Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Meditation: Is it Just Me, or, Is Anyone Om?

I was re-listening to a recorded talk by Paramhansa Yogananda today while jogging, and he reminded his audience how easy it is to be "out of tune with God" while meditating. It was an odd way to put it and he may have meant more than I could glean from it, but the basic interpretation is one I can relate to: "I can meditate" and that's all I am doing. Let me try that again:

Over the years as I've been in the position to teach meditation, I've reminded folks to not mistake the "path for the goal." I think this is basically what Yogananda was saying. Patanjali (think Yoga Sutras) described "missing the point" as one of the yogi's spiritual traps. It is very easy for those who meditate to focus on the techniques of meditation and never get beyond their own thoughts and preoccupations.

Now this subject is going to take a little work on my part. So let's sit back, take a deep breath and be still.

First: many meditation teachers and students approach meditation as a mindfulness exercise involving just "me" and not "Thee." This is as far as millions of people even intend to go when they meditate. So these folks aren't really in the "game" of this article at all! To paraphrase a Sixties song, "It's my mind and I can do what I want to." (Leslie Gore) So, quote another Sixties song, "Is that all there is?" (Sinatra) This use of meditation (probably the most common use) is like flossing between the ears. Good mental hygiene with many medical and psychological benefits. End of my article? (You wish!)

This psychological approach may be healthy but I suspect it is difficult to sustain unless the meditator achieves sufficient depth often enough to be desirous of continuing. The simple fact is that meditation takes self-discipline; self-discipline takes motivation; motivation requires necessity. So either one's life is intensely stressful and meditation is a life saver, or, you're likely to be distracted by surfing the net or answering emails or writing blogs, or simply going to bed on time.

Second: traditional use of meditation as a spiritual exercise, including a form of prayer, might be wholly centered on God, Christ, Buddha, Krishna or one of an infinite number of deities or one's teacher. I say "traditional" but I don't say that with complete confidence. Let's simply say, perhaps instead, that when meditation takes a more strictly or more focused devotional form it would be something like that. In this case, too, but for opposite reason, there's no question about "Who's who in meditation." In devotional forms the issue that arises is "When will you come to me?"

The counsel that wise teachers (which includes Yogananda and my own teacher, his direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda) give is that one should be non-attached in meditation and not engage in merchant consciousness, expecting results ("Or, I'll take my cushion and go home!") There's a lovely song, "Keep Calling Him" inspiring the devotee to be steadfast in his devotions whether it takes lifetimes. There's also the thought of "divine impatience" countered by "Patience is the shortest route to God." Now are we getting fuzzy (warm, too?) here?

By impatience we mean that the sense of energy, commitment, zeal and wakefulness of a sort that never gives up is essential. By patience we mean the depth of intuitive knowing that God is always with us and we are ever content in our Self. Yogananda would tell the story of St. Anthony of the Desert. After years of intense prayer and meditation and right on the cusp of his being destroyed by Satan and his minions and calling to Jesus Christ, Jesus finally appears and drives Satan away. Anthony is grateful but chides his Lord asking, "Ahemmm, and, Where were you all this time?" Yogananda would quote Jesus as saying, "Anthony (in a mildly rebuking tone), "I was always with you!" When we meditate with the thought of God's eternal presence we find blissful contentment and waves of grace flowing over us!

Nonetheless, the prayerful and meditating devotee can get discouraged if her entire focus is upon her Lord and he remains ever silent. How many lovers can sustain their love only in silence? In this case the I-Thou becomes one-sided: focused on Thou but Thou art AWOL! Certainly extraordinary bhaktis (lovers of God) will carry on for an eternity, but such devotees are in short supply at this time (of Dwapara Yuga, the age of energy and egoic self-interest).

So, the rest of us are somewhere in between. I assume that many of today's "modern" meditators would identify themselves with the motto, "Spiritual but not religious." Spirituality among this group is somewhat vague and fuzzy, ranging between "feel good" and "feel God," where the emphasis is on "feel." But even among my friends who, like me, are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda and practitioners of Kriya Yoga, we find the range of intellectual, active, and feeling types.

For example, for years, considering myself more mental than devotional, my emphasis was on my practices (i.e. Kriya Yoga) and the uplifting, calming, and expansive effect meditation had upon me. With steady practice of devotion, including chanting which I love, I gradually became more steady and deep in my comfort with and feeling of and for Yogananda's presence during meditation (and during activity). I discovered from time to time that even with a great meditation, it could be all about having a great meditation and nothing more (devotional, that is)!

Meditation, in other words, can become self-preoccupying. I have often had the sense that some meditators around me (I spend many hours per week in group meditations) are simply sitting there quietly; perhaps contentedly; but essentially "doing nothing": neither striving for depth in meditation, nor offering themselves devotionally to God or guru, nor transcendent of passing thoughts having achieved (or even seeking) a deep state of inner stillness.

In meditation, then, there are several stages:   1) Withdrawal from outer activity;   2) Relaxation, mental as well as physical;   3) Internalization of mental focus;     4) Practice of and concentration upon one's chosen image, state or technique;    5) Having the desire to use one's technique to go beyond it;     6) Achieving a quiescent, inner state of awareness ; and, 7) Achieving upliftment into a higher state of being (than passive quietness).

The active or feeling types all have the same trap: engaging in their respective practices without going beyond them into the very state they are focusing on.

I have concluded after years of practice and teaching that a meditator needs to remind himself to go beyond himself. It's like being "Beside myself" except really, really different, as in "Being inside my Self." When therefore you sit to meditate remind your Self of the difference between your practices and their goal. Always desire and intend to reach your goal, "making haste slowly." Practice with infinite patience and with unstoppable determination. Attempt in every meditation to quiet the heart and breath and achieve a true moment (a moment can be infinite and eternally NOW) of perfect stillness and spiritual wakefulness.

We need the Thou (whether Thou is your practice or Thou is your "God") to replace the "i" and we need to replace the Thou with the I. The one seeks the Other and in the seeking we become ONE.

Are U Won, yet?

Ascending now, au revoir,

Nayaswami Hari-man