Friday, March 21, 2014

8-Fold Path to Transcending the "I don't Mind"

In the past two blogs I've described the importance of transcending thoughts in order to have a deeper experience of meditation. Now, there's much more to it than that, but this isn't supposed to be a book: I have to remind myself that this is just a blog!

Inspired by Patanjali's famous 8-Fold Path (it wasn't entirely original with him either), may I offer these suggestions and steps to achieve a deeper, more satisfying and consistent meditation experience:

  1. Yama (control). Start with the clear intention to achieve peace in meditation and to gently, but firmly, put aside, just temporarily, the seemingly important thoughts and preoccupations that assail you. Be somewhat firm with your mind in this respect. Start with an affirmation such as "I am strong in myself. I am complete in my Self. All that I seek await discovery within my inner being (through meditation!). In this affirmation, feel the blessing of inner peace rising within you as you stand firm in your resolution. Take a few moments to enjoy it.
  2. Niyama (non-control). Relax! Welcome the idea and feeling of going within, of being centered in your Self, in your inner (subtle) spine. Experience contentment and the clean feeling that arises from being inwardly at rest -- as if being cleansed by a weightless waterfall of wisdom. Take a few moments to enjoy this image and the insight it offers to you as to "Who am I." 
  3. Asana. (sitting). Ignite the "fire of pure desire" for transcending the roller coaster of likes and dislikes and for being seated in the asana (position) of meditation--as if for hours, days, weeks and more, burning up the seeds of ignorance and material desire. Let your efforts blaze with the power of God-uniting energy.
  4. Pranayama (life force control). Here begin your yoga practices of regular (diaphragmatic) breathing and any combination of breath techniques that you have learned and feel comfortable with. Don't be content with huffing and puffing, however. Control of breath is just the beginning and most outward form by which we can bring the reactive process of ego-driven likes and dislikes under control and, with God-inspired devotion,  re-directing their energy, and the feeling-desires that drive them, upwards toward the seat of enlightenment at the spiritual eye. Purify your heart and offer it to God.
  5. Pratyahara (concentration of the mind). As the winds of breath and heart subside owing to your efforts with pranayam, the mind will begin to clear of restless thoughts like fog vanishing beneath the rising summer sun. Shift from breath control (prana-yama) to watching the breath (ni-yama). Yogananda taught this universal technique with the seed mantra, Hong (chanted silently with the incoming breath) Sau (with the outgoing breath). Challenge yourself to re-direct your mind back to the breath whenever thoughts take your focus hostage. This is where you train the monkey mind directly: gentle but resolute. Don't allow frustration or impatience to creep in when the lower mind gets the upper hand! Never give up. As the flow of breath subsides, so will the thought-invaders (and vice versa).
  6. Dharana (inner awareness). When you feel that you have become satisfactorily calm, cease the watching of the breath and rest in the silence. Peer upward with happy, active, interested intensity, gazing as if with curiosity through the point between the eyebrows---at a point one or two feet past the eyebrows (and perhaps slightly raised)--eyes are still closed, however. From that resting point, now settle in and become sensitively aware: feeling peaceful? Calm? Feeling subtle energy within or around you? Feel in the heart, too.......perhaps a bubble of joy, loving acceptance.....
  7. Dhyana (meditation). Relax so deeply and naturally into your meditation that the sense of "I am feeling peaceful (or XXXX) subsides and what remains is only the "nectar" of the feeling itself--nothing else. 
  8. Samadhi. (oneness). Now, let even the feeling of peace (or XXXX) vanish too. What is left is "I, I, everywhere" and the joy of Pure Consciousness. When you feel time is up, take a moment to bless friends, family, co-workers and anyone in need whose name or image appears.
I can't guarantee every meditation will be like this, but this 8-Fold Path to transcendence will serve you well if you dive deep, energetically, creatively, with intelligence and devotion into the Sea of Peace. As a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, I practice Kriya Yoga as my central pranayam while "watching" includes listening to the inner sounds of the chakras or AUM. I call upon Yogananda to guide me. I will visualize or try to feel his presence; his guidance; his power--lifting me up into the lap of Divine Mother (as he addressed God).

I read an interview with a rapper named Russell Simmons who has practiced meditation and yoga for twenty years. It changed his life and he is helping to change the lives of others for the better. Meditation can change your life, too, no matter what you've been through or have done. "Tat twan asi." "Thou art That (peace and serenity and bliss) which is God, for you are made in the image of Spirit.

Blessings and joy in meditation and in service and in love for God and truth!

Nayaswami Hriman

Exploring: Do You Mind?

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!

Nayaswami Hriman