Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 4: Elementary Meditation > Chapter 2: Place and Condition
Place and Condition
The set period is to be used creatively, for the work to be done in it is no less than self-transformation.
Proper conditions help him to realize the first aim, which is to become wholly absorbed in the subject of his thoughts.
Where is the expert in meditational theory and practice greater than the Buddha? His recommendation for those who earnestly sought to master the act was to establish two basic conditions--solitude without and perseverance within.
Times for meditation
By beginning each day with meditation on the Divine, a man begins well. This act helps to give a spiritual background to the work, duties, and meetings of the day. It comes every twenty-four hours as a reminder that his life has a higher purpose to which his worldly purpose must be subordinate. It refreshes his dedication and renews his self-discipline. Above all, it attracts grace and this may give him moral restraint or support or even a feeling of inner peace at relaxed moments later in the day.
Right through his long life, the Buddha always began his day, after washing and dressing, in solitary meditation. Even the Buddha, illumined though he already was, did not disdain to begin his daily program with meditation.
A new day can bring a new hopefulness to the most wretched of men, provided he begins it with a meditation at dawn. For then life is really fresh, the mind is quite unfatigued, and contact with the intuitive self is a little easier to get. A meditation at such a crucial yet glorious hour can fix the whole day's pattern.
The aspirant who is really determined, who wants to make rapid progress, must make use of the early hour of morning when dawn greets the earth. Such an hour is to be set aside for meditation upon the Supreme, that ultimately a spiritual dawn may throw its welcome light upon the soul. By this simple initial act, his day is smoothed before he starts. Yet of the few who seek the highest Truth, fewer still are ready to make this sacrifice of their time, or are willing to forego the comfort of bed. Most men are willing to sacrifice some hours of their sleep in order to enjoy the presence of a woman and to satisfy their passion for her; but exceedingly few men are willing to sacrifice some hours of their sleep to enjoy the presence of divinity and to satisfy their passion for God-realization.
That day which begins with a harmonious meditation cannot be spoiled, disturbed, or wrecked for him.
The peace gained in the morning meditation flows over into the whole day, if he takes care to manage his mind circumspectly. The dividing line between that special period and the rest of the day gets fainter and fainter.
A man should arise from his morning meditation comforted at heart, calmed in nerve, and clearer in purpose. For one tranquil period, he has bathed in the cosmic stream of benevolence which flows under the ground of everyday existence.
This morning practice sweetens the whole day and deprives the work whereby most of us have to live of its power to materialize us.
What could be a better way of beginning each day than by seeking the divine blessing upon it? How much more profitable it is to possess the day by first taking possession of oneself!
The use of the words "this day" in the Lord's Prayer is an indication that Jesus advises his followers to pray or meditate in the morning. The suggestion is of high importance, though it usually escapes notice. We can set the keynote of the entire day's activities by the attitude adopted during the first hour after waking.
If, on awakening in the morning, your sleep has been satisfying, deep, and refreshing, you have the best bodily condition for meditation.
The freshness of air, the quiet of environment, and above all the purity of the mind, are all so much more in the early morning that meditation comes more easily and more quickly and more naturally at such a time. But the objection is often made by Western man that he rises under the pressure of preparing for and travelling to his work, so that strain and preoccupation and clock-watching interfere with meditation and make it unsatisfactory. Even the obvious remedy of retiring earlier and rising earlier has some disadvantage because of the colder morning temperature. Against this is the great advantage of sounding a keynote for the whole day by quieting and directing the mind at its beginning.
The morning meditation exercise practised on waking up is excellent, only if the sleep has not been marked by dreams. They require mental activity, just the same as the daytime existence. But there still remain three advantages over the latter. The body is rested and relaxed. Nothing has yet happened to create complexes, moods, emotions, or passions that detract from, or obstruct, the course of meditation. And most dreams are broken--there are some intervals of deep, empty sleep during the night.
Even if a man claims that he is too busy to practise this "On-Awaking" meditation, he can at least go through the gesture of doing so for one to two minutes: even this will benefit him.
Let no one spoil a new day with old complaints. Here, at its beginning, is everyone's chance to discard negative thoughts, to beautify the mind with remembrance of the divine Beauty.
A principal reason for setting apart the pre-breakfast hour is that then thoughts are fewer and their movement more sluggish than at any other time of the day. Why wait until they are abundant, stronger, and faster? It will then be harder to overcome them.
As the night shrinks and the day grows apace, as dawn makes its colourful appearance, the man who takes time out of his sleep to meditate, profits much.
Dawn, which may bring sadness fear or disillusionment to ignorant vicious or erring men, may bring refreshment hope or illumination to practising mystics who use this opportunity to look up reverently toward their divine source.
What happens during this early morning period will determine the character of the coming day. It will influence his deeds, reactions, and contacts.
To make the set time early in the morning will be to follow a wise tradition which has come down to us since thousands of years ago.
The first conscious moment of the morning has a special value to the seeker. If he gives it over to thinking of the Overself he can do no better.
Tibetans pick the early morning even though it is colder, because then, they say, the mind is fresh and the rising sun auspicious. They are averse to the afternoon for then the mind is clouded by its warmth and the sun's descent is astrologically a bad omen.
It is important to spiritualize the first moments of awakening, for then the entire being of a man is open to the higher impressions.
Those who can do so should profit by that short but valuable interval between dawn and the general awakening to activity in their surroundings. It is a fresher, more vital period, yet its strange calmness makes it suitable for meditation.
If it is necessary to rise earlier each morning to find the time for this exercise, the sacrifice will turn, by perseverance, into a satisfaction.
All hours are fitting for meditation for always the circumference surrounds the center. But some hours make the approach easier, the entry quicker. One is when the evening bids farewell to the day.
There are traditionally certain hours of the day which are the most profitable for meditation practices. They are daybreak, sunset, midnight, and the time when one was born.
There are certain points of time which are particularly auspicious for meditation. They are the beginning of day, the beginning of night, the beginning of each week, the beginning of each month, and the beginning of each year.
Twice a year, the time of the equinox affords the aspirant a chance to benefit by Nature's own movements. The spring and autumn equinoxes bring her forces to a dead-centre, a neutral point, which affects the mental, emotional, and physical being of man as well as the planetary environment outside him. At every point on this earth, the length of the day is semi-annually equal to the length of the night about March 21 and September 21. The aspirant likewise can temporarily gain a balanced stability of the mind if he will use as much of these dates for the practice of meditation as he can snatch from his timetable.
He may set his own times for these sessions, but since the earliest records of Oriental teaching on this matter, dawn, noon, sunset, and midnight have been recommended as particularly auspicious.
The meditation period must not only be fixed by regularity but also granted by spontaneity.
Since meditation forms an essential part of the Quest's practices, a part of the day must be given up to it. It need not be a large part; it can be quite a small part. The attitude with which we approach it should not be one of irksome necessity but of loving eagerness. We may have to try different periods of the day so as to find the one that will best suit us and our circumstances. This, however, is only for beginners and intermediates, for one day we shall find that any time is good enough for meditation time just as every day is Sunday to the true Christian.
There is no better hour of time than that taken in the falling light for the enchanted pause of meditation.
That beautiful interlude between day and night which hushes the busy scene and turns the fatigued consciousness toward repose, is good for meditation.
There are not only special periods like sunset, awakening from sleep, and going to sleep, but even special moments at no predictable time of the day when he may be more susceptible to the inward pull of meditation.
Although it is often better to wait for the right mood before sitting down to meditation, experience shows that this is sometimes not so.
It is true that the mind can work at meditation better in the day's freshness and alertness. But it is not less true that when most people are asleep it can work in depth and hence in a different way. Quietude is then reigning in the outside world, obstructions fall off easier in the inner world.
Choose a period when all worries can be laid aside, all past and coming activities put outside consciousness, when you will try to "Be still and know that I am God."
He may practise a little meditation at odd times through the day whenever his attention is not demanded by other things.
He is not likely to wish to meditate nor to do so successfully if he feels too fatigued, bored, or worried. It is better therefore at such times to miss the exercise altogether; but compensate by putting in an extra period as soon as possible.
Some people feel too sleepy to practise meditation when retiring at night and would merely waste their time if they engaged in it. Yet others find that this is the best time for their efforts, that the coming to an end of the day's outward activities enables them to give themselves up unreservedly to this inward one. When a meditation period seems to be a failure, it is sometimes worthwhile to experiment with a change in bodily posture--for instance from squatting to kneeling or reclining--and note if improvement results.
Housewives who can find no other free time for meditation than that which comes after their husbands have left for work and children for school, may ignore the advice about the most favourable hours of the day, and should train the mind to make the best of, and live with, this situation.
It is not necessary to get up at dawn for this practice if the hour is inconvenient. What is necessary is that any hour will be the right hour if approached in the proper frame of mind.
Let him choose a time when there is least street noise in the case of the city dweller, or when there is least likelihood of interruption, in the case of the rural dweller.
When he feels the first signs of a mood favourable to meditation, he ought not to let the chance go. It ought to be sufficient excuse for putting aside either his laziness or his other activity.
The brain tends to rest from sunset to midnight, if not artificially stimulated or deliberately provoked. This is Nature's hint to us that its own quietening down provides the best time for the practice of meditation.
Although the inner conditions needed for meditation are best had on an empty stomach, the outer conditions may not always make this possible. One may be unable to be alone except when allowed to lie down and rest after a meal. In that case, the rest period may be turned into the meditation period. The mind will have to be trained to the practice while the body is recumbent, and the rule concerning an erect spine will have to be ignored. Good results can still be secured, although not so good as they otherwise could have been.
The quiet of dawn and the hush of eventide are the two best times of day for all yoga practice. When Nature becomes still, it is easier for man--who is only a part of Nature after all--to become still.
Not only acts of religious devotion or mystical contemplation, but acts of ordinary work cannot be done so well immediately after a meal. This is one reason why meditation exercises are to be performed before eating.
If he should wake up during the night suddenly, with thoughts reverting to spiritual things, it is a good time to meditate upon them. It is not necessary to get up and dress, nor even to assume a sitting posture. He may even feel a kind of internal shock which precipitates him out of sleep into wakefulness in the middle of the night, after which he will find it difficult to fall asleep again. This, too, is a signal to start meditation immediately.
To keep a time and place for this secret retreat into meditation practice is to keep available a secure refuge.
Even if the exercise is missed under pressures, the remembrance is enough. And some uplifting contacts are equivalent to meditation.
If they come to this practice with a certain amount of fatigue after a day's work, its soothing restfulness may act as a counterweight to that fatigue and remove it. But if they come worn out completely, then it is better to postpone the exercise.
At night when the busy world quietens, thought can come to a central point more easily and pierce its way through riddles.
It takes so little part of our time to meditate daily that we ought to be ashamed of searching for excuses or surrendering to pressures.
If he cannot fit this period into the early morning or late night, let him fit it into any time of the day that is convenient to him. But if, in the pressure and busy-ness of modern city living, he cannot even do that, then he can adopt the two practices of, first, beginning and closing the day with short prayers and, second, repeating a declaration semi-mechanically during the day's activities.
