The 40 Day Practice: Shifts in Consciousness

The first thing I did when I completed my forty day practice earlier this month was to commit myself to another 40 day practice. Why? Because I want to build a habitual devotion to a practice that transforms human consciousness.

This is not hyperbole. It is as sure as the constant wash of water against stone, as certain as the paths of the planets in their orbits, as trustworthy as the promise of each new dawn.

What has happened to me over the last forty days has been subtle but measurable change. Like the water that wears away weaker stone to reveal its core of strength, forty straight days of devotion to meditation practice slowly brings an increment of change that I can sense and build on.

I wont’ kid you. Every morning was not a revelation of ineffable glory, though, to be sure, there were days of sublime, tantalizing bliss. Some mornings were a slog through the swamp of my own crazy mind. Often it would take 20 minutes of such slogging to get just a taste of clear, cool, pinpoint stillness. Sometimes all I got was the swamp.

It is a slow alignment, sort of like braces on your teeth. I can feel my mind, indeed my entire being, being pulled, if only slightly, by the force of Spirit. The experience of grace is perhaps not some fickle, inexplicable favor bestowed at random, but a practical merging of our energy with Universal Life Force.

At the end of forty days I feel a bit more aware, a bit more stable, a bit stronger. All these little bits feed the fire of my yearning for transformation that comes alive in persistent practice. Persistent practice increases the likelihood that the path of the practitioner will intersect with moments of serendipitous joy and ecstasy.

Most of all, I feel encouraged to unleash my longing for the Divine!

We needn’t fear that we will fail to taste, digest and be nourished by the Divine presence that is readily accessible to all. Those who will persist in their efforts to align themselves with the pervasive, elegant willingness of creation’s eternal Energy are guaranteed success. It is our birthright.

So, I ask you to join me in forty days of devotion to the magnetic, righteous desire of your heart. It awaits you. It is a gift with your name on it. No one can deny you the prize of your destiny.

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The Early Yield of the 40 Day Practice

One of the many things I notice when I am inconsistent with my meditation is that it takes me about twenty minutes to slog through the distractions and unconscious inattention to get to the clear, calm state of concentration. If this happens to you, simply persevere w/o judgement or frustration. With practice you’ll get there, I promise.

This is exactly why I’ve set myself the challenge of a 40 day practice. I’ve grown weary of of the faulty construction I’ve made of my life by inconsistent practice. Forty days of practice helps us to instill new habits, to compose a new song for our lives. As you may know, 40 is a significant number in spiritual traditions the world over.

Speaking of composing a new song for our lives, have you ever seen a metronome? It’s a simple time keeping device used by musicians to set the tempo for a certain time signature of music. The pendulum of the metronome sounds the beat as it sways back and forth according to the speed set by the practitioner.

The breath is the metronome of the human being. As we begin our meditation, we engage the breath not only physically but mentally, psychologically and emotionally as well. We settle into a tempo of slow, regular diaphragmatic rhythm. We sing the sensual song of the body and allow it to suffuse every cell of our anatomy. We find the natural cadence of being that lies in our souls beneath all the competing storms that disturb our peace.

The metronomic rhythm of the attentive breath sweeps away the seeds of potential disturbance before they sprout. We clean the soil of our minds so that we may sow the seeds of peace and steady attention that root and give rise to the creativity that invariably germinates from this fertile state of mind.

Now the garden of the mind is set to become absorbed in the neurochemistry that creates the deep foundational union of the human spirit with our cosmic origins. Persisting in meditation quite simply changes our brains. The work of Harvard neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, demonstrates how meditation stimulates growth in the hippo campus and parietal lobe where memory and empathy respectively reside. At the same time, the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, is soothed and pacified. When we develop a habit of starting our day with this kind of mindset, we open the doors of possibility to being the kinds of people we really want to be–the kinds of people who can make positive, permanent change in our lives and the lives of others.

Another wonderful benefit is the seeming contradiction between feeling elevated and grounded simultaneously. I love this so much because it gives me the assurance that I will be more likely to think, speak and act with greater awareness. I will be less likely to think unkind thoughts and speak and or act out of unconscious reaction.

