Direct experience is the only “Real” experience.
Part 5: 30 Days of Peace
Why is it difficult to simply sit and meditate?
The practice should not be seen as daunting–it is your right and privilege.
Yet, so many people plan on beginning to meditate for years…
First of all, I speculate, when we sit in the silence uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, memories, and emotions come forward. It can be a stark contrast to the idealized bliss we associate with the image of a meditator on the beach.
In order to meditate successfully, you must develop a different understanding of your how your mind works (you don’t try to stop thinking or suppress the thoughts) you learn to look at them as an experience–consider their transience. In a sense, you have thoughts; but, you are not your thoughts.
The problem is, at the beginning (and maybe for a long time afterwards), you identify with them– I think therefore I am (not)!
If you wanted to learn to speak a new language or learn calligraphy, you start with small steps. Instead of expecting to sit for 30 minutes and experience nirvana, just hang out with your mind. But, do this with a playful attitude– be amused and amazed at your inner workings– 1,2,3 minutes in a quiet room, just watching the stream of thought is amazing.
The other reason people do not meditate is lack of discipline.
I know it sounds judgmental; but, I am speaking from experience. There were many years when I liked the idea of meditation more than I really wanted to do it. It was a great leap forward when I acknowledged that I really would rather do something else. When I was honest with myself I could see there is greater value in getting up a few minutes earlier or turning of the TV and getting off my couch. Believe me, I have to recommit regularly.
If you really want to go further, just begin to work with the breath. Don’t over complicate it, deep breathing, awareness at the diaphragm (below the breastbone, above the navel) 1,2,3 minutes. Just focus on the breath and let the thoughts come… But, you have to get up and do it.
But, if you begin a sincere practice, I can promise the world unfolds to aid you in coming to the Center of Consciousness.
You are what you are looking for… You are the Inner Peace.
There you go, you’re on your way.
Every moment is the only moment. In the midst of tragedy you can choose to go into the Self and find the Eternal Truth. This is untainted by the transient, and often troubled, world. Despite what appears to be chaos, there is a substratum where we all are One. Through meditation on silence and affirmative prayer we connect with this Divine Matrix. Then you realize, like in the movie, that you don’t have to try to bend spoons.
There are always atrocities on the news. Anyone of average intelligence knows that sensationalism sells. But, for me, it feels so close to home right now. This body I have incarnated in is Black and I am raising children how have incarnated as mixed-race people. Yes, I deeply believe (and in moments of samadhi I have known) that and we are all One. Yet, when I open my eyes and engage in the world I, temporarily, forget.
I become angry and I fear for my son–who is the sweetest young man I know. He is 6′ 2″ at age fourteen. I plead with him to not wear his hood, to be polite, and not to cut through the neighbor’s yard–because he may be murdered. Yes, I am deeply committed to my spiritual practices and I know that no one dies. But, our karmic bond is deeper than philosophical conjecture.
I’m playing multiple roles on the stage we call “life”. Some of the roles seem to contradict each other. As a mother, I am a wildcat backed into a corner who is desperately trying to care for her cubs. As a an aspirant, I uphold the tenet that all life is equal and valuable. I also strive to remember that those who inciting violence are in pain. But, sometimes it easier said than done.
Two wise teachers told me, there are two things we always must remember. First:
Everything is the opposite of what it appears to be and nothing is the opposite of what it appears to be.
Anything you do everything you experience will either bring you closer to or farther from the Truth (Center of Consciousness, perception of God, Yoga, Unity, Christ Consciousness, and numerous names for Supreme Oneness).
The first principle is that we really never know what is going on beneath the surface level of appearances. I mentioned, perpetrators of violence are victims, as well. Karma is intertwined at every level. What we are seeing is a ripple on the surface of the ocean of cause and effect. It’s not judgement by an anthropomorphic paternal deity– we are seeing the ripples from infinite stones being thrown into the lake of eternity.
The second principle is to cease throwing stones which cloud the lake and obscure the Truth. The second principle is supreme compassion for ourselves–at any given moment we can choose to love everyone. At any moment we can look at someone and choose to remember there is no
other. These are choices made in a nanosecond.
Then we bend, we grow, we advance and we can be a beacon to bring those who are still perceiving separation toward Our Collective Center of Consciousness.
Part 1 of 30 Days of Peace…
Can you ever have too much gratitude? I doubt it?
This is a repost from 2014; however, I was reminded, through a cascade of`teachable moments, to be eternally gratefully–for every moment. There is no need to anticipate, and this does take effort, the next moment will get here!