The act with which you start the day and that with which you finish it are particularly important. They can become, if you wish, the means of promoting spiritual progress.
The soft beauty of twilight is companion to its beneficence. What a fitting time it provides for the irradiating practice and transforming ritual of meditation.
This was the amazing paradox of those meditational evenings, that as the outward light grew less and less, the inward light grew more and more.
Places for meditation
If finding the time is the first need, finding the place is the second one. It should be where nobody will disturb him and, if he is exceptionally sensitive, where nobody will even observe him. It should be where the least noise and the most silence reigns. If he can use the same time and place regularly, so much the better.
We need new thinking about old mysticism. It must begin to look around at the world in which it is living and meditating and particularly to become aware of the problems which so greatly retard its own practice of intense introspection. The physical conditions of everyone's life enter today into the background of all his thinking as never before and affect even more his attempts at mystical non-thinking.
It is good to practise meditation in a place where the sun's play of light and colour joins Nature's grant of friendly trees and protective shade.
If some students find that artistic surroundings or a religious atmosphere help them to get started with meditation practice, others find that these things are distractions and that a completely neutral background is indispensable.
While practising meditation, he should take every safeguard against possible interruptions whether they be the hearing of noisy sounds or the intrusion of human beings. It is possible to continue with this practice despite them, of course, and he will have to train himself to learn how to do this when necessary; but it is foolish to let himself be exposed to them when the conditions are under his control. Every break in his attention caused by outside factors which could have been shut out is an unnecessary one.
It is better to choose a place for meditation where there will be the least changes of temperature, the least disturbances by loud noises, the most shelter from high winds, and the most freedom from interruptions by other persons. The desired result will be achieved here when he can completely forget his surroundings, as he should forget his body during the meditation.
A house which has no little room set aside as a shrine, or an apartment which has no alcove or niche fitted up as one, is not serving the higher needs of those who live in it. For here they should see daily a simple reminder of the Overself: a figure, picture, photo, or lamp suggesting life's goal and recollecting them to prayer or meditation upon it.
The worst obstructions to this exercise are noise and discomfort.
A household atmosphere of neurotic scenes and mutual recriminations is not suitable for meditation practice. A church is better.
For meditation or worship it is a fitting posture to face the east where the sun rises, the west where it sets, or the south where it is strongest. But the north is less desirable, not only because it is sunless but because it is the direction whence come the powers active in the body during sleep.
They ask me, "Will it require a special journey to India and a stay there of several months or some years to find the Overself, or at least to get a glimpse of it?" I can only answer that the journey required is into a quiet room and a period of solitude each day, that these are to be put to use in meditation, and that this with the practice of constant remembrance and the unremitting discipline of character, will suffice.
If he is to become a good yogi, he must learn to do his daily meditation as easily in a flat in Chelsea as in a hut in the Himalayas.
Meditation sessions find a better environment if violet or heliotrope coloured lamps are used, or if oil is perfumed with cloves or cinnamon and warmed, or if a pure grade of incense is burnt. But this is more a suggestion for beginners.
It is good for anyone to keep one little corner of his house or his room for recollection. It may be furnished and decorated appropriately to this purpose. It becomes a reminder of what he really is and what he ought to do.
When we find a place where mechanical noises and natural sounds are impertinences, where human intrusions are insults and loud human voices are indecencies, we find a place which may--if other factors concur--be suitable for meditation.
The original idea of a mosque was a simple bare place where there were no things to distract attention and no sounds to disturb it, where the decorations were plain enough to suggest no idea at all. This is the kind of place which helps some temperaments to get on without hindrance with the work of meditation. But there are others--with imaginative artistic or poetic temperaments--who need quite the opposite kind of place to stimulate or inspire them.
Those who practise at dusk or at night usually need a little light. The candle or the kerosene lantern which, until recently, was used in the Orient for this purpose is not favoured in our electrified world of the Occident. Shaded electric lamps are used by most practitioners working alone, or a door communicating with an illumined corridor or room is left slightly ajar. The others--members of groups, societies, and so on--are generally taught to employ small-sized electric globes of blue or red glass. I find them slightly disturbing--these colours are more suited to psychic development--and prefer darkness. But invention has provided a perfect answer to the problem. It is a night-light for a child's bedroom. Small, almost unbreakable, made of plastic, it fits into electrical wall sockets or skirting-board outlets. It gives an extraordinarily mild, pleasant, mysterious, and phosphorescent pastel-green light which is too low in intensity to disturb anyone. This handy appliance is made by a number of large international firms, so it may be presumed that meditators around the world who want one will find their way to it.
It is hard yet not impossible to practise meditation in the large cities of today. They are filled with the disturbing uproar of mechanized traffic and the agitated haste of semi-mechanized crowds with pressures and tensions. The nervous fatigue and restlessness which such conditions create tend to limit effective meditation to determined, persevering characters.
The mystical aspirant has always been enjoined since earliest times to seek an environment for the practice of his exercises amidst the solitudes and beauties of Nature, where nothing disturbs and everything inspires.
The aura which permeates such a place is something one can feel and something friendly to the soul's growth through meditation.
For the practice of meditation a cave has several advantages over a dwelling-house, but a man cannot meditate all day. For the rest of the day, a dwelling-house has several advantages over a cave.
His little shrine should be kept private and sometimes it may have to be kept secret.
Sensitive persons, ascetic persons, refined persons, and monastically secluded persons may find it helpful to put on special garments for the period of meditation. Those garments, being reserved for such a practice only, become permeated in time with a mental deposit or aura, an influence suggestive of meditation and conducive to its practice. These garments should be kept apart from others and put in a separate drawer, or a separate box, or a silk bag.
The lively waters of a mountain stream dash down over its stony bed through the ancient village nearby my modern apartment and soon reach Lake Leman. So I dwell between the city and the village, on the border which divides them by several centuries. There is plenty of suggestive material in the contrast for my thoughts. And when I walk to the little bakery for a fresh loaf, a bridge carries the street over a deep narrow gorge where the stream emerges with the musical sound of a waterfall. This reminds me of the inclusion of such a place in the traditional list of suitable surroundings for yoga practice.
To sit in semi-darkness with the only light coming from a well-shaded coloured lamp, surrounded by silence, and the room perhaps perfumed with incense, helps to create a condition suited to meditation.
The meditator not only needs to protect himself against other people's influences, but he needs to protect his environment also; he should choose a place undisturbed by noise, by machines, and by past mental deposits of a low nature.
Certain parts of a country are more favourable to contemplation than others. The rules laid down in the old yoga textbooks are that the place for meditation should be secluded, quiet, at a distance from city or village, and preferably in the forest, on a mountain, in a cave, or possibly by a running stream. The chief points to look for are the grandeur of landscape and the freedom from noise, disturbance, and intrusion.
The monks of Mount Athos were advised to seat themselves in a corner of their cell, when about to practise meditation privately, why? Clearly there is a protective value in this position, for two walls will partially enclose the meditator. He will then be in a partial cave. The advantages of such a place for retreat purposes have been described in my other books. A further curious counsel to the Mount Athos monks was to recline the chin on the breast so as to gaze at the navel.
To sit in the same spot, on the same chair, in the same room, and at the same hour every day is to gain the powerful help of regular habit.
Most devotees of the Mid and Far Eastern faiths turn eastwards when they worship. My instinct and practice is the contrary one, for I turn westwards to the sunken lingering sun.
Although only the proficient and protected can safely exercise in a completely dark room, and may even welcome it, the beginner, the novice, and the unprotected will be helped by drawing the shades down just enough to leave a dim light.
A place where agitations, quarrels, and passions have often marred the mental atmosphere is unsuited for meditation because they make it more difficult.
You do not need to enter a special building for this purpose, be it a church or an ashram, but you may do so if it helps you.
Fit up a private shrine corner in the home where meditation is practised or study is done, decorated with leafy plants or colourful flowers. Keep up this contact with Nature, if immured in a city apartment. But cut flowers should not be used as they are dead, bereft of a soul, and are mere empty forms. Use only living ones or potted plants or climbing, trailing ferns in pots.
Heavy curtains help to protect the meditation-chamber from disturbing sounds.
The expert may be luckier, but for most persons it is most likely that meditation can be practised with less difficulty in one place than in another. This is to say that they can go farther into its deep parts because the interferences are less.
If he can make his room sound-proof by cork-lining it, or by using some other material, so much the better.
Altitude and seclusion are favourable conditions for meditation.
It is advisable to lock the door against any possible interruption.
Incense not only helps to calm the atmosphere but also to purify the mind.
He does not have to go sit in a cave; any peaceful place is just as good as the Himalayas, probably better because many yogis contract chronic rheumatism among those snow-clad mountains. He can sit in his office instead. The truth is in his head, not on the mountains, nor in monasteries. Wherever he goes it will go with him.
The idea of having a sanctuary room is an excellent one and should be helpful. There is great power in having a regular place, time, habit, and manner of approach to God. Nevertheless at times excessive strain and work may render this difficult and even impossible. He then should simply do the best he can and should not worry about the matter. He will probably find that when he can take up his meditation or study again, after a period of enforced neglect, he will be able to do so with renewed zest and with greater inspiration.
If the air of a room is heavy with incense smoke, the meditator gets a little sleepy: this is useful for those who have difficulty drawing the mind inwards. But carried too far it may carry him into sleep!
The yogi in the Bhagavad Gita is instructed to spread on the earth where he is to meditate some grass covered with a deerskin. Gautama spread only grass under the tree where he found final enlightenment. He had opposed the slaughter of animals and did not want to encourage or benefit by the widespread practice.
The ancient manuals of yoga say that meditation is not to be attempted where the people around are wicked, when the body is tired or sick, or when the mind is unhappy and depressed. The reason for these prohibitions is simply that these undesirable conditions will render the practice of meditation much more difficult and hence much more likely to end in failure.
The metronomic rolling of railway carriage wheels along the tracks helps one person into the meditative state but hinders another.
When I enter the solitude of my room, whether it be in a resplendent city hotel or in a peasant's dirty hut, and close the door and sink into a chair or squat on the ground, letting off thoughts of the world without in order to penetrate the world within, I know that I am entering a holy state.
The semi-darkness, the shut door and shuttered windows help to cut off disturbances from without; the fixed topic and the positive attitude help to cut off distractions from within.
Do not expect to practise easily in a place where doors are frequently banged and voices raised to shout. Do not expect to move smoothly toward the inner stillness if you are startled again and again by other violent noises. Do not even expect that flight to an Indian ashram may solve your problem for if it removes some distractions it may replace them by new ones--such as mosquitoes zooming down to attack and steamy heat oppressing flesh or nerve relentlessly.
Dr. Surahman, an Indonesian herbalist guru-yogi, found privacy at home hard to get; so he meditated in a lidded coffin. This was a sign to his young wife and children that he was not to be disturbed.