I am only a four days into my devotional period of 40 days, and the results are already such a joyful relief.

Here’s a good example of how a clear, considered state of mind can make a big difference: I heard a story today on NPR about an airline pilot whose plane was disabled by a broken engine fan blade that tore a hole in the wing of the jet aircraft he was flying. His actions defied my comprehension. The report told of how he sat back, took his hands off the controls and closed his eyes. WOW! He meditated. The instant guidance he got for consciously controlling his response was to treat that big hulking jet like a small Cessna. Rather than reacting to all the alarms and warnings produced by multiple systems failures, he cut through all the noise and carried out the fundamental, necessary actions that saved over 400 passengers and crew.

We may never fly a jet aircraft in an emergency situation, but each day, we know there are triggers and traps that have the ability to make us lose our composure, depress us, or send us careening off into an emotional detour that may have significant consequences. By starting each day with the habit of meditation we reconstruct our minds so that we are able to set the stage for goodness before negative influences confront us. We are ready and equipped to overcome life’s challenges before they gain enough strength to defeat us. The habit of meditation is the guarantor of our ability to respond to life in victory.

The Intimate Breath

The breath is not only how we receive the vitality of life, but it is our most intimate connection with Universal Prana, or creative force. Our first and last breaths define the boundaries of our physical lives. Yet, most of us ignore the breath and remain largely innocent of its power to transform our lives. The breath is automatic. Since it is automatic, we simply let it run on auto pilot as we go about our automatic lives. But the breath can also be transgressive, subversive and revolutionary. It is the sacred tool to break the robotic molds into which popular culture is being used to mold us.

Yoga and other related sciences of transformation like Ayurveda, Qigong, and Tai Chi, invite us to use the breath consciously. Within the conscious breath lie worlds that are hidden from everyday life. The art and science of using the breath with conscious control is the difference between mere existence and plumbing the depth of existence itself.

In Yoga, using the breath consciously is called Pranayama. Pranayama means to expand the life force, to energize ourselves toward a larger potential. To extend our life force with the breath requires only one, but very important feature: one-pointed attention.

In a world with so many stimuli clamoring for our attention, this is something most folks just don’t get around to or are even aware is possible. We have been programmed and dazzled by the media culture to the point that we seldom think our own thoughts. We need only simply look around and see people absorbed in their “devices,” imbibing artificial data streams of often meaningless entertainment to keep us from thinking our own thoughts. Asking people to simply sit quietly, following their breath, the most powerful personal force they will ever know, seems pretty poor competition for the seemingly glamorous distractions offered to us by our media saturated world.

But if you have reached the point of being sick with this saturation, and what is really colonization of your once-autonomous mind, then here is your invitation to break the collective trance under which so many of us have fallen. Here is the chance to develop a love and connection that is the basis for all transformative human experience. Here is the chance to liberate ourselves from the mind gobbling media behemoth that lusts to enslave and consume us. Your simple, life-giving breath is your salvation from a world of ruinous conformity and your ticket to true intimacy with yourself and genuine connection to other human beings who long for humanity, truth and freedom.

The intimate breath is the breath that we use in meditation. It is slow and measured. How do we measure the breath? The intimate breath is not measured with machines, nor is it recorded on graphs. It is measured with attention. When we sit comfortably, we can simply watch the breath as it rises and falls. The intimate breath is a breath where the attention watches each milliliter of breath inhaled and exhaled. By this minute attention we account for every moment of the golden present. This is rapt attention! This is absorption into union with the Universe, the one song, the eternal Presence of cosmic creation. This is the essence of yoga. A taste of this nectar renders its competitors pale by comparison.

This is attention so sharp that it pares away the irrelevance of the colonizing commercial clatter that assaults us daily. This is liberation from a type of possession that seeks to program and use us for the latest trend of mass hypnosis. This attentive breath is a breath so fine that direct knowledge can well up within us from this divine connection to the cosmos without being filtered through the greed of those who would control and dominate us.

The intimate breath is the get out of jail free card that unlocks the door into the intuitive knowledge that precedes all other knowledge.