Prayer is an interesting activity. Like meditation, it is an opportunity to go inside and merge with stillness. However, so many people pray their power away–they ask for assistance, intervention, and blessings; but, they do not, simply, offer gratitude for what is going well.
Recently, I was challenged by a dear friend to post 3 statements of gratitude, for a week, on my Facebook page. Over, the years I have done several exercises in gratitude– which is something I continue to work on cultivating. Whenever, I make a conscious attempt to find something to be grateful for, the gratitude flows in abundance. One positive thought, attending to one gift, becoming aware of an inkling of Prasad becomes a river of plenty.
Many people mistakenly believe that prayer is not part of the Yoga tradition. Conversely, this tradition has consists of four pillars: meditation, contemplation, mantra, and prayer. However, it is taught, prayer begins as a dialogue and converges into a unification.
Prayer instills us with bhava, the strong emotion of devotion–but, we don’t have to pray our power away. Offer gratitude for what is working. You and the Divine Source are one and the same– therefore, nothing can be against you. Sit with the blessings before asking for intervention. You may discover that you are all the resources you need.
I’ve been recycling a bit lately because being a good teacher isn’t about finding new things to say all of the time. Sometimes, it is about restating and reframing. The path of Yoga isn’t about complicated techniques. It is about depth; it is not about breadth. You don’t need to know a million techniques to know the Center of Consciousness. Whichever path you choose, you have to commit to going to the threshold again and again.
Originally posted August 27, 2014
A few months ago I was being coached by a wonderful teacher, Radhika Shah-Grouven, about how to keep doing “this” when I am so busy. I know we all feel very busy– and, with regards to scheduling, I am: the family, full-time job, additional clients, commuting, this blog… this list could be endless. However, I find that I am only as overwhelmed as I believe that I am– of course, this falls within certain physical parameters: I must get sleep (although I get 5.5-6 hours), I must eat well, I must drink water, I must exercise, and I must meditate.
Meditation doesn’t cause me to suddenly have a “stress”-free life. However, it does cause me to be very aware of my reaction to stress. It has afforded me enough self-awareness to realize how much I can take on or how much I must put down. I definitely experience times of ambivalence and apathy– times where I would rather sit on the couch and veg-out. However, I would rather allocate predetermined amounts of “free-time” to meditation.
My lineage recommends four times a day– that may seem daunting to a newcomer. I would recommend a newcomers dedicate time for one to two sittings. As I have stated previously, five to seven minutes; but, commit and do it. In the same way you wouldn’t consider leaving the house without brushing your teeth, commit to going inside.
My teacher, Swami J, says to make it an appointment, like lunch with a friend. If you are late, you postpone and make it up, as soon as possible– like your lunch date. Life happens! But, as Radhika taught me, you have a “mental mat”– it goes with you every where. She explained that there were times when she just touched the mental mat while riding the train! The more you return to center, the more it stays with you. Many times my meditation pillow is in the cockpit of my car and my meditation room is a parking lot.
I originally posted this in February 2015. I am reposting with some edits–it feels so relevant to my previous post (Heartbreak Catapult). The spiritual path (sadhana) is not a straight line it is a circuitous path.
It would be ludicrous to think as a practitioner of Yoga Meditation I don’t get angry. Candidly, my inclination toward becoming annoyed is a reason I am dutiful with my practice.
According to DISC personality typing, I am an “I”–which means “Influence”–but, it can also mean impulsive! The same energy that is the source of my strengths is also the source of my lesser strengths (not weaknesses).
This morning I got angry with my son. Paradoxically, the people we are closest to can be the source of our greatest joy sand the catalyst of our greatest frustrations!
I have a lot invested in my son–he is after all, my son. With an investment comes an expectation. When the investment does not yield a return there is disappointment. The return on investment is an attraction and the disappointment is an aversion.
According to the Yoga Sutras, both attraction (raga) and aversion (dvesha) are two sides of the same coin–attachment. Both stem from a primal lack of knowledge regarding our True Nature (avidya) which is perennial and not ephemeral.
Conversely, the apparent nature of the physical world is transient. Due to this, we cling to the things and experiences of the physical world that we love. We push away the things and experiences that we abhor. But, both the pushing and pulling cause us suffering (dukha or dukkha).
I am attracted to my son doing what I believe is best (for me), he does something other than that, my expectation is not met, I experience disappointment, my disappointment is a form of suffering. To the unmastered mind, all worldly experiences yield suffering because they are impermanent. However, this does not have to be the case.
