Meditation : Points of Practice - 10 Tips for the Wandering Mind
How to quiet the mind’s most persistent intruders while you meditate.
By Rolf Sovik (Himalayan Institute, Honesdale, PA)
‘The attainment of one-pointedness of the mind and senses is the best of practices—superior to all.’
—Sri Shankaracharya, A Thousand Teachings, 8th century
For most meditators, one-pointed concentration is a goal but not a reality. We do our best to manage distractions when they arise, yet often find them managing us instead. One way of handling distractions is to let them pass without giving them new energy. In the process, our concentration is naturally strengthened. But sometimes it helps to spend a moment identifying the sources of our distractions, because in the sorting-out process, we learn to better understand ourselves. We witness the mental and emotional attachments that linger within us, and weaken their hypnotic power to distract us.
Over 20 centuries ago, in his commentary on the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the sage Vyasa listed five states of mind related to the concentration process, each revealing something about the power of distraction. A mind can be:
- disturbed and thrown about (kshipta)
- stupefied and bewildered (mudha)
- distracted (vikshipta)
- one-pointed (ekagra)
- fully arrested in concentration (niruddha)
Vyasa set the bar high. He pointed out that the first two states of mind are not fit for concentration at all. Why? Because a disturbed mind cannot shake the agitations that haunt it. And a stupefied mind is worse. It mistakes something debilitating, such as an addiction or an obsession, as rewarding and beneficial—bewildering itself in the process.
Even for such minds, there is hope. The eight rungs of yoga include practices for those who are stuck in the first two states of mind. For those of us struggling with addictions or other fierce attachments, the yamas (“restraints,” such as non-harming), niyamas (“observances,” such as contentment), yoga postures, relaxed breathing, and systematic relaxation can help. Spending several months or longer practising these rungs will help bring order and self-control to the mind. Even for such minds, there is hope.
Most meditators, however, inhabit the third state of mind (distracted) and are aiming to get to the fourth state (one-pointed). Our concentration, though improving, is still interrupted by thoughts and images from far-flung corners of our consciousness. We wonder whose turn it is to vacuum. We complain about the colour of the paint on the wall. We ponder what the neighbours should name their new baby. In no particular order, here’s my list of meditation’s top 10 distractions and some practical tips for resolving them.
- Processing Recent Thoughts
At the beginning of any meditation the most common distraction is the thought you were having just before beginning to meditate. If you have been watching a movie, you’ll see memorable scenes from it. If you were working on your checking account, it’s the missing check or the unexpectedly large balance that will occupy your thoughts. The mind needs time to process current thoughts before turning to meditation. It may be helpful to give the mind a moment for them. Then move on.
- Following Random Thoughts
In his book Confessions, St. Augustine complained that even when he was deep in thought, his mind could be distracted by inconsequential events. While horseback riding, he might catch sight of a dog chasing a rabbit, and off his mind would go—following the chase, if only in his imagination. Augustine lamented, “In how many of the most minute and trivial things my curiosity is still daily tempted, and who can keep the tally of how often I succumb?” In a similar way, if we are not attentive, when an innocuous thought occurs in meditation, we may find ourselves pursuing it and its associations for minutes on end. In meditation, remind yourself from time to time that you are meditating. If you realize you have become sidetracked, simply come back to your focus.
- The Song in Your Head
Certain distractions have staying power, like tunes that play over and over in your mind. That ’60s lyric of Bobby Vee, “like a rubber ball, I’ll come bouncing back to you,” captures the idea perfectly. The resilience of repetitive thoughts makes them feel obsessive. But relax your breathing, settle into your meditation, and in a short time the offensive visitor will be gone.
Physical pain causes thoughts associated with it to circle round and round. Strategies for relieving pain preoccupy half of the circle, while pain itself fills the other. A better approach to managing pain is to join with it—to inspect it without fear or malice. Think to yourself: “To the best of my ability, let me be with this pain and learn from it.” It is especially important to maintain relaxed diaphragmatic breathing to accomplish this task. Since breathing is agitated and constricted by pain, you can create a more supportive inner environment by relaxing your breath. In this way, even a mind in pain can meditate. Pain loses its ability to distract. This makes it a particularly potent distraction.
