of the Yoga Sutras: "The state of yoga-oneness is achieved by stilling all physical and mental processes." (Warning: loose translation!)
To explore the mind we have to transcend the mind: the lower, ego-active mind (and emotions, preoccupations, fight or flight, likes and dislikes). It is pure consciousness that the yogi-scientist seeks to look. It's the "Holy Grail" of absolute zero (aka perfect stillness), the speed of light (aka infinity).
The mind is bound to the body and its sense organs and its subconscious and conscious mind through the breath and everything the breath represents: ego. To untie the breath from body is not to physically die for the yogi-scientists of old discovered how to work with the breath and the mind to achieve states of deep quiescence. The masters of yoga can stop their breath and heart at will without any damage to the body, brain or nervous system. During the 19th and 20th centuries in India such demonstrations were conducted in the presence of western doctors and scientists.
As Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in his now famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," India's contribution to the treasury of human knowledge is breath mastery. So long as we are breathing in the normal way and the heart is beating, we are fighting "city hall" to achieve focus of the mind without outer activity.
Thus the yogis gave us various breath and mind control techniques. Absolute breathlessness may be the gold standard but long before achieving such a state, deep insights and states of expanded consciousness are achieved even as the breath and heart gradually come under our control.
But, you have to want it and you have to be trained on how to do it! The subconscious mind and the ego DON'T WANT TO DO IT. They want to stay in the driver's seat and feed upon random thoughts like small animals who move about constantly sniffing out morsels on the ground to munch on. These small "animals," if threatened, band together and in their combined numbers, though individually small, will bare their teeth and push you around, even kick you around, once you try to re-gain control over your own mind. "I don't mind" means I give up and succumb to the passivity of the subconscious and the reactive processes of my likes and dislikes and self-preoccupations.
Enter the bullfighter: MINDFULNESS! He's going to combat the stubborn bull of the ego-mind. He's a good fighter but he doesn't wrestle the bull with his bare hands. He's too smart for that. Instead, he uses consummate skill in handling his red cape to bring the bull under his control and command. The red cape attracts the bull's attention and by using it repeatedly, the torero can tire the bull and bring him into submission.
The bullfighter employs psychological techniques, displaying confidence, charm, and courage. For all his daring, however, he knows the bull is much bigger and can kill him, so he must be patient and skillful.
What we mean by this metaphor is that meditation techniques typically give the monkey mind something to focus on: the breath, a mantra, an image, or a sound....or some combination of these. By this internally focused approach, the mind and breath and heart begin to slow and become deeply calm. But, unlike a bull who lives only by instinct, our mind is of two minds: when it is time to meditate, part of the mind wants to and part does not! (You can guess "Who's who.")
You have to nurture and encourage the higher mind so that it can assert itself. You have to want to BE STILL and know! There's a further thing, here, too: achieving a deeper state is not just mere matter of manipulating the breathing and heart. The state we seek is super-conscious and we cannot force it to obey our mere will by whipping its more mechanical parts. This state pre-exists our awareness of it. We have to enter, then, into a conscious, loving and giving relationship with it. At first, then, it is dual: I-Thou. Only in time, do we enter and become that state, which is non-dual. To do this abstractly is unsuitable for most people. Thus it is natural, indeed, necessary for most, that this state take on human form, or at least some form! This can take the form of a deity, one's guru (living or in Spirit only), or even a quality such as peace, love, or joy.
We must first clear the deck of the mind of restlessness. We must seek to be still. Only in the quiet chamber of the still heart and mind, in the relaxed body temple of the soul, will our Beloved enter. This state of perfect stillness must not only be desired, it must be "felt." This is where the art comes in and where one who has had some success with this proves far more valuable in the role of teacher than detailed instructions written in a book (or in a blog!). The intuitive "feeling" of a meditative state can be conveyed one-on-one to one who seeks it and does so with sensitive awareness and openness. (As an aside, this "transmission" need not require the physical presence of one's teacher, if such teacher is spiritually advanced. Attunement is, itself, first and foremost, an intuitive state of consciousness and intuition knows no barriers of time and space. This is why devotion to saints long departed from this earth can bestow tangible blessings on a sincere devotee.)
Do you remember how it was in the Old Testament that Moses, while leading the Israelites from captivity, could, nonetheless NOT enter the promised land? This means that our ego, no matter how sincere and energized through will power and desire, must subside in favor of receptivity and openness to receive a state of consciousness that is more expansive and that already exists. It too must, as we do when we meet someone, bow where spectators only stand and watch. Thus the essential and foundational requirement of humility, receptivity, and openness.
In more dramatic depictions of the self-sacrifice of ego, we have images such as Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son at the request of God--something no father would ordinarily consider. Martyrdom, intense prayer, personal sacrifice and self-deprivations and on and on.....all of these at least symbolize the core necessity that the ego submit itself to the flow of grace. These specific examples are not demanded or expected of mere beginning meditators, of course, and for most of us they are but illustrative. But, if one would stop for a moment, and consider the entry fee to achieve infinite consciousness, well, guess what the price is: yes, the ultimate. Fear not, when that time comes, even if, like Jesus himself who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "May this cup pass from me," you, too, will likely conclude, "Thy will be done."
Be not doubtful that the ego will resist this invitation (each time one meditates, what to mention at the final step of liberation!), but the irony is that our consciousness is not obliterated or submerged in the state of superconsciousness. Indeed, it expands with great joy into the Sea of Consciousness from which it has been sent! In God, nothing is ever lost. There is no time, no dimensions, no past, no future. All that we have been remains PRESENT. We simply expand and return home to Infinite consciousness. But the ego can never be convinced of this. It takes an act of faith, not just will, to meditate deeply. There is an intuitive gnosis, knowing, a remembrance (Patanjali calls it "smriti") that awakens and nurtures an individual to want to meditate
Ah, but I digress to the depths. Let us return, then, to the surface of our subject where the breeze is fresh and the sunlight bright, where birds chirp with delight, sitting on the patio in the morning sun, cappuccino and croissant at the ready.
Next time, then, let us explore the eight stages of meditation, inspired and given to us by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.
Enough a 'ready..........blessings abound as Spring flowers surround us!