On Meditation and other aspects of spiritual life.
Articles in this section
On Meditation by Jaya Ashmore
Meditation melts habit-energies, mental filters, and other distortions that keep us from seeing things simply and clearly as they are. We can access this transformation at first only inwardly, but with practice, meditation comes with us into the full flow of life.
Some people may experience more of a sense of widening beyond their ideas of who they are, and others may feel a pure stream of love rising up in their core. Some people may just continue doing what they love to do for decades before they realize they have been meditating all along. The rare but attainable space of meditation clearly reveals our experience of separateness as illusory, but also dissolves that distortion.
The word "meditation" confuses us—we mistakenly assume meditation is something stiff and formal, something we have to force ourselves do, something we get from outside and then implant in ourselves. We often imagine it means to sit cross-legged for a long time. And then many of us assume it is something only other people can really do well, because we never find ourselves on fire with life just from sitting with our legs crossed, from copying the statues, from imitating the external form of someone else's spiritual passion. The word "meditation" confuses us because it does not fit accurately into words.
However, if we can unglue ourselves from the exterior forms of meditation, we can start to feel our way into the familiar but mysterious waters of meditation in us.
Sometimes techniques from the outside, such as feeling the breath or repeating a mantra, can help lead us deeply enough toward true meditation that we can then let go of the technique and experience life from the inside. As we relax beyond our usual controls and filters, we can let go more and more of the need for outer confirmation of the liveliness of our own experience. Then we may fall into transformative meditation.
Once we accept that meditation is an attainable, human experience - but beyond ideas - we may start to rest our heads and trust that we can also awaken it in us and stumble on it everywhere around us.
Ordinary life gives us glimpses of where we can start to awaken our natural capacity for meditation:
1) On just waking up, you may have occasionally sensed spaciousness and lightness—usually only briefly, before you remembered your list of things to do, your resentment, fears, or demands that life be different. Before looking at life again with the head, perhaps you sensed a noninvasive limitlessness infused with friendliness. This openness—much closer to meditation than hours of practicing a technique—can feel incredibly sensitive and exposed. The rush back to being busy and copying the past can feel like hurrying to get dressed when we realize we are naked.
2) Often on Open Dharma retreats, or other times when we let ourselves rest deeply, we may receive a teaching from our own inner native language. Sometimes this pointer comes as a soft memory from when we knew real intimacy with life, through nature or love or play as a child. Other times this weightless reference point may be a spontaneous image that helps unravel our sense of separation.
These moments of distilled life can help us uncover our genuine way of coming home to openness.
Jaya Ashmore is co-founder of Open Dharma.Return to list of articles
Chasing Shadows by Nick Roach
I would like to say a few words about comparing teachings and teachers in an attempt to progress along the (so-called) Spiritual Path:
It can be interesting to read and hear about different people's journeys into the Truth, how they got there and what they saw along the way. It is when we believe that their path is the exact path we too should follow and their life the one we must live that it can become a problem.
I am going to liken joining the Spiritual Path to a race. There is really no need to rush, but one's eagerness to get to the end and to experience more can make it feel like there is. However, in this race, everybody starts in a different place, the course they must take is specific to them, and while the end point is the same for everybody, the nature and experience of it is interpreted according to the experiences they had along the way.
So, as you can see from the above, trying to recreate what another has been through to further one's own development is likely not going to help. In fact, it is like chasing shadows.
A few examples to make the point:
My own teacher, Barry Long, described his driving force as being his love for Woman. He describes having a vision of the woman he was with at the time, who he loved very much, and in this vision she said she would reveal the truth to him of his love for her, Woman. He was shown that Woman (the pure essence inside every woman) is love and God itself personified. He later adopted the description 'The Master of Love', as he was devoted to sharing his love for Woman in his teachings, giving advice on how to live and love rightly.
My path, though involving following Barry Long's teaching to the letter (as much as I was able, which is all anyone can do with any path), was driven by a need to find a reason, and an end, to the emotional pain and struggling I had experienced all my life. The discomfort was caused by a stammer as well as other general difficulties (much later identified as being due to Dyslexia). A major aspect of Barry's teaching is to remain conscious and face and dissolve emotions, and living 'rightly'. While I had some of the insights Barry described, I did not have the vision described above as that was not my path.
