Self Possession,Soul Retrieval and Concentrating the Life Force with the Habit of Practice

With all the demands and busy-ness of life it is easy for us to get scattered in so many different directions. Our focus and concentration can get dissipated to such an extent that we begin to feel a loss of inner balance. When we get off balance we may feel a loss of confidence or effectiveness in the purpose we’re pursing in life.

My experience of this became very apparent in the irregularity of my meditation practice recently. As I’ve tried to expand my practice and service to my community, maintaining my inner balance with increased demands has been challenging. This has been a signal for me to practice what I preach.

For me that begins with a renewed devotion to meditation practice. Meditation, for me, is a way to call back the disparate parts of myself that can get lost when I’m trying so hard to do all the things I think I should be doing. It’s a way to reconstitute my energy, life force, or prana in the language of yoga.This is my essence, my true being, the genuine expression of my unique individuality.

Meditation is literally a technique to cultivate the power of the human being in body, mind and soul. As we carefully watch the breath at each stage of inhalation and exhalation, we focus until we develop unwavering attention. Pausing at the top and bottom of the breath to reset our focus will then naturally become dharana, or concentration.

As we hold fast to our dharana, we soon make an almost imperceptible shift into dhyana or meditation. I liken this to the process of distilling spirits. The spiritual energy we circulate in meditation is condensed and purified until it infuses our whole being with its power. This is the life force that helps us accomplish our goals on the spiritual path.

But, as I have seen, if I allow myself to lapse in this regular practice, my life force can once again be diluted.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that spiritual success comes from constant practice. Like the New Testament admonition to pray without ceasing, we are encouraged by the Sutras to develop habits that become attitudes, always pointed in the direction of practice, faith and goodness.

We all have different ways to achieve our goals. One that works for me, and may work for you, is to make a written promise to your self. In your journal or any piece of paper, write a vow to yourself that you will practice at the same time for a particular number of days. Forty days, a particularly meaningful number in the Judeo Christian tradition, is challenging and meaningful. Persevering toward such a goal helps me build self respect. If there’s someone I don’t want to disappoint, it’s me. If I can keep my promises to myself, I’m more likely to keep my promises to others as well.

When you have fulfilled that promise it is easy to relax a bit. Personally that’s when I find that I begin to lose the potency that I had earned from concentrated practice. So, I’m challenging myself to renew my vows as they expire. This, I hope, will ingrain my spiritual habits within me to a point that they are no longer temporary but permanent.

Perhaps you’d like to try a 40 day practice as well. If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes for you. One thing is for certain: If we stick with our practice and renew our vows regularly, we will surpass our goals and find ourselves in fresh, amazing states of being that will lead to even greater fulfillment of our human potential.

All the best to you in your practice. May you be supported by the energies of all the saints past and present.

Om, Om, Om!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Basic Meditation Lesson

Some weeks ago on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR, I heard a famous Buddhist monk talking about the benefits of meditation. I was all ears, naturally. A caller to the show who found meditating difficult asked the monk for advice about how to achieve a better meditation. To my surprise and disappointment the monk simply told the man to keep practicing without inquiring about the details of his difficulty. Neither did the monk offer any technical advice that might have helped the student.

Meditation can be difficult at any time, especially in the beginning. The mind is a wild place full of distractions to keep us from achieving our natural state of bliss. With a little practice and perseverance ANYONE can develop a life-changing meditation practice.

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First, regardless of your religious tradition or lack of one, you can meditate. Meditation is found in all traditions. Atheists and agnostics can also meditate. Meditation is not about belief; it is simply about cultivating the mind. If you have a spiritual tradition, it will enhance your personal practice.

If you have a yoga asana (posture) practice, this will make meditation easier. The purpose of the physical culture of yoga asana is to strengthen the body to sit comfortably so that we can explore infinity without the distractions of a cranky joint or spine. Before you begin do a few yoga postures with deep breathing and attention on the breath and body. Developing a simple, regular asana practice will make meditation easier.

Now, find a quiet place. Sit in any comfortable way you like. Keep your back straight by grounding into the sitting bones of the pelvis. Be erect, but relaxed. A long, straight, spine and erect posture enable energy to travel efficiently through the body. Notice how you feel; listen to your body. If you need a pillow or other prop to help you feel comfortable, by all means use it. The word asana in yoga can be interpreted as “comfortable seat.”

Close your eyes if you feel safe to do so. If not, fix your gaze on a stationary object. A spot on the floor or wall will suffice. A yantra, or artistic yogic design is even better. Let your eyes be soft and out of focus.

Allow your breath to open up into your abdomen by using the diaphragm, the lateral sheet of muscle that separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. The belly should swell with each inhalation. If your belly retracts or sucks in during an inhalation, you are reverse breathing. This will build stress and prevents you from entering meditation. If you reverse breathe, spend a few minutes with your hands on your belly and practice abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing until it feels natural and easy.

(Note: In our culture we are encouraged to look fit and attractive by sucking in our bellies, throwing out our chests and pulling our shoulders back. This has led to an epidemic of reverse breathing which builds stress. Stress is a precursor and catalyst for disease.)