When we are rooted in awareness of our True Nature from earnest practice and non-attachment (abhyasa and vairagya) we are aware of the fleeting nature of our experiences and we can be released from the suffering of attraction and aversion. It does not mean we are apathetic or ambivalent–I am still going to parent my child–with the hope that he leads a skillful and happy life. But, I am working on not expecting him to do what I want. We still have rules. If he breaks them, he is punished. But, now it’s not a big emotional tirade–because I didn’t get what I want.
Today I got angry; I felt the blood pump and my temperature rise. But, I was very aware that this was a bodily experience and not who I am at the core; moreover, not an emotion I have to act on. I didn’t resist the anger–that is aversion–I just let it come. I went for a drive and returned as the person I want to be.
I have a visceral reaction to rush-hour traffic–it is abhorrent. But, I live in metro-Atlanta, it’s unavoidable. It’s also a great opportunity to test my spiritual practices It’s my own laboratory: I listen to “edutaining” audiobooks, I try to remain present, I avoid judging other drivers, I resist the phone.
The Yoga Sutras suggest five behaviors for a spiritual seeker to cultivate; one of these attitudes is mindfulness (smriti). Which is simply, paying attention to whatever you are paying attention to. It is also seeing that the path is every step you take; not compartmentalizing spiritual life and secular life. I am learning a great deal about myself while I am behind the wheel.
Recently, while wrestling with the traffic juggernaut, one of my greatest teachers abruptly tested me. She wanted me to see if I was grounded in my practices. During a particularly frenetic moment, my five-year-old daughter, Clementine, exclaimed from her booster seat, “I don’t want you to die and leave me alone!”
This was seemingly out of nowhere; yet, in a previous post, I noted our home is in a state of transition. So, the outburst wasn’t entirely unwarranted.
My mind was in a whirl; how do I explain impermanence to a child while, paradoxically, trying not to kill us on the road?
The answer was simple, my practices had prepared me, I surrendered. Yoga practices make you flexible–not as a contortionist. Sadhana is a process of systematically reducing reducing attachments, such as expectations, and attaining a state of pure spontaneity.
So, without being too kerflummoxed, I was in a new role–Teacher Mom. Off went the radio, deep breathing resumed, and a truly beautiful moment ensued. I told Clementine that everything she can see is a cosmic ocean. I explained we are all waves in the ocean. A wave rises and falls; but, is never removed from the ocean. In the same manner, we have not and cannot ever be apart. She continued to be emotional; but, she found comfort in knowing she and I are One.
I offered a prayer of gratitude for my car temple. What a sublime moment of intimacy in the sea of automotive chaos. Every moment is Divine.
Truly, there is no “better” or “worse” version of You, or I–we are the Center of Consciousness. How can there be a flaw?
Be the Best Version of your “Self”
In Yoga Philosophy, a human is viewed as an expression of the Center of Consciousness. As the Center of Consciousness “moves outward” it appears to condense (for lack of a better word) and become the individual. But, the Center of Consciousness remains eternal, undiminished, unchanged.
There are various sheaths (koshas) appearing to veil the Center of Consciousness; they are like layered lampshades covering a light. At the outermost level there is the physical body; the next, more subtle, layer is the energy/breath body; the next, subtler, layer is the mental body; the mind is preceded by the wisdom body; at core is the Self–the point where Center of Consciousness initiates individuation.
Whether or not you subscribe to this philosophy, we can intuit that we are more than we appear to be. What we hold to be as our “True Nature” is a personal belief. However, the busyness of our lives causes us to misidentify with all of the actions we are doing instead of our illusive “True Nature”.
Furthermore, our addiction to moving outward–as opposed to focusing inward–causes many of us to fixate on our failures and challenges. We can become mired in a victim persona, subjecting ourselves to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meditation is a tool which can shift us to a state of empowerment by: improving our physiological functioning, depersonalizing the thinking process, and relieving us from attachments.
When the human nervous system evolved, it bifurcated into two aspects which work like gears on a manual transmission. The sympathetic nervous system causes humans to jump into action. It triggers the “fight or flight” response via the release stimulating hormones, which includes: dilated pupils, accelerated heart rate, and increased rate of respiration. Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with feelings of safety and wellbeing–reflect on the feeling holding a calm baby. Unfortunately, many people are primarily tapped into the sympathetic nervous system–they are reactive, anxious, and judgemental.
Most systems of meditation are practiced in a relaxing environment and incorporate techniques, such as: body scanning, diaphragmatic breathing, and focusing attention–all of which elicit a parasympathetic response. When this is stimulated, thoughts are inclined to be uplifting and positive. In fact, a recent Harvard study indicates, 8-weeks of mindfulness meditation cause the brain to grow new gray matter. This asserts you can rewire your brain into new thought patterns. Despite the catharsis of improving the quality of our thoughts, it is important to understand that we are not our thoughts.
