Practice in Challenging Times
The public health crisis that began in Spring 2020 meant that meetings could not be held at Shanti Sadan. Presentations of the non-dual teachings and meditation practices had to be immediately adapted to the changed circumstances and provided initially on-line and then in print. Below are some of the talks and meditations given by the Warden of Shanti Sadan at this time.
Peace, Power and Practice
Presented on-line on 27th March 2020
Here are some thoughts I would like to share with you that might be helpful to us in these unusual and challenging times. These ideas will help us to remember that the keys to inner well-being and freedom are always with us, though sometimes we may lose sight of this inner wealth. Here are three of those keys: our power, our peace, our practice.
What is our power? It is found in the world within our mind. In the outer world, we are always going to be affected by forces beyond our control. But the inner world of the mind is different. In the world of our thoughts, it is we ourselves who are in charge. That is, we can choose what we want to think about—and when.
If we like, we can allow worries and troubles to fill our mind. Or, if we wish, we can consciously plant bright, creative, strong thoughts. After all, we are the owners of our mind, not the other way round! And we have the power to influence our mind in any way we choose. We can bring about this transformation. How? By consciously deciding what to think about, rather than just letting random thoughts run through our mind.
What is meant by our peace? This is based on self-discovery and self-knowledge. There is something within us that is deeper than the mind, which comes to light in our experience when the mind is calm, withdrawn from the outer concerns, and focused inwardly on its own source, as we do in meditation. We can call it our true Self, the ‘I am’, or refer to it as the spiritual principle, the infinite, the transcendent, the sacred, the supreme.
There are many names. They all point to something of ultimate value in our own being that nothing in the outer world can touch. To speak metaphorically, there is the spring of eternal life always within us. If we make the right adjustments to our thinking, we can access this spring of eternal life and be energised, inspired and illumined by it.
What is meant by our practice? This is the time we spend turning our thoughts to what is most important of all in life—in particular, the time we set aside for meditation. At this time, we make a highly conscious interlude in our daily activities, and use our mind in a special way. This practice is the means—we could say, the spark—that lights the flame of power and peace in our inner being.
I would like to share with you two short practices which can be done every day at a chosen time and also used occasionally during the day whenever opportunities appear. We often use our time absorbing our mind in material that causes unrest and anxiety, and leaves us feeling depressed. This is to forget the power we do possess over our thoughts and feelings.
Our practices will build up our inner strength and bring to life the highest human potentialities in our own heart and mind. They remind us that happenings in the world are not everything. Within our own conscious being, there is something greater, and this is what we uncover in meditation.
The first is a breathing practice. We breathe a little more deeply and slowly than usual, becoming aware of our breath. Hear the inner sound of the breath entering and leaving the body. Then, when this rhythmical breathing is established, say to yourself on the in-breath, the words ‘I am’, and on the out-breath, the word ‘peace’.
At this time, there is no need to think about these words. Right now, we are having a break from thinking! Be assured that your deeper nature is peace. Just say these words to yourself, with the conscious breathing, so there is no room for other thoughts to come in. Let us try this for a few moments together now.
The second practice is a meditation on a text, in the form of an affirmation. It is this:
OM Light, power, love and knowledge,
Light, power, love and knowledge,
Are in me, are in me, are in me. OM
This text points to the truth of our higher nature, the ultimate source of our own being. Calmly affirm to yourself: ‘Light, power, love and knowledge are in me’. See and feel that it is so. For this is the truth about our innermost nature. Everything else belongs to appearances and thoughts, which change and pass all the time.
Our deeper nature is the abiding reality, which is all light, power, love and knowledge. Repeat the words, see their inner meaning, absorb your attention in that.
If we do these two practices each day, our understanding will steadily deepen, and whatever comes, we will be able to keep our inner balance, supported by the deeper calm centre within us. Spare moments during the day need not be filled with random thoughts. Instead, we can reclaim those precious moments by reviving the breathing practice or the text. If we do this, we will find a new purpose and a new opening in our inner life.
A Visualisation Practice for Inner Clarity and Stability
5th April 2020
Recently we did a breathing practice and a meditation which can help build up our inner strength and our ability to think the thoughts and feel the feelings that we want to think and feel. Let’s keep up regularly doing this conscious breathing. If we do it every day it will become a good habit, as you may have noticed already. And we can turn to it at any time we need inner refreshment and support.
