If we made a list of the good things in life—in general terms— beginning with childhood, it might include: fun, pleasure, wealth, popularity, creativity, security, professional authority and, as we get older, health. The list may not necessarily include peace of mind. We imagine this will come automatically if we get what we want in other departments. When this does not happen, and as we mature in experience, peace of mind emerges as a value in itself, something we deeply need.
We do not only want peace of mind. Nor do we want to lack or lose it either, saying, like Othello: ‘Farewell the tranquil mind, farewell content.’
A question worth asking at this stage is: Does this tranquillity already exist at a deeper level of our being or do we have to force ourselves to be peaceful through will-power? To put it another way, is peace to be uncovered within us as a lasting feature of what we are, or does it have to be imposed on us by a sort of self-coercion, which can only be done for short periods?
If coercion is involved, our peace would be a bit like the peace of a dog in a box on the way to the vet. We’ve managed to get the dog in the box, but we know it’s a brief submission that will end as soon as the box is opened. But the matter is quite different if there is a peaceful dimension of our being already present and fundamental, but which is somehow covered or hidden by what goes on in our mind.
Now what goes on in our mind need not be negative, like anxiety and stress. At times we may enjoy the inner sunshine, experiencing states of happiness, great interest in something, love, compassion. Many would feel that these things are enough to enrich life. And yet even in these positive states of mind, it can be useful for us to know that there is a reservoir of peace beneath the present activity of whatever we are thinking, feeling or doing.
This is the point of view of students of the deeper self-knowledge: that there is a peaceful dimension of our being already present and fundamental, but somehow covered or hidden by what goes on in our mind. Whether we are contented or restless, things do change. We do sometimes need help to deal with the change. So meditation can be viewed not as trying to coerce our mind into an unnatural position, like the dog in the box. It is a recognition that the true nature of our inner being is perfect peace. The word ‘peace’ is inadequate because what we uncover within our own being is more than peace.
True meditation is based on this uncovering—a slow, gentle process of inner unveiling. It is not something that can be accomplished in a single session, and descriptions of the practice serve to point us in the right direction, and provide us with traditional guidelines we can safely follow.
In the profound peace of mature meditation, there is no conflict with others or within our own mind, for in this peace our sense of separateness is forgotten. In peace our experience becomes harmonised and unified. Discords only emerge when the dualities in our situation revive in our awareness. This also has great implications. At this deepest level of our being, this peaceful ground, there is no duality: all is one. My peace is not different from your peace.
Imagine a thickly frozen lake. Children play on its solid surface. Some chip small holes in the ice and see the shining water underneath. But under your hole and under my hole that water is one and the same. The deeper peace is like that water, underlying all, not itself separate or individualised, uniting us all. It is in awareness of this peaceful and unbounded dimension that we approach our meditation.
Therefore our progress is based, not on self-coercion, but on cultivating such qualities as calmness and reverence, which means respect for the teachings, for those who have made this great self-discovery, and ultimately respect for ourselves. From these teachings we learn that we do not stand apart from this perfection. It is destined to be realised as the source of happiness and higher knowledge within us, that makes our life meaningful and ever-expanding. So let us now begin our practice by sitting for a moment or two in reverent quietude.
Breathe in, imagining that you are drawing the breath up from the navel to the spot between the eyebrows. As you breathe in, fill the mind with the thought, ‘I am. I am’.
Note how the breathing is integrated with the affirmation ‘I am’. ‘I am’ is usually associated with our personal qualities, but these qualities are part of the covering. We want to get beneath all the covers—the covers of nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, qualification. These are expressions of life, but there is something more. And these outer things are not within the great peace. They are not our real Self signified by the words ‘I am’.
So we deepen our breathing practice if we recall ourselves to this more fundamental level of selfhood.
Draw an imaginary line of light, from the top of the forehead, down between the eyebrows, down the nose, lips, throat, heart-region, to the navel. Imagine this line to be a line of light within you and concentrate on it. In the beginning you can draw your finger down this line if it helps you to visualize it. Then sit and just think of this line of light.
We take the line of light as the focus for our concentration because it draws our attention to a deeper level of our being. Think of the central line as an element of our inner life which is closest to the I am.
Meditation on a Text
I WITHDRAW MY CONSCIOUSNESS FROM THE SENSES AND THE MIND, AND REST IN THE PEACE AND BLISS OF MY TRUE NATURE.
The text expresses with precision the process of withdrawal and true identification that has been indicated in outline. It has a confident, affirmative tone. It is not saying ‘I want to withdraw’. It is not a prayer: ‘May I withdraw.’ It simply affirms: ‘I withdraw…’
The true nature of our inner being is not only peace, but bliss. Our attempts to secure happiness in daily life, through fulfilment of desires, are like sparks from the great fire of bliss at the core of our being. In doing all these practices, we are unlocking our highest potentialities.
Let us close our meditations with thoughts of peace and goodwill to all.