By: Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati
There are many ways of understanding meditation. It may be called focusing the mind, stilling the mind, experiencing the mind in its raw state, being at one with ourselves, being closer to our centre, or being present in the moment. According to Patanjali, it is self-knowledge, becoming grounded in the self by disentangling the mind from sense objects.
Patanjali defines meditation as: Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah – the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind (chitta). Then the seer is established back in his or her own true nature – Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam. Yoga defines meditation as an unbroken flow of awareness. Tantra defines meditation as a process of activation of energy through movement, breath and sound in order to awaken the deeper forces. Mantra sadhana is a process of feeling the deeper unconscious with different forms of vibration.
There are two levels of understanding meditation that we need to develop. The first is to learn a practice thoroughly so that we embody it and become one with it. The second is to develop our knowledge and deepen our understanding of the process of meditation. Therefore, it is most important that we practise meditation diligently, and at the same time look at our lives and see how we can increase our awareness there in a practical way.
As part of the attainment of yoga, the development of memory, smriti, is essential. The smriti that Patanjali talks about is the integration of the chitta so that it can hold a vast array of experience and the sense of self at the same time, at one moment. This is achieved through meditation. We have to develop a tissue memory of the meditation experience and hold that in every moment. Meditation should be so ingrained in us that there is not a moment when we are not practising meditation.
When we sit for meditation we disengage from the outer world and go deep into ourselves. As we continue our practice, over time the thinking starts to calm down and all the emotional entanglements start to go away, and then we can feel ourselves back in a beautiful inner space. While we are meditating we move into a different sense of who we are. But when we end the practice, we re-emerge into the world and we take on the personality ‘shape’ again, this egoic shape which contains the learned patterns that are in the nervous system. These are patterns of behaviour, patterns of thinking and ideas about who we are and what we can and cannot achieve.
We try to be fully conscious at the same time of both the negative pattern with its fears and worries and of that higher part of ourselves, the higher nature. In the higher part is the stillness and in the lower part is the turbulence – the two should come together and relate with each other. This is the relationship between you and your self, that part of you that remembers that you are not the diminished or contracted state, but that you are the higher awareness. It is the relationship between consciousness and mind.
Meditation is mind management. It is remembering who we are and observing the relationship with the mind and its activities and finding a way to manage and integrate that.
Patanjali says that regular practice, abhyasa, and nonattachment, vairagya, are necessary for meditation. The issue here is the development of a technique in meditation practice, and the capacity to bring that technique into your life so that your lifestyle supports and reflects your inner work. That is where difficulties can arise, because the capacity for distraction is endless; we have endless desires which keep us fascinated. However, meditation tackles this endless cycle of desire and will finally take us to the point where we have to examine the unbroken desire that keeps us alive, the will to live, and ultimately death itself – the process of letting go. Once we can do this we can convey a sense of certainty and power in the face of life’s difficulties. This process takes place gradually over a long period of time.
The desires and distractions will always be there and we should accept that, but the consciousness has to be aware of the urgency, the compulsion to act out these desires. Until that time meditation cannot build in intensity. The more we can hold the memory of the practice, the more we can hold the capacity to pull the mind back from the endless sensory input, the more we will progress in meditation.
Being the witness
So we need to develop a meditative lifestyle. This is where the technique of antar mouna comes in. We learn to be the witness and to hang on to this ability. One of the problems we may have in meditation is that when we practise we can have a great experience but after, when we go back into our life, we lose it. This process is natural. It is an oscillation between two states – the state we achieve in meditation and the state of mind in daily life. We need to understand this process of oscillation and develop the capacity to follow its pattern. We also need to assess how much our lifestyle helps or hinders this process. How much do diet, sleep patterns, exercise, work, pastimes and relationships play a part in pulling us out of the awareness of our inner process and what changes will help us get back into it. We must come to know ourselves, our own patterns and tendencies. This is where swadhyaya, self-study, comes in.
In practising meditation, we find that as we advance we can take on more rigorous practice. To manage this, one fundamental technique we need to learn is grounding.
Grounding means to be firm and stable in facing our own mind and in the face of life. The best place to be grounded is in the body; we can also ground ourselves in the breath. Grounding in the body is one of the most basic and important things to help us go deeper. It can happen in meditation that people get to a certain point and then lose their confidence. They can get into a state of sleep or become blank (an unconscious mechanism to avoid looking at what lies hidden at deeper levels) or they feel a fear arise, which happens when stability is lost.
Grounding is a process that allows us to maintain both one-pointedness and also the memory of what we are doing. It also conveys a sense of strength, which gives us the confidence to go forward into our mental processes so as to uproot the deeper issues. There is a certain point at which we are willing to go into our ‘mental stuff’ and a point where we are not. It is necessary not just to want to have nice experiences in meditation, but to start to actually use meditation to do solid work on ourselves.
Grounding is an essential component. Without grounding, as soon as energies start to change, there is no stability within to rest on. So we may feel it is easier to stay with an old pattern of behaviour through familiarity, rather than trusting in the new pattern we are trying to create. By coming back into the base of the body, the pelvic floor, or the bones (the ground of consciousness), or the breath, we can develop a habit of grounding ourselves. Then we can trust in the process and we can do the next stage of meditation training, which is to face our fundamental issues.
Solid inner work – developing trust
To be able to face our issues in meditation, two things are important:
1. The capacity to use energy in the form of movement, breath and sound, to allow us to manipulate the body/ mind, so we are able to change how we feel.