As previously mentioned, we identify with our accomplishments and roles; however, we also identify with our thoughts. Thoughts, like the material objects of the world are “objects” we have created on the mental plane. Many people have an antagonistic relationship with their thoughts. They tend to believe that they are good when they are having positive and altruistic thoughts. They tend to judge themselves when they are having negative thoughts. All minds are creative–even Buddhist monks have thoughts of murder. However, acting on a thought is a different scenario.
Although there are benefits to positive thinking; it’s important to get distance from your thoughts. This is not an attempt to have cessation of the thinking process; rather, the goal is to become detached from the activity of the mind. In most meditation traditions, practitioners are taught to allow the mind to behave naturally–not to interfere with the thinking process. Over time, one is able to become aware of the transient nature of thoughts. Ultimately, as one becomes dispassionate about thoughts, the mind begins to relax; this is not unlike a pond settling after it is undisturbed for a while. Then one becomes aware of spaces between the thoughts. In meditation we attempt to move into those spaces–not to shut the mind down.
After one develops a regular practice they may observe that thoughts are of two sorts: neutral and colored. Neutral thoughts are benign, they do not elicit an emotional response. Colored (klishta) thoughts are shaded with attachment. Attachment is twofold: attraction and repulsion (aversion). We cling at what we are attracted to and we push against what we are repulsed by. Yet, these are two sides of the same coin–in both cases one is attached. We expend a great deal of energy trying to get more of what we want and an equal amount of energy trying to keep away what we abhor. The rationale of this behavior is happiness; but, true happiness is not determined by what is outside of us.
As a meditation practice develops, one is able to discern which thoughts are colored. A regular meditator is detached from their thoughts, they are able to uncolor them and decrease incessant craving for the the material world and it’s ephemeral pleasures. Many philosophies believe attachment is our greatest downfall; whether is desire for more accomplishments and experiences or the fear of death. Meditation does not make us apathetic; a healthy yearning for that which brings us inside and towards truth is amplified with regular practice.
Meditation is a wellspring; it allows us to set down the many false ideas and identities that burden us on a daily basis. Then, as if we hang these on a clothesline, after meditation we pick these up and they feel lighter. With meditation we begin to perceive ideas of lack are not our true nature; they are fantasies we created along the way. During meditation, we still the body, smooth the breath, quiet the mind, and steep in the silent Center of Consciousness. How can we be undeserving, unworthy or unlovable if our true nature is perennial and connected with the True Nature of everyone?
Part 10 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga?”
Truly the name of this article can also be tilted “Do you need a Guru?” According to my teacher, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, “[A] Guru is not considered to be any person, though the force of guru may operate through a person. Teachers may be respected, but are not objects of worship. “Gu” means “darkness” and “ru” means “light.” Guru is the light that dispels the darkness of ignorance.”
However, even my teacher has a Guru.
Georg is adamant, in the aforementioned work–and many others–self-taught, and even incorrect teachings have benefit, the subtle nuances of Yoga tradition are missed without a Guru to elucidate them.
How do I feel about this? My answer probably will be cryptic–I avoid offering advice.
I know, the old adage, “when the student is ready, the teacher will come”, sounds patronizing–especially, to someone who considers himself to be an earnest seeker. The challenge is, especially if you listen to Georg’s audiobook, are we earnest seekers?
The Path, as described by Swami Rama in, The Architect and the Path, ” …Is narrower than the needle’s eye and as sharp as a razor’s edge.” Furthermore, he explains, a half-hearted seeker will find that their efforts may not bear fruit. He is assertive in his conclusion, “If your dearest one stands in the way of Self-realization, tread over him, forsake him, go beyond. If your beloved stands in the way of Self-realization, cast her aside. Your trusted friend is Truth and Truth alone.” These strong words are the rationale behind the celibate, renunciate lifestyle of the Swami.
So, before instead of answering the question, “do you need a Guru?” I offer, “are you a sincere seeker?”
A wise friend of mine said, “do you have a spiritual path or a hobby?”
I have vacillated on my committment; but, I am striving for complete adherence and surrender. This adherence is not coming from the fear of punishment, or the hope of reward, from an external source. It is intrinsic. The deeper I go, the more I realize that I am looking for something inside of me. The closer I get to it, the more I understand the need to associate with those who have tread this path.
My teacher is treading this path. I listen to his advice because I feel the truth resonating in it; not, because I am following blindly. I see the practices working in my life; but, only, when I am committed to them.