Using this intimate, attentive breath gives us access to the deep well of knowing, knowing that shines a light into the dark places of the human psyche to help us release our potential as beings of boundlessness.

 

 

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/

Earth Shamans–Yogi Healers

Though yoga has taken root and flourished outside of its native India, there is little discussion of it ancient beginnings or purpose. From what can be gathered by comparing archaeological evidence to current practices that retain some of their archaic rudiments it seems safe to say that yoga is essentially a shamanic practice developed long before it was codified in the Vedas or by Patanjali around the beginning of the Common Era.

Shamanism as defined by religion historian Mircea Eliade is a technique of religious ecstasy in which the shaman enters the spirit realm and returns with knowledge that can be of benefit to us in the physical world. Archeologists recognize shamanism as the primary universal practice of Paleolithic times that pre-dates organized religion. Thus, the shaman/yogi is one who seeks union with the Universal Force or Mystery. The yogi, through practice then becomes a nexus or connecting point for the unfathomable energies of the universe.

One of the most ancient, and no doubt shamanic yogic practices, is the yajna or fire ceremony which represents the process of creation. According to the Vedas, or early Indian codification of yoga, yajna is a healing ritual. It’s purpose, says yogi David Frawley, is “aimed at restoring to wholeness the divine consciousness that has entered into us and become fragmented through the mind, body and senses. The purpose of the Vedic yajna is to heal or put back together the purusha or cosmic being that has sacrificed itself to become the world. The reintegration of the Creator and creation, or God and the soul, is the foundation of yoga as well.”[1] Yoga, simply translated, means “union.”

Atheists or agnostics may substitute the term energy for the word god.

For me, the idea that the central purpose of being human is to restore the cosmic balance is sobering, joyful and all-encompassing. It calls to us to use our access to the boundless universal energy source to reach our personal potential while we heal a fragmented creation. It calls us to our finest expression of what it is to be human.

This present moment in our collective history presents us with perhaps the most critical and most perfect opportunity to reach our potential and heal creation.

Current trends of great concern are now converging to get our attention. One of these trends is the rapid acidification of the ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) measures our oceans as 30 percent more acidic now than before the Industrial Revolution that began in the 18th century. Oceanic acidification is a result of the ocean absorbing the excess carbon released from fossil fuel combustion. If present trends continue NOAA predicts a 150% increase in ocean acidity by the end of this century.[2] This is a dead ocean that supports no life, including ours.

There is abundant evidence that this is already happening. Depending on which source you quote, Antarctic krill, the foundation of the ocean’s food chain, has decreased by 50-80. On the PacificCoast of the U.S. populations of scallops, oysters, starfish, sardines and sea lion pups are crashing. These same types of population decreases are also occurring globally. The ocean ph or measurement of acidity off the coast of British Columbia has dropped from 8.2 to 7.2. It may not sound like much of a change until you consider this. Normal human blood ph is between 7.35 and 7.45. A .1 variation can produce seizures, heart arrhythmia, or even coma. Shell fish cannot make shells under this acidosis disease condition now prevailing in our oceans.

In the past few years as the realization of our desperate plight has dawned on me, I’ve experienced grief, depression and despair nearly to the point of death. Thankfully, my yoga/meditation practice has healed me so that I am motivated to try to live a life of hope and activism.

As yogis we are called at this great moment to devote ourselves to use every science, art, and creative impulse to heal ourselves and creation. This is our mission. In the very near future, as the consequences of these trends begin to affect our food supply and our ability to survive, there will be a full-scale mobilization of our resources. The very bedrock of this effort will be initiated by the spiritual aspirants, the yogis of all nations, by all those who seek to weave the fabric of the cosmos back together again. As we perfect the knowledge of ourselves and our world through spiritual practice we will simultaneously inhabit the spirit realm and the earth plane and heal the dis-ease we have created. As we master human psychological and emotional technology, we will bend creativity into the arc of healing, equality, respect and love. This is why we are here now. This is our destiny. So, practice yogis and heal creation.


[1] Frawley, David Yoga and Ayurveda: Self Healing and Realization Lotus Press 1999