|General Meditation Advice
For the brothers and Brothers of the Brotherhood of the Sacred Word
Copyright 2013 Julian Lee
This material does not deal in techniques, but in general principles to aid your meditation.
Source of Technique
Use a technique from a guru you trust or have faith in who has some fruit from meditation, preferably personally received. Until having someone to ask of that nature, it is safe to try out techniques that you read about, or mantras given in books, etc. According to the attitude, you will get fruit from these. I received great fruit from the techniques given in printed lessons by Yogananda's organization, for example.
There is a mysterious principle involved with who you get your mantra/technique from. Most will find it to be so. The principle is that something is carried with it. However, within reason, it is acceptable to experiment with things you read in scriptures or books by satvic persons.
I remember deciding to chant the Hare Krsna mantra throughout my entire return home from work in Alaska. In this return home, it was a 40 mile drive in which I hitchhiked. I did this nightly, through the Matanuska Valley which is mountain ranges all the way. I kept up the mantra unceasingly. Soon I arrived at the "Y" which is 5 miles from home, still chanting the mantra steadily. There was a fellow there hitching and I walked on past him, knowing that "two guys" is a great way to never get a ride. This fellow started to follow me and I walked beyond him a bit more to lose sight of him. It turned into a chase. As I chanted the mantra this fellow began walking faster and faster to catch up to me, and I walked faster to lose him. By the end of the thing he was running at full-lungs, cursing me and yelling that he was going to kill me with his knife, and I was running at full lungs to try to get around some corner where I could jump into some brush or building before he could see me do it. By that time I had quit chanting the mantra. I was laden with a heavy bag and he was free. At one point he was perhaps only 100 feet back there. I had never run so fast in my life or felt my lungs burn that much. I was just able to round a bend with enough lead time to dodge into the lobby of an old folks home before he could get around that corner and see where I went. I always wondered if my chanting had something to do with manifesting that strange event. Forcing an impurity out? An initiation related to purification? Or was in a manifestation of some Yama-like gatekeeper trying to keep me from the Mantra Goods? In any case, the fact has to be stated that I had simply read the Hare Krsna mantra in a book. Or was it that I wasn't supposed to be saying it because it was not authorized to me by a guru? Or was I simply saying it the wrong way or God didn't like the melody that I was using for it. (I composed my own.)
Have nobody around
They of course will just distract your mind, and perhaps they don't want you meditating. The exception would be a Brotherhood household where meditation is held as an ideal. I know that when Nick is in my household, I pretty much cannot keep him FROM meditating. Ronan was the same. Even when we'd go to a restaurant or coffee shop he'd be meditating. There are certain people you can meditate around -- other meditators. But worldly people -- and also your wife in most cases -- will not improve meditation if they are nearby or walking around or working in the next room. Solitude is the right nest for meditation.
Your attitude about it brings a result
You should have the attitude that meditation is important, that meditation is efficacious, that meditation is a portal to the divine, that it is the way of all saints, that it is precious work, that it is a source of well-being, and a source of siddhi. You should think that it is the most important thing you can do, and have a pristine attitude about it. You should think that no moment of it is ever wasted and no effort at it is wasted. Even Krsna states this in the Bhagavad-Gita to encourage us to at least try.
Having your mind wander doesn't mean you "can't meditate" -- it's the experience of all, and bringing back your wandering mind to the meditation object again is the central experience and work of meditation
Funny to hear somebody say "I can't seem to meditate. My mind wanders." Then they therefore give it up. But that wandering mind is what everybody experiences and that is the fundamental problem we are attempting to address. If your mind DOESN'T wander you are already a god, already Brahman.
Don't force it
Meditation is hard work. It can become painful. It makes clear your restlessness and your impurities. When it feels really difficult or you feel really restless, don't force it. Get up and take a break. You can come back to it later and do it again.
It's OK to mix things up
Perhaps try meditation for 20 minutes, then read a little scripture. Then play some music that brings you to a devotional mind. Then try some out loud mantra. Then as that takes hold and gets nectarine, go to meditation again. I know that a lot of my meditation has consisted of scriptural reading that re-convinces me that "meditation is where it's at" after which I tried some more meditation. Then going to the scriptures to re-convince myself, then returning to meditation anew. Indeed, read scriptures that convince you of the efficacy of meditation so as to turn yourself again and again to meditation.
In the household when I have Brothers around I tend to mix up the meditation alternating between out-loud readings, prayers, and then meditation. I also like to play bhakti-inspiring music at certain times or even all throughout household meditation sits which, in my households go 2-3 hours. Breaking it up can include going to get something to eat, taking care of some little business, etc. Better to have meditation catch hold of you for 2 minutes during a short sit than endeavor for a long sit that only makes you restless and strained. The bhakta's way is easy way. The canyon gusts of bhakti grab his little wings anyway thus he soars.
