Friday, July 26, 2013

The Meditator's Monkey Mind - Or, Stop and enjoy a banana!

As a meditation teacher for some 25 years and a meditator for 40 years, I think I know what the "monkey mind" is like, and, in fact, so does everyone who sincerely tries to meditate and achieve stillness of mind as part of meditation.

Restless thoughts are unquestionably the most frequent single complaint of meditation students. Is there a solution? Well, not one single solution, but, given our own mental complexity, a bowl of bananas' worth of solutions.

I have lived for many years of my life in one of two of the nine Ananda intentional communities (Nevada City and Seattle). I have thus the experience of meditating, day in and day out, with the same people. Add to that leading meditations in classes too numerous to quantify, and participating in large-group meditations, one becomes sensitive to the meditative consciousness of others. I have, thus, from time to time, found myself feeling the need (and having the responsibility) to remind other meditators not to mistake the techniques and practice of meditation for the goal.

Since meditation requires mental effort, it is not surprising that the more years one persists in daily meditation the more likely one has developed a certain degree of will power. Few people on this planet have the desire or the will to meditate, for whatever reason (and there are many!). But putting out energy can sometimes become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. We can get so used to "pushing" that we may forget where we are pushing toward! If there is too much self-will involved in meditation than the meditative experience is all about "me."

At the same time, daily repetition of any kind can result in what becomes simply an ingrained habit. It is easier than some might imagine to fall into a mechanical meditation routine and into a semi-sub-conscious state of mind during meditation. By definition, subconsciousness means less than conscious and therefore if we slip into even a semi-subconscious state (like daydreaming vs sleeping), we lose the mindfulness necessary to even know where we've gone or that we aren't doing what we came to do! Our thoughts then drift along, pleasantly or aimlessly.

I've noticed that other meditators simply "enjoy the self." By this I mean, I can sometimes feel that a meditator is calm and centered within and focused pleasurably on his or her inner experience of peace or selfhood without making any effort of will and devotion in self-offering or prayerfulness. It's all about "What I am feeling," in other words. No harm, but very little spiritual progress. It is axiomatic, however described, that superconscious states are achieved by attuning ourselves to those states and that those experiences come from the combination of self-effort and grace---which could be defined as the descent of superconsciousness as a loving response to sincere and heartfelt effort (but never as a result of the ego affrirmation and will power).

I won't attempt to define the purpose of meditation but suffice to say, and there is an almost infinity of ways to do so, that one seeks to experience something greater than one's own ego. Such a state (Paramhansa Yogananda call it "superconsciousness") is the "holy grail" and, by definition, is quest not easily or consistently achieved. Long term meditators, therefore, often settle for far less and lapse into either habit or self-comfort. Never mind the philosophical aspects of delusion, maya, satan, or ego.......meaning the internal resistance to seeking Self-expansion. Yes, of course, this is the existential aspect of our deeply embedded unwillingness to give ourselves into a greater reality. But, for this article, I assume a meditator, at least in principle, seeks such a higher state, however described (whether philosophically, devotionally, or energetically).

"If you don't know where you went, you didn't go there (into superconsciousness)." I am quoting only myself, but I admit it looks good on paper (this is paper?).  I tell this to students: meditation is not spacing out or blanking out, or drifting off into some pleasant place or daydream. Superconsciousness is a state of intense inner awareness: not "tense" with "tension," but vibrantly alive and far more so than in ordinary conscious awareness.

"To achieve perfect stillness of mind, you have to want it." (Did I really say that? Rather deep, don't you agree?) Regular meditators can slip into the habit of merely practicing and forget to focus on the goal. Patanjali (author of the "Yoga Sutras") describes one of the obstacles to spiritual growth as "missing the point." I find this amusing given the deep nature of the sutras and it is one of the rare moments in which Patanjali lapses into the vernacular, so to speak, talking with the guys at the clubhouse. But this is so true: in all aspects of life, not just meditation! When you sit to meditate, affirm your desire and intention "To be still and know that I AM ......" To go beyond the labyrinth of the mind, you have to want to: and I mean really, really want to. We have untold numbers of lifetimes fending off threats to our survival and asserting ourselves and our desires.

(Patanjai's famous "Yoga Sutras" are the unquestioned "bible" of meditation and the stages of spiritual evolution. Swami Kriyananda's last major written work, "Demystifying Patanjali: The Yoga Sutras," should be studied by every serious meditator. Padma and I are giving an 8-week course beginning September 11. We will have audio, if not video, available for those at a distance. Email if interested at a distance. To obtain the book visit your local Ananda center or East West Bookshop or the publisher at

Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013), founder of Ananda and the most publicly visible and accessible direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, taught that the secret to stilling restless thoughts lies not in the mind but in the heart! This is the secret I wish to share. When you begin your meditation, open the doors of your heart, going deeper and deeper into stillness and calmness. Peel away layers of restlessness, anxiety, fear, regrets and find the eternal baseline of inner peace and security. Then, lift your consciousness to the Christ center (the point between the eyebrows) and commence your personal meditation practice.

