Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pitfalls of Meditation Revealed!

As one who has meditated for most of my adult life and who has taught meditation for some twenty-five years, you might not expect me to bring up the subject of meditation’s pitfalls or shortcomings. Perhaps it’s a truth in advertising campaign.

A very good friend of mine and I were discussing the spiritual path and brought up a common issue for those on the meditation path: the dark side. But let me digress and build a foundation, because there are many forms and approaches to meditation.

I practice and represent the kriya yoga meditation taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. I was ordained to teach and initiate others into the kriya yoga technique and path by Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, who was ordained personally by Paramhansa Yogananda.

Millions have read and have found inspiration from Yogananda’s now famous life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, and from his teachings which are very positive and emphasize “ananda,” the joy of the soul which is discoverable with special efficacy through the art and science of meditation and the advanced technique of kriya yoga. (Worry not, however, there is no claim to exclusivity here.)

Yogananda taught that in this new age (which in India is termed “Dwapara Yuga” – the second age), the impulse of spiritually minded souls would be to bring “Spirit to work” rather than to withdraw from the material world in search of God. Few people today are spiritually inspired by extreme forms of penance, austerity, or suffering. Rather, we find that love for God and love for all beings and all creation is what inspires and motivates us to embrace high ideals.

In the Ananda Sunday Service, the Festival of Light, we read aloud that “whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy.” It goes on to say that “pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.” Yogananda emphasized therefore the positive aspects of the spiritual life.

Kriya yoga is a part of raja yoga which is, in turn, an outgrowth of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from which comes the 8-Fold Path of spiritual awakening. In the raja yoga techniques of meditation, concentration is emphasized together with devotion. Both are practiced in the context of raising our energy and consciousness from the lower centers in the body to the brain wherein resides the seat of enlightenment. What this implies is a strong and positive focal point and direction for one’s meditation.

Raja yoga meditation (which by definition includes kriya yoga) is directional. While all meditation must be mindful, for what else is meditation if not an expansion of self-awareness, it is not passive or contemplative. This may seem contradictory or paradoxical but it is a both-and experience. The more important point, however, is that it is not primarily focused on the dark side, so to speak. It is not an effort to plumb the depths of our delusions and blindnesses in an effort to root them out like weeds. By holding our consciousness and energy up to the light of the superconscious level of our soul we banish blindness and darkness, in effect, we turn on the “light” and the “darkness” vanishes.

Or, does it?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have much to say about the obstacles and delusions of the mind, the subconscious, of delusion, and of past life karma. He has much to say about the need to be truthful, non-attached, kind etc. etc. There is nothing in the 8-Fold Path that suggests suppression or denial of negativity or darkness.

So while the emphasis in raja yoga may indeed be a positive one and once that works with moving “energy” upward, there is no lack of tools or awareness of that which holds us down.

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has pointed out that in raising energy to the brain (to the higher wisdom centers), we risk inflating the ego’s self-involvement. Indeed, meditation can even enhance enjoyment of sense pleasures. The ego (sense of separateness) is the first aspect of our soul’s fall from grace (from the beginning of time) and its last great struggle.

This is just one of many reasons why humility and devotion to God and guru is so essential and part and parcel of the path of meditation and the spiritual path in general. Patanjali enumerates at great length the powers that come to one who rises in wisdom towards enlightenment. Many, perhaps all, who seek God with increasing success must encounter the temptations that come with spiritual power. Jesus was tempted that he might have dominion over all creation if he would but worship Satan (creation itself) for its own sake, separate from God.

It is no coincidence that Yogananda linked meditation with fellowship. (So, of course, did Jesus Christ in quoting the Old Testament he summarized his teachings in two parts: love God and love others as oneself.) At Ananda this includes one of our central aspects: intentional community. But not everyone is going to live in an intentional community. But for all of us, association with others like-mind (which includes the company of those of greater wisdom) is necessary and essential. Only a highly advanced soul can spiritually afford to go on alone.

I have made it a campaign from time to time over the years to help remind meditators not to mistake meditation for the goal of meditation: union with God. It is so very easy to enjoy meditation for its own sake. It is so very easy to reap the benefits and rewards of meditation for that good alone: health, creativity, energy, vitality, intuition, peace, and joy (to name but a few). We might indeed gain dominion over all matter but lose our soul to the “devil” of material delusion or to the affirmation of ego separateness.