The most advanced mystics in the Pope's circle used the subterranean crypt of the Vatican for prayer and meditation. It is the equivalent to the Indian yogi's use of a cave.
Since these sessions are to be constantly recurring, the place chosen for them should be quiet or, if that is not possible, anti-noise precautions--such as the use of ear-stoppers--should be taken.
Burn, if you wish, an agreeable incense to help remove stale or undesired auric magnetisms.
It is the desert's spaciousness and timelessness which make it so different from all other places and so attractive to those seeking a suitable environment to practise meditation. There is no hurry and no worry among its dwellers. Here is the place where people can most quickly shed superficial baggage and find the essentials of being. Among the Oriental mystics especially, it is regarded as expansive to the mind and therefore helpful to meditate gazing before an expanse of water or of desert. Alone in the immensity of a desert, the sensitive mind easily yet indescribably feels itself taken out of time, brought into the eternal Now. The stillness of desert life and the openness of the landscape contribute towards a gradual and natural stilling of the thoughts. Or perhaps it is because the procession of events is stilled here that the procession of thoughts about them is also stilled. Here the human intruder begins to comprehend, intuitively rather than intellectually, what eternal life means, what inner peace means. Here amid sunshine and silence, petty feelings, negative thoughts, animal desires begin to lose their hold and their vitality. The mystic and the ascetic have since the earliest times been associated with the desert. Its own austere face, its harsh, rocky, sparse, cactus-grown wastes, its rough, arid, comfortless, jumbled surface fit it well with the rigid ideals of these human types. Moses at Sinai, Jesus in Syria, Muhammed in Arabia, Saint Simeon in Egypt--all felt, knew, and tapped the desert's silent power for their own and for humanity's profit.
The philosophical student in semitropical or tropical climates who is unable to attend properly to his meditation because of interference by mosquitoes, may, without compunction, kill the disturbers or have them killed for him. He will not be doing wrong. If he had to kill human beings, the Nazis, during the war in defense of mankind's spiritual future, how much more may he kill mere mosquitoes in defense of his own spiritual endeavours? Those who follow a useless asceticism and those who pursue a merely emotional mysticism, may rebut this with their belief in non-violence but such counsel is not tendered to them. It is tendered to students of philosophy, that is, to lovers of wisdom.
Solitary vs. group meditation
The next point is whether he should practise alone or in a congregation. The answer depends on the stage of progress. Absolute beginners often find group meditation is helpful to them, but those who are somewhat proficient often find it a hindrance to them.
The student should try to be alone when he practises. The presence of other people may disturb him by the noise of their movements or their speech, even by the impact of their gaze upon him. For this gaze carries their magnetic aura and their thought-currents and, if preoccupied with him in a personal, emotional, or inquisitive way, will cause him to make more effort in overcoming the distractions to concentration than would otherwise have been necessary.
The notion that meditating in an assembly is easier or better or stronger than meditating alone, can only have been fostered by someone who has never experienced the deep penetration which Hindu yogis call "nirvikalpa samadhi."
Self-interested organizations may assert otherwise, but it is neither proper nor helpful to meditate with a group. There are risks of being disturbed by fidgety or noisy members of the group. Meditation is in the end a solitary process, an attempt to realize the relationship between a man and his Overself, not with other men. Group work is only allowable when there is no other opportunity to practise with a guru.
It is so essentially private a practice that it is better done alone than in a group, better followed in one's own room than in a crowded church.
Meditation is best done alone. Group work and team work--so helpful in other occupations--is a hindrance here. For its very purpose is to probe the "I." If a man seeks to get to know his own first person singular, being surrounded by an assembly of other men can only distract him from his purpose.
It is much easier to practise meditation in solitude than in a crowd. But the aspirant who would rise from the grade of neophyte to that of proficient must learn to find the inner silence amid the crowd.
Those who have to go to a group meeting for meditation or for inner support are in the very early stage of the quest. This is well so long as it helps them. But if they stay too long it will hinder them. A man may then find it better to stay at home and meditate there.
To sit with so many varied people is simply to disturb mentally or even disrupt the meditation of more sensitive or more advanced members. Why expose them to this risk?
It is better for some persons to meditate in individual isolation, but for others in like-minded groups. The advisability of one or the other method must depend upon the person's temperament, his spiritual status, and the presence or absence of an expert during the meditation.
In the privacy of his own room, he need not look around to observe the other sitters, that is, to fix his mind upon them, which is what often happens at group meetings. He can go straight to the business of centering himself.
Is there any value in community meditation? Is it better to sit in the silence with a group rather than by oneself? The value of each kind of meditation largely depends on the degree of evolution of the individuals concerned. For most beginners, a communal meditation is often encouraging and inspiring; but to advanced meditators it is often a hindrance and an obstacle. They can practise better in solitude than in society; group meditation only hinders them. If they join an assembly or society, it will not be to better their own meditations but to better the meditations of others, that is, to render service.
In the end, and after he has long tried group or community work, he will find that meditation is easier, more quickly arrived at, with no other companion than Nature or Art--that is, alone. There is of course the obvious exception to this truth: if the companion is himself a competent meditator, or better still but rarer, an enlightened person. But personal weakness, circumstances, usually make solitary work seem undesirable.
It is better for the beginner perhaps to work with others in a group if he wants to learn meditation, provided the group has members or leaders more advanced than himself. But for the person who has made sufficient progress, this presence of a community around him only brings distractions. He ought not to divide his attention between his theme and these presences; his mind should be free, as his surroundings should be, from every possible sort of distraction.
Whether in a monastery, a church, or an ashram, I never cared for group prayer or group meditation. It seemed that the people were too conscious of one another when they ought to have been conscious of what was going on in themselves.
Here he is to enter into real as well as apparent solitude. So he must cast out all thoughts which connect him with or recall the presence of other people.
If he is to remember the Overself with all his undivided attention, he must forget everything and everyone else without exception.
I cannot recommend group meditations. The presence of so many other persons interferes with his own concentration. This is not only because they introduce unnecessary noises of movement and coughing and fidgeting but also because they introduce psychic distractions through the impact of their auras.
Too much of a group's time is taken up with making itself absorbed, for the thoughts of individual members are too much taken up with the presence and appearance of the others.
It is an affair between the Overself and himself, which is to be conducted unperceived by others around him, unknown to them, and unadvertised to the larger world.
In these sacred minutes, one must have solitude. Human presences, voices, and glances--unless they are of a quality far superior to one's own--become disturbing and discomforting.
The reasons why solitude is to be sought for the time of this practice are several. Here are two. First, he can give greater attention to it than when the presence of others draws thoughts to them. Second, there is a psychic aura which pervades the body and spreads outside it. If he is near enough to come in contact with it, he may be afflicted as by a contagion. Alien thoughts will then intrude upon his mind and hinder the meditation.
Meditation may be done individually at home or in groups at their meetings. A beginner may benefit by their joint work only if a competent leader is there, and to a lesser extent, if some among the other members present are more advanced than he. Against this, he may be disturbed by the restlessness, the fidgetiness of others. A developed meditator will prefer to sit alone and avoid a group. The impingement of auras is a nuisance.
Another factor which may disturb the serenity or interfere with the success of his meditations is the sceptical, inimical, or over-personal thought originating in someone else's mind. It may be a friend or it may be an enemy who is thinking about the seeker; but if his thoughts are of such a character and are strong enough to do so, they will penetrate his aura and affect his meditations. The result will be either inability to concentrate at all or much difficulty in elevating a concentrated mind to a higher theme. For this reason, there is a traditional custom among adepts of warning the pupil to keep his inner progress quite secret and to maintain silence about his mystical experiences.
It is better that what passes in those meditative periods remains a secret between him and his higher self. They are sacred, anyhow. What is coming to birth in them is so delicate, so subtle, so tender, and so sensitive that other people's intruding thoughts may deal roughly with it and hurt it.
The Tibetan monk is generally told not to talk privately about any occult power he develops or display it publicly: that would cater to his vanity and bring on the punishment of a shortening of his life span.
This is a part of his life which must be kept inviolate, closed-off to all others, to friends, enemies, neighbours, and especially to the world's curiosity. For here he enters mystery, the mystery of his own being.
This is one place which he must shut and bolt against the world, one activity which is entirely his own affair, his own secret, from which human inquisitiveness and human intrusiveness must be kept out for it does not concern them.
He is here on sacred soil: to tell anyone of these intimate experiences is to vulgarize them and, worse, to impede his further reception of them.
He should forbid himself the satisfaction of communicating his occult experiences to others, especially when their effect is self-glorification.
Whatever inner experiences you have, it is generally best to keep them to yourself. Otherwise they become new sources of vanity, and strengthen the egotistic wish to be looked up to with admiration.
It is true that yoga and meditation are best learned from a personal teacher rather than from written descriptions. This is partly because a process of osmosis and telepathy develops at a certain stage. But since a competent and genuine teacher is hard to come by for most people, the written description must suffice and can be a great help.
The rarity of competent living guides in this strange territory of contemplation was noted and deplored by the Russian writer on asceticism, Ignatii Brianchaninov, more than a century ago. He advised seekers to turn to the books left behind by such guides as the only resort, despite the risks of self-delusion, which he acknowledged. He stated that books for beginners, giving detailed instructions and definite exercises, were even specially written by a few of the remaining mystics to counterbalance the scarcity.
It would be advantageous for him to sit in meditation for a few times with anyone who has succeeded in disciplining the mind in concentration and meditation. There is a telepathic interaction at such periods which does help one to progress in thought-control.
On Meditation by Bhikshu Wai-Tao: "The advancements will be more varied to each individual, and should be permitted to develop and manifest themselves spontaneously, but it is wise, if possible, to talk the developments over with some qualified Dhyana Master, to see if they are in the true path and to gain his confirmation and encouragement."
Students do not understand the role played by the teacher in group meditation. In order to reproduce in them the condition of yoga-withdrawnness, he has first to produce the deeper condition of trance within himself. If therefore he does this and appears to fall asleep--whether it be faint, moderate, or deep--they must understand that he has done it for their benefit. Although he may show all the outward signs of sleep, they will be much mistaken if they take it for ordinary sleep.
Just as one who is being taught cycling must not be supported too long by another person but must eventually be left to himself more and more or he will never succeed, so the aspirant who is learning meditation must not depend too long on any guru or he too will never succeed in the practice.
He is an expert in meditation who is able to practise it at any time and for any period.
You may rightly consider that you have mastered meditation when it becomes easy and natural.
Postures for meditation
What is the best bodily position to assume for the practice of meditation? The answer depends on the particular kind of exercise to be done, on its objective, on the previous experience, or lack of it, of the meditator himself; but most of all it depends on what he finds easiest and comfortable. But once started, he should try to sit perfectly still and not to move his seat or fidget his hands. It is better to sit upright than to slouch or to recline.
The middle-aged especially need to use this precaution for they have a tendency to be stooped or roundshouldered in a slight or large measure. Let them straighten up the neck, drawing in the throat and chin, and feel the head pulled-up.