Now I would like to share another practice with you in the form of a visualisation. This too is an effective way to help ourselves in challenging times. We all know that the inner world of our mind can be a dark and stormy place where everything is a struggle, or it can be a sunny and welcoming home. What we may not know so well is how far we can decide what the mental world in which we live is like. The meditation practices develop our ability to do this.
Visualisation (what we call imagination) is at the heart of our inner life. When we think, we use words, and we also make mental pictures, all the time. This is how we experience and understand the world. Practices like the visualisation we are going to try today, will help make sure that our own imagination is a force for good in us, and is not a source of distractions and difficulties.
Recently, no doubt, our imagination has been reacting to news about the exceptional events we are living through. And we may have found that these reactions are not always balanced and constructive. What can we do about this? The real, practical question is: ‘How can we keep safe and well?’
So let us first ask, where are safety and well-being to be found? We know that there can be no escape from the passing years, or the vulnerabilities of the human body. Does this mean insecurity and anxiety are unavoidable?
No! Body and mind will pass away one day. But we are more than body and mind. The inner light in our mind, the consciousness which is our true Self, does not pass with the passing of time. It is the light and ultimate source of all experience. To know this as our true I, is to be free of fear and established in peace.
This may sound far from our current concerns. But when we are prompted to think more deeply about life and reality, we see how relevant and coherent these teachings are. By doing the meditation practices we can uncover the reality within us. And from the very beginning, they bring us inner stability and clarity. So let us now come to the visualisation.
The practice is in three stages. First, rest your attention in the region of your heart, at the centre of your chest. Now, visualise a bright light shining at this point. See this light shining brightly in the region of your heart. Do this for a minute, that is about six slow deep breaths.
Next, imagine the light at the heart centre expanding so that it fills your whole body. Visualise your body filled with light. Do this for another minute, about six breaths.
Then, see the light that fills your whole body spreading out far and wide. Do this for a minute. The visualisation is a pointer to the inner reality at the core of our own being, which, when fully revealed, is realised to be the one reality in all, the light of pure consciousness, our true Self and the Self of all. As such it plants the seed of positive associations in our mind. And we can use it whenever we need inner clarity and stability.
While doing this practice, there is no need to reason about it. It is most effective if we simply focus one-pointedly on the light as described, not leaving room for distractions to come in. We can do this visualisation alongside the breathing practice and the meditation on a text we did before. And we can return to any of these practices during the day whenever an opportunity or need arises.
If we do, our thoughts and imagination will not paint pictures of alarm and distress but will help us find a wise, practical response to the need of the moment. And if we keep up these practices with deepening interest, we will find that the more deeply we go into our Self, the closer we come to discovering the source of everything.
Meditation Practice: The Source of Inner Security
12th April 2020
We are all going through a lot together now. We have been reminded that in times of crisis, our priorities change. It becomes clear what is really important, and what we can do without.
At the same time, we may find ourselves thinking about what might be called philosophical or spiritual questions that previously seemed far removed from our busy lives. The non-dual teachings provide answers to these questions. They point a way out of fear and towards the highest possible fulfilment.
The teachings are radical and it may not always be obvious how they can help us personally. But now, when we are prompted to think again more deeply about what matters most, we may see how relevant and satisfying these teachings are.
We said the teachings are radical. In what sense? Non-dual means not-two, and what this means is that in spite of the variety and diversity we see on the surface, there is an underlying unity, so that where we see divisions, there is really oneness. Most of all, we experience a division between our individual self and everything else. And this feeling of separation is where our insecurities and vulnerabilities come from.
But in Truth we are not really separate. Separations appear when we look at things from a certain standpoint, and this standpoint is not the highest truth. Our deeper Self is at one with the reality which is always there, before, during and after every event, every life.
Does this Reality have a name? We can call it God, the absolute, the infinite, the supreme. The heart of the non-dual teachings is that our innermost Self and the Absolute are not really two different beings. In times of trouble, and indeed at all times, we can appeal to God for help, and we may receive some relief. But the way to lasting inner freedom and security is to know that ultimately we ourselves are not separate from that supreme being to which we are appealing.
Why do we not usually see this? The short answer is that we always experience things through our mind and senses. And the mind and senses divide the world into parts in order to perceive and understand it. But the underlying reality itself has no such divisions.
We might say, this is all very well as a philosophical theory, but how does it help me in my life now? The answer is that there is something in our own experience which is not limited by the mind. And it is in this region of experience that we can discover our oneness with the All.