The final frontier is to offer ourselves completely to God, risking what, to the ego, seems to be annihilation but to the soul is completion, oneness, and fulfillment, indeed, the gaining of Infinity and the loss of absolutely nothing! It takes great courage, however, and the grace of God and guru to step out of the cage and fly towards the Light.

In the positive upward thrust of meditation practice it is sometimes a fact that the meditator loses touch with self-awareness, rather than gaining self-awareness. For most meditators this is because they fall into the habit of becoming semi-subconscious. This is when thoughts take over or one enters a stream of consciousness state. Real meditation begins when our thoughts are still. Patanjali’s most famous sutra, Yogas chitta vrittis nirodha, could be interpreted as “One enters the state of superconsciousness only when thoughts, mental-images, and feelings related thereto cease.” There are also states of blankness, including at least one termed jada samadhi, that do nothing spiritually but which demonstrate the power to enter a suspended state of consciousness where time, motion, and decay stand still. 

Long-term meditators who fall prey to subconscious states are sometimes seen meditating with a a slumped posture, a head that droops down or sometimes to the side, by bobbing downward or to the side, rocking back and forth (a pseudo-kundalini movement), or a sudden shift (marked by a brief, sharp breath) in breath pattern to a long slow exhalation indicating entry into semi-subconsciousness. They might experience burning eyes, and their upward gaze begins to lower from their superconscious position (which consists of gazing intently but serenely into the point-between-the-eyebrows). As thoughts subside in true meditation, the breath becomes almost invisible, even ceasing for periods of time. In meditation one feels more dynamically conscious even if time, surroundings, or body-consciousness slips away. One never comes out of true meditation wondering, “Where was I?” In meditation the “I” is always present: at first, separate and self-aware of the process of meditation; later, expanded into higher states without sense of separation but with complete and total consciousness.

Swami Kriyananda tells the story of a businessman in Vancouver, Canada who decried his day job of making money while yearning for his meditation time at home. “What a waste,” Kriyananda thought. Outward activity should help our meditation and meditation should help our daily life. Meditation should be an attitude, a complete way of life. What we do during the day should feed, inspire, and inform our inner peace and meditation practice, just as meditation should enliven with even-mindedness, creativity, and calmness, our activities.

When there exists a firewall between what we experience in meditation and what we experience during activity, we find that we go “nowhere fast” (spiritually speaking). Sadly, I suspect this is the reality for most meditators who are not yet integrated.

Ananda Community residents are blessed with unceasing opportunities to do spiritual work together, to live and meditate together, to worship together, and to study together. This is an integrated way of life that will be the pattern of dedicated spiritual living in this age. Not necessarily by monks and nuns, but including couples and couples with children, this complete way of life offers great promise to millions in the hundreds of years to come.

When I first came to Ananda Village in 1977, I did not understand this. Raised as a Catholic, I understood monasticism but didn’t yet appreciate this new form of ashram, this new form of religious dedication, and indeed a new way of life and religious “order.” Yogananda put it this way: “Church, work, and family” all in one!

Getting back to our subject, then, meditators (whether Ananda Community residents or everyone else) are challenged by the need to include contemplation, introspection, mindfulness, and spiritual counseling in their toolbox for the path of meditation. In addition, regular selfless spiritual service and association with others is needful wherever you are.

A book (indeed books have been) could be written, on making the day more meditatively mindful. I dare not launch in this direction for there are so many tips and techniques. But my real point is that there may well be some psychological obstacles, pitfalls, delusions, or addictions so strong that one should seek counsel and contemplation, as well, as activating will power to deal creatively and energetically with them.

If you have an anger problem and are a meditator, you need to find creative ways to connect the dots between them. Hold your anger as calmly as possible in your meditation and offer it to God and guru. Work actively when it flashes to bring it under your control. It astonishes me how many long-term meditators are as yet unaware of their attitudes and behavior. Swami Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda’s guru) was famous for saying, “Learn to behave.” We must walk our talk but we can’t do this unless we are aware that there’s a yawning gap. “Mind the gap,” I like to say: we all have a gap between our self-image and our actions. That can be good if it is an incentive to close the gap but once the gap widens too much, we disconnect.

It’s ok and indeed helpful to hold up to the superconscious mind and to your guru’s grace, your problems, your delusions, your shortcoming for healing and light. Don’t make a big focus of it but don’t suppress, deny or ignore them either. Do this, typically, at the end of your meditation when you are hopefully the calmest and most uplifted.

“Connect the dots” between all the chakras; raise the “kundalini” of separateness into the Light of God. Be at peace not just in meditation but in speech, emotions, thoughts, and action.

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman