||Experiences of ...|
Essential experiences in meditation
The following are a few essential ideas about the advanced practice of meditation. For a beginning introduction, I refer you to my previous article, Mystery of Meditation.
Heartful Mind ...
I call 'old mind' the entirety of experiences, habits and conditionings from the past. According to yogins, all these stop our access to a new perspective. The 'old mind' must stop in order for our consciousness to grow. Thus we will be able to have, beyond the mind, the direct experience of the state of limitless consciousness. Alone, the mind cannot give us such an experience. Nevertheless, we must not reject this 'old mind' completely. Each component of our being has its role and place in our life. The 'old mind' must not die - it must be transcended (i.e., integrated into a higher perspective) in order to have a glimpse of what lies beyond it - the state of child-like wise innocence and purity that is our divine heritage.
The old mind is full of the knowledge and information that we have accumulated along the years. Because we firmly believe all this is very useful, even vital, the old mind can become a serious obstacle that blocks us to see things as they are and to receive, through direct experience, precious information and insights from the heart. The mind has the power to enchain us or to liberate us. We are the prisoners of our own conditionings. When we find our true center we get another perspective, in which the mind becomes a mere instrument endowed with powerful tools for finding spiritual freedom. The true beauty and power of the mind becomes obvious in its full splendor only when is is our servant, and not when it is our master. The mind must serve the heart.
Heart is not the passive, mushy sentimentalism most people mistake for love and are afraid of because it makes them feel vulnerable and helpless. Heart is a state of inner clarity, true identity, greatness of the soul and centeredness in which we can experience love in freedom and active compassion. Heart gives such a great inner power that we can truly surrender and feel safe at the same time. Surrender with heart is the only true safety.
Among the most important attributes of the mind are thinking, memory and visualization. In order to express an idea we select among the many words that we know only the ones that are meaningful. Then we express these in speech. This process is so fast that we do not realize its stages. An idea comes to us and immediately we express it. The mind is a wonderful instrument. The mind has the unbelievable capacity to instantaneously adapt to various situations of life. If this wouldn't be so, then we would repeat the same things over and over again and we would never do anything new.
A primordial aspect in yoga is the attentive yet detached observation of the way our mind functions. This observation gives us the key to purify the mind. The way our mind reacts and fluctuates when it is stimulated (which is most of the time) is beyond intellectual understanding. This mysterious aspect cannot be totally known from outside, because it is intimately linked with the inner structure of the mind, which differs from individual to individual. Everything that we receive during our life regarding education, life experience, interactions with others, etc., takes the shape of our mind. Even though the functioning is identical for all minds, there is another factor that makes each mind singular. This is like you have many glasses of water of various shapes. Their function is identical (i.e., to drink water from), but not two of them look alike.
Why this diversity? Who made it? To what purpose? What we are searching for on the spiritual path could very well be deeply related to the answer (experienced deeply inside our inner universe) to these questions. There is an answer to all these questions, but this answer is beyond the grasp of our limited intellect. This answer comes from the heart when we are ready to perceive it. We cannot go beyond the mind if we are full of blocks and complications. This is why we need to make effort in our practice - one day it will become effortless, and this is the whole point of effort: to lead you to effortlessness.
The laziness of the unattentive mind. After we grow up and study an area of knowledge for some time, we consider that there is nothing new we can learn. These is like we look upon an object or consider a situation, and then we say to ourselves: "This was the same yesterday and it will probably be the same tomorrow, so why make an effort to re-evaluate?" With this attitude, the more we act the more limited we become, because acting in this way gives us the false sensation that 'we know'. In this situation, any effort to look deeper into things seems futile. The illusion that we 'know' makes us blind, gives us tunnel vision. In order to get out of this vicious circle, we must learn to stop and re-examine what we believe we know. On a spiritual path, this is even more meaningful than continuing to accumulate new information and teachings.
If we meet an old acquaintance and look upon him in the light of our old patterns, we continue to be the victim of our mental conditionings and we will never be able to see him objectively. If we are able to have a new approach that does not involve old ideas, we have the opportunity to establish a new contact with that person, see him in a new light. We might notice something new that we didn't notice before (due to our rigid patterns).
Therefore, if we make the effort to put aside old patterns, rigid ideas and habitual ways of looking at our surroundings, we will be able to find new things, even (and especially) about 'old' situations and persons. We can discover the 'new' only giving up the 'old', while we observe with detachment. We need to look beyond the 'old' to see the 'new'.
At the level of the mind the power of habit is so great that when we see something we instantaneously receive an old information that is stored in the mind, and does not come directly from our present perception. All ideas based on past experiences want to have the first place in our perception. If what we perceive does not conform to these experiences, our reaction is to say: 'this is not good', 'this is bad', 'ugly', 'impossible'... Our past conditionings play this kind of games with us. Therefore we must make an effort to avoid the belief that we know everything about anything.
Fortunately, our mind is not unchangeable. This is the beauty of creation. The mind changes according to what we feed into it. We all know the importance of choosing good food for our physical body. This aspect is even more meaningful when we are talking about the feeding of the mind. It is our privilege and duty to choose new subjects of thinking (even, and especially within 'old' topics) and to continue to learn, especially what we already know. Otherwise, the mind will only give us old information that was processed long time ago.
A very useful tool to develop this new attitude is attention. Attention means a selective, active orientation (i.e., with full awareness) of the mind upon chosen subjects. Attention allows the development of new perception aptitudes. It is crucial to use attention in all circumstances of life; especially in circumstances that are already familiar to us (these circumstances 'invite' us not to be attentive any more because we 'know' them already).
If we use our attention in an attempt to observe our thoughts, they seem impossible to slow down or stop. This is why yoga recommends re-directing the mind (and leaving it active) instead of just stop or empty it. At the same time, we must observe with lucid detachment what happens inside us. This attitude will gradually lead us to an amazing conclusion: the mind is always influenced in a specific way by the objects upon which it dwells. In the vortex of thoughts and perceptions, we always experience inner states and emotions. To contemplate our thoughts without being influenced by them is a superhuman feat. Therefore, we need to maintain our humble human perspective, but tirelessly attempt to awaken, develop and use our hidden potentialities.
If distraction comes naturally and without effort, then attention can also become effortless and natural. With a bit of practice, attention gets stronger. Attention becomes stronger when we link it with the physical body and with the speech. This is an important key. Attention is incomplete if we limit it just to thoughts.
The mind manifests various processes: perception, imagination, memory, etc. All these are susceptible to become sources of distraction. If we sit at a table and read, we will shortly notice that our attention is drawn by a pain or itch in the body. On the other hand, it is enough to observe ourselves for a couple of minutes to notice that there is an incessant talk going on in our mind. To talk does not mean only to talk aloud, it also involves this inner dialogue. If we want a total attention, there must be unity between the bodily sensations, the words (inner and outer) and the functioning of the mind. If we can develop this unified attention in a certain domain (for example, reading a book), then with a little willingness we will be capable to extend it to other domains of our life as well.
To put conscious attention into our daily activities is not an easy thing, since this is not the habitual state of the mind. The mind needs to be scattered in many places, this is its nature. All the past habits come with great power and take us away from the state of unified attention. "Old habits have a hard shell" says a proverb. If we develop the skill of effortless attention, we will have an efficient tool against distraction. In this direction, only persevering yet relaxed practice during a longer period of time can bring the desired result: an effortless and naturally focused attention that manifests continuously throughout the day. In this practice, we will need to repeatedly focus upon the 'new' so that it becomes more powerful than the 'old'. Only persevering practice done in a state of inner relaxation can lead to an increase in the intensity and duration of unified attention. Once this state starts to manifest effortlessly, it will deeply influence for the better all the domains of our life: the way we relate to people, the way we organize our life, the way our body feels and moves, the way we breathe, the way we organize things in our head, etc. In this state everything contributes to what we want to do - there is no more split between mind, emotions, body, etc.
As human beings, we need to be able to act truly differently according to circumstances. We should consider this aspect with a unified attention. It might appear as a self evident truth, but the fact is that in general we do not act differently in different circumstances: we act according to our old patterns. If we are capable to effortlessly keep our attention focused and truly adapt easily to new situations (i.e., switch to fresh patterns according to the situation), we will be much more efficient in our daily life.
"What is more beautiful is almost always hidden" says an old adage. What does that mean? It means exactly what we discussed above. We often have the tendency to look and listen only to what is obvious in the light of our habitual patterns. Because of this, we overlook many things and aspects that are nevertheless present. A superficial attention will bring us only superficial information.
A solution to this problem is meditation, correctly understood and practiced. Meditation can be defined as a exercise of consciously deepening a unified attention in order to bring into focus new aspects that are hidden in the shadow of evidence. This skill, once developed, can lead us to beautiful discoveries that we would have never found otherwise. In this respect, it is essential to develop today a new way of looking at things than yesterday. Meditation is a privileged relationship with an object or being. The process that leads to meditation implies two aspects: good abstraction (i.e., skill to eliminate inner and outer distractions), and effortless mental concentration. In meditation we must develop the skill to eliminate everything that does not belong to the present moment. At the same time we must develop the skill to effortlessly direct our attention exclusively toward the object (or being) that we choose for its exceptional qualities that can enrich our consciousness.
It is of paramount importance that the object we chose for mental concentration has the power to elevate our consciousness and create an inner center. This object must be harmonious, and not conducive to inner trauma and imbalances. As spiritual seekers, we must always look for an ascending, and not a descending direction.
The mind can be in a state of intense agitation, fluctuant attention or meditation. Even though it can be defined in terms of attention, meditation is a state beyond attention. A good preparation is to consciously start observing the breathing without influencing it at all. Next step is to focus at the same time all our senses in the direction we want. The senses can be a source of distraction, but they can also contribute to the creation of the necessary conditions for meditation (especially in the tantric tradition).
Meditation is very much influenced by our daily behavior. We can learn lots of things meditating, but we cannot appreciate meditation by the quantity of information we receive. Meditation can be recognized by the beauty of what we discover rather than by the amount of knowledge we get.
Meditation can eventually lead us to the state of being absorbed into the object of meditation. This is why it is so crucial to choose this object well.
What are the most recommended objects for meditation? At the beginning, there is a clear duality between the person who meditates and the object of meditation. During meditation, the link/relationship that is gradually created between the two becomes deeper and deeeper until they become one. The paradox is that by this unification, each keeps its own identity - meditation is identification with the preservation of identity. Otherwise meditation would be just a way to lose our identity and become schizophrenic.
At the beginning, the deepening of meditation feels like we are moving away from ourselves toward something that is not ourselves. If we overcome our fear and allow this to occur, what we discover with a jolt of bliss is that the 'not-us' reveals to be 'us' after all. At that moment of identification, time seems to disappear. The uniqueness of this experience and the element of surprise that we experience then are enough to effortlessly maintain our unified attention focused, and this leads to an even deeper identification. What we receive then is closely related to the qualities of the object, and what we experience in those moments will be deeply and forever imprinted in our inner being.
The nature of the object can be varied: a flower, the awareness of the body, an idea, a mathematical problem, our relationship with somebody, an intense state of pleasure, a Cosmic Power (maha vidya), the consciousness of Shiva, etc. Our choice is endless. Meditation upon abstract concepts is very difficult for most practitioners and it is in our best interest to start with something tangible. The mind must be capable to easily 'grasp' the object. Nevertheless, the easiness of focus must not be the primary factor in our choice. Some objects of meditation can have both qualities and defects. During the state of identification with that object, both qualities and defects will become our own. It is essential therefore to choose well, and to choose an object that has few, or no defects, and many qualities that can help us attain a higher level of centeredness and consciousness. Meditation is a mysterious process of inner growth. As soon as we have discovered, through personal experimentation, that meditation can be an endless source of enrichment, we will be spontaneously drawn upon objects or beings whose spiritual resources are way above ours. What we receive during identification with such objects or beings will be much more than we already have.
For example, a honest person that has very little compassion will rather grow by meditating and identifying with a person full of compassion, than by identifying with a model of honesty. Therefore, the object of meditation must be chosen to help us grow spiritually. By doing so, gradually, the elements of our inner nature that we want to transform will be replaced with the specific elements of the object with which we identify ourselves during meditation.
This is nothing new really. Even in ordinary sates of consciousness, our mind can spontaneously focus upon various things and take in all kind of influences that set up specific processes of resonance. If we conscientiously watch violent movies, we tend to become more violent, and this is a fact not a supposition. During meditation a deep transformation may take place inside us. This may be afterwards reflected in the way we think, feel, breathe and relate to people. It may even produce deep physical changes (for example, our face may permanently get a specific aura of peace and relaxation).
There is a great difference between a deep meditation during which we consciously identify with an object that we have carefully chosen beforehand, and a mere state of unified attention that we experience during our daily activities. Both are important and useful, but their scope and effects are very different. A unified attention produces less pregnant and durable effects that a state of deep meditation.
During a deep meditation when we consciously identify with an object, the inner transformation that occurs can be irreversible. The object will gradually (as we repeat the meditation and identification) become a part of ourselves. In many cases, this process can be very difficult, if not impossible to reverse.
The experience varies according to the object we chose, but we must know that there is also another element here: the way we relate with that object will greatly influence the result. For example, it is one thing to meditate upon Jesus just to ask for help, and quite another thing to meditate upon him in order to experience his presence (i.e., consciousness). Any anxiety that accompanies a meditative experience signifies the fact that for now we are not correctly prepared and we absolutely must seek competent guidance if we want to move further. This anxiety can manifest as a feeling of emptiness, which shows that the person has not reached the state of meditation in a natural way. On the other hand, the intense and fully conscious experimentation of the state of emptiness may lead to a very high spiritual attainment. This pregnant feeling of 'absence' can aslo be called 'transparency', mysterious state that may allow the access to what is beyond the mind. If the mind becomes transparent, that which is beyond it becomes easily perceivable. Nevertheless, in the same way we get blinded when we suddenly get from a dark room into a bright sunlight (or vice-versa), if our mind suddenly becomes transparent, we may not perceive the presence that radiates from beyond it. Then we simply have the feeling that 'beyond' is just nothingness. For avoiding this unpleasant feeling it is recommended to approach meditation gradually under direct and expert guidance only, using tangible objects first. In this situation we may gradually discover the mysterious beauty of everything that exists and the blissful presence of God everywhere.
... and Mindful Heart
These deep experiences will strengthen our connection with the heart. Then, meditation will truly shine forth as a completely effortless and continuous experimentation of the essential nature of the object of meditation, and eventually of everything that surrounds us. When the communion with the heart strengthens, our mind moves toward transparency. In this way, that which is beyond is clearly recognized and does not produce fear or anxiety any more.
The more we purify our mind, the closer we can get to the realization of the essential nature of our consciousness. This state is basically a matter of faith based on direct experience. To get closer to our consciousness means in fact to get closer and understand the language of our essential inner Self. This language is first and foremost love. Together with compassion, respect, affection, tender care and faith based on direct experience, love is the genuine language of consciousness. We are not talking here about jealousy, possessiveness or attachment, which are mere deformations of love that occur as a result of our own inner problems that need healing.
Therefore, to meditate means, among other things, to go beyond the mind toward the language of love and thus to become one with the all-powerful mind of God. The great masters of ancient times did not only enjoy a deep communion with the consciousness of God, but also manifested a great practical sense. Their fundamental teachings are extremely simple: they invite us to mould an exceptional mind. This purified and very performant mind is not an aim in itself. The mind is used as a tool for centering in the heart. Without the support of a fully awakened heart that can intuitively support all our actions, such a performant mind is not of much use. When the heart is fully awakened and effortlessly sustained by a very powerful mind, our whole life changes. Now we have spiritual discernment, clarity and understanding, but also a lot of common sense and intuition. Due to this paradoxical combination, the motivation of our actions goes through a deep transformation.
The heart is mysteriously found beyond the mind, yet it can efficiently act only through a purified mind. Spiritual discernment gets amplified mainly through meditation and it opens the door of the predominance of the heart. During a deep meditation, the heart becomes accessible, and we must be prepared for this experience. The same techniques that can lead to an extraordinary development of the mind may become serious obstacles to find and center ourselves in the heart. In this way we risk to hurriedly and unconcerned pass by the most precious aspect of our inner being. If we hold on to a rigid fixation upon techniques of controlling the mind, we may miss the essential purpose of these techniques: to open the heart.
"What is more beautiful is almost always hidden". A correct meditation always leads to an opening of the heart. If we pay attention to life in general, we will notice that almost every moment is full of something extraordinary. To have this experience, we need to open up toward an elevated and unknown dimension of consciousness. With this attitude and with the help of the already developed skill to meditate, even the most ordinary aspects of life become extremely interesting and full of new lessons. Then, all the experiences that we have lead us toward a superior understanding, whose source is both at the level of the heart and at the level of the intellect.
When two people who are centered in the heart meet, everything is simple and problems are quickly and harmoniously solved. When two people who are centered in the mind meet, everything becomes complicated, and it may take years for problems to be solved. Deep meditation should, before anything else, make us happier and loving, more open in our heart and bring simplicity in our life. When the heart predominates (sustained by a powerful yet subdued mind), our being radiates a deeply beneficial aura at great distance in our surroundings, creating harmony and peace wherever we go.
(c) Dinu Roman (firstname.lastname@example.org) January 2002
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