In meditation the focus of our practice is on the mind. Those who pioneered the practice made a great discovery. This discovery is that our mind can be brought to a state of peace and harmony. In that partial silence, the mind can free itself from negative thoughts and feelings. More important and far-reaching, we can learn to reduce the mental activity generally in order to become aware of what underlies it. In this way we discover within ourselves an indisturbable perfection that knows no limit.
To meditate regularly is to gain access to this reservoir of pure energy and establish our life in peace and the joy of an ever-deepening understanding. What begins as a mental exercise leads to an unimaginable freedom and fulfilment.
Let us return to our starting point, which is our mind before it has developed the capacity for self-rule. What is our first task? It is to reduce mental interference and distraction, and create some degree of inner space, meaning inner peace. Only then, in that peace, will something higher and purer begin to stir within us.
The effort we have spoken of is clearly a special one. It involves evaluating and directing our own mental activities. It is learning to use our mind in a new way. As expressed in the book, Meditation– Its Theory and Practice, we first have to learn how to ‘apply thought force consciously’.
What does this mean? The secret of enlightenment and inner freedom is linked to the way we manage our thinking processes— our thoughts and our feelings. Our uncontrolled thinking creates a subtle veil or covering over that infinite principle at the core of our being. Our own thinking cuts us off from the inner peace and light. What can we do about this? We have first to become more aware of our thinking processes, and to give a direction to them that will help our higher realisation. This means that we learn to exercise choice in our thoughts, and also how to step in and give an inner command if we find our thoughts are leading us into troubled waters, so to say, such as resentment and self-pity. Applying thought force consciously is a step towards self-mastery.
Any degree of control over our mind is an advantage, and we can exercise this principle in a down-to-earth way. For example, we can decide that for one minute we will think of one chosen topic, and then for the next minute, we choose something else, switching off completely thoughts related to topic one. You might try devoting the next minute to thoughts about a tree or trees. Do this in any way you want, but do not let your thoughts stray from the tree or tree-related images. Then after a minute, drop the idea of the tree and replace it with that of clouds.
To do this exercise is not so easy, as we may have experienced. If we can take small steps to master this conscious thinking through practice, we will find the benefits are immense and will prove very useful in our daily life.
Returning to our higher quest, what is the most important insight? It is that the mind itself, including our feelings, is not our true Self. The true Self is that underlying reality which transcends the mind. It is our immediate consciousness and being, accompanying and making possible all experience. Body and mind are in a certain sense instruments of that supreme Power. And our mind can learn to gain a sense of direction from that Power, and to use its energies for the higher good.
The practice of meditation equips us with those first levers of control that will eventually lead us to inner freedom. And an important part of this process is that meditation will help us to view our inner life objectively, from a deeper standpoint. This in turn will endow us with a new sense of freedom and power. From an early stage meditation can confer glimpses of that independence. For example, meditation will give us a clearer insight into what is going on in our own mind. We will observe more vividly the mind’s habit of continually generating thoughts and ideas, feelings and memories, in disregard of whether we wish these thoughts to appear or not.
Our mind is thus a conduit for an endless stream of energy, over which we have very little control. This is why, in meditation, we are asked to concentrate on a prescribed and relevant idea or image. This concentration will be our means to check our mind from being carried away by irrelevant thoughts that tend to visit us uninvited at this time. These irrelevant thoughts are really only the result of our habit of unconscious thinking—that is, of not applying thought force consciously. With training, we can achieve great inner alertness.
For example, someone who regularly practises meditation can usually detect the very first signs of anger developing in the mind, or the first tremors of an irrational fear. Once detected, these limiting feelings can be subdued immediately by substituting some positive thought based on our higher nature. Through this growing self-awareness fostered in meditation we will also find ourselves gaining some leverage over our emotional life, so that it serves our true welfare, and does not lead us into misery and frustration.
This self-mastery is possible through practice and through a deepening understanding of the fundamental fact that our true Self is different from the body and the mind. It is that independent infinite perfection that underlies our experience all the time in eternal peace and freedom.