2. The development of the capacity of consciousness to penetrate into this energetic field, to know and to feel what is going on at deeper and more subtle levels of being.
The relationship between consciousness and energy is very important. We need to understand and experience how consciousness and energy relate and interplay. Energy is the vehicle for consciousness. It carries consciousness. Take the breath, for example. If you move the breath up and down, the consciousness can travel with it more easily. Energy is informing our consciousness; it is constantly bringing up information for us to process. The more we develop the capacity for recognition through the ability to witness, and experience an ever more subtle awareness, the more we can know what is going on within ourselves.
In meditation, we find that we come up against blocks, certain patterns of energy that seem to have a life of their own or about which we have gone into denial. Meditation in this day and age is not just sitting alone and going inside. Meditation is the use of awareness in the day to day existence. Before we can genuinely practise higher yoga we need to get information back to our consciousness about what we need to deal with, and then we need to find a kind of determination to go into that ‘stuff.’ We have to jump in.
Antar mouna – stage 3
In antar mouna, there are stages to do this. In stage 1 we witness our sensory information; then in stage 2 the spontaneous thoughts, and then in stage 3 the conscious creation of thoughts. To do work we need to go deep inside ourselves and really explore life. Not in a half-hearted or timid way, but with gusto and zest. How far into our process are we willing to go when we create thoughts in stage three?
Stage 3 is the capacity to use our minds constructively to create thoughts. We can only rise above the mind when we make a conscious decision that we will go in and tackle the mind, in a way that is skilful, patient and respectful. Stage 3 is for that. Here we create our own thought, any thought, but uncensored. Then whatever that issue is, go into it fully. This is what tantra really is. If we don’t tackle it in meditation, we will have to live it, because it will drive us unconsciously. It is active and it will drive us, so bring it up – drinking, smoking, sensuality, passion, anything – whatever your trip is, visualize it, see yourself doing it, without reservation, without inhibition. Bring the craving, the desire up, make yourself sick of it – and then throw it out.
Swamiji tells the story of his desire for mangoes, which he saw as an attachment. He went into meditation and visualized himself eating baskets and baskets of mangoes until he was sick of them. Then he stopped desiring mangoes.
Dealing with unconscious drives
As meditation stabilizes, we can begin to watch our lives more. The desire for attention, to be important, to be loved, the need to use the libido, the need for creativity, the need for a purpose – how do these things drive us? How do we get our fulfilment and where do we lack it? What emotions are coming up and what issues do we need to face – at work, with people, with anger, fear and frustration and our self-esteem, our lack of self-esteem or our arrogance? We need to bring all these things up and work on them. And we also watch how they affect our lives. How conscious are we of those things so that our lives are working at a level that is lifting us out of the lower chakras and into anahata?
In the lower chakras are the dark unconscious energies of the mind, which are driving us all in one form or another. This is also where the kundalini, the shakti, resides. The vast power that reveals who we really are is locked in the darker recesses of the unconscious. In meditation we open up to all this, to being with ourselves on these different levels. So meditation is not just a passive sitting in a peaceful state. It is about being with ourselves as totally self-possessed human beings, knowing all of our darkness and all of our light.
Antar mouna – stage 4
Stage 3 of antar mouna is also a preparation for stage 4. In stage 3 we are creating the thoughts. In stage 4 we deal with the capacity to grapple with unconscious forces as they arise. These forces can come up and take us over and we may be overwhelmed by them until our sense of self, through the capacity to remain the witness, becomes alive, strong, consolidated, and grounded. Until our sense of self has become established and is stronger, the mind will have a greater capacity to overwhelm us.
In stage 3 if an issue comes up spontaneously, often we can move into stage 4, if we are prepared to do that. When a powerful negative (or positive) thought comes up we can be ready to grab it and wrestle it and then throw it out. So if anger or disappointment comes up and we start to feel the ache, and the inner critic comes up, and anything else, we watch all those contracted energy patterns (thoughts) – then we throw them out. This is the stage where we develop the confidence to really be with our issues. Until that happens the repressive instinct takes over, pushes the stuff away, and we go into contraction. Attachment takes over and we push away the thoughts. As soon as we relax and get the confidence, we can say, “No, let’s go for it,” and dive in. We need to start really to be in touch with ourselves so we are no longer just trying to create pleasant states all the time, to relax and feel good. I need to be able to say that it is time to do something about this: Let’s work on this one now.”
Developing spiritual maturity
Most people are afraid to go deep into their own minds, because we are not trained or encouraged to do so by our society. The mind is still a mystery to most of us. It is wise to use caution in proceeding into these areas. They can create depression, fear, anxiety, insecurity and so on. These lie in the deeper unconscious waiting for something to trigger to explode them and rob us of our power and our consciousness.
In meditation, whenever we are facing some major issue in this way, we can always come back to the breath to ground ourselves. We have to be able to regulate ourselves by moving between stability and the need for grounding, and the capacity for diving deeper.
Meditation is where we develop a subtle awareness, so that in our daily lives, when core issues or powerful emotions arise, we can see them for what they are and develop a calm confidence in dealing with them. To do that we go back to the meditation process and work on them again and again, to look at how we have managed in our life and how we can improve ourselves in those situations. The techniques become the tools, which are available more and more outside of formal meditation practice.