Monday, February 29, 2016

Taming the Monkey Mind - To use a Thorn!

"Use a thorn to remove a thorn." So it is said in rural India. Great yogis have taken inspiration from this down-home country wisdom to suggest that we use the monkey mind to tame the monkey mind.

It is typical for beginners in meditation to report that their group meditations (e.g. in their meditation classes) are more satisfying and deeper than their private meditations at home. While the reasons for this are obvious enough -- after all, they are new at this and haven't an established daily meditation practice at home -- the meditator saddled with the monkey mind can look back at this and use it to his advantage too.

And here's how: rather than use a pre-recorded guided meditation, teach yourself to be your own guided meditation instructor. (I assume you have a technique and a meditation routine that you use, whether strictly or loosely; literally or creatively.) Start slow with just a piece of it. One peace at a time, in other words.

Since you already have a talking head inside of you, why not train that talking head to guide you through the steps of your routine or technique? "Inhale, 1, 2, 3......, hold, 1, 2, 3.......exhale, 1, 2 3." While my example here is simple it is meant only to give you a hint. 

Imagine mentally talking your way through some stretches; to sitting in correct posture; to a chant, affirmation, intention or prayer; to deep breathing, pranayam, watching the breath and then, finally.....using a creative visualization to take you i...n..t..o.........s...i...l...e....n....c.....e!

There! The monkey just talked himself out of a job! Hee, hee.........Did you get what I just did (said)? Do you need a little more on this?

While the monkey minder (gyana yogi) will, in principle, be more, well, how does one say this politely, "mental," I find that even "bhaktis" (those who are devotional by temperament) will sometimes complain of monkey breath. So the bhakti should chant, read or recite poetry (aloud if necessary), read prayers or talk to her guru or deity until her monkey breath is sweet and she feels like going inward, doing perhaps some more breath cleansing work, before entering into silent, inner communion with the object of her devotion.

The active type (karma yogi) will be a monkey-gymnast: physically restless; wanting to move about after 30 seconds of "meditation." The Energization (Tension) Exercises by Paramhansa Yogananda are excellent for this. Hatha yoga can also be excellent, too, of course, but the EE go faster both in pace and in less time spent. The gymnast will probably do well and enjoy learning up to a dozen breathing exercises (pranayams), blissing-out on the energy soothed or aroused (alternately) before consenting to enter the silence, even briefly.

In each of these three "types," it is important to note (even in contradistinction to the standard or literal advice given in meditation classes), "even a little practice" of stillness will bring you back to the cushion and bless you with the benefits of true meditation.

Here's what I'm saying: I am supposed to teach my students that up to 1/4 of sitting time should be in silent meditation (without use of techniques). But I assure you that the reality is, especially for the monkey I have in mind, that this is not time well spent when it is imposed upon the mind. 

Better it is to have 30 seconds, 60 seconds, two minutes of peaceful rest in the Self and get up feeling refreshed, inspired, divinely blessed..........and looking forward to the next opportunity to meditate than to wrestle with the monkey on the mat, sweating, cursing and fighting and deciding meditation "is not for me."

Naturally I don't want you to use this counsel as an excuse to finish your techniques, burp and get up! You should aspire to 1/4 of your time in silent, inner communion; it's just that "when the bird and book disagree, believe the bird." (Audubon society proverb). Yoga is about direct perception and experience, not belief, ritual or rules.

In the next article on the Monkey Mind, I will share a routine with general suggestions for the monkey mind to try digesting: (don’t do all of them; pick and choose; experiment; mix and match; be playful, enthusiastic, and inspired to find the no-name, no-form joyful, peaceful transcendent God-Self within you)

Until that time, don’t monkey around; mind your monkey; chat with him (or her); bargain; negotiate; give reassurance of your undying gratitude to the monkey who (thinks he/she) runs the Enterprise.

Here’s a chant for you and your monkey: O My Mind, learn thou self-control (repeat); Go not in the house of senses (repeat); Learn thou, learn thou Self-control! (by Paramhansa Yogananda)

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, February 22, 2016

TAMING THE MONKEY MIND – PART 1 – “Name that Monkey!”

Last Fall (2015), I held a one-night class on the subject of “Taming the Monkey Mind.” Suffice to say, one class was far too little time to work with the meditator’s (seemingly) greatest obstacle. At the time I promised (something of a sop, I’m afraid) to write a few blog articles to make up for the woeful lack of time. As it has been many months, they may have thought I forgot, but I have not.