Bernadette Roberts is a lady whose works I found only very recently (start of 2011) as I entered (what she called) No-self. Her journey involved several years living the life of a Catholic Nun, and it was her love of God that was her driving force. However, it was shown to her early on in a vision that her path lay through 'Christ' specifically. Not understanding what this meant, a life of Christian contemplation began as she studied the works of the saints. Her Enlightenment was her union with God. Her No-self was her 'self' stepping aside and her body being personified by the true essence of Christ.
Then I have a good friend, Dr Nitin Trasi. Nitin spent his life (until very recently) in India, where there are many spiritual teachers. He describes how he was curious and spent time asking questions of the teachers around. Over time he found he was able to answer his own questions, and at some point in time noticed he was 'Enlightened'. As time past, he describes a gradual unveiling of Liberation.
I hope you can see from the above that the paths are very different, and the experiences they went through would have been poles apart if they were ever to compare. So please do not think that having different experiences from another in itself means they are any more or less advanced than you. Comparing and making judgments of where you are, or where someone else is, whether based on your own experience or on other stuff you have heard or read, is part of the mind games and will only distract you from your own path. (Of course, in truth, there is no straying from the path really, and there is no rush - so what's wrong with 'straying' anyway - but the point is there).
Read more from Nick Roach at www.nickroach.co.ukReturn to list of articles
The limitation of sitting meditation by Christopher Titmuss
I was having a cafe latte with Reza in the funky Barrel coffee shop in the top end of Totnes high street, just a few minutes walk from my home. For years, I sat in the corner window seat reading beloved French philosophers, Nagarjuna, a continental novel, scribbling down a poem, people watching or having a lengthy conversation on every issue under the sun with people who dropped in to share a seat at the same table.
A year or two ago, I abandoned the downstairs of the coffee shop and took refuge at the window seat upstairs, even more funky upstairs, as too many friends spotted me at my usual spot and stopped for a chat. Of course, they always asked me if it was OK if he or she took a seat, and invariably I said: "Of course, sit down. Can I get you a coffee?" I'm now ensconced upstairs. Don't tell anybody.
Reza said he noticed from his experience over years that there was a "separation" in sitting meditation, often quite unnoticed, between the subject and the object. He wondered whether the case was for everybody.
I agreed that this duality of the meditator and the object of meditation easily manifested in the sitting posture, as much as anywhere else, though obviously a more subtle expression. Gross examples of separation include the greedy one and the object of greed, the angry person and what the person is angry about, the one with fear and what one is afraid of.
I do not regard the subtle dualities as an inherent problem since the Dharma concerns itself with the end of suffering, the end of problematic existence. It seems to me rather gross to react against sitting meditation based on the view there is a duality of the apparent meditator and his or her object of meditation. We can have the desire to meditate and the desire not to meditate. Being for or against is not the true nature of the Dharma.
In a balanced and unbiased way, Reza then wondered whether the desire to meditate simply reinforced the notion of the meditator who wants the get something by going to sit. Was this true for everybody? he asked. He said he couldn't recall teachers talking about this inner duality.
I responded that in my view nothing is true for everybody. Our experiences, the sheer diversity of them and their interpretation, vary enormously between people, and within ourselves.
After we finished our exploration of the limitations of sitting meditation, I reflected further. There is often an assumption that meditation is good for everybody since it offers calmness, clarity, a sense of well being and insight into inner processes. Everybody?
Are there personality types that might need to let go of sitting meditation for a while or in some cases for a long period without falling back into problematic patterns. Here are a few personality types that may well need to question their relationship to sitting meditation. Intention, attitude and wisdom around the sitting posture in terms of benefits and limitations matter if your personality has strong expressions of those listed below.
THE BELIEVER: This meditator believes that everything that arises comes from old samkharas (mental formations). To sit means to create no knew samkharas, work out the old ones and purify the mind.
THE CHANTER: The chanter sits and chants for hours on end the words of the Buddha in Pali, Sanskrit or Tibetan. It is the equivalent of reading out loud the instructions on a box of medicine without taking the medicine.
THE CONTROLLER: Tight personality. Very serious. Disciplined in a rigid kind of way. Sticks tightly to the method and technique.
THE DULL: This meditator sits and sits and sits. Consciousness is not bright and alert but dull, stuck in a bland state, perhaps a kind of self-hypnosis, a zombie like condition. The meditator may look impressive from the outside but inwardly is not going anywhere, certainly not deeper.