The variety of meditation postures is more numerous than one would think possible. I have seen holy men who covered their faces (including eyes) with their hands while meditating, others who bent over forward, still others who leaned backwards. There is also some variety in facial expression, although examples are less often found. Some smile, others look grave. Some sit on gilded lotus thrones, but others on cemetery stones.
It is of the highest importance to anyone who wants to learn meditation to first learn how to sit still, to keep the body in one place and, if possible, in one attitude for lengthening periods of time with each day's--or perhaps each week's--practice. This is the beginning as it is also the end. For as he learns to keep the body quiet, Nature begins to ease his thought into the quietness too until at length one day there is a perfect harmony of mental and physical quiet. Then Nature can speak to him and tell him the great truth about herself and about himself.
The posture to be taken in meditation is partly a matter of individual preference, partly dependent on the kind of exercise he intends to do. Power, peace, truth, and so on--each of these goals is different and requires a different posture.
Although the lying-down posture cannot be ruled out for some people, the sitting posture is usually best for meditation and is found most convenient by most people. It may be adopted in either its Occidental or Oriental forms. The first entails the use of a chair or couch seat. The second does not, but requires squatting with folded legs. In the first case, take care to have the small hollow of the lower back supported and made comfortable, and to let the forearms rest quite lightly upon the thighs or knees.
It is not necessary to squat with crossed legs on the ground in any formal yoga posture in order to practise these meditation exercises. It will be enough to sit upright in an ordinary chair. If, in this position, meditation is still found difficult, the student may try experimentally to recline in a deep or long chair. What is essential is that he shall be comfortable enough to forget his body and remember meditation alone. If he seeks to meditate for long periods at a time, attention to this rule becomes very important.
It is not at all necessary to assume unbearable physical positions and torment oneself trying to maintain them. The less attention one need give to the presence of one's own body the better will be the conditions for successful practice. What is really necessary is to obey one simple rule: keep the body still, refuse to move it about or to fidget any limb. This physical quiet is both the prelude to and preparation for mental quiet. Any position in which one feels able to settle down comfortably and sit immobile is a good position.
The question of what meditative posture to adopt is important only in the case of those exercises whose objective is the awakening of Spirit-Energy, and unimportant in the case of most others.
The higher objective of meditation is to transcend the personal self, which must include of necessity the power to forget it. This cannot be accomplished so long as the physical house of that self--the body--keeps on forcing itself into the area of attention by reason of its own acute discomfort.
A favoured posture used by Sufi mystics for meditation practice imitates one of the positions of the human embryo when curled up in its mother's womb. The meditator sits on the floor, with knees drawn up and chin held just above the knees, and hands covering the eyes.
Let the chin fall upon the breast if it is inclined to do so.
The Indian yogi sits with his legs gathered inwards, the Japanese Zen monk sits with his legs gathered under him, but the philosopher sits as comfortably as he can.
The position in which he can continue to remain most comfortable for the longest time is the one most suitable for practising meditation.
Posture: Assume the half-Buddha posture only: that is the safest. The full Buddha posture should only be practised by those who have renounced the world; it is particularly bad for married men as it may block the nervous system communicating with the sexual organs and sometimes cause impotence.
Whether with taut erect spine the meditation brings out his inner strength and determination, or with forward bent torso and chin to chest it shows the element of humility in him, it renders equal service in his development at different times.
Before anyone can make anything out of meditation practice, he must prepare himself for it. The first thing to prepare is his body. He must discipline his movements and especially discard fidgeting his fingers, hands, legs, and feet. Such unnecessary motions betray the existence of nervous tensions and the inability to relax. They imprison him in his ego. They effectually prevent him from sitting still, and the mind from becoming still.
Physical stillness is a necessary part of the technique. The first period may have to be kept for this purpose alone--the time passes so slowly and seems so dull and troublesome that a strong desire to rise and resume ordinary activities overwhelms him. Constant practice, relentlessly and regularly kept up daily, is the cure for this condition.
Those who have difficulty in squatting for meditation may find the Japanese style easier. They then put a bolster (long and round, such as is used to support pillows) beneath the crotch and under the buttocks. Legs are bent inward at the knees.
If bliss is to come into the mind, discomfort ought to go out of the body.
If the body is uncomfortable at any point, it will draw attention to that point.
The object of adopting a completely immobile posture in yoga is to prevent any attention and energy from being lost by muscular movements, so that the concentration is as full as possible.
Not only the Indian Jains practise their meditation while standing up. The mystical Hebrew sect called Hassidim contained various groups who followed different ways of physical posture during their meditation or prayer. One group would stand quite still. Among them was a group headed by Dov Baer, the most famous of all the disciples of the founder of this eighteenth-century movement. He was quite used to standing unmoved for a period of two hours or even more during his deep contemplations.
Religiously disposed persons who have been accustomed to assume particular postures during their prayers or at some points during their prayers need not abandon them when they take to philosophy if they do not wish to do so. A special series of physical positions is available for their use either for prayer or for meditation according to their inclination. The illustrations in my essay "The Seven Sacred Physical Postures and Mental Attitudes of Philosophical Worship" show what these are [see Chapter 9, paragraph 2 in Part 2 of this volume, Category 5--"The Body"--Ed.]. In addition, the postures normally used in Near and Far Eastern religions may be added, such as bowing the head and the body or covering the face with the hands, prostrating on the floor at full length, bending the knees or putting the face and head between the knees. The purpose of some of these, like prostration, is to express, through the channel of the physical body, humility in the presence of the Higher Power and turning aside from the ego in the remembrance of that which transcends it.
The posture for orthodox yoga, squatting, is to hold both head and spine upright, to keep the gaze lowered, and to place the left hand on the right hand. For my own practice, I modify the above slightly by drawing the chin well in so that head and neck, although still held straight, incline forward a little, dervish-style. I do not trouble to double-cross the legs in lotus-seat, nor even single-cross in half lotus, but put right foot on gap below left knee joint.
The reason why a lying-down position is to be avoided is that it tends to sleep.
In the Lotus Posture, the hands are placed in the lap, one on top of the other. There is both a symbolical and practical meaning in this posture. The hands folded in the lap stand for complete rest from all earthly labors and worldly activities. By stilling the mind and body, the man withdraws from the Not-Self into his meditational quest of the True Self.
It may seem curious that the physical preparation for a mental process like meditation should involve the feet, as is evidenced, for example, in statues of the Buddha sitting with loosed ankles. This is because there are nerve centres and endings in the soles which when pressed or when the blood flow is inhibited, have a reflex action on their opposite number--the head.
The shoulders come in first for attention, because any tenseness of feeling is reflected in them. Loosen the shoulder muscles and then shake the nape of the neck a few times to free it from strains.
Nor should the physical preparation neglect the hands. Free them too from tensions, the fingers from being taut. Let them rest lightly on the knees or, one palm inside the other, on the lap. Relax the hands--and it will be easier to relax the thoughts.
Perhaps the only part of the body which is not to be allowed to fall into this relaxed state is its back.
The simplest position for a Western-born student is to sit in a straight-backed chair, to place the hands on the knees with palms down resting on them, to hold the chin in and head up. The place where he practises should be one where he can be alone, see no people, and hear no voices.
In all relaxation and meditation exercises which involve sitting in a chair, both feet should rest flat on the floor.
These physical details are important so that he may make himself sufficiently comfortable to forget his body.
Although the practice of sitting still is the commonest physical position, it is not the only one. There are other ways of reaching the higher level of consciousness. A swaying of the body, to-and-fro or round and round, is another. A sacred, silent, rhythmic dance is still another.
Any posture which is painful to the body, or which soon tires it, should be tried for a limited period only before being abandoned. If it continues to be uncomfortable, then it ought to be discarded.
It is quite possible to sit for meditation without adopting any conspicuous posture, without chanting peculiar exotic words or otherwise making public announcement of the fact.
He should not engage in muscular contractions of the forehead and muscular stiffening of the eyebrows. This frowning is the wrong way to concentrate attention. It is also an exhausting way.
There is an interaction between the body and the mind. The practice of physical immobility, done deliberately and regularly with high intent, sitting like a sculptured figure for a while, helps to bring mental immobility.
Whatever posture he adopts and whether he sits in the ordinary way or squats in some special way, once adopted it should be held with rigid stillness. It will then serve a threefold purpose. First, by refraining from any kind of movement he will refrain from expressing impatience--a quality which simply defeats meditation. Second, the body's quietness helps to induce the same condition in the mind. Third, such outer physical rigidity is a perfect symbol of the inner ego's death, the cessation of the ego's will.
If you prefer sitting in a chair, I recommend using one whose seat is lower than the average.
The squatting position can be made easier, for those unaccustomed to it, by keeping the legs one in front of the other, instead of pressing one down on top of the other.
That is a suitable posture wherein one can sit perfectly still and wherein the body can send no messages to the mind, be they of pleasure or of irritation.
Consciousness continues to receive impulses from the muscles even when a sleeper lies on a bed in a dark quiet room. This may help to explain why successful accomplishment in meditation requires the body's muscles to be well relaxed or even motionless.
Saint John of the Cross varied his customary sitting posture by lying on the ground under an olive tree in a garden, stretched out in the shape of a cross.
Few have noticed that part of the spiritual effects felt just after waking from sleep is due to the fixed and sustained bodily posture it involves. For the physical rule for meditation--being still--is faithfully followed through the night.
There were sound reasons why the Buddha included fidgeting of the body along with agitation of the mind in the list of hindrances to the would-be meditator which he formulated as a warning. There is a direct line of connection between the two. Those who would heed this warning need to remember that this bad and ugly habit must be avoided in everyday life if it is not to intrude into meditation practice.
A seat too hard, too high, or too low may produce enough discomfort to interfere with, or obstruct altogether, the effort to meditate. Elderly persons may get a tormenting ache in the small of the back from a hard seat; long-legged ones may feel awkward in a low one.
He should find a posture of the body which is not only comfortable and convenient but which he can maintain steadily for several minutes, or even, when well enough advanced and expert, for a half-hour or hour.
Sit like an Egyptian statue, hands reposing on knees, the whole body kept in concentrated power.
Keep head, torso, and hips faithful to the central line of straight upright spine.
Various postures have been prescribed for meditative work but the commonest is the sitting one. The others are usually related to some special temperament or need, and may call for stretching of arms or legs combined with breath controls.
For those who cannot enter into the cross-legged posture of meditation, it is enough if they put only one leg in the squatting position with its foot against the belly and let the other leg remain stretched forward.
One suitable posture for meditation is to let the arms rest upon the knees with palms open and upward, the back straight and neck and head in line with it.
Whatever the body's posture, I can and must learn to surrender to the Overself in that posture. Surrender must not be confined to sitting straight up alone like the yogis.
The proper physical pose for one who wishes to learn from a master or his Overself is with hands folded, legs crossed, say the ancient Orientals. The proper mental pose is to hold the consciousness like an empty glass and wait for an inpouring of the spirit.