This achievement is brought about gradually, not forcefully, aided by preliminary practices to help create inner calm. Once we have calmed ourselves down, and are reasonably relaxed, yet alert, it does become possible to introduce a particular idea or inspiring sentiment that the mind can focus on and develop. This will result in due time in the emergence of the higher faculty latent in our mind through which the depth and richness of meditation will become apparent in our own experience.
In our practice, we first adjust our posture so that it supports our concentration. Whether we are seated on a firm cushion on the ground, or on a chair, we need to adopt an upright, alert position with our spine, neck and head in a straight line, balanced but not rigid. For those on chairs, the feet should be flat on the floor, so that there is no twisting or pressure to impede circulation. In both cases (chair and floor) the hands gently rest on the lap or thighs without tension. Breathing, if possible, should be nasal, and the slower rhythm recommended in the first practice can, with benefit, accompany the whole session.
First we sit for a minute or two in reverence and calmness. Reverence signifies our recognition and appreciation of the value of the teachings connected with meditation. Calmness is essential, because serenity, not excitement, is the hallmark of the way of wisdom.
We now become aware of our breathing. Sustaining our calmness, we breathe a little more deeply than usual and we stay aware of the movement and sound of the breath. We imagine that the breath follows a direction— that is, the in-breath begins at the region of the navel and passes upwards to the space between the eyebrows. At this point we hold the breath for a second or two—longer or shorter if you wish—and then release it slowly, and again briefly hold the breath as before, this time at the end of the out-breath. Keep the mind concentrated on this process if possible to the exclusion of other trains of thought.
So it is calm deep breathing, with a short pause at the turning- points between breathing in and breathing out. Let us now engage our mind with this practice for about four to five minutes:
In-breath from navel to eyebrows
Next we engage our power of imagination and our will by inwardly visualising a form that has associations with peace, purity and transcendence. The form or symbol we have chosen is that of a lotus flower. The lotus flower is used decoratively in much of the traditional art of the East where the flower grows in lakes and ponds. The stem of the lotus, unlike the waterlily, rises above the water level and so the petals, though living on the water, are usually not touched by it. And this is considered a pointer to something in our own being which is ever untouched by the limitations and sufferings of life. This principle, as we know, is our true Self, which is present in close proximity to our mind but is never tainted or influenced by mental activity. We are asked to imagine a bluish lotus—blue being a symbol of the infinite. Certain natural phenomena, which appear to be boundless—such as the ocean and the sky—take on the blue colour. So beauty, purity, infinity are some of the ideas associated with a lotus flower of this colour.
Our aim is to picture such a flower in the heart centre and to keep our attention on this image, using our imagination and will— faculties we all possess. If it helps, you can see the lotus as slowly opening and expanding its petals, as if welcoming and embracing the light of the sun. Then try to hold on to this image of the fully opened lotus. If your attention strays, bring it back to the lotus. Devote five minutes to this practice.
Meditation on a text
Our text for meditation is:
OM. AS THE BUD OPENS TO THE SUN,
SO DOES MY INNER BEING OPEN TO THE INFINITE CONSCIOUSNESS. THAT IS BLISS. THAT AM I. OM
Slowly repeat to yourself the meditation text. It expresses the same principle, that of opening ourselves to the purifying influence of the supreme power—here called the infinite consciousness. In one sense all we have to do is to open ourselves to this influence. But we also have to remember that it is not fundamentally separate from our true being, and so the text says: That am I. This reality is bliss, and the text anticipates our recognition of that perfect undiluted joy, where there are no worries or fear of loss. It is to be discovered within our own being. For ‘That am I’. Meditate on this text for five to seven minutes.
These practices are not intended to convert anyone to a particular path. The teachings on which they are based are universal, and seek to draw our attention to something we already have and know but may not fully recognise. We wish all beings to awaken to this realisation and then there will truly be harmony within and without.
Let us sit for a minute or two with good thoughts and feelings, wishing the best for all. What is ultimately the best is this higher knowledge, this awakening to the ever-liberated nature of our own consciousness and being.