What aspect of experience are we referring to? It is something so close and so familiar that we fail to notice it. It is our consciousness—the light of awareness in us.
The normal view of consciousness is that it depends on the mind. The non-dual view is that consciousness comes first. It is the very foundation of our being. Consciousness, when fully understood, turns out to be identical with the supreme being—the Absolute, God. And this is the ultimate Truth about our nature. It is here that lasting inner security and fulfilment are to be found.
If these ideas arouse our interest and we want to go more deeply into them, what is the way forward? It is to take up the meditations and other practices which are based on the non-dual principles and the advice offered by those who have gone before.
Meditation is partly an exercise in concentration—which takes perseverance! But even from the beginning it promises an expanding horizon. In our lives we have innumerable experiences of all kinds, which we consider as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘exceptional’, ‘ordinary’. And these experiences have given us some sense of the wonder of life and its possibilities.
But we rarely notice what is perhaps most wonderful of all in us: that light of consciousness which reveals all experience. Day and night, sun and clouds, excitement and dullness, even dreaming and waking, are all known in the light of conscious awareness, which shines on each of them equally.
Consciousness itself is unique: it is not revealed by anything else. It shines by its own light. Without that light no other experience would be possible. In this way consciousness is the source of the world as we experience it.
So with help from the non-dual teachings we begin to see that there is no boundary separating our own consciousness, our own inner being, from the universal, absolute consciousness in which everything exists.
Through our meditations—if we keep going!—our understanding and experience of this essential oneness with the Supreme will deepen.
So let us come to our meditation. We are going to do a set of practices which fit together and help us step by step.
We begin our practice with an inner preparation. Why do we do this? It is because in meditation we use our individual mental powers, including our concentration and our will, but the aim of meditation is to bring into play a power within us that is more than personal—the power that underlies the universe.
A recognition of the deeper reality on which we all depend opens up a great new source of strength and support.
So let us approach the meditation with respect and calmness, feeling the presence of the Reality beyond thoughts, within and around us.
Next we are going to do a breathing practice. We breathe consciously, slowly, deeply. Keep the in-breath and the out-breath the same length. When this rhythmic breathing is established, on the in-breath say to yourself the word ‘here’ and on the out-breath ‘now’.
By focusing on the here and now, we put aside the endless concerns about what might happen, or could have happened—a great relief! And it is in the present that we can find moments of timelessness, as when we are absorbed in something we love. It is only our thoughts that hide the reality and infinity of our own deeper nature.
Dismissing unwanted thoughts
The next practice equips us with a means of freeing ourselves from unnecessary thoughts. Sit quiet. Continue with the conscious breathing.
Then just calmly watch your mind. Give the mind free scope and allow whatever thoughts come up to make their appearance. But do not let yourself be absorbed by any of the thoughts. Instead, say to each thought: ‘Not now, not needed now’ and continue to be the calm observer of the mind.
If we do this practice at the meditation time, we will notice a difference during the day. We will find ourselves becoming more aware of what is going on in our mind, which is already a big step towards inner freedom.
During the practice itself we may find thoughts coming up that we don’t want to say ‘not wanted’ to, for example, thoughts about people close to us. Should we say to them, ‘not wanted now’?
Let us remember that there is a difference between the transient thoughts we have about people, and the people themselves. In this practice, it is only the habitual thought-patterns we are learning to loosen, so that we can get more in touch with the reality! Let us do this liberating practice together now.
Meditation on a text
I am the light that reveals the passing thoughts.
I am self-illumined, infinite, one in all.
In this text, the word ‘I’ does not mean our body or even our mind. It is the true, deeper I, which animates and reveals both body and mind, and, as consciousness, is not separate from the Absolute, God, the supreme consciousness that makes everything possible.
Repeat the text to yourself a few times until you have the main idea in focus, then try to keep your attention on that. If the mind wanders off, when you become aware of this, calmly go back to the text and its meaning. Absorb your attention in the great truth expressed in the text.
The final part of our meditation session is a closing practice. Just as it is helpful to begin with a preparation for meditation, so too we end by preparing ourselves to resume our roles in the world, while retaining the benefits of meditation.
We can make this step by spending a few moments offering thoughts of unconditional good-will to all, based on the vision of ultimate oneness. Let us do this now, remembering the deeper unity and wholeness that underlies variety. We wish that all may find inner peace and well-being.
The practices we have done today can be brought to mind at any time with advantage. If we like philosophy and reasoning, we are encouraged to think deeply about the non-dual teachings. But it is practice that leads us from uncertainty to the sure knowledge of our own nature as self-illumined, infinite, one in all, always here, always now.
Where the Help Comes From
10th May 2020
What is meditation? It is creative relaxation. This is a special form of relaxation that sets in motion an inner development which is incomparable in its range and power to fulfil.
How do we normally think of relaxation? As an interval between activities, recharging our physical and mental energy so that we have renewed strength to get on with our activities and goals in the world.
The relaxation that comes from traditional meditation is more than this. It dispels inner tension and cloudiness and reveals a new vision of our true nature. This is the realisation that our true being, our ‘I am’, is not limited by the qualities of the mind and is infinite.
This inner world is lit by the tranquil light of the deeper knowledge, not of passing events, but of the eternal reality. There is a mystical poem which says:
My world is a free world
Of Peace, Love and Light.
Do you want to come in?
Then come in.
You will be a sovereign.
Put off the dress of convention;
Take off the shoes of recognition;
Put on the crown of silence.
Come in! Come in!
This suggests that conventional values based on enhancing our ego have to be left behind if we want to go more deeply into our own being. Many of the meditation texts that are recommended to us include the word ‘I’, such as: ‘I am that perfect consciousness which knows no coming or going’. When meditation practices refer to the ‘I’, or the ‘I am’, they are not pointing to the individualised self but to something in us that goes beyond personality.
The expression ‘I am’ in the meditation texts of the non-dual teachings refers to the ground of pure being—our real existence. And this reality is one in all—one existence that underlies the many forms that fill the world we see around us.
The wonderful truth waiting to be discovered in all of us is that this Reality, this ‘I am’, is the source of peace, love and light. Being free from differences and limitations, its nature is infinite bliss. Meditation teaches us how such a deeper reality may be realised in our experience.
This direct knowledge is the goal of meditation. And the benefits of the practice become apparent to us as soon as it is taken up regularly.
Our progress in meditation has many stages of growing understanding which we need to assimilate on the way to enlightenment. Gradually we become accustomed to the idea that this deeper reality—our true Self—is the foundation of our experience at all times. And there is help at every stage. For being the source and foundation of all, our higher Self is also the source of inspiration to energise and guide us on our path to inner freedom.
For inspiration is not only about creating some new invention or work of art. True inspiration also reaches us in the inner world as peace and tranquillity, as the light of higher understanding, as the recognition that our true being, our I am, is without a boundary or limit.
So when we speak of receiving inspiration, it is not necessarily something expressed outwardly through our personality. It may take the form of an inner assurance and certainty, a deep tranquillity and inner satisfaction that needs no outer cause to produce or sustain it; this may manifest as equanimity in the face of the various ups and downs that meet all of us in life.
So this inner transformation is the result of two factors: firstly, our own self exertion—the efforts we make in meditation and other practices; secondly, the help we receive inwardly from that which is not part of our individual store of inner strength, but something far greater that sheds its influence on our inner being as a gift from a higher power deep within us.
At any moment, one who meditates with sincerity is open to this higher form of help, that can bring sudden upliftment and fresh insights into the way forward on our path.
We said at the beginning that meditation is creative relaxation. What it creates is inner serenity, a peaceful clearing in the mind—a real opportunity to withdraw our attention from the usual cares and concerns that often dominate our thinking.
Our practices, such as breathing exercises, visualisations and meditations on a text, are all powerful methods which help to quieten our thoughts and create this interior clearing. In this way, we pass into that deeper and creative relaxation which has its source in our true being, our I am.
As we said, meditation is a partnership. First (and very important) there are our own efforts to approach the inner source of peace, light and freedom. These efforts will be helped by the power that emanates from that source in the form of light and inspiration.
Are we talking about something that is remote from us or separate from us right now? Not at all. It could not be closer. It is nearer than the nearest, being our true Self—the ‘I am’, which has to be there, has to be here, for any further expression of being to take place. The expressions of our being such as ‘I speak’, ‘I think’, ‘I act’, are transient. But the ‘I am’ in its pure nature is eternal and infinite. This is what we are reaching towards in our meditations.
If we reflect on these ideas, they will be established in our background understanding, and become our own. Then they will help us when the time comes to put aside thought, and concentrate on the meditation practices that point to the light and infinity of our true nature.