Meditation has highs and lows, rough times and full-sail times
Sometimes you have breakthroughs, blissful developments, and feel that you went deeper than ever before. Other times you feel you are slogging through and going through the motions and can't regain the feelings you had before. That is natural for all. You keep on applying yourself to it and the breakthrough times and the sailing-on-mystic currents times will return.
Do it in just one or two places
It is true that when you meditate all the time in the same place you endow it with your meditation. The places becomes permeated by your meditation and it becomes very easy to meditate in there, even forcing you, as it were, in to meditation just by sitting in that place. My Foothill Road property became so permeated that Aum was very loud there for me. Even when I stepped onto the 5-acre property from visiting down in town, I would hear it again immediately. Then the same thing happened in the Saint Francis apartments and I actually had to leave there because if Aum gets to a certain level (of audibility) for a certain length of time, pratyahara is unavoidable. I was fighting it off but losing. They even say that you can't remain in your body beyond a limited time once Aum is louder than all the other natural sounds around you. This is, I am sure, true. But it goes to show that your place becomes permeated by your meditation. Even other people, coming into your meditation spot, find it easy to get into meditation or are even dragged into meditation. Just a corner of your living room serves well. Divide it off with some kind of dividers and place devotional and beautiful things in that corner. It is best if the meditation place is not in the place where you do business or work, and not in the place where you sleep.
The best places are private, non-eventful, and non-distracting
I always find it funny the way the new-age culture depicts meditation. Always they have somebody sitting in some place of enormous external distraction such as a mountain top with a beautiful view, or oven the ocean or beach. Perhaps even hanging from a cliff in some heroic "hatha yoga" pose and wearing a leotard or loincloth. But the best place of meditation is a simple, boring little cave or corner that gives you no view of the world.
Meditating in spectacular natural settings, with wind and sun, is simply distracting.
Simply put your hands together, in your lap
It is typical than when meditation is depicted in the new-age and multi-culti stew everybody has to stretch their arms out, place their hands on their knees, and make these cute decorous circles with finger and thumb. I always wonder: Who told them you have to meditate with your arms stretched out onto your knee and messing around making finger o's? I think they get this from Buddhist lore or statues, or just from the fashion magazines themselves and carried forward, and of course Buddha is fashionable. But this is also distracting, an effort, and unnecessary. It might even be disadvantageous, opening you up too much to samsaric world currents. The finger-o's thing is, apparently, a mudra. It may be a true mudra such as arise in celibate bhaktas who meditate (such as in our lineage) which are the original source of all hatha-yoga positions. Or, it may even be artificial, invented, or simply handed-down through literature by human mistake. In any case, any mudra should not be "played with." That is, you should not engage in some sort of mudra if you have no clue what it is or what it really does -- just because you saw it in a clothing ad for yoga pants or some vacation spa. Who knows what you might be doing to yourself! Perhaps causing a divorce, your children to go whacky, and your dog to die. Who knows. The point is you do not know what this mudra is and it did not arise naturally in you, but it is something you saw in a fashion ad for yoga pants.
The hand posture of my lineage -- and I recommend it -- is to simply place the hands together in your lap. You can lay one hand into the other with both palms up, or alternatively you can clasp your hands together (fingers meshed) as in the photos of Lahiri Mahasaya. I have only tended to do the second position for shorter periods because I find the circulation in the fingers starts to get impaired with hands enmeshed. This latter hand posture is, more like, a dynamic one in which you may like to go into it now and then as you decidedly sit to meditate and get your body under control. But you don't need to maintain it. In fact, simply laying your hands in your lap in the simplest, natural way is adequate and there need be no big fuss about this.
There is a theory that the hands together is a closing off from the world, and therefore aids meditation. Conversely, the pose of the Waby enthusiasts playing Buddha (arms open, fingers circling) is an opening up to the world. They might construct unwise justifications for this like: "I don't want to be world-renouncing, I want to be world embracing." Or "I'm going to give my love to all the world." etc. But from this point of view the open-armed pose is less wise if the real goal is meditation rather than engaging some more with the world. It can only increase one's mental distraction. Attenuating world-currents in the mind is central work in meditation.