Where does one begin? Well, it wouldn’t hurt to be introduced to that monkey. We find quickly that he’s not just one; he’s a whole family of monkeys. They inhabit our brain and are in constant motion. 

Practical, playful, even mischievous, at times. Our first acknowledgement we must make is for the debt we owe to the monkey brain family for keeping us alive. Of the family tree identified by Charles Darwin, this family of monkeys is highly trained at protecting us from threats, both seen and unseen, and helping us to develop many useful skills.

It is axiomatic in metaphysics and Yoga-Samkhya-Vedanta philosophy that the source of all matter is consciousness. Chapter 1 of Swami Kriyananda’s excellent book on the subject of meditation, Awaken to Superconsciousness, dedicates its first chapter to this precept (much to the dismay of its unsuspecting readers—for it is intellectual and abstruse). Similarly the thrust of the entire and vast body of Indian thought is that it is our soul’s destiny to transcend the delusion of material existence to contemplate and to become one with this ever-present, eternal, and omniscient reality (Consciousness). Our destiny it is because our brain and nervous system have evolved over eons of time for this very purpose. Slugs and snails, indeed, monkeys themselves, are not fully hard-wired to transcend the brain-body-nervous system!

While we are thus (seemingly hopelessly) body-sense-ego bound, we also, as yet and simultaneously, transcendent.  While that which binds us (brain, nervous system, senses) is as yet and simultaneously that which can free us. We are, thusly, existentially conflicted. We have two directions, seemingly, to pursue: the one, at once familiar and the other seemingly foreign and distant.

Even at the expense of reason (which tells us our life is short and our fate uncertain), we can pursue —intensely or lazily — whatever life in the body offers us, complete with its joys, sorrows, pleasures, pain and predestined demise into oblivion. Our monkey-ness keeps us so busy that most people don’t even consider there’s a choice in the matter. For those upon whom nature showers its gifts, most slumber in the forgetfulness of the moment, unheedful, ignorant or indifferent to the vast majority of others who are not so benighted.

The other path is towards transcendence. This is the path of Buddha, Jesus, and the prophets and masters down through ages. The panacea of lasting happiness and freedom from suffering, whether in heaven beyond, or in our hearts here and now, is the path of Light. In our age a new dispensation has been given to all people, regardless of status, race or nation, who seek the path of transcendence. It is the practice of meditation. Never mind that at first, millions will use meditation for its physical and psychological benefits, as if to only improve their circumstances during their predestined and brief sojourn in their human body. This is the stage of awakening such as one sees in the life of Jesus when crowds sought him for his healing powers alone.

Once a taste of monkey-less-ness is achieved, the monkey-less-MIND exercises a magnetic call to “Be still and know that I AM God.” (Psalm 46:10).

Samkhya darshana (philosophy) identifies four aspects of the monkey mind: its functional ability and purpose to interact with the body and senses; its ability to make rational or intuitive conclusions and connections (whether in the abstract and conceptual or in relation to the senses); its tendency to identify personally with either strata of mental activity; and, lastly, its embrace or rejection.

In the first, it is valuable to know that fire can burn your hand; that there’s a difference between a rope and snake; that spoiled food looks and tastes a certain way. In the second, our intelligence, whether merely logical or inspired from unseen heights, equips us with great power, good, bad or neither. In the third, we are able to identify mental activity (thoughts, emotions, actions) in its relationship to “Me.” This allows for selectivity, prioritizing and ownership or detachment. This me-function is closely related, then, to our emotional life for herein lies our tendency to identify with and desire, or reject in repulsion, the circumstances, people, or ideas that engage our daily life.

To list these characteristics, then, they are: manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta. Transcending each of these aspects takes specialized tools of meditation. (We’ll come to these much later.)

These four aspects of our ego-mind can play out unseen by us in their subconscious functions, consciously, or superconsciously. It is the superconscious mind that is closest to the transcendent mind. The subconscious mind is but a domestic servant whether programmed by pre or post-natal tendencies. It holds the key to the function of habits; it serves to protect the ego by looking for threats even in the nuances of the words of other people; it reacts by instinct according to “fight or flight;” and, lastly, it is, by itself, passive and generally uncreative. It can be re-trained by the conscious intention and efforts of the conscious mind, guided by the innate and intuitive wisdom of the superconscious mind.

The conscious mind, being awake and aware of the world around us, sees mostly foes everywhere; or, at least obstacles and problems to overcome but it is too often seeing the world through subconscious filters of which it is, well, unconscious! It tends to be cautious, analytical and even wary. The conscious mind can also be insensitive to others or to more subtle signals and realities, as it is so focused on only what is right in front of it and related to "Me."

That which first filters the transcendent mind is the superconscious mind. Being in touch with a larger reality and not yet gated by subconscious filters and past actions, it sends us, to the degree we draw from it, answers, solutions, new ideas, and inspirations. It is filtered at least to this degree: Einstein didn’t hear symphonies in his head nor did Beethoven see a beam of light shooting through space. We receive the guidance apropos to our needs.

I’ll end this part with the link between body-mind-spirit: the breath. The “Holy Ghost” (or ghast, breath) signals the appearance of life in the new born and the disappearance of life at death. In between it acts as a direct link and reflector of the state of consciousness on which we sit at every moment. “The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge.[1]

[1] “Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramhansa Yogananda, 1946 edition, Chapter 26: The Science of Kriya Yoga.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Oh God" - How to Get Over the "God" Word!

Teaching meditation and the spiritual teachings of raja yoga for many years, I have come to experience, frequently, the negative reaction and association that students have to the word "God."

I appreciate their dilemma and sometimes chide a class of students to "get over it" because I intend to use the term in part because it's so easy to use as shorthand.

The question is, though, "God" is shorthand for what, exactly?

My prior blog article spoke of a new dispensation wherein a growing understanding is evolving of "God" as something far different than the anthropomorphic "man" on a throne far away who watches our every move, eager to toss most of us into the fiery dustbin at the slightest infraction!

So if you, or a friend or family member, bristles at the notorious "God" word, I have a few simple suggestions:

1. Should we use a new word? That's been tried and like the gender thing (she, he, "they" etc.) it's still a bit awkward. Fellow teachers I know often like to use the phrase "the Divine," and I use it too, but it seems so lifeless, so pallid. God isn't a mere "thing" or dumb "force" like "the Force" or electricity. There IS a personal element to "the Force." Who can love the Cosmic Ground of Being? At Ananda we often follow Yogananda's lead (and Swami Kriyananda's, our founder) in referring to God as Divine Mother. I do too but that's most comfortable among fellow members and less comfortable in public settings (though I still use it there, too). But it can prompt further questions of its own.

2. I am of a mind to simply educate others and help them to "get over it."

3. Think of God, then as the pure joy of a smile; the pure joy of pure joy; the beauty and harmony of nature; kindness; the innocence and wonder of a small child or young pet or animal; I see all these pet and animal and nature pictures on Facebook: see the face of God in such as these!

4. Think of God as the pure love of true friendship: respectful, considerate, sympathetic, yet wise, and mutually serviceful. You may have to imagine such friendship for it is rare. But the exercise is worth it!

5. Think of God as the intelligence, bounty, and joy of the life "flowing through your veins!" The heartbeat of your life, or the vitality, health and energy, within in you; in others, in nature and in the cosmos itself! 

6. Think of God as the summation of all the sound and power in the universe, like a mighty roar, the power, awe and beauty of thunder and lightning!

7. Think of God as the light of the sun, all suns, stars, galaxies and the colors of the infinite rainbow of color. A thousand million suns into One!

8. Think of God as the seemingly infinite space of the cosmos: deeply calm and expanding toward infinity in all directions; in which all objects float like island universes! Feel your awareness of space expanding outward spherically. Yogananda wrote, the body of God is space. If you want to feel God's presence feel the space all around you and expand it outward to infinity. Feel the space within your own body, knowing that science tells us that the quantifiable matter of our body, emptied of the space between all particles, would fill but a thimble!

9. See the presence and hand of God in all circumstances, positive or negative; all life flows to and through us according to the magnetism of our own patterns, past and present, in its unending process of becoming. Through life's experiences God is talking to us: have a "conversation with God."

10. Hear God's voice in the voice of His messengers; read His words in the true teachings of saints, masters and avatars; see His actions in the lives of such great souls and apply their lessons to your daily life. Call on those great ones whom your heart feels attuned to for inner guidance. These more than any other manifestation of God in this world are the purest channels and guides to our soul awakening.

Like a hippie friend once said: "Good God, man, get over "It!" "

Or as I like to plagiarize: "There's no god but God. There's no good but God; there's no thing but God; God alone, God in All."

Or, as Jesus put it: "And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God."

Joy is within you,

Swami Hrimananda