Philosophical prayer and philosophical meditation are assisted by adopting certain bodily postures which have been tested since antiquity by the religious experience of humanity. This arises from the fact that there is an interaction between body and mind since both arise from the same source.
Those who find the squatting posture too difficult and too painful should not abandon it too soon. Let them try long enough to overcome its unfamiliarity at least before deciding against it.
A little attention to physical details will be repaid by a lot of reward. If there are persistent, strident street noises or loud-speaking neighbours or radios to disturb him, the windows should be shut. If there is more than a grey soft dim light, the blinds or shutters should be half-drawn or half-closed. He is free to choose the position of the body as he likes, whether in a chair, on a couch, or on the floor; whether ordinary sitting or cross-legged squatting. Once his body is comfortably settled down he is free for the next step: to take his mind off his personal activities and put it on his spiritual aspirations.
"Keep your chin in and head up!"
The head, the neck line, and the shoulders should first be pushed up and then kept straight and still.
To sit with less discomfort Japanese-fashion on the back of the heels, put a cushion over them and another under the toes.
The physical condition is important because of its effect on the mind; the mental condition is important because of its effect on the body.
Out in the Egyptian desert near Luxor where I went with an Egyptian friend of mine who was a Sufi, we sat down one evening to meditate. I saw him assume a form, a posture, which I had not seen among the Indians and which he later told me was used by his particular Sufi order. He sat with his knees high up, his chin and face resting between his knees, and his forehead down so low that his face was quite covered.
A Jain yoga meditation standing posture is shown by Colossus at Shravana Belgola, Mysore. The figure stands erect, toes slightly turned out, feet three inches apart, arms hanging down at sides, and the palms of hands touching the side of thighs.
There are some persons whose past lives predispose them to sit cross-legged. This is the posture indicated for their practice. But others are hindered by it and should use a chair.
In the crouched-together, knees-up position of the original Sufi mystics and the chin-locked, leg-tucked figure of the original yogi meditators, there is obedience to and harmony with Nature's instinctive dictate. For Nature so arranges the body of an unborn child inside the mother's own body.
A fidgeting body is one of the first obstructions to many who want to practise meditation. They cannot make progress until they learn to sit still. A stable body is necessary to sustain the stability of a meditation.
There must be outward quiet not only in his physical surroundings but also in his physical body. Hands, fingers, and feet must share this stillness.
You may seek to commune with the Overself in any posture that suits you--squatting like a Hindu, kneeling like a Christian, sitting, or standing.
The Eastern Orthodox Christian mystics of Russia recommend sitting on a low stool for practice of their mantra, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
The yogi who squats with crossed limbs, and the Zennist who sits with legs tucked under him, use physical forms to suit the particular doctrine they are following.
A good meditation hand-pose (mudra) is to place right palm in front of left hand, both resting in the lap. Do not interlace the fingers.
The shoulders ought to be kept in a straight line with one another, so that they will neither be pushed forward or pulled backward.
He must not budge from the body's settled posture and the mind's fixed focus. His attention must not deviate from its predetermined course.
His body follows his mind, his mind follows its body, both being rigid, the one on its seat, the other in its concentration. But all this is only a preparation for the further and higher work.
Other physical considerations
Failure to advance in meditation may also be due to physical causes. Where the meditator sits down with his body filled with toxic products, his intestines clogged with an ill-digested mess of fermenting foods, and his energies sapped by the toils consequent on over-eating, the dulling of the mind, its inability to concentrate, is not a surprise. A change of diet and limitation of quantity are indicated.
You have not entered the stillness if the muscles, nerves, and sinews are taut or tense. Stress the importance of relaxing the body first, then thoughts and feelings. Examine the limbs, arms, legs, and hands to find out if they are tensed, taut, clutching, or gripping. Let it all flop down loosely. Do all this before meditation.
To prepare himself for meditation, he should allow a couple of minutes to become collected, poised, and settled.
Because of inferior auric magnetism of other persons picked up during the day, the washing of hands and feet and face is prescribed in Islamic religion before prayer and recommended in philosophic mysticism before meditation.
He should not start immediately when exhausted or tense after a day's activities. Instead he ought to wait a few minutes to rest and relax first, preferably lying flat on his back or in a very comfortable easy chair.
There are four chief points in the body which may be used to hold the attention of the eyes if the latter are to be kept open or partly open during meditation. They are: first, the navel; second, the tip or the end of the nose; third, the space between the eyebrows, or the root of the nose; and fourth--which is rather a Chinese exercise--on the ground a little in front of the feet, which sights the eyes somewhere between the second and third exercise.
I have not given in the previous paragraph about the sighting points for the eyes during meditation a fifth exercise although it is also used among some of the raja yogis and hatha yogis. This is to squint the eyes, producing the well-known cross-eyed effect. I did not give it because it has risks attending it just as the holding of the breath and the alternation of the breath had risks attending them. The risk is to become permanently squint-eyed or cross-eyed if the exercise is overdone either for too long a time at each session or for too many sessions. All these sighting exercises are intended to help, first, the practice of concentration, and second, the further advance into self-absorption or withdrawal from the senses. "And the third purpose is to stop the flowing currents of thoughts." The safest exercise of the five is undoubtedly the Chinese one which I gave as number four. There are no risks attending to that one.
The method of breathing used to help quieten the thoughts and thus induce the meditative state is different from that used in the physical yoga practices, whose goal is also different. It should be gentle, although it can remain deep and long, but it should not be forcible, strong, or violent as the physical exercises are. As they say in China, a feather held before the nose should not be moved or swayed, so gentle is the in-and-out breathing.
What should he do with his eyes while he is meditating? The answer is that there is no fixed universal rule which will cover all stages from the most elementary to the most advanced in the practice. But there are two ways in which he can deal with this problem, both of which are effective for that purpose at the particular time or stage when they are to be used. The first is to let the eyes be open only a bit, about one-quarter open, so that he is looking closely downward and shutting out most, but not all, of his surroundings. The second way, is to let them be widely open, staring into the distance but not seeing it clearly.
For practising meditation with open eyes, the best place is one which gives a long view of landscapes or seascapes.
A full long deep breath practised until it becomes the normal way of breathing is not only beneficial for the vitality of the physical body, but also for the command of the inner being--the emotional and the mental being. Lao Tzu recommends us simply to sit quietly and to do nothing if we wish to come into harmony with the Tao. Sitting quietly in his view is to be not only physical, but emotional and mental also. It is not that this exercise creates anything new, but rather that it lets the tensions in us die down and prepares one of the necessary prerequisite conditions for a glimpse to happen. Another condition is coming to the exercise with the longing, the strong aspiration, to find the Overself. Otherwise any cat sitting by the fireside for hours would soon attain enlightenment. But the cat has no interest beyond its own physical welfare.
Youth, with its tremendous physical exuberance, is less attracted to, and less fitted for, the practice of meditation than age, with its slowed-down body.
It is better for many aspirants to begin their exercise with long, deep breaths. This helps them to (a) banish negative thoughts and (b) arouse the spirit-fire. Only after this initial phase should they try the shallow breathing recommended in The Secret Path.
During the period of practice, breathe as slowly as possible without feeling discomfort. This is done in order to come nearer to the possibility of holding the breath altogether, for in the arrest of its movement an arrest of the movement of thoughts automatically follows. The slowness is achieved by prolonging the time given to inhaling as well as the time given to exhaling. This must be done by degrees, gently not forcibly. It is really an attempt to imitate the slower breath rhythm observable in a sleeping man, for the layers of consciousness through which the meditator must pass are comparable to those which accompany the dreaming and dreamless states. Holding the breath means holding the inhaled breath--a physiological condition in which there are certain dangers to the lungs, the blood-vessels, and the brain. Consequently, a grave warning must always go out to those who risk health and sanity by carrying breathing exercises to this extreme extent.
The deepening of inhalation is a prelude, and then an accompaniment, to the deepening of meditation. It comes of itself, or can be deliberately done to help the inner work.
The breath-watching exercise is done with closed eyes. It begins with attentively noting the upward and downward movements of the abdomen as breath passes in and out of the body. The rate of this passing must not be quickened nor itself deepened specially for this exercise but should be the usual one. Otherwise fatigue will be induced and the meditation obstructed. Aim at making a perfectly clear mental picture of the regular rise and fall in abdomen and breathing. Continue with this patiently and unwaveringly throughout the time of exercising. It is important to become fully aware of what has happened each time the mind wanders from the objective set before it, and after that to pull the mind forcibly back to this objective. Once he is familiar with and practised in this method of achieving concentration, the aspirant will find it very easy and very simple to do.
The breathing exercises end up in holding the breath for short or long periods which in turn holds up brain activity. The stillness which follows is very pleasant, very unusual, and very satisfying. But it is not the same as the mystical stillness in which there is a definite experience of knowing the Overself.
It is a simple exercise to combine the work of watching the in-and-out breathing with quietening the mental activities or concentrating them. Yet it is also an effective exercise. And when it has been sufficiently practised, he may go farther and combine the watching with moral discipline or reflections.
Although closing the eyes is best for most beginners, it has the disadvantage of inducing sleepiness in some cases.
Quietness of breathing is also important during most of the meditation period.
Just as some persons get rid of the distraction coming from noisy sounds by using wax or cotton ear plugs, so others get rid of the distraction coming from visual sensations by using silk, cotton, or plastic eyeshades.
It is hardly necessary to point out that stronger drinks, like whisky and cocktails, are obstructive to meditation, and should not be taken during two or three hours preceding the practice: better if renounced altogether in favour of the milder wines or beers.
Whether looking straight to the front or drooping the head toward the knees, whether the eyelids remain wide apart and unflickering, in the end the purpose is to pass through the stage of concentration to that of withdrawal, absorption.
If he has before practised meditation only with open eyes, then he needs to learn how to do it with closed ones to complete the picture of his practice. When the two ways are united, he becomes a complete and finished meditator.
A Twofold Exercise: The inhaled breath is long and deep but not strained, while the exhaled breath is shorter. This allows some of the carbon dioxide to remain so that eventually a sleepy feeling is induced. The mind begins to retire into itself, the will slackens, the body relaxes. The other part of the exercise depends on whether you choose a chanted or whispered mantram or a pictured form, figure, scene, or diagram. The sound must be repeated constantly but slowly, the imagery must be held intensely.
It is a help to the beginner if all attention is gathered together and put upon the incoming and outgoing breaths. There are other devices used in other meditation methods. This is one of the simplest and safest.
It is better to practise meditation neither with eyes fully closed nor fully opened but to direct their gaze towards the floor or towards a spot on the floor which is neither too near nor too distant, but which seems most suitable to you.
Professor Radhakumud Mukerjee introduced me to a useful procedure which he had learnt from his teacher, who had also been the teacher of the celebrated Swami Yogananda. This was at the beginning of meditation practice to move the body a little from one side to the other until it gets into an easy comfortable posture.
A simple but effective meditation-form with which to start is going along with the breathing process: go in with it; then go out with it. But when doing this breath-watching and identifying exercise, the eyes should be fixed on the end of the nose.