THE HABITUATED: This person practices the sitting posture everyday, maybe twice a day. Practice means sitting meditation. To hell with the Noble (eightfold) Path. The Buddha was wrong. It is one fold. Sitting Meditation. The rest of daily life is a distraction, or at best, not as important.
THE MORALISER. Meditation, spirituality and religion have the potential to be a moralising mixture. Especially, if the person has had any personal history of being a "victim", bullied at school, rubbished by parents, victimised in their family history. The shadow will easily become the moraliser, who needs to slag off certain figures in authority or groups. The moraliser is unforgiving.
THE SUPPRESSIVE TYPE. This person sits on their feelings rather than works with them. This person is developing the watcher and detaching himself from the unfolding process of feelings, emotions and thoughts. There are gross and subtle levels of this â€" as Reza pointed out.
THE THINKER: The meditator lives in their thoughts, past, present and future, abstract, theoretical, organisational, endless stories and swirls around in ideas from beginning to end of the sitting.
THE VOLCANIC TYPE. There may be lots of emotional eruptions, highly charged inner movements, a shaking body and inner storms. The belief that one has to sit through all the stuff that arises can spark an inner crisis that ends up requiring medication, not meditation.
The archetype revealed in the statues of the Buddha has made a profound impression on generations. On the one side, it serves as a powerful and healthy reminder of sitting in meditation and, on the other side; it may reinforce unhealthy old patterns.
The Buddha wisely used the language of sitting, walking, standing, reclining meditation, not isolating the first posture from the other three.
There is nothing inherently problematic about sitting. There is nothing inherently problematic about not sitting. We can sit out of pure love of sitting, out of love of silence, stillness, the moment, non-doing, the free flow of energy in the upright posture or no clear reason at all. We can look within because we are genuinely interested to see clearly what processes are unfolding, to touch places of happiness and deep, inner peace and come to realisations about duality and non-duality without grasping either.
Oneness and twoness is not the issue. The marriage of liberating Truth and Love is the issue. Not whether we sit or whether we don't.
Having said that, keep meditating on what matters. I didn't say keep sitting.read more from Christopher Titmuss at www.christophertitmuss.org Return to list of articles
Questions and Answers by Jacqueline Maria Longstaff
The following are excerpts from Jacquelines book, Kaleidoscope. It consists mostly of questions Jacqueline has addressed during satsangs held around the world. Here are some excerpts from the book.
Do I really need to meditate? I went to Satsang with Karl yesterday and what he seemed to be saying was that meditation is a waste of time.
Yes, I can understand it seemed he was saying that! Karl is such a sweetheart. (Laughter from audience) Really - I mean that - so sweet and funny! But you see, there are no rules. There’s no one up there waiting to give you a diploma after a certain amount of years of meditation. One woman had an awakening because a brick fell on her head. (Laughter) No – seriously – I’m not making fun of her. However, my experience is that for most people meditation is a wonderful tool. It creates a distance to the drama and the mind (same thing really) It also creates a spaciousness that seems to make it easier not to get stuck in that which arises within and makes it easier to witness.
But sooner or later you have to see through the meditator. You have to look deep within and ask, Who is meditating? Being a seeker, a meditator is still just a role playing through you and people can get stuck in this – can build a beautiful identity as a spiritual seeker. Being a spiritual seeker can seem so important – so significant. But Truth shows you the insignificance of it all.
During this retreat you have talked about going beyond identities, but don't we really need identities? Don't we need to have some kind of personality?
Personality is not necessarily the same as identity. You do not need to identify with the personality that plays through you.
You said we should ask, "Who am I?" but I feel as if I have been asking this stupid question all of my life.
Yes, you probably have, but I believe you have been asking from the level of mind. You have listened to the mind talking to the mind – giving its comments, its judgments – but who you really are cannot be grasped by the mind. Have you noticed how people often nod their heads when they agree with someone. It is as if they are saying, "Yes, my mind agrees with your mind." Nod, nod, nod. Perhaps we should have hats with bells on – like Little Noddy – to make us aware that we might just be playing the mind game – nod, nod, nod! It's OK to nod sometimes but I have noticed that in satsang, people don't seem to nod so much. If they agree they tend to stay still, silent – they seem to be agreeing from somewhere much deeper than the head. There seems to be a resonance with what is being spoken – a resonance that comes from a much deeper level.
