Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Have A Deeper, Longer Meditation

Tomorrow, and in the next few days, Ananda and other groups around the world will uphold a tradition begun by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous "Autobiography of a Yogi") to celebrate Christmas with a day of meditation.

Yogananda began this tradition in honor of what he called "the formless Christ." This term, like a diamond, have several facets, but let us say simply that it refers to the universal Christ consciousness latent within each person (indeed, even in every atom of creation). In meditation, when one feels peace descending upon him like a weightless waterfall washing away all cares and sorrows, he can justly say that he has felt the Christ-peace within. The dynamic and uplifting experience of states such as peace, joy, love and the inner experiences of astral sound and light are aspects of a higher, divine consciousness: a manifestation of the living (and universal) Christ.

The Christ "in form" would be any avatar (true master), east or west, who appears in vision or in flesh and blood as Jesus and other great masters have in the lives of individual devotees.

This revelation of the formless divinity of our souls is one of the great teachings of all time. It has been given anew to us by Yogananda and by other great teachers to encourage us to go within wherein lies the true "kingdom of heaven."

Feeling peace in meditation, for example, is among the easiest of these higher ("superconscious") states to access, even for a beginning meditator.

The first time one attends a day-long meditation, one surely has trepidation. My teacher, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda and founder of the Ananda work worldwide) counseled us to tune into the natural rhythms of energy and consciousness during such longer meditations. By alternating meditation techniques with periods of silent, inner communion, we would more easily go deeper and into greater meditative joy than by fighting the mind to obey our will as we focus intensely upon techniques and concentration for too long.

In raja yoga we teach quite a number of simple and commonly used breath control techniques ("pranayams"). One can have an index card with their names to serve as reminders during the day to practice if we feel mental fatigue. Breaks for chanting can also revive our flagging energy and devotion. Kriyananda would advise us to stand during chanting if our body needed some change of position or relief from sitting.

The natural flow of prana during any 8-hour period of focused activity alternates concentration with relaxation. Whether you're digging a ditch or making sales calls, for example, you will break for a cup of coffee or tea, a chat with a co-worker, a bathroom break, or consult with your supervisor. The wonderful system of pranic tension exercises which we call Energization echoes and perfects this rhythm. It is the rhythm of night and day; activity and rest. You can use this, also, even sitting in meditation: as you inhale, tense the body; vibrate lightly but firmly; exhale forcibly and relax the tension; pause to feel the effects; repeat two or more times. In the Energization system there are 39 separate tension-breath movements which are ideally performed before meditation and which can be used sitting or standing, or during a break from a long meditation.

Even some brief inspiration reading material can help relax, inspire and divert the mind from the discomfort or complaints of the body or the mind in its one-pointed meditative focus.

Other spiritual practices during a long meditation include praying for others; silent, inner chanting or mantra. With open eyes, one might have periods of wordless prayer before devotional pictures or images.

On the path of Kriya Yoga, we have a veritable smorgasbord of kriya techniques: watching the breath with the Hong Sau mantra; the Aum technique of listening to the inner sounds with a special mudra; the basic kriya technique and, for some of us, advanced kriya techniques.

It is essential, however, not to barnstorm one's way, like the proverbial "bull in the china closet," through techniques. Whatever you do, technique-wise, should be followed by stillness and inner absorption of the peaceful after-poise of "pranayam" or devotional exercise. The natural pranic rhythm of which I speak here does not usually (or at least necessarily) alternate in segments of an hour or more. It can be shorter rhythms, too.

But don't take the attitude that because you "have all day," you "take all day" to get anywhere in the depth of your meditation! Many make that mistake: almost afraid, I think, to take the plunge. Go deep right away Yogananda would tell students. Remember that until thoughts cease, you are not really meditating. Gulp! I know, that's a high bar to jump over.

To describe it that way is essentially negative: not this, not that. Rather, see the goal as achieving the peace, the joy, and the love of communing inwardly with God who is within you; who IS whatever form you hold dear: formless (in states of peace, joy or love, etc.) or form (as in the presence of a saint or guru or deity).

Look forward to a day of rest from worries, duties and constant motion, mental, emotional, and physical! Look forward to embracing the Silence as your Best Friend. "I am coming Home to Thee!"

A day of prayer and communion (true inner communion) will, even if it is, at times, a struggle of will power, bring blessings that, like waves from the sea to the shore, will wash over you for days, weeks, months to come.

Offer yourself at the altar of Silence! Prostrate your human littleness at the feet of your Infinite Self. Return to your Creator who is the silence behind all motion; who is the love of your own heart; the joy of your own creativity; the light of your animate life!

Wish us luck tomorrow and this coming week. We hope to offer to the world a ray of light descending to earth, taking advantage of the Christmas holiday which opens a "worm hole" to the transcendent Christ who shares the spirit of world brotherhood and universal understanding.

It is based on this day of inner communion that the social aspects of Christmas have their reality and their vibrancy!

May the Christ light of Peace shine upon you!

Swami Hrimananda