Does one open up to the world currents when he goes to sleep? No, he forgets the world completely and dissolves it. The thing called the world is like a big ghastly, samsaric ball of tar that has been dragged through the messiest house in Messville, USA for 100 years then expanded to ungodly size. Why open yourself up to that? You have always been doing that anyway during normal outward turned consciousness and look what that gave you! No, that litter and lint-filled hairball called the world doesn't aid your meditation. But if you can manage to go towards meditation instead of the world, when you come out of deep meditation that hairball will be automatically somewhat cleansed by your very dip into the satchitananda -- so why not do whatever you can to get into meditation? Why should you try to keep in communion with the unfortunate dirt infested hairball called the world when you were meaning to meditate? You already engage with it 24-7 and that's your problem! Even your unconscious mind has better sense and makes you utterly forget the world when it takes you into the unconscious samadhi called sleep. So why should you try to meditate while hanging from cliffs, getting sea-spray in your face, having luscious meadows spanning out before you, or while embracing the world? Meditation itself is renunciation of the world, and the world is both false and samsaric so there is no loss in renouncing it during meditation.
You can "embrace the world" with love after you end meditation and find that, by forgetting it for a bit, you now have more bliss and actually have something to offer to it.
A slumped spine gives less meditation fruit
The most ideal meditation posture of all has you sitting in such a manner that your spine is standing up free and not leaning against anything, quite like a cobra stands up in the air. "The spine should be erect and settled" is a phrase found in some of the Yoga-Sutra translations. Settled hear means it is just standing there, as it were, in the air (your spine, if you can visualize it), without any strain, pains, or issues. One can, of course, sit longer in this manner. This state of the spine can be gained sitting cross legged on the floor, of course. It also can be attained sitting in a chair of the right sort.
Does this mean you can't meditate while sitting in a comfortable sink-in chair? No. Or lying in your bed? No. In fact, the so-called "corpse" pose in the hatha-yoga lexicon is just that: You lying there on your back as in bed. Meditation benefits you in all these physical postures, and not just the ideal posture of the erect spine that doesn't touch or lean. It's just that that posture is the best; the most respectful, effects the progress of the kundalini up the spine, and brings the profounder mystic developments of this yoga. It that position of the spine goes along with an alert, respectful, disciplined attitude, see. It's like a soldier standing at attention. God responds more to full attention and also to that great respect, as in someone who "stands up" for a great personage comes in the room. A slouching spine does not attract as much yogic development and grace happenings. But notice that great yogis like Nityananda are found lying about eventually. And when you get attracted to meditation you will find yourself doing it in all kinds of positions -- riding the bus, lying in bed, or in some big leather chair at the cafe. But for those highly avid, they should try the decorous and disciplined approach of the straight spine that touches nothing. My view is that a little of it goes a long way!
Focus on just a few techniques
It is good to have 2-3 prime techniques and really spend some effort with them. Don't spread yourself too thin and try too many things out.
There is a Ramakrishna aphorism that speaks to this that I will try to paraphrase, something like this:
If when digging a well a farmer give up every time he drills a few yards and starts drilling a new hole in a new place, it will take him all day to hit water. But if he keeps drilling in one place where he is reasonably assured there is water, he'll soon strike water.
Another aphorism with similar intent I will paraphrase:
If a traveler on the way to Benares asks every person he meets for directions, he'll end up getting a variety of directions and taking a circuitous route. But he'll get there soon if he follows to the letter the directions from one honest man.
Don't be a technique collector. Instead, give your all to a few techniques given to you by a man you trust. If you get lucky, he will even have intuition about you, how to teach you, what and when, and in a sequence particularly fruitful for you. He will also realize that everybody has their own inner karmic landscape and landscape features, and to some extent everyone has their own unique relationship with the Lord, and everyone will have unique features to their meditation path.
But it is good to be able to vary your sadhana. If one technique is seeming difficult or dry at the moment, vary it. I know that I have varied my mantras. Anything to keep the mantra fresh, engaging, and avid. You can tell when a mantra has grabbed you in the moment; when you are getting grist from it as it were. Whatever evokes the best inner cry from you, and the best faith, in that moment is the best mantra or technique. I know there have been times when "Om guru!" has been the most evocative and felt like a transport. At other times, when life seems dire, I might use a particular one directed to Babaji that a yogi once told me in Idlyllwild, California,
supposed to be used out loud only during extreme emergencies. During certain years I calmed myself with the Om Navah Shivaya mantra, sung in a certain way. Then there is the first kriya of my lineage, a mantra tied to the breath, that became a constant in the background
or for all times in between. There is no harm or vice in alternating a few techniques, if they are giving you spiritual waters at the time.
Related to this, it is no harm and no shame to think of different gurus according to the feeling of the moment. Behind all true gurus is the one Saguna Brahman. I know that for me, I have come to view Jesus Christ as my ancestral guru, Yogananda as my root guru, and Nityananda as a kind of "uncle" guru. If one feels unworthy or afraid of father at the moment, he might apply himself to the uncle who is perhaps more lenient or safer. I have a view of Yogananda that he is like my father, therefore I am sometimes more afraid to approach him. On the other hand, when I do bring him into my mind it is through a very high state and my attitude toward him is electrifying. If I feel "great" or feel that I have attained to something higher -- then I will think with gratitude of Yogananda, perhaps now feeling worthy to approach. See? My loftiest bhakti moments come with the thought of my root guru. Thus you can think of the guru who at that time seems most approachable, most available, most present and real -- most efficacious for you as a devotee.