Begin to follow your breath with your attention. Watch as each cubic centimeter of breath enters and leaves your body. Concentrating on your breath with this kind of detail will help keep you focused. Slow your breath down gradually.

See if you can count ten breaths without losing count. If you can, begin again. Practice this for several rounds until it becomes easy. If you lose count, simply begin at one and try again. Please be kind to yourself without allowing your inner critic to judge you if you don’t succeed right away.

You may want to continue with this simple counting technique for awhile, which is just fine. You are developing the art of dharana, or concentration, one of the eight primary aspects of yoga. Dhr, the root of dharana, means to hold. So, we are learning to hold or focus our attention on a single object like the breath to the exclusion of all other objects. You are developing one pointed focus with dharana.

You may also consider using the following techniques to help you develop concentration. Mantra japa is a method of mentally repeating a brief combination of syllables, a mantra, to entrain the mind for meditation. The simple two syllable mantra of So Ham (pronounced Hum) is a Sanskrit term that means I Am or I Am That. It is a way for us to identity with the great All That Is or God or Universal Energy, what ever your conception of universal creative energy is. You could just as well use Blue Sky, White Clouds if thinking about divine energy disturbs you in any way. You can also use any word that has personal significance or sacred nature to you.

Another simple but effective tool for building concentration is a mala, or a string of beads similar to a rosary. The use of stringed beads for developing concentration is an ancient shamanic method that goes back to ancient times. Hold the beads in either hand and simply move one bead per breath as another way to reinforce your concentration.

This trio of devices, the breath, mantra and mala will help you build powerful concentration as you begin your meditation practice.

So, when does dharana or concentration become meditation or dhyana? This is a hard question to answer. When we have banished the fluctuations of the mind as Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras, we have achieved meditation. Do not dwell on the distinction between these two aspects of yoga. Concentration naturally leads to meditation just as naturally as a river flows to the sea. The more we practice the easier it becomes.

So, there we have a basic lesson in meditation. Simple, right? Simple doesn’t always mean easy. As I said earlier, the mind is a wild place. I’ve heard the expression: The mind is like a monkey stung by a scorpion. It can careen in countless directions like a pinball machine. Practice this method regularly and you will begin to get results. You will be able to achieve a strong, peaceful disposition that is resilient to the storms of life. A mind trained in meditation is a mind that can help you achieve your loftiest goals as you sail smoothly above depression. Meditation will help you accept life on its own terms as you navigate with purpose to reach a stronger state of being.

Begin with 5 minutes or so and then work your way up to whatever delivers good results. Many recommend 20 minutes twice a day. From my experience, the longer the meditation the deeper you go.

As you practice you will originate techniques that are unique to your style of meditation. The method I’ve taught here is one of many. This one works for me. Explore and see what you come up with. Infinity awaits. Sixteenth Century Christian Philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” The questions we pose in meditation will always be answered with wisdom.

Please also refer to my posts about how meditation can change the physical state of your brain. The work of Harvard neurologist, Sara Lazar, shows the wonderful ways your brain changes with regular meditation.

Cultivating your mind through meditation is the beginning of realizing your full potential as a human being. You are as unlimited and boundless as the universe itself. You’re made from the same stuff as the stars. We are miniature replications of the universe. Meditation helps us remember our connection to infinity and helps us align ourselves with its unstinting energy.

As always, I would love to hear from you. Connecting with you inspires me as I hope it does you, too. Please, leave a comment. If there is some aspect of yoga you’d like me write about, please let me know. We are all on the same path. I would love to hear about your experiences, too. I am merely a student. If you have something to impart to me, please, I’d love to hear it. As we grow together in yoga, the world gets better for all of us.

Namaste’.

Unleashing The Power of Unlimited Creativity

Yoga is the uniting of our being—body, mind and soul—with the Creative Force of the universe. Achieving this union earns us access to the unlimited potential of the human being. The human being is a microcosm, or simply a smaller version of the infinite universe which gave birth to creation. We are quite literally made of the stars that once populated the cosmos. As such we contain the latent potential to create just as we have been created. This is heady stuff to be sure, but how do we bring the unitive force to bear and release the unlimited energy that resides dormant within us?

The process begins with focus, the focus of vibration to be more exact. Focus becomes concentration (dharana), concentration becomes pure essence (dhyana) and pure essence opens the door to boundless creativity (samadhi)—perhaps as the Big Bang did at the beginning of creation.

We can demonstrate concentration in the process of distillation. As heat, the focus of a vibratory force is applied to a fermented liquid, the water is driven off and we produce a concentrated “proof” of alcohol. This is one way concentration organizes matter into a purer form.

Perhaps a better illustration is the science of cymatics and cymatic music. Cymatics is the application of sound frequency to organize matter. Follow this URL to see this illustrative video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtiSCBXbHAg  The logical extension of this phenomenon is cymatic music—that is music that is composed in certain frequencies to influence the molecules of the human body into more harmonic operation. See John Tefler’s video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sThS9OfnM1s

After physically seeing how sound organizes matter, we can begin to understand the science behind chanting mantra and prayer. Chanting is the intentional use of frequency to concentrate vibration to elevate the human experience into unlimited creativity. (Chanting is native to all spiritual traditions. St. Augustine said, “When we sing, we pray twice.”) The vibration we emit during chanting directly effects the brain and the production of the “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and the enkephalins. Endorphins are one type of enkaphalin.