- Sexual Fantasies
In the yoga tradition it is said that sex is a psychological urge as much as a physical one. Unlike other urges, the pleasure of sex can be satisfied by thinking or dreaming about it. This makes it a particularly potent distraction. Sexual thoughts engage the part of the mind that finds satisfaction in imagination—not the higher mind. The good news is that sexual energy can be sublimated in meditation. When it is, its agitating quality is transformed. But how? Stillness and a patient focus on breathing—on the energetic qualities of inhaling and exhaling—are an important key to managing steamy fantasies. As you exhale, feel the pleasant sensations that accompany the emptying of the lungs. Then, as you fill the lungs, feel the nurturing sensations of the inhalation. Patiently feel each breath and let your nervous system quietly relax.
- Dozing Off
It’s not uncommon for beginning meditators to imagine themselves to be awake during a guided meditation, when in fact they are snoring loudly enough to disturb a classroom full of students. Strange, dreamlike images (hypnagogic imagery) distract the mind, and consciousness itself becomes fuzzy, sliding almost inevitably toward sleep. When meditation is over, the sleeping meditator may claim to have heard all the instructions of the teacher, when in fact none of them registered. These are desperate times in meditation. The whole edifice of practice—consciousness itself—is caving in. When sleepiness persists, hold on to the sensations of your breath. It will keep you present when all else is vanishing.
- The Myth of Silence
In the yoga tradition, meditators use a mantra as their object of concentration. The mind rests in the sound of the mantra, which in turn fills the mind. But legend has it that in meditation the mind becomes silent. Thus it seems likely to some meditators that mantra recitation is a relatively simple practice that should be abandoned soon after it is started. Although the thought, “It’s time to stop the mantra,” may seem reasonable, it is really a distraction. Quiet and inward as it is, meditation is a discipline. We are training the mind to rest in a one-pointed focus. Attaining silence of the mind does not mean abandoning the mantra, for that causes the mind to lose its focus. Silence in meditation is something much deeper; it is a silence of the inner, witnessing mind. Any hope of reaching such silence depends upon completely resting the mind in the mantra and then letting the inner witness awaken. Stay with your mantra in meditation and let your doubts about concentration go.
- Emotions and Desires
The file drawers of memory contain our wants, wishes, and desires. Like cues entered into a computer search engine, these states of desire (kama) spawn endless thoughts. “Do not like, do not dislike; all will then be clear,” advised the Chinese Buddhist master Seng-Ts’an. “Let nothing disturb thee, nothing affright thee. All things are passing…” was St. Teresa of Avila’s version. Despite such wise advice, we often identify with our desires and feed them new energy in the quiet of meditation. While it can be difficult not to do this, the act of meditating is specially designed to help us remain centred in the face of such emotional agitation. Neither suppressing desires nor blindly acting on them will help. To enhance concentration, allow thoughts to discharge their emotional energy and refrain from adding to them—that’s the key.
- An Unsettled Posture
A variety of distracting thoughts result from one simple source—the way we sit. If your posture is not quite right in the beginning of your practice, imperfections will be magnified as time passes. Common problems include clothing that binds at the back of the knees, an improper support for the hips, discomfort in the hips or ankles, loss of circulation to the feet, rounding in the lower back, sharp pain in the upper back, discomfort in the shoulder joints, and neck pain. Since the urge to fix these problems will only increase as you continue to sit, it may make sense to promptly interrupt your meditation to make adjustments. Correct your posture, provide better support for your hips, or rearrange your clothes as necessary. Over time, you may need to address misalignments in your sitting posture through a balanced asana practice. The solution to the distracting voice of ego is trustful surrender.
Woven into the fabric of many an internal dialogue is an over-sized ME. What do I want? When will my needs be understood? What will this do for me? When a needy ego lies behind a distracting thought, its subtle influence can be hard to recognize. Yet the ego is a source of distraction—for under its sway, we see only ourselves and not the self that dwells more deeply in us. Nine hundred years ago the Sufi mystic Ibn al-’Arabi wrote intriguingly of the ego’s limitation and of the path leading beyond it:
When my Beloved appears, With what eye do I see him? With His eye, not with mine, For none sees Him except Himself.
The solution to the inordinately loud and distracting voice of ego is trustful surrender (also known as the niyama Ishvara pranidhana)—a willingness to see things through “His eye,” not ours. It is trustful surrender that shelters us and keeps us safe from ourselves. By making our ego small, and by finding comfort in humility, we come closer to the aim of meditation. Distractions gradually pass and we rest in a more stable state of concentration—in the presence of our innermost being.
President and Spiritual Director of the Himalayan Institute, Rolf Sovik, PsyD, began his study of yoga and meditation in 1972. He is a student of H.H. Swami Rama and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, and under their guidance has explored the teachings of the Himalayan tradition. He holds degrees in philosophy, music, Eastern Studies, and Clinical Psychology. He is currently a resident of the Himalayan Institute where he lives with his wife, Mary Gail.
A Year of Peace, A Year of Hope -
From Pope Francis' New Year Message
You can have flaws, be anxious, and even be angry, but do not forget that your life is the greatest enterprise in the world. Only you can stop it from going bust
Many appreciate you, admire you and love you. Remember that to be happy is not to have a sky without a storm, a road without accidents, work without fatigue, relationships without disappointments. To be happy is to find strength in forgiveness, hope in battles, security in the stage of fear, love in discord.
It is not only to enjoy the smile, but also to reflect on the sadness. It is not only to celebrate the successes, but to learn lessons from the failures. It is not only to feel happy with the applause, but to be happy in anonymity.
Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves. To be happy is to stop feeling like a victim and become your destiny's author. It is to cross deserts, yet to be able to find an oasis in the depths of our soul. It is to thank God for every morning, for the miracle of life.
Being happy is not being afraid of your own feelings. It's to be able to talk about you. It is having the courage to hear a "no". It is confidence in the face of criticism, even when unjustified. It is to kiss your children, pamper your parents, to live poetic moments with friends, even when they hurt us.
To be happy is to let live the creature that lives in each of us, free, joyful and simple. It is to have maturity to be able to say: "I made mistakes". It is to have the courage to say "I am sorry". It is to have the sensitivity to say, "I need you". It is to have the ability to say "I love you".
May your life become a garden of opportunities for happiness ... That in spring may it be a lover of joy. In winter a lover of wisdom. And when you make a mistake, start all over again. For only then will you be in love with life. You will find that to be happy is not to have a perfect life. But use the tears to irrigate tolerance. Use your losses to train patience. Use your mistakes to sculptor serenity. Use pain to plaster pleasure. Use obstacles to open windows of intelligence.
Never give up .... Never give up on people who love you. Never give up on happiness, for life is an incredible show.
Notes on Diaphragmatic Breathing, by John Howell
Presented via Zoom to EYMPC members on 04.02.21
Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, is breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. Air enters the lungs, the chest does not rise and the belly expands during this type of breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is also known scientifically as eupnea, which is a natural and relaxed form of breathing in all mammals. Eupnea occurs in mammals whenever they are in a state of relaxation, i.e. when there is no clear and present danger in their environment.
- OVERVIEW of the NERVOUS SYSTEM
- CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (CNS)
Brain & spinal cord. ‘Control room for the mind’ (& the whole nervous system)
- PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (PNS)
All nerves to & from CNS and the rest of body. PNS has two sub-divisions;
2.1. SENSORY – MOTOR NERVOUS SYSTEM (SNS).
(also called ‘Voluntary Nervous System’), which transmits;
- Incoming impulses from hearing, touch, seeing etc
- Outgoing impulses to contract or relax muscles & control body motion.
The SNS has major links with the cerebral cortex – the most advanced part of the brain – associated with conscious voluntary behaviour, free will or choice.
2.2. AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM (ANS).
Regulates working of glands, skin, heart, lungs, digestion, excretion, to fit
whatever aims & routines the mind has established.
Also responds to mental imagery or thoughts of the CNS, but
functions on its own below our usual conscious awareness or control.
[except for our ‘voluntary override’ of breathing that enables speech etc]
The ANS also has two sub-divisions;
2.2.1. SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM (SympNS).
- Causes inner body functions to ‘sympathise’ with outer activities goals.
inner; heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, sweat, muscle tone,
dilation of pupils, hormone excretions (adrenaline etc);
outer; arousal, alertness, emotional response, activity in general.
- Reduces; digestion & excretion.
2.2.2. PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM (PSympNS).
- Relaxation & ‘housekeeping’ of the body.
- Inner activities of nourishment & excretion, repairing tissues, building
energy supplies for future outward action.
- Inactivity, digestion, relaxation,
- The BREATHING PROCESS. p.2
The DIAPHRAGM. Points to note
- Diaphragm muscle; - attached to lower ribs; inserted to a central tendon (dome).
- Sternum and spine to which ribs are fixed.
- Chest cavity, containing lungs (which are unable to move air by themselves).
- lungs are attached to inside of rib cage by pleural membranes. Hence breathing is controlled by muscle movements of diaphragm & ribs (not lungs themselves).