This can be expressed, of course, also in devotional terms. For some people, in fact, it's far easier to do so. That's where focusing lovingly upon the image, feeling, form or vibration of one's guru provides a mental and heart-based focus for meditation that takes us beyond the petty machinations of the monkey mind. Feed this monkey devotion! Yearn for God; yearn for peace; yearn for the state of bliss! You have to want it. The mind doesn't want it. The ego doesn't want it. Hey, you've got problems, remember? Lots of problems. See what I mean?

The feeling aspect of consciousness can also be directed more impersonally toward superconsciousness using creative imagery to evoke inner peace, unconditional love, deep and expansive calmness and true bliss and joy. Imagery from nature contains archetypal elements of vibratory consciousness: the majesty of a mountain; the aspirational strength of tall trees; the expansiveness of the great and calm ocean; the power of crashing surf; the peace and acceptance of the moonrise; the power and wisdom of the sun; the freedom of blue sky; the eternity of the star-studded universe above, below and all around!

For us mental types (and being a meditation teacher), I find it helpful, and you might also, to do a self-guided meditation. While practicing self-talk yourself through your routine: your prayer, your pranayams, your various techniques and finally into silence. Talk to your guru (mentally). See him practicing through you: it's his breath, not yours. He knows the techniques better than you, so ask him to practice and you'll simply watch! Imagine him sitting next to you; or in front; or on your head, or, in your heart! Self-talk your way into silence!

Learn to love being still. When I experience perfect stillness of the mind, it, well, to quote a phrase, "blows my mind!" Really, it does. It is thrilling! Even if it lasts only seconds or minutes. You just want to burst with joy! Embrace silence like an old friend sitting next to you on the park bench or on the couch at home.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says famously that "even a little of this practice will save you from dire fears." Aspire always in each meditation to touch the hem of infinity in the form of peace, or perfect stillness, or loving acceptance. Even if for a moment, it will guarantee you will return to meditation with joyful expectation and confidence.

If you gaze intently but calmly into the point between the eyebrows and fix your gaze there, unwaveringly, you simply cannot fall into lower states, and you can hold errant thoughts at bay. Focused steadily but in a relaxed and enjoyable way, at this point (known as the Kutastha or Christ center: the center of our eternal and unchanging divinity, will power and knowing), with hardly a flicker of movement, distracting thoughts subside and evaporate like fog in the rising sun of a summer day.

In the process, it is sometimes like standing out in the hallway from a room filled with people chattering. You can hear the sounds of talking but you don't necessarily hear all the words. Thus the monkey mind can sometimes chatter in the background but you don't have to listen. In time it simply evaporates. It's the calm focus at the spiritual eye (between the eyebrows, as though gazing through that point and out a little bit) that silences the monkey mind (because you are not listening) . Looking up, inwardly, also re-directs the mind into "Huh, what'd you say?" mode.  The "listening mudra" is extremely effective in achieving inner silence.

Think about it: you hear something or someone slightly at a distance, and like the old train crossings, you "stop, look, and listen." Cock your head to the side as if listening and the mind shuts off and "listens up." Try it in meditation. It really works.

I will go even deeper before I sign off. Get off now, unless you want to really do this. Whether you practice mantra meditation, breath awareness, concentration on inner light or sound, Kriya Yoga and so on, it is the same. There are two aspects to higher consciousness: one is perfect stillness (the reflected bliss of divine consciousness) and the other is ever-moving, vibrating power of Spirit in manifestation. Causal and astral; unmoving and moving; male and female; thought and feeling; Kutastha and Aum. No matter what form of yoga meditation you practice, we essentially contact the movements of divine consciousness (prana, vibration, Aum, Divine Mother) and rotate this energy around the inner Sun (Son) at the spiritual eye. In time the rotation begins to slow and finally becomes still as the energy merges into pure thought, pure consciousness. "Meditate so deeply," Paramhansa Yogananda counseled, "until breath (prana) becomes mind (conscoiusness). I better stop here.

These are just some of the ways we can feed bananas to the monkey mind and keep him preoccupied. And, don't forget to reassure the monkey that when you are done meditating, you'll get right back to all of his big problems. "They are, like, SO IMPORTANT!" (hee, hee, hee).

Well, time for a banana.


Nayaswami Hriman