Meditation must be faithfully done daily--with closed eyes at the beginning of each period but they may open of their own will later. If so, let them.
Visudhi Marga Sutra (a Pali text): "By extreme cold the mind is prevented from exercising continued thought."
When shutting eyes do so lightly, not tightly. Meditation with open eyes will bring onset when shut eyes will not, but vice versa also.
He is unlikely to be able to get settled in the first stage if his body is disturbed by stinging mosquitoes or uncomfortable seating, by freezing cold or sweltering heat. It is prudent to take the requisite preventive measures before sitting down to practice rather than to have to abandon the attempt after pursuing it in vain.
The eyes being the most active of the sense organs, the act of seeing tends to reproduce itself even when the physical world is being shut out in meditation. This is recognized by science in its noting of the "after-images" as a visual phenomenon. But even after the image vanishes, the tendency remains, and a half-conscious activity in the optic nerves continues. This is one of the causes which, combined, make for a feeling of tightness or tension in the head and which impede the relaxation so essential to the successful attainment of proper meditation.
Mystical customs in this matter are not the same in every land. The Persian Sufi closes his eyes during the time that he is sitting, but the Indian hatha yogi opens them.
In the early stages of meditation the body dominates his experience and it is ostrich-like to ignore this fact. No matter how he tries to do so, it will keep on stepping into his field of consciousness, and even taking control of it. Let him try to meditate, without proper precautions, while a thousand mosquitoes torment him or a low temperature freezes him!
Just as the Japanese and Burmese monks used tea to keep alert for their pre-dawn meditations, so the dervishes of Mecca used coffee to keep awake for their all-night prayers.
The Russian Staretz Silouan, who lived in Mount Athos, shut out sights and sounds by pulling his woolen cap over his ears and eyes.
Generally, in the early and middle stages of development, it is best to meditate with nearly-closed eyes but beginners do better with fully-closed ones.
As the mind closes upon the outer world, the eyes in sympathy may close on it too--or they may remain open and glaze over little by little. Or they may stare, far-seeing.
If the thoughts are not to wander then the eyes must also not do so.
It is not advisable to keep the eyes too widely open, for this will tire them.
Proper mental attitude
Meditation needs a loving commitment to it and a warm devotion to its object if success is to be achieved. Merely to practise it mechanically like a physical exercise is not enough.
In this period, when meditation will take the place of action, the remembrance of God should become paramount.
The Overself is drawing him ever inward to Itself, but the ego's earthly nature is drawing him back to all those things or activities which keep him outwardly busy. On the issue of this tension depends the result of his meditation. If he can bring such devotion to the Overself that out of it he can find enough strength to put aside everything else that he may be doing or thinking and give himself up for a while to dwelling solely in it, this is the same as denying himself and his activities. Once his little self gets out of the way, success in reaching the Overself is near.
Bring a real hunger of the heart to this work, come to it with a great love, feel that it can be productive of many benefits; then any difficulties in keeping to the program of regular meditation, or in sustaining the period itself once started on the day's exercise, will sooner or later go.
When the time for practice comes, he should feel interested, pleased, and eager to begin. If he feels nothing like this but merely that a routine duty is to be fulfilled, or a monotonous necessity is to be endured, the chances for success are reduced.
One important error made too often by beginners is to sit down to their exercise in the wrong frame of mind. They come to it demanding, wanting, or expecting a mystical experience, that is, a bestowal of Grace. They will get a better result if they reverse this attitude and replace it with a giving of themselves, a loving offering of their heart and a feeling of joy at being able to sit down with the thought of the Beloved without interference by any other activity. If they will only give before they try to get, they will have much less cause to complain of their failures in meditation.
If your meditations are barren and dry, one or more of several different reasons may be the cause, and consequently one or more of several different remedies may be needed. Among these, a useful but neglected remedy is to pray for, or meditate on, the inner welfare of others, either specific persons or humanity in general. In that case, do not confine yourself exclusively to those in your family dearest to you, for they are extensions of yourself, and your interest in them is egoistic. To help others in this secret way will bring others to your help in your own time of need.
Meditation that is not accompanied by a deep and warm feeling of reverence will take much longer to reach its goal, if it reaches it at all.
The belief that reality can be touched only in the trance state implies that its attainment is an intermittent condition and that a man would have to spend twenty-four hours every day to sustain it if he wished to remain perfectly enlightened. This is an error, a case of confusion between the end and only one of the means to this end. It is the love which he brings to the task which really matters. Prolonged trances, set meditations, and formal reflections are, after all, only instruments, whereas such love is the dynamic power that wields them.
The exercise must be approached reverently, and its central idea lovingly, if it is to yield its full fruit.
In time he will always enter this room or approach this hour with reverence.
Feeling may and indeed will always accompany his meditation but it should be delicate, sensitive, and quiet, not a violent, highly personal, or anxious emotion. For the latter disturbs the effort to reach contact with the higher self or distorts the resultant message and experience after it is reached.
It is a matter of transferring attention for this brief period from the ego and fixing it lovingly on the Overself. For while thought dwells in and on the ego alone, it is kept prisoner, held by the little self's limitations, confined in the narrow circle of personal affairs, interests, problems. The way out is this transfer of attention. But the change needs a motive power, a push. This comes from love and faith combined--love, aspiration, longing for Overself, and faith in its living ever-presence within.
If he is responsive to music, he may employ its help to stir spiritual feelings as a preparation for the actual period of meditation.
Come to the meditation seat as reverently and as gently as you would come into a noble and ancient cathedral.
It is advisable to preface the period of meditation with brief, reverent, devotional worship. This may be addressed to whatever interpretation of the Higher Power most appeals to the individual--his own Higher Self or a truly advanced Spiritual Guide or the Infinite Presence.
There is a practice which can bring the concentration into heart-consciousness. Cultivate a feeling of warm, devoted love for the Overself, along with an indrawing into the heart. Concentrate the attention there physically. Also, the breath should be held with an air of expectancy in the same way that you hold your breath during the moment before a famous lecturer, say, starts an important public speech, or, like a hen when she's trying to hatch an egg, giving it warmth and expectancy and concentration.
As attentiveness deepens, you will feel a drawing-in from all directions. When you get a feeling (which may come during meditation or at any time) that you are at the centre of a circle, this will indicate that you have touched the heart-consciousness. The exercise requires you to think less and feel more.
It helps markedly if you think of the heart as a cave. You as a conscious being have to enter this cave, pass through its entire length, until you gradually see a tiny gleam of light at its other end. This light grows stronger and stronger as you approach it. (But this can be actually done only after the mind and emotions have been sufficiently quieted, so the preliminary phase of concentrating must first be gone through.) Fasten all your attention unwaveringly upon this gleam until it expands and envelopes you in a great light. Think of it as the Overself seen and felt. A later exercise and stage is to feel it only, to banish seeing it altogether.
The wisdom of Jesus warned men not to let the sun come down on their wrath, for their prayers would be profitless, their God unhearing. For the same reason, do not approach meditation with hatred towards someone in your heart. If you cannot get over the sense of injury he has created, practise some relaxation exercises first, slow and deepen the breath-cycle, make it even and rhythmic. Stretch the body out flat on a couch and let it lie still for five minutes. Only after all these preliminaries have cooled your indignation may you begin to meditate.
Knowing that the Overself awaits him, the proficient meditator will come with eager anticipation to the place reserved solely for this purpose.
The practice of meditation is not to be a mere daily routine. It should be, and if properly sincerely persistently done, does become a joyous eagerly-looked-forward-to holy ritual.
A spirit of reverential worship should infuse meditation, if it is not to become a mere psychological exercise.
The more love he can bring into this practice, the more he is likely to succeed with it. If he cannot yet feel any love for the Overself, then let him bring joy into it, the joy of knowing that he is on the most worthwhile journey in life.
Love gives real force and renewed fire to meditation. Without it the struggle is much harder, and the successful result much slower to attain.
He should approach the meditation seat with gentle reverence, with subdued delight in the opportunity it gives him.
It is an act of self-discipline to make up for a period lost by practising at the earliest possible time after it. This bespeaks devotion and appreciation.
It is an obstacle to success in meditation if he times himself by a watch or a clock. This will create a subconscious pressure diverting his attention intermittently towards the outer world, towards his affairs and schedules in that world, towards the passage of time--all things he had better forget if he wants to remember the Overself and reach its consciousness.
Meditation is not only a lost art among the Occidentals: it is also a difficult art for all of us, Orientals included--so difficult that a man may strive through the years and think that he has gained nothing.
Until one has become adept in the art, invoking the presence of the Overself through sitting in meditation calls for considerable patience and the capacity not to stop through depression or irritation because good results are not immediately apparent. In this point, the art is likened by the ancients to sitting in the antechamber of a palace while waiting for an audience with a reigning monarch. A man may have to wait the monarch's pleasure for hours, perhaps, before he is able to see him. Or he may not. But if during the waiting period he rises in annoyance or despair or impatience and goes away, then he will certainly lose the chance of seeing the king, whereas by curbing these emotions and sticking to his aim, he may eventually succeed in it. Again, the practice of meditation is like the digging of a well. You keep on boring downwards into deeper and deeper ground. Yet although the work is arduous and irksome, you see no water until you are nearing the end. In just the same way, you meditate day after day apparently without results; but lo! one glorious day the water of spiritual life suddenly appears. Every time he sits for meditation and faithfully sticks out the allotted period despite its dryness and despite its apparent barrenness of result, the student is working on deep-rooted materialistic habits, tendencies, complexes, and extroversions within himself. The advance which he makes is consequently slight and slow at first, but it is there. If it is so inconsiderable in the early stages, the cumulative effect begins to show itself as considerable in the later stages. In the end, it will be as difficult for him not to meditate--or even to bring each individual period of meditation to an end--as it was difficult to continue it during the novitiate. However, to overcome this problem of dryness and barrenness pertaining to the earlier stages, it will be wise for the beginner to remember that it is unnecessary for him to tax his strength and patience by over-long practice. He may begin with a fifteen-minute period and should increase this only when the desire, the urge, and the encouraging feeling of progress inspire him to do so. Even then the increases should be quite small and at intervals, so that if he rises to a three-quarter-hour period it may happen only after a whole year's daily effort. When the aspirant is sufficiently advanced he will, however, do better by dispensing altogether with the thought that he should limit himself to a particular length of time for his practice. The fact that he is seeking what is ultimately a timeless consciousness should now begin to affect his practical approach and mental attitude, should now free him from any feeling he unconsciously assimilated from the breathless haste and restless tumult of modern conditions.
No thought of the time that is passing, or of the engagements that are to be kept later in the day, or of the duties and labours that are pending, should be allowed to intrude. This is the correct attitude, and the only one, which can bring meditation to any success at all.
The process of meditation resembles the letting down of a bucket into a well. If the bucket is not let down far enough, the water is not reached. In that case all the time given and trouble taken achieve nothing. If there is no patience in the meditator, there will be no success in getting to the calmer depths of the mind where lives its godlike essence.
Any feeling of fret over results, hurry to finish the session and resume normal work activity, strained effort which makes meditation depend entirely on your own will and your own concern--as if the higher self had nothing to do with the matter--any of these things impede the practice and reduce the chances of bringing the meditation to success.
If the wrong mental attitude is brought to the practice of these meditation exercises, if tension is introduced in the beginning and frustration later, then how can the further stage of contemplation ever be reached? If the ego is tightly clung to all the time, if its motive and desire in undertaking the practice is to acquire more powers for itself, more status in the human situation, more results of being "spiritual" without paying the price involved, then the merger of self into Overself in the final stage cannot be attained. For the ego will either fail to stop its thinking activity or, succeeding, will be lulled but not mastered, will enter a psychic not a real spiritual condition, will achieve pseudo-enlightenment. While trying to follow the usual instructions on meditation, what is actually done defeats its ultimate purpose and prevents its getting beyond a certain point. For the mind is being used wrongly simply because it is habitually used in that way. By "wrongly" is meant: "for the purposes of meditation," however right and long-established it may be for all other and ordinary purposes. The alternative to this predicament is to take to a different road from the start, to do at the beginning what will anyway inescapably have to be done at the end. The easiest method for this is to "affirm the divine Presence, Reality," and not to let go of the affirmation. This turns attention away from the ego and directs it to the thought-free Infinity which can swallow it.
If the effort in meditation is intense and long-continued, its results must eventually appear.
The life of meditation is hard for most people and not accessible to them. It requires such a reversal of all their ways of living--this complete leap from total activity at the other--that the incorporation of the meditation hour in the day-to-day program requires a real battle of the will.
Who could do anything but succeed if he started meditating with the attitude that no matter how long he has to wait for the feeling of contact with the Overself, he will continue to sit there?
If he comes to the practice holding the attitude that here is a duty which is tiring and monotonous and which he is to get over and done with as soon as possible, he defeats it from the start and ensures its failure. Better not to come at all, than in this negative way.
The first secret of successful meditation is patience--and still more patience.
The longer a sitting meditative position is held and the boredom resisted, the more effective becomes this preliminary work.
A certain firmness of decision is required to quit promptly whatever one is doing and withdraw into the meditation period.
What the beginning learner has to do is to let his practices take him on until he is willing to pursue his meditations in depth.
If a man is really serious and really determined, he needs to work every day or evening on his aspirations. First, he should seek to be able to keep thoughts under a measure of control; second, to be able to get absorbed in deep meditation, not stopping the work until he can let attention fall away from its physical surroundings.
The pressure of worldly duties awaiting his attention will try to insert itself into his mind and stay there, the strain of being punctual--like a good Occidental--in performing them will introduce impatience, unease, and even tension. Such feelings are quite destructive to the work of meditation.
If he finds that the meditation period has not been fruitful, nevertheless let him be assured that it has not been wasted. The habit of sacrificing a part of every day to it has been kept. It is its own reward for such loyalty.
Quite a number of those who say they entirely lack the capacity to meditate are committing a mistake. They are simply indolent, in this particular matter, however eager and active they may be in other matters.
From the stumbling efforts of the beginner to master meditation to the sure swift passage into stillness of the adept, there is a long path of industrious practice.
No one can go beyond the first stage without forcing himself to endure irksomeness, to hold on, to wait patiently, determinedly, and to hope cheerfully for eventual success.
Neither the intuitive voice nor the mystical glimpse will answer to your call if you demand an instant, clear, and powerful response. But if you are patient, co-operative, and meditative, there is a better chance of successful result.
The higher self is there every time he sits down to meditation, but he should not let impatience pull him away from the possibility of realizing its presence. Success may need time, often plenty of time; and he must learn to wait in patience on the Lord.
When this daily withdrawal becomes a congenial part of the program involved in living, as natural and necessary, as satisfying as any other human need, meditation will be successful sooner or later.
To keep up the habit of daily meditation until we love it, is the way to success.
In his beginning experiments he may meet with little success. He need not blame himself or find fault with his procedures. This result is common enough and to be expected.
Time, and plenty of it, is needed for this mystical operation. The deeper you go into yourself, the longer it takes to arrive there.
It is pathetic to contrast the hard, disciplined training of the Tibetan lamas with the feeble efforts of many Westerners who abandon trying to learn meditation if the ten or fifteen minutes a day they give to it do not yield striking mystical experiences within a few weeks or months. First, its very start is a test of endurance--the red-robed monks being compelled to sit in one position hour after hour without stirring and without fidgeting. They are not even allowed to flicker an eyelash.
If it were an easy practice, many more Westerners would be engaged in it than the relatively few who are to be found doing it today. But it is not. Beginners too often complain that they cannot centre their thoughts, nor tranquillize their minds, nor get any response from divine being within.
If facility can come only after many years of constant practice, even that is not too high a price to pay for it.
He needs patience to work his way through the first layers of boredom, distraction, and frustration. But once this has been achieved, he can begin to thrust attention more surely, more quickly, towards the higher goal.
The attitude that you have all the time you need is not only a necessary one but also a delightful one.
So much depends on to what depth within himself he is willing to go, on how far he can carry his mind's search for an awakening to a newer consciousness. It is there, it is there, though he does not see it yet. He must not let go but rather must push himself to the limit until exhausted. The promise is that it will not be in vain.
There is no doubt that the delightful experiences which may come in the earlier stages of learning to meditate often pass away, and life becomes very ordinary again, while the practice itself seems unrewarding. Here the right word to be uttered is patience; the right truth to be learned is that in the end it is not you who are doing the work but the Higher Power, which is drawing you inward to Itself. What you have to do is to let go of the concept that you are managing it all and let God be regarded as the primary agent in the whole of life.
They have worked at meditation exercises, but without successful result. Apart from the inherent difficulty of these exercises, there is another likely cause of this failure. It is the inevitable wrong use of the mind while doing them, in the absence of knowledge to the contrary. They continue to carry into the new work the same egoistic approach that they carry into the day's general work as a whole.
Of what avail will it be to sit there, travelling round and round in self-centered thought, closeted with his ego and still held tightly in its embrace? Only by breaking out of this closed circle will the new awareness, the higher life, become a realizable possibility.
The thoughts and emotions of the ego, no less than the sense reports of the body, are outside the true self. In meditation he must make himself absent to them and present only to what wells up from within, if he is to become aware of the true self.
The ego must begin its meditation by turning away from the thoughts of its own affairs to the thought of the Overself.
The ego is so taken up with itself that the time of meditation, which ought to be its gradual emptying-out, remains merely another field for its own activity.
It is a giving-away from oneself from the little ego to the large cosmic being.
There are many widely different kinds of meditation. All are useful for their particular purposes and in their proper places. But in the end the ultimate degree to which they must lead is to think of nothing but the Overself, not even of his own reactions to or relations with it.
The meditator seeks to penetrate the various strata of mental consciousness, all of which are tinted with ego-love, until he reaches That which lies hidden beneath them all.
Whether he kneels in the prayer of adoration or squats in the meditation on truth, his face is turned in the right direction--away from the little self--and this is of first importance.
What happens is that he takes his ego with him into the meditation, even to its deeper layers, and only in the very deepest where Grace takes hold of him is he able to lose it.
Relax from your own selfhood, let the ego go, and discover the peace which can then well up from within. It is yours, a covered hidden part of your being, unknown before because ignored and unsearched for.
If he is to become aware--however briefly--of his spiritual self as it really is on its own level, then he must become unaware of his lesser self for a time. This is to say philosophically what the Old Testament says in a different way: "No one hath seen the face of God."
That alone may be called the fulfilment of meditation, and its real practice, which shuts out of the mind everything except the Overself.
Meditation requires a positive, aggressive attitude of mind at its beginning. Because the mind may be tired at the end of the day, it cannot be forced. This is one reason why meditation requires patience. If the student waits for a while, the mind will refresh itself and get its second wind, so to speak, but most students give up before this point is reached. When the mind has refreshed itself, one is then conscious of this hitherto dormant energy and his thoughts are automatically stilled. The point has then been reached where he may release all further effort and humbly wait for the Overself to reveal itself. Warnings and voices may be experienced. Remember what the Psalmist said: "Be still and know that I am God."
Sometimes the Overself reveals itself in other ways: it may use another person, or other persons; it may appear in a sentence in a book opened at random.
One should never try to grasp the Overself. One must learn how to wait humbly for its self-revelation. With practice, this comes in a shorter time. It may last only a few minutes. After it has revealed itself and silently left, there is no need to continue or prolong meditation, except to remain for a while in the ineffable sense of peace it usually leaves behind.
It is because of the effort in mind-concentration required that morning meditation is usually recommended. Thoughts are like unruly horses: it is easier in the morning, when the mind is fresh, to control them than at the end of a day's work when the mind is fatigued.
He is learning to walk in a new world--that of mental purity, of mind-in-itself unadulterated by thoughts--and both time and practice are required to develop sufficient stability in the new consciousness.
If he proposes to wait until outer conditions arrange themselves more perfectly in his favour, providing sufficient privacy and adequate silence, he may do well. But meanwhile the months and years which pass ought to be utilized and not wasted.
The spiritual wealth within him is hidden so deep that unless the shaft is sunk far enough down and worked for a long enough time, the end may be disappointment.
Skill in the art of meditation, as in all other arts, comes from training--whether by one's self or by a qualified teacher--or from trial and error in constant practice.
The more time you give yourself for these exercises, the less hurried you will feel. And this in turn will allow you to express more successfully the qualities of patience and reverence which an approach to the Overself must necessarily have.
The seeker who is willing to take up his position in the same seat at the same hour every day and then sit still while he waits for truth or beauty to appear, rejecting boredom or dissatisfaction, will achieve good results by this patience in time.
It may help him to bear this patient waiting if he learns and remembers that it is an essential part of the actual procedure of meditation exercise.
A tremendous patience is needful here, a willingness to come to the meditation room as if he is going to sit there forever. The Overself may not be hurried.
The feeling of eagerly waiting for something to happen gives birth to impatience. This frustrates the very purpose of meditation, for it creates in its turn a sense of hurry, tension, nervous agitation--the extreme opposites of inner stillness. They shut it out.
If the session is to be really profitable, in the highest sense, it should be approached with the utmost patience. He should be prepared to wait, and to go on doing so, for the inner light to manifest itself, without giving way to restlessness disappointment or frustration. This is the Hall of Waiting in occult terminology.
If thoughts cannot be kept out of the mind, patience can be kept in it.
The dilettantes soon tire of the hard work, unremitting patience, and regular practice which meditation calls for.
Although the overdoing of meditation is unlikely by most Westerners and unprofitable by philosophic standards, yet to practise it by the clock is uncouth and undesirable. For it is an attempt to touch the eternal, to lift the meditator to a region which no watch-dial and no pendulum-movement can measure.
If the effort brings no immediate response, but the thoughts continue their usual race, do not let that be a source of discouragement. For regular persistent practice, even when it yields no satisfactory result, is contributing towards eventual success.
At times he will feel baffled completely while trying to teach himself the technique. He will be unable to acquire a mastery of it despite all his efforts.
Meditation is not achieved cheaply. For one thing, it asks you to yield some measure of patience. Give it enough time to let your agitations calm down, your pressures subside, and your muscles get rested. Twenty minutes is a minimum need, half an hour would be better.
"Little by little, and by constant practice," as the Gita says, this act of sitting mentally still is learnt.
Regularity of practice
Whoever wishes to pluck the fruits of meditation in the shortest time must practise with both perseverance and regularity. This advice sounds platitudinous, but it happens to be true within the experience of most students. Such is the law of subconscious mental unfoldment and it is by understanding and applying it that success can be attained.
He is not asked to devote more than a short part of the day to these exercises. If he advances to a stage where it may be necessary to desert active life for a time, the Higher Self will bid him to do so by inward prompting and will arrange his circumstances in a way which will make this possible for him. But until it happens it would be a mistake on his part to anticipate it by premature action or impulsive emotionalism.
The practices are to be done in daily sessions, each lasting from fifteen minutes in the case of beginners, to sixty in that of sufficiently advanced persons.
Meditation will obtain its ultimate objective if it is not only deep but also long.
How can a few feeble minutes produce great results? We need to take more time, to sacrifice some non-essential activity, and to fill in the many momentary interludes during and between the essential ones with spiritual recollection.
He should fully understand and accept the importance of being punctual in keeping his unwritten appointment when the meditation hour comes round. If he is careful to honour his word in social or professional engagements, he ought to be at least not less careful in honouring it in spiritual engagements. Only when he comes reverently to regard the Overself as being the unseen and silent other party with whom he is to sit, only when he comes to regard failure to be present at the prearranged time as a serious matter is the practice of these exercises likely to bear any of the fruits of success. It is a curious experience, and one which happens too often to be meaningless, that some obstacle or other will arise to block the discharge of this sacred engagement, or some attractive alternative will present itself to tempt him from it. The ego will resent this disturbance of its wonted habits and resist this endeavour to penetrate its foundations. He must resist this resistance. He must accept no excuse from himself. The decision to sit down for meditation at a stated time is one from which he is not to withdraw weakly, no matter what pressure falls upon him from outside or arises from inside. It may require all his firmness to get away from other people to find the needed solitude or to stop whatever he is doing to fulfil this promise to himself, but in the end it will be worthwhile.
In this matter take no excuses from yourself. The practice must be regularly done.
Once he has set them, he ought to try to keep place and time sacred for this special purpose. That will convert the one into a shrine and the other into a sacrament.
By appearing regularly every day at the place, he is proving his earnestness, demonstrating his faith, and showing his patience. These three qualities will support his appeals or prayers to the Overself in a solid way. The response of Grace may be an eventual reward. Now this response may not necessarily manifest itself during the actual meditation period. It may come the next day--sometimes even the next week. The line of connection must be traced by his intuitive feeling.
It is not necessary to make a full-time job of meditation. Specific daily intervals will suffice.
Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, wisely restricted mystical exercises to certain times. They should not be overdone.
What is important is that if the pressure of other matters or meetings compels him to forego work at the regular meditation hour, he should try to make up for it at a later hour. Only by holding himself to this disciplined effort can he gain the best fruits of this exercise in the shortest time.
He could do worse than to take a vow to practise meditation daily, and to honour it faithfully. This will not be easy. The temptation to disregard the vow when tired in body or strained in mind will be strong. Pressures from outside circumstances are also likely to arise to hinder him from carrying it out. Yet great will be his reward if he habituates himself to drop everything else at the appointed hour, or as soon after as he can possibly arrange, to turn his attention inward and devotion Godward.
In the intermediate stage, it would be unwise to set any time limit for the duration of each exercise. It would be better to be intuitively guided from within by the experience itself and governed by its conditions as they develop. The soul and his own inner needs will be better directors than his watch.
It is better in most cases not to meditate for more than about sixty minutes at each session because one may develop a dreamy, languid temperament and find it more difficult to cope with the necessary activities of ordinary life. Monks however are in a different situation and this advice is not given to them.
We need certain times and a special place for meditation because their association with the exercise helps us to drill the mind and body. The habit thus created becomes a source of power.
Even if the mind resists these efforts to induce a meditative condition, it will usually break down if a longer time is allowed for the efforts. Like the inhabitants of a besieged fortress, if the besiegers can wait outside long enough they will be starved into surrender.
The number of times he is to practise each day will depend on the strength of his aspiration and the circumstances in which he lives. It may be once; it may be twice or thrice. The length of time he is to give to each single practice-period will depend on the degree of skill he has reached.
It is important to note that the two (or even more) hour meditation period which is the rule in most Zen monasteries is prescribed for their particular milieu and not for the world outside it. Thus a modern Zen master told his American disciple that a third to a half of an hour daily would suffice for meditation when back in his own country.
Once the meditator begins to feel the peace and stillness, let him seek to prolong it as long as possible.
The ego not seldom finds all sorts of excuses for avoiding regular practice of meditation. Nevertheless, such practice is necessary. The ego's resistance is due partly to the difficulty of re-adjusting to new habits and partly to an inherent knowledge that its own tyrannical reign is thereby being threatened. To render the practice easier and less irksome, it is best to start with short periods and to increase their length of time only when an inner prompting to do so comes of its own accord.
In your attempts at meditation your intellect is still busy; it's hard for you to keep the thoughts out. What you should do is to gradually lengthen the time allotted for practice, but don't overdo this or you will get psychic results. Be patient. The mind will give up its struggle eventually.
He must let higher matters accompany his ordinary occupation, his family obligation, his necessary worldly activities. For this he needs to organize his time so that a few minutes at least, a half hour (or more) if possible, are surrendered to them, to studies, reflection, meditations, and silences.
It is absurd to believe that men--except very exceptional ones--can spend all day meditating on God: this is one of the criticisms of monkish existence. For while they are supposed to do this, others have to work to support them.
Because the most effectual way to learn meditation is to practise it every day, the effort should be persistently and regularly made. Human sloth is proverbial and the time-tested way to overcome it is by sternly using the power of will to set and keep a pattern of daily living. A strict rule must be laid down in this matter, a deliberate habit must be created, an order must be given and obeyed.
Few have sufficient strength of concentration for exercises lasting longer than twenty minutes.
We must pay homage to the Overself, and pay it daily. Anything less is at our peril.
His observance of this self-set daily program for retiring into the solitude of his room will be frequently tested. Unless he forms the habit of promptly withdrawing from work or the companionship of the hour, he may lose the precious opportunity with which time presents him.
Not by casual meditations can meditation itself be mastered.
It is very strange how time alters its values during meditation. Twenty-five minutes of actual clock time may feel like a whole hour of meditation time.
Mechanical engineers tell us that it takes six times as much power to start a fly-wheel from a dead stop as it does to keep it going once it is in motion. In other words, it takes only one-sixth as much effort to keep on the move, once you have steam up and are on the way, as it does to stop a bit to rest and then start over again.
Experience in meditation confirms this truth, that if the practitioner persists in continuing through the initial phase of fatigue, he will find his "second wind" and be able to remain absorbed for a long period.
The spiritual hour must be accepted as a fixed part of the daily regime, as fixed as the dinner hour. This is the first momentous step to the restoration of real peace inside man, and consequently outside him too.
It is most important to practise regularly, for every lapse throws success farther away quite disproportionately to the time lost.
In this matter of attending to his exercise, he should be strict with himself. If he is faithful, he will develop slowly to the degree where habit will lead him to the meditation room at the appointed hour even if he has forgotten his duty.
Whenever the fixed hour is indicated by the clock but not by his memory, or whenever it is overlooked under the press of business, the invitation to meditate will silently and sweetly be delivered to his conscious mind by the subconscious.
Regularity of practice, sitting at the same time every day, will enable him to benefit in various ways by the automatic tendency of the mind to follow habit patterns.
The practice of meditation during any one day may allowably be intermittent and irregular but not from one day to another.
An intense quest will naturally lead to more regularity in meditation. It is a skill, and like all skills, developed by regular practice.
Constant practice is more important for success in meditation than any other single factor.
The time to break off his meditation will be determined by the circumstances of his life or by an inner urge.
The period can begin with only five minutes but it should be increased within a few weeks or months according to individual capacity. The aim should be to build it up to a half hour.
Formal exercises in meditation done at set hours are more useful to the beginner than to the proficient.
This period ought to become the central attraction of the entire day every day of the week. That it seldom does is our loss where we might have a gain. This perhaps is where the imposed discipline of an ashram, monastery, or other organized spiritual retreat may have an advantage over the loose freedom of a layman's life.
If he is unable to do so at regular hours let him meditate when he can at irregular ones.
Ending the meditation
Never introduce any particular problem or personal matter for prayer or for consideration until after you have gained the peak of the meditation, rested there for a while, and are ready to descend into the deserted world again.
First seek in your meditation for the Overself, then, when you feel something of its presence, then only, may you make any effort to help other persons by the powers of thought and prayer.
This is not to say that the higher condition of meditation should never be used for any other idea than God alone. For when God has been served in this world, instead of leaving the finished meditation and returning to the ordinary activities, the thoughts can be restirred to serve and help enlighten or simply touch others.
Always close your meditation or end your prayer with a thought for others, such as: "May all beings be truly happy."
Rise from the meditation seat slowly and gently, not jerkily and abruptly. This is so as not to break off this finer delicate awareness which makes the Spirit real and not a mere word.
A vital point that is often overlooked through ignorance is the proper re-adjustment to ordinary routine activities just after each time a meditation exercise is successfully practised or an intuition-withdrawal is genuinely felt. The student should try to carry over into the outer life as much as he can of the delicately relaxed and serenely detached feeling that he got during those vivid experiences of the inner life. The passage from one state to another must be made with care, and slowly; for if it is not, some of the benefits gained will be lost altogether and some of the fruits will be crushed or mangled. It is the work done in the beginning of this after-period that is creative of visible progress and causative for demonstrable results.
Every time he has attained a really successful meditation he should, afterwards, study every detail of its course, analyse all its important experiences, and observe carefully what ideas and feelings came to him by themselves out of the deeper unconscious level. Above all, he should apply the same studies to the moments when the feeling of inner stimulus, contact, and inspiration made itself known. They require special attention.
If after a meditation period the body is too stiff and the muscles of the limbs too inactive, it will be easier to get up if the trunk is moved from side to side for a little while.
Sitting there in the quiet dusky room, coming out of his deep meditation into a world soon peopled by remembered faces, passing them with a benedictory smile and upward-pointing call, he returns to a different kind of atmosphere and has to adjust himself to its unpleasantness, its materialism, and its turmoil.
It is highly important that in those minutes immediately following the period of meditation the person should not move too abruptly into his active everyday life, but rather gently and slowly, and certainly without any stress whatever. An easy transition from the one state to the other is best.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.