Chanting directly effects the hypothalamus gland that helps control mood. Apparently, the meridians connected to the hard palate in the mouth are stimulated like a key board which is connected to the hypothalamus. These lines of transmission relay vibration to the brain in order to reduce stress, decrease cortisol production and induce a healing relaxation response.[1]

The icing on the cake of unifying the human being to the unlimited creative force of the universe is meditation. But where’s the vibration in that you might ask? Thought has vibration as well, albeit more subtle than music or vocalization. Masaru Emoto’s book “The Hidden Messages of Water” reveals how prayer can influence water molecules. Emoto froze water in various states and photographed the crystal formations that existed in the samples. Water that had been labeled with negative writing produced asymmetrical, disorganized shapes. Conversely, water that had positive affirmations written on the containers developed the beautiful architecture of snowflakes. Polluted water which produced distressed-looking shapes was subjected to the healing vibrations of prayer transformed into the beautiful uniform, snowflake designs.

The human body is over 70% water. The healing vibrations of chanting, prayer, mantra, and affirmation can help transform us, too. We can become healthier, more connected to our creative ability and more cohesive as communities.

Focusing our intention in meditation creates powerful, subtle mental vibrations that reach deeply into our brains to help us harmonize with the frequencies of the unlimited creative force of the universe.

I’ve often been puzzled by the Apostle Paul’s admonition (Romans 12:21) to “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” How is that possible? Violent, destructive ego-possessed people will stop at nothing to get their way. Now, with the tools of yoga, chanting and meditation we can raise our children to harmonize with goodness. We can transform illness into health; we can change our brains; we can lift our depression with the harmonics of the unlimited creative power unleashed by chanting, prayer and meditation.

A new world awaits our application of concentration. This why we’re here, to heal each other and the universe. Could there be any greater challenge or adventure?

 

 

[1] http://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-zoe/2010/06/mantra-meditation-an-adhd-panacea/

A Useful Meditation Technique

Beginning a meditation practice can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a teacher or don’t practice with an experienced group. The mind has been likened to a monkey stung by a scorpion. It jumps around wildly and chatters a mile a minute. It’s easy to give up after trying to calm such a creature. The key, as with anything else in life is the golden virtue of persistence.

First, sit in any comfortable position on the floor or in a chair. It’s best to keep your back erect without the support of the chair if your back will allow it. Try to remain perfectly still allowing not motion whatsoever. Your asana or posture practice will help you build the strength and health of your body so you can do this. That is, in fact, the explicit purpose of asana.

You may close your eyes or leave your eyes open while focusing on a stationary object or just allow your eyes to go out of focus.

Fold the hands or use an easy mudra.

Begin using the three part breath. Allow your belly to be soft. Breathe into your belly; draw the breath up into the solar plexus and heart. Slowly exhale using the abdominal muscles and diaphragm to gently push the air out. Brief deeply enough to adequately supply your needs, and use each breath to become progressively more relaxed. Slow your breath and keep it even and regular.

I recommend using a simple mantra. Two syllables works really well. I use the So Ham (like hum) mantra. It means “I am that.” Silently say “so” as you inhale and “hum” as you exhale. Of course, you may use any meaningful or sacred phrase you choose. Concentrate on the breath, mantra and the motion of your belly and chest.

As you breathe and repeat your mantra, you will notice that the mind can still jump all over the place despite your efforts of concentration. You may forget your mantra and breath and be caught away in some personal drama or see the characters of your favorite TV show floating through your mind. I saw the entire cast of Downton Abbey this morning. When you notice that you’ve lost your concentration, gently bring your mind back to your breath and mantra. As you concentrate, become a disinterested third party witness to the things your mind will do. Give them no weight or importance, simply observe the thoughts and let them go. They will soon be replaced by others; you can be sure of it.

Now, here’s the trick to help you keep your concentration. As you reach the top of your inhalation pause just long enough to notice it. Likewise, when you reach the bottom of your exhalation, pause without beginning your next inhalation for a brief moment. While the breath is suspended for that short span, the mind will remained focused. Suspension of the very act that that keeps you alive brings the attention to the present.

Experiment with the length of your pauses. I usually make the pause after the exhalation longer than the inhalation pause. Breath suspension is much easier after the exhalation because the lungs are nearly empty with no pressure inside them.

As you use this technique, the gallivanting mind will begin to slow down. Lengthen your meditation sessions and you will find that dharana or concentration will transition into dhyana or meditation. Eventually you will experience the ecstatic peace of total absorption into your true nature which is bliss. Meditation helps us to remember who we are.

The path to samadhi will have some bumps in it. Some days the intensity of what the yoga sutras call the “modifications” of the mind are quite resistant to our best efforts. Some meditation sessions may feel fruitless and without effect. During those times be grateful for and enjoy your breath—and most of all persist. You will be rewarded. You will touch your true nature. You will achieve a peace in your life that will give you the strength to be who you really want to be.