When 'something' happens, register it and possibly focus on it
Rather than ignoring it, which is perhaps the Sankarian ideal in which you wish to end all perceivables and become a blind man seeing no world, you should instead be appreciative and interested. Thus will arises more of such. If you were a boss, supervisor, parent, or teacher and had dangled an interesting thing in front of your pupil to teach them and lead them, would you be pleased and inspired when they completely ignore it? No, you will respond more if they respond. People who say "Don't get all caught up in phenomena" are just bull-----rs who are jealous. One of the "phenomena" is divine subsuming bliss itself. Those who ignore that or counsel you to ignore it due to some Sankarian mental pollution they received -- are morons. (And watch them, as soon as they finish meditation they begin chasing phenomena such as going to class or reading a book. Why is God the only phenomenon that manages to be uninteresting to them?)
Some things, indeed, you should ignore, but other things are blessed meditation foci arising for you; superior meditation alambras.
Here is where your teacher-guru comes in, perhaps. On the other hand, you may have instincts. The Sikhs say to ignore all sounds that come to the left ear. I say don't worry about it. They believe in a Satanic power, Kal, who is trying to get you even in your meditation. For us, lust is trying to get us and that battle is enough to fight without worrying about which ears hear a spiritual sound. Meditation is the Refuge, and you should view it that way. Sure, huge temptations attend us the higher we climb, but meditation is the refuge, it's you repairing to God. Trust it.
Even pains can be focused on, and this is a profound technique related to the Buddhist vipassana technique. But if you are using a mantra, you leave them and re-focus the mind on the mantra. This is not to say that registering them, or having a brief 'discussion' with the Lord about them, is not beneficial before returning to the mantra. Meditation contains many possibilities.
When you feel bliss, your meditation is bearing fruit.
Talk about meditation experiences and breakthroughs only with a guru who you feel has some wisdom over you
Sharing it with worldlings or people who doubt the value of meditation will only bring you down and besmirch what happened. Some might mock it. Some might be frightened over it. Some might feel jealous. Some might say harmful things like: "You are not supposed to get all wrapped up in phenomena" (while they plan the movie-phenomenon they are going to go wrap themselves up in that night). Meditation experiences are given by God to encourage you, spark your effort, confirm you ("I am on the right path!") and steel your resolve. But don't cast pearls before swine, as the Bible says. There is also a saying by Neem K. Baba and such:
"If you talk about your sadhana or your wealth, both go away." However, sharing with a guru or detached sage could help you plus give you somebody to share with. Simply don't share them with the unworthy.
Faith is the water of meditation
Calamities and losses make you meditate more
I always smile and am tickled by the "sage Vasistha" in the Yoga-Vasistha when he says things like this:
The sage rejoices when calamity and loss occurs.
Every life situation has its opportunities and advantages. Maybe the loss of some person or situation has cleared the way for you to pursue solitude, read scriptures, and truly practice meditation? Maybe this time of separation from others will only last a brief time. Catch hold of it and use it as your time to become a yogic and solve the problem of samsara and duality itself. Perhaps you won't get many other chances in life. When someone complained about her sorrows to Neem Karoli Baba he said: 'You think of God more when you suffer.' When somebody asked Yogananda "Why did God create mosquitoes?" He answered something like: "To show you that this is not heaven, this is not it, and to keep you applying yourself to him.'
Visualization is natural to meditation
This includes both vision that occurs as a fruit of meditation, and visualizations that are themselves meditation techniques. Sometimes the two merge: You have a vision of your guru in a certain situation, spontaneously through your bhakti; then this later becomes a meditation technique than you return to.
One of my favorite visions is of Yogananda as an enthroned cosmic king in a cosmic throne room. He is high up carpeted steps where saints walk in ritual procession or upon passing and entering his throne room. Around him swirls the currents of creation like a moving panorama, various beings like cosmic processions and he loves it all, delighting him, he is entertained by it all and pleased, yet in samadhi as was his attainment while he still loved the world. I am walking up the steps with a procession of saintly men and women, similar to how I was led and accompanied by a devotee in a robe who held my arm when I approached Karunamayi at the end of her long carpet. I will then stand like a guard at watch to either side of him...etc.
This vision once came to me spontaneously and I return to it sometimes. Certain tracks on Jai Uttal's album "Monkey" like "Court of the King" are excellent to play during such bhakti visualizations.