When you ask from the level of mind the response you get will probably have much to do with your conditioning. So, a meditation retreat is an opportunity to ask, "Who am I," from a deeper space – and an opportunity to have a response from a deeper space. It is an opportunity to know the truth of who we really are. So forget about the past – ask again from this new space that is opening up for you.
I feel my meditation is deepening but I am still aware of thoughts and feelings. They are still there. I experience the same old doubts and judgments – especially old feelings of not being good enough. These things still arise.
Of course, they do – they are a part of your repertoire. A useful thing to remember is not to put a label on anything that arises within. Just let things come and go. The fact that you sit here and talk about feelings of not being good enough shows that the mind is still involved in what arises. The mind labels, judges, compares – you know how it is. Freedom is just letting everything come and go without making stories out of these comings and goings. Then whatever arises does not really touch you. You don't walk down the street commenting on everything you see – or do you?
No – usually not!
Then stop commenting on everything you meet in the inner world – it is just stuff.
I am quite new to all this but I feel I have an open mind. That is good, isn't it?
It's a very good start. You know, I once saw a car sticker in California that said, 'Minds are like parachutes – they only function when they are open.' So keep an open mind, and at the same time be aware that you can even be stuck in a so-called open mind, if you make too big a thing of it! You can end up creating a new identity – that of someone who is really open-minded. Crazy, isn't it? So be willing to be really open-minded – so open minded that you are willing to let go of the mind. Open the mind so much that there are no boundaries – no edges. Then you fall over that edge that isn't there and discover what's beyond. OK?
Please say something about Arunachala. I have only been here a couple of days and am already feeling how powerful it is to be near this mountain.
Arunachala is actually sometimes called the heart of the world. But let's start with the name, Arunachala, which means the unmovable – that which does not move and as such symbolises your true essence. People have often heard me say that anything that comes and goes is not who you are. Who you really are, your essence, is beyond any coming and going. It never changes. Just look at Arunachala standing there, totally present and untouched by the circus that goes on around it day and night! Look at what happens here at the time of the full moon – hundreds of thousands of people arriving in buses, walking around the mountain, then crowding into the buses again and off they go, leaving behind their garbage! And it seems Arunachala just stands there witnessing the whole show. So it is with the part of you that never moves. It is never really touched by the comings and goings of life's dramas.
Arunachala is said to be the embodiment of Shiva and Shiva is a very powerful energy. It's actually like the energy of the planet Pluto (in western astrology). It is called the destroyer and really the archetype of Shiva is the destroyer of ignorance, the destroyer of the illusion of who we think we are. So to come close to the energy of Arunachala Shiva, is a wonderful opportunity to let go of false identities – identities people build up and then imagine that this is who they really are. These false identities hide the truth of who we are.
Ramana Maharshi actually gave an important meditation technique to the world – a technique, which has flowered in the west. It is the technique of self-enquiry. It is simple yet also powerful and effective. It is a method of asking inside in deep meditation, asking for example, 'Who Am I,' and then just watching, knowing that any answer that arises cannot be who you really are. Any answer arising is part of the illusion. Even if the answer is something like, 'I am the divine light, I am God, I am all that is…,' you have to let go of it. I have heard people come up with such answers, but any label you can put on who you are, is not who you are. Who you are cannot be spoken, just as it is often said that the truth that can be spoken is not the Truth. In a meditation retreat, people have the opportunity to go beyond all these false identities and to glimpse who they really are. So to participate in a meditation retreat here at the ashram with Arunachala just in front of us is a powerful experience. The mountain will support you in your search.
Something else Ramana spoke about was the spiritual heart – slightly to the right of anahata (the heart charka). I have sometimes said that, symbolically, you could see the spiritual heart as a secret cave in the heart area. Remember Ramana spent 17 years in one of Arunachala's caves. If you feel a connection with the mountain, take time to meditate on it with open eyes, breathe with Arunachala, and feel the area around your spiritual heart. Ask Arunachala to take you deeply within your secret cave. Yes, it is a powerful place to be. Find your own way of being here with this amazing mountain and deepen your connection with Arunachala. Meditating on it with open eyes and feeling you are breathing with it is a fine technique.
Read more from Jacqueline Maria Longstaff at cosmicairport.comReturn to list of articles