INHALATION (Diaphragm in ‘sympathetic’ mode) – 3 components.
- Diaphragm contracts; its dome subsides, expanding the chest cavity & lungs, thusmodestly reducing air pressure inside them and causing them to fill with air.
- This component normally provides 75% of volume of each inhalation.
THORACIC or CHEST BREATHING
- Ribs pivot on their attachments to spine & sternum and swing slightly up and
outwards (‘bucket-handle movement’). So rib cage expands slightly sideways
CLAVICLAR or UPPER CHEST BREATHING
- Muscles between the ribs (intercostals) plus some neck and shoulder muscles, can also pull the sternum forward & raise it (‘pump handle movement’). This raises the upper chest.
EXHALATION (Diaphragm in ‘parasympathetic’ mode).
Diaphragm relaxes and expands upwards. Other muscles (intercostals etc) relax and rib cage contracts. Pressure in chest cavity rises, forcing air out of the lungs, which shrink due to their elasticity – like a balloon. (This shrinking also helps the upward expansion of the diaphragm.)
On inhalation, these relax to allow the digestive organs to make space for the subsiding diaphragm. On exhalation they contract and push digestive organs upwards which can also help the diaphragm expel air. Normally these contractions are passive, but sometimes they need to be voluntarily overridden (eg speaking) – hence prolonged speaking can be tiring.
A normal ‘tone’* of the abdominal muscles allows a smooth comfortable flow of air. If abdominal tone is too high (tight) or too low (flabby), breathing loses its relaxed quality. Low Tone is raised by ‘resistance’ training – e.g. press-ups, sit-ups etc. High tone is reduced by relaxation practices]
[*Tone = “the continuous and passive partial contraction of a muscle (or its resistance to passive stretching) during a resting state.”]
- NATURAL BREATHING
DEEP / DIAPHRAGMATIC
- Uses the blood rich lower lungs and is therefore more efficient &
- Reduces sympathetic nervous activity associated with chest
- breathing & is thus relaxing.
- But about 25% of normal breathing needs some chest breathing –
- so don’t try to immobilise the rib cage completely.
- Avoid jerks and pauses which can unbalance the autonomic NS.
[ Jerks provoke SympthNS; pauses provoke PSympthNS ]
Inhalation and exhalation need to be in balance, because;-
INHALATION stimulates or reflects
- The Sympathetic nervous system.
- Arousal / fight or flight / excitement.
- g. gasps of delight / horror / jerkiness
EXHALATION stimulates or reflects
- The Parasympathetic nervous system.
- Relaxation / possum response / inhibition. g. sighs of relief / sadness.
Too much habitual emphasis on either inhalation or exhalation may tend to exaggerate excitement or inhibition respectively – and lead to autonomic imbalance.
In the Autonomic NS, sympathetic impulses are keyed to arousal, while parasympatheticones are keyed to inhibition, which quietens activity and puts everything into a rest phase. In healthy functioning these two systems balance each other, exchanging dominance as the need arises, but maintaining equilibrium as dominance shifts.
However stress arises if the optimum balance is lost and there is intense or sustained dominance of either of the two systems, leading to mania, compulsive activity and burn-out on one hand, or an excessive inhibition, ‘possum response’ and depression on the other.
If the balance is maintained, one remains free of stress. But when balance is lost, anything one does can be stressful. Things or events one enjoys one day may be stressful the next. Keeping balance ultimately requires understanding the mind, particularly how the egodistorts the way we perceive and act. With understanding, purification can begin. And since breath is an easily observed barometer of the nervous system it can provide early warning of trouble ahead, and possibly alert us to the underlying mental attitudes triggering it.
Autonomic balance, emotions and the quality of breath are closely related. Changes in any one of them will lead to changes in the other two.
- POOR BREATHING. p.5
EXCESSIVE CHEST BREATHING
Upper Thoracic & clavicular breathing are body’s response to emergencies. They provide sudden bursts of energy but are not meant for everyday use. If either of these breathing styles become habitual, emotional & autonomic tension are increased.
Some reasons why this may happen;
- Anxiety, worry and an imaginary sense of threat [‘General Anxiety
Syndrome’] activating a low-level fight / flight response.
- Tightening the diaphragm and abdominal muscles to hold feelings
of fear and anger, mostly felt in lower part of the body, ‘out of
- Holding in the abdomen and pushing out the chest to achieve a
more fashionable or imposing body image [the ‘Superman’ pose]
When young, an upright posture is not difficult. But in time the weight of the head will tend to pull the rib cage forward, round the shoulders and restrict the diaphragm’s movement and tone. The abdominal and intercostal muscles will also lose tone and shallow inefficient breathing will result. Regular exercises are needed to correct this.
ASSESSING ONE’S BREATHING.
Feeling one’s diaphragmatic movement will depend on one’s posture.
(a) Sitting or standing. The most obvious effects are at the sides of the rib cage, plus a mild expansion of the abdomen. To sense this, align the thumb & for-finger of each hand against the sides of the rib cage just below the level of the sternum. There will be little to notice in the back since the muscles there are holding up the spine.
(b) Lying on the back (corpse pose). Here the rib cage is almost immobile and only the abdomen moves noticeably.
(c) Lying on the front (crocodile pose). In this position the torso expands and contracts all around. It causes the body to expand in the front, sides and back. (Hence is sometimes called ‘hoop’ breathing).
SIX METHODS for TRAINING the BREATH
- EXAGGERATE the MOVEMENTS of GOOD BREATHING.
Stand with feet slightly further apart than hips.
Hands on thighs; rest weight of torso on arms.
Exhale & slowly + firmly contract abdominals, pressing the navel
towards the spine.
Inhale & relax and let abdomen return to its normal position.
Repeat 10 – 20 times.
- ACTIVATE the BACK & SIDES of RIB CAGE.
Lie prone as shown. Close eyes & rest.
Feel breath as it flows in & out; let it find its own pace.
Feel rise & fall of lower back; relax there & let breath deepen.
Feel sides of lower ribs expand & contract; breathe into them
Notice alternate pressure & release of abdomen against the floor.
Remain in pose for 7-10 minutes.
- IMMOBILISE the CHEST.
(a)Reclining and (b)Standing symmetrical stretches.
(a) Lie on the back. Feet together. Arms overhead, palms inwards.
Relax LHS; stretch right arm & leg & whole right side of body.
Feet & hands together again; stretch & release RHS x4 more times
Change sides; relax RHS; stretch & release LHS x5 times.
Feet & hands together; stretch & release both sides x5 times.
(b) Stand & raise arms sideways to vertical (palms inwards).
Lengthen through rib cage & broaden back.
Hold for x5 breaths, feeling lower ribs expand & contract.
Release on an exhalation.
- STRENGTHEN the DIAPHRAGM
With feet 3 feet apart & parallel, inhale & raise left arm sideways.
At shoulder level, turn palm upwards & continue arm overhead.
Reach up, lengthen LHS of body; begin bending to the right side.
Don’t tilt forward or back. Keep left elbow straight.
Slide right hand slide down right leg, supporting the bend a little.
Hold stretch for 5/10 breaths. Deliberately inhale into LHS & and
the abdomen. Don’t allow the stretch to prevent deep breathing.
Inhale as you lift back to centre; exhale as you lower the arm.
Repeat for the RHS. Then repeat whole cycle once more.
- SIT or STAND ERECT.
Sitting or standing pose.
Sit or stand upright.
Soften sides of rib cage, & let abdominal + back muscles support
your posture with very modest muscle tone.
Notice how, with lateral movements of the lower ribs, abdominal
movement becomes much less pronounced than when you lie on
Lie on the back on a firm flat surface, with thin cushion under head.
Bring shoulder blades slightly together, & draw them down towards
the waist, opening the chest.
Arms 6” from the sides, palms upward. Feet 12 - 18” apart.
If lower back discomfort, put folded blanket under knees.
Breathe rhythmically & allow abdomen to rise & fall freely & calmly.
Relax the chest muscles & let the chest wall seem to soften.
Focus at the base of the sternum & sense any tensions at the
heart centre being gradually released.
Let breathing be deep, smooth, relaxed & without pause.
Continue for 5 – 10 minutes.
Useful links :
The Isa Upanisha
Isa Upanishad (Isavasya Upanishad)
Source: "The Upanishads - A New Translation" by Swami Nikhilananda
Om. That is perfect; this is perfect. This perfection has been projected from that perfection. When this perfection merges in that perfection, all that remains is perfection. Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!
1 All this-whatever exists in this changing universe-should be covered by the Lord. Protect the Self by renunciation. Lust not after any man's wealth.
2 If a man wishes to live a hundred years on this earth, he should live performing action. For you, who cherish such a desire and regard yourself as a man, there is no other way by which you can keep work from clinging to you.
