I, and many people I know in my circle of Ananda friends and members, have been meditating daily for upwards fifty years. Many others for several decades. Is it enough? Are our lives being transformed? Elevated? Ennobled? Fortunately the "answer" to this is not an "either-or" but a "both-and." Yes, our lives ARE transformed but maybe not as fast or deep as we had hoped when we first began.
What does it take to change? Paramhansa Yogananda said "The soul LOVES to meditate; the ego HATES to meditate." But is it enough to meditate? And, besides, isn't it the EGO that is meditating? Yogananda told the story of a man who was being troubled by a demon. Seeking help, he was given a powder to say a mantra over and throw into the face of the demon. But when he attempted to do this, the demon just laughed claiming that before the mantra could be recited he, the demon, leapt into the powder. Yogananda said that demon is the ego.
The ego gets plenty of brickbats in the world of meditation and spirituality. But, paradox though it be, it's what we start with. Were I a happy puppy or a satisfied clam I wouldn't seek Self-realization, would I? Nor, I suppose, therefore, would I have a need for it.
How many hundreds of meditation apps and meditation teachers offer self-help forms of meditation: self-help for health, relaxation, insomnia, concentration, and creativity? There are many benefits to the daily practice of meditation.
But can meditation transform us spiritually, too? Up to a certain point, yes, but self-effort, techniques, concentration are not enough. True: it is the, ego harnessing intelligence and will that, having received the inspiration to seek something greater than itself, begins the daily practice. But the ego, like Moses who was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, is marching to its own doom; it must be radically transformed and expanded beyond the body and personality and so, like Moses, must "die" before reaching the goal.
Before I say "You will need a guru" with the result that you will stop reading, let me go another direction (first). In the bad old days of the 1960's and '70's when altered states of consciousness were sought with liberal sprinklings of chemical additives, there was a greater interest in achieving ego-transcendent states of consciousness. As the fads ebbed away into "let's get rich while we can," meditation was turned over to the scientists for research purposes. This is not a bad thing, mind you, but applying a materialistic bias to meditation has also dumbed it down towards a stoic "chop wood and carry water" goal. (I'm all for managing stress but my response to this is to ask "Do you remember Frank Sinatra singing "Is that all there is?"")
Swami Kriyananda's book, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," has for its theme that meditation offers us the opportunity to nurture our connection with what Yogananda dubbed the "Superconscious mind." This is a step up from exploring the influences of the subconscious mind upon our thoughts, emotions and opinions. Observing our thoughts in their native stream of consciousness may be helpful for being more aware of these subconscious influences; and, alternatively, substituting beautiful or relaxing imagery or music may be helpful for relaxation; but no matter how much more we live a conscious, intentional life, we are still in the conscious mind. We are still stuck with the basic "I." A better "I" for sure but is it enough? I doubt it. For one thing, uncertainty, loss of every kind, illness, old age and death stalk us 24/7. How secure and how happy can we remain in this world of ceaseless change? The watchful ego is the protector and defender of the realm. Smugness, over-confidence, and prideful self-indulgence will surely be the ego's undoing. Can we ever rest secure in the ego?
The basic thrust of meditation from the standpoint of its own tradition and history is the intention to awaken our awareness to more subtle realities; more refined states of mind; less ego oriented behavior; and, to higher states of consciousness, including the ultimate or absolute state of Being. The Superconscious mind offers us the potential to align our consciousness with the greater mind of all-knowing intuition: the source of true confidence. While this realm is available and accessed unknowingly to all people, it is not under the command or control of the ego. Its influence is tailored made to our unique needs. Mozart "received" symphonies; Albert Einstein, E=mc2. I, the inspiration to write this article!
The Superconscious mind is, relative to our ego, "Other." You may, if you wish, call it "God," the "Soul," the "Atman" etc. etc. So far as its influence goes, however, the ego remains the arbiter, the decider of whether to accept or reject the promptings of Superconsciousness. We see this often in the quiet promptings of our conscience: one of the voices of Superconsciousness.
Sometimes the Superconscious has to communicate to us through dreams because all too often the conscious mind is so restless and preoccupied that we are not paying attention to the subtle voice of the Superconscious mind. To make matters worse, it takes experience to distinguish subconscious promptings from Superconscious ones. This is where the practice of meditation offers valuable support.
Not surprisingly, therefore, meditation is the most effective practice to open up the channel to Superconsciousness: hence the name and theme of Swami Kriyananda's book. The part of meditation that does this best is inner silence. In turn, inner silence is most readily achieved if we have a time-tested method(s) to rest the mind, relax the body, and calm the emotions. Thus various meditation techniques are helpful before attempting to enter into inner silence. The longer and deeper one can be still in body and mind, the more we are opening and clearing the channel through which the Superconscious can influence us.
But the ego fights this process and typically claims as its own the ideas and inspirations that it receives. This, then, is where the need for the Superconscious to take human form comes into play. The Superconscious in human form is needed to get our attention and to make real and personal the guidance the ego needs to gradually let go of control. It is far too easy for the ego to stay in control when the guidance is only internal.
But how many people have a personal and enlightened guru-guide? Very few. A popular spiritual teacher is not necessarily enlightened and, how much guidance are you likely to receive from a person with thousands or millions of followers?
The tradition of disciple-guru relationship and the tradition of the inner path of meditation is strongly focused on renunciation and self-discipline. Transport these traditions into a "spiritual-but-not-religious" extroverted culture that is strongly self-directed and ever-affirming personal liberties and you can end up with a great many meditators stumbling around in the labyrinth of the mind.
Therapy, coaching and counseling are among the fastest growing professions in America today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 20% growth between 2014 and 2024. Isolation and anxiety produced by the Covid pandemic have, I imagine, accelerated this trend. So while the traditions of the inner path invite the practitioner to "go within," the need for 21st century meditators would seem to suggest the need for a "guide from the side" since a "sage from the stage" is difficult to find.
Meditation has been lifted out of the culture of the East and dropped into a very different culture in the West. As a resident of one of the Ananda communities worldwide, and as a decades long teacher of meditation (and meditation teachers), I see that meditation by itself is simply not enough for most people to affect the kind of transformation that meditation has to offer.
For starters, our culture has converted both meditation and hatha yoga (postures) into something more ego and body affirming than was classically their purpose. Even if there could be found a truly enlightened guru, only a few in this "me-first" culture would give themselves wholly to be transformed. Put another way, few meditators are ready for a true guru.
So, how then, can meditation help us achieve more than relaxation, concentration, vitality and creativity? How can meditation help us experience Superconscious states of the higher (soul) mind?
First: we actually have to sincerely want that level of transformation. I've had meditation students react fearfully when hearing about cosmic consciousness or even higher states of awareness. Second: we may need help to gain greater self-awareness of our subconscious influences. Third: we may need help to re-direct old thought-patterns into new and self-expansive ones; Fourth: we need the tools of transformation in the form of advanced meditation techniques like Yogananda's Kriya Yoga; Fifth: we may need to be open to the spiritual and meditative guidance of those we feel can guide us even if they are not enlightened gurus.
I believe that the increase in the use of therapists, counselors and coaches represent a small but growing trend toward seeking greater self-awareness in this otherwise extroverted and materialistic culture. Yogis are generally not versed in the tools of this decidedly Western profession. The spiritual teachings are wonderful but making them real in one's own daily life takes hard, introspective work for which we in this culture are ill prepared. Quiet mind and still body don't come easily to our over-stimulated, frenzied lifestyles.
And I'm not limiting the help that I see we need to learning more meditation techniques or going to more retreats and workshops. These are important and have a place, of course, but I'm referring to something more personal. Ironically, the ego has to undergo healing and achieve some degree of wholeness before it can begin to surrender to a higher power. I know stories come to us of great devotees whose total surrender to the guru freed them in one lifetime but let's face it, most of us carry far too much karmic baggage. We need friends and wise guides to help us. Perhaps in a future lifetime the depth of our sincerity and magnetism will attract a guru whose very touch can liberate our souls.
I know that devotion to God and guru is "an inside job" and is not dependent on proximity to any human form but that level of devotion is rare. The effort to develop devotion remains a very powerful spiritual practice and should be included in our toolkit of transformation. My observation of the life of meditators and devotees suggests to me that much more is needed at this time and in this culture.
In this regard, I think of the story of the Princess Draupadi: a devotee of Krishna. Krishna suggested that she practice meditation. Her response was simply, "But Lord, how can I practice meditation when my mind is wholly upon you?" Krishna just smiled and turned away. Devotion to the Supreme Lord is the quickest way to soul freedom. But alas, few are the devotees with the courage and conviction of this truth.
Among the fast growing number of professional therapists, coaches and counselors are few who walk with us on the inner path. One must choose a guide carefully and intelligently, therefore. Suggestions for such a search are beyond the scope of this article but my purpose is to point out the need among meditators for help in shedding the subconscious and activating the conscious mind. As a teacher of meditation teachers, I think it would help if potential teachers and spiritual counselors incorporated some of the tools of the emerging coaching field. I believe such tools can accelerate a person's access to the transcendent realm of the Superconscious mind when added to the other, traditional techniques and attitudes of raja yoga.
My daugher, Gita Matlock (www.gitamatlock.com), is a coach and on her recent visit to us recommended to me books by the author Nancy Kline (www.timetothink.com) for how to help others. I found the steps and principles outlined there to be completely congruent with the essence of Self-realization principles, but only using different terms and applications. The technique of asking questions is highlighted and has a long and ancient history. So too has the assumption of the essential goodness of people and our own power to find answers from within. Marvelous reading and I recommend it for Self-realization teachers and counselors.
Ours is a new age (Dwapara Yuga) and a new culture. Truth may be one and eternal but its manifestations are infinitely varied. If we are to help one another, let us tune into the song of Dwapara: individuality; respect; listening; and empowering.
Blessings and joy to you!