3 Verily, those worlds of the asuras are enveloped in blind darkness; and thereto they all repair after death who are slayers of Atman.
4 That non-dual Atman, though never stirring, is swifter than the mind. The senses cannot reach It, for It moves ever in front. Though standing still, It overtakes others who are running. Because of Atman, Vayu, the World Soul apportions the activities of all.
5 It moves and moves not; It is far and likewise near. It is inside all this and It is outside all this.
6 The wise man beholds all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings; for that reason he does not hate anyone.
7 To the seer, all things have verily become the Self: what delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness?
8 It is He who pervades all-He who is bright and bodiless, without scar or sinews, pure and by evil unpierced; who is the Seer, omniscient, transcendent and uncreated. He has duly allotted to the eternal World-Creators their respective duties.
9 Into a blind darkness they enter who are devoted to ignorance (rituals); but into a greater darkness they enter who engage in knowledge of a deity alone.
10 One thing, they say, is obtained from knowledge; another, they say, from ignorance. Thus we have heard from the wise who have taught us this.
11 He who is aware that both knowledge and ignorance should be pursued together, overcomes death through ignorance and obtains immortality through knowledge.
12 Into a blind darkness they enter who worship only the unmanifested prakriti; but into a greater darkness they enter who worship the manifested Hiranyagarbha.
13 One thing, they say, is obtained from the worship of the manifested; another, they say, from the worship of the unmanifested. Thus we have heard from the wise who taught us this.
14 He who knows that both the unmanifested prakriti and the manifested Hiranyagarbha should be worshipped together, overcomes death by the worship of Hiranyagarbha and obtains immortality through devotion to prakriti.
15 The door of the Truth is covered by a golden disc. Open it, O Nourisher! Remove it so that I who have been worshipping the Truth may behold It.
16 O Nourisher, lone Traveller of the sky! Controller! O Sun, Offspring of Prajapati! Gather Your rays; withdraw Your light. I would see, through Your grace, that form of Yours which is the fairest. I am indeed He, that Purusha, who dwells there.
17 Now may my breath return to the all-pervading, immortal Prana! May this body be burnt to ashes! Om. O mind, remember, remember all that I have done.
18 O Fire, lead us by the good path for the enjoyment of the fruit of our action. You know, O god, all our deeds. Destroy our sin of deceit. We offer, by words, our salutations to you.
The Isa or Isavasya Upanishad proclaims loudly the philosophy of non-dualism or Advaita, declaring God or Brahman to be the sole inhabitant of everything that exists. It has some similarities with the teachings of the Bhagavadgita. For example, the Bhagavadgita has eighteen chapters and Isa Upanishad has 18 verses. In many ways, the eighteen verses are as significant as the 18 chapters. In the 18 verses, the Upanishad sums up the significance and purpose of human life and with what attitude one should live upon earth and depart from here. It speaks about performing your duties, using the knowledge of the Brahman for righteous ends, and achieving liberation. The knowledge of Brahman or Self, and selfless performance of obligatory duties are both important for liberation. This is the central theme of the Upanishad.
Eckhart Tolle, born Ulrich Leonard Tölle, February 16, 1948) is a spiritual teacher and best-selling author. He is a German-born resident of Canada, best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. In 2008, The New York Times called Tolle, "the most popular spiritual author in the United States." In 2011, he was listed by Watkins Review as the most spiritually influential person in the world. Tolle does not identify with any specific religion, but he has been influenced by a wide range of spiritual works.
Tolle said he was depressed for much of his life until age 29 when he experienced an "inner transformation." He then spent several years wandering "in a state of deep bliss" before becoming a spiritual teacher. He moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1995 and currently divides his time between Canada and California. He began writing his first book, The Power of Now, in 1997 and it reached The New York Times Best Seller list in 2000.
The Power of Now and A New Earth sold an estimated three million and five million copies respectively in North America by 2009. In 2008, Tolle joined television talk show host Oprah Winfrey for 10 live webinars, and by October 2009 they had been accessed 35 million times. In 2016, Tolle was named in Oprah's SuperSoul 100 list of visionaries and influential leaders.
For more information on Eckhart Tolle :
Studying Eckhart Tolle
Tolle is a contemporary spiritual teacher whose works we study regularly at EYMPC. Here are some extracts from his best-known work, The Power of Now (1997)
“The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some superhuman accomplishment (and the ego likes to keep it that way), but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form. “
“ Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life subject to birth and death. However Being is not only beyond, but also deep within every form as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence. This means that it is accessible to you now as your own deepest self, your true nature.
But don’t seek to grasp it with your mind. Don’t try to understand it. You can only know it when the mind is still. When you are present, when your attention fully and intensely in the Now, Being can be felt, but it can never be understood mentally.To regain awareness of Being and to abide in that state of “feeling-realization” is enlightenment.”
“Thinking has become a disease. Disease happens when things get out of balance. For example, there is nothing wrong with cells dividing and multiplying in the body, but when this process continues in disregard of the total organism, cells proliferate and we have disease. Note that the mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly – you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are the mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over.”
“The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life. The pain you create now is always some form of non-acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought the resistance is some form of judgement. On the emotional level it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how strongly you are identified with your mind. The mind always seeks to deny the Now and escape from it. In other words, the more you are identified with your mind, the more you suffer. Or you may put it like this: the more you are able to honour and accept the Now, the more you are free of pain, of suffering – and free of the egoic mind.”
For more information :
The Threefold Purpose of Meditation: ·
- First, to calm the conscious mind
- Second, to teach us how not to be disturbed by the flood of images arising from the subconscious mind
- Third, to go beyond the conscious and subconscious mind to the highest state of samadhi
Freedom from the Bondage of Karma, p. 27
Six things you will need to learn in order to meditate:
- How to relax the body
- How to sit in a comfort, steady posture for meditation
- How to make your breathing process serene
- How to witness the objects in the train of the mind
- How to inspect the quality of thoughts and learn to promote or strengthen those which are positive and helpful in your growth
- How not to allow yourself to become disturbed in any situation, whether you judge it to be either bad or good
Meditation and Its Practice, pp. 13-14
Five steps of a meditation session:
- First Step: Preparing for a Meditation Session
- Second Step: Relax and Stretch the Muscles
- Third Step: Relaxation Practices to Prepare for Meditation
- Fourth Step: Calming the Mind and Nervous System with Breathing Practices
- Fifth Step: Sitting in Meditation
Meditation and Its Practice, pp. 18-22
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1.36. Concentration may also be attained by fixing the mind upon the Inner Light, which is beyond sorrow.
The ancient yogis believed that there was an actual centre of spiritual consciousness, called "the lotus of the heart," situated between the abdomen and the thorax, which could be revealed in deep meditation. They claimed that it had the form of a lotus and that it shone with an inner light. It was said to be "beyond sorrow," since those who saw it were filled with an extraordinary sense of peace and joy.
From the very earliest times, the masters of yoga emphasized the importance of meditating upon this lotus. "The supreme heaven shines in the lotus of the heart," says the Kaivalya Upanishad, "Those who struggle and aspire may enter there. Retire into solitude. Seat yourself on a clean spot in an erect posture, with the head and neck in a staight line. Control all sense-organs. Bow down in devotion to your teacher. Then enter the lotus of the heart and meditate there on the presence of Brahman—the pure, the infinite, the blissful. -
And in the Chandogya Upanishad we read:
Within the city of Brahman, which is the body, there is the heart, and within the heart there is a little house. This house has the shape of a lotus, and within it dwells that which is to be sought after, inquired about, and realized.
What, then, is that which dwells within this little house, this lotus of the heart? What is it that must be sought after, inquired about, and realized?
Even so large as the universe outside is the universe within the lotus of the heart. Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, the moon, the lightning and all the stars. Whatever is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm also.
All things that exist, all beings and all desires, are in the city of Brahman; what, then, becomes of them when old age approaches and the body dissolves in death?
Though old age comes to the body, the lotus of the heart does not grow old. It does not die with the death of the body. The lotus of the heart, where Brahman resides in all his glory—that, and not the body, is the true city of Brahman. Brahman, dwelling therein, is untouched by any deed, ageless, deathless, free from grief, free from hunger and from thirst. His desires are right desires, and his desires are fulfilled.
Dwelling in the Lotus Heart: A Meditation Practice
By visualizing your heart as a lotus flower, you can begin to create a safe, comfortable place for your mind to settle.
In yoga and meditation, the heart can be visualized as a lotus flower unfolding at the center of the chest. Like a lotus that contracts and opens according to the light, our spiritual heart can be awakened through various yoga practices from asana practice to Pranayama, chanting, and meditation.
The following meditation focuses the awareness on the seat of one's lotus heart. For some, this will be a very natural sanctum to rest the awareness. Others may observe that the restless nature of the mind does not subside so easily. This meditation serves two purposes: First, to learn to focus the mind on any object as an internal seat, and second, to receive the healing benefits of being connected to the heart as a place of unconditional love.
To begin, find a comfortable posture for meditation (seated on a cushion or blanket, in a chair, or against a wall). You may find it helpful to set a timer for 10, 20, or 30 minutes so you can deepen your meditation without wondering about the time. You may also want to gently ring a bell at the beginning and end of your meditation.
Place your hands on your knees in Jnana Mudra (index and thumb touching), with palms facing up to open your awareness or palms facing down to calm the mind. Scan your body and relax any tension. Let your spine rise from the base of the pelvis. Draw your chin slightly down and let the back of your neck lengthen. Now plant the seeds for meditating on the lotus of the heart.
Begin by quietly reading this passage from the Upanishads:
"Bright but hidden, the Self dwells in the heart. Everything that moves, breathes, opens, and closes lives in the Self-the source of love. Realize the Self hidden in the heart and cut asunder the knot of ignorance here and now."
As you inhale, draw your awareness from the base of the pelvis to the center of the chest. As you exhale, concentrate on the sensations that you feel in your chest. Stay with those sensations and allow your awareness to deepen. Do you feel heat, tingling, lightness, density, tightness? As you inhale, breathe into your heart.
Begin to visualize a lotus flower inside your chest that is gently spreading its petals open with each inhalation. And as you exhale, just dwell inside the lotus flower. (Note: If visualizing a lotus flower is too poetic for you, an alternative is to focus on a cave in the heart with a flame in the center, or a fire illuminating your heart.)
You may choose to stay with visualization of the lotus or you may focus on the sensation of an expanding heart. When feelings arise, allow them to pass through you like the changing light of the day, or imagine them resting on the flower like water on its petals. Dwell inside the lotus of your heart, feeling the qualities of unconditional love emerge.
When you are ready, bring your hands together in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) and complete your meditation with a moment of gratitude, reflection, or prayer to integrate the energy of your meditation into your life. You can bring your awareness to your heart anytime throughout the day to come back to the seat of unconditional love.
The hand gestures of Yoga. Hasta means ‘hand’ and Mudra means both ‘hand’ and ‘seal’. Mudras enhance energy flow and are used to align, calm, purify and concentrate. Their ultimate aim is to help the practitioner realise his or her full potential as a human being. Some mudras are physical postures or gestures of hand, face or foot. The hasta mudras enhance meditation and pranayama.
The gesture of salutation. Hands are held palm to palm in front of the centre of the chest.
The traditional mudra for meditation, symbolising ego and spirit (Atman) in harmony. Hands rest upwards on knees or thighs, thumb and index finger together, the other fingers straight.
THE HASTA MUDRAS OF PRANAYAMA
These mudras are used to emphasise and improve the effects of breath-control. Energy flow is increased to diaphragm, intercostal and clavicular areas as desired. The full lung breath is controlled by a fourth Mudra.
Index finger and thumb touching, three fingers extended. Hands are placed palm down and fingers slightly inwards on thighs below the groin area, elbows turned slightly out, shoulders relaxed. Used to control diaphragmatic breathing.
Chin Maya Mudra
As for Chin Mudra except three fingers are folded in palm. Used to control intercostal or middle section breathing.
Thumb folded in palm and four fingers closed over thumb. Hands placed palm down and turned slightly inwards as for Chin Mudra. Used to control clavicular or upper section breathing.
As for Adhi Mudra but hands are turned upward, knuckle to knuckle just under the ‘v’ shaped of the ribcage on upper diaphragm area. Used to control the full lung breath.
Hasta Mudras should be used with care, preferably under the guidance of an experienced teacher. When used either for meditation or pranayama, no strain or discomfort should be experienced.
With our modern emphasis on the physical practice of asana it’s hard to believe that for thousands of years yoga was a completely mental practice. The ancient yogis explored the inner workings of the mind (not the body!) in their quest to understand the nature of reality and how to attain enlightenment. In doing so, they identified what they believed to be the source of unhappiness and blocks to achieving samadhi. They believed through properly utilizing antarkarana, or the four functions of a yogi’s mind — manas, chitta, ahamkara and buddhi — a yogi’s quest for enlightenment could be realized.
Philosophy In Shakespeare
Introduction to Shakespeare's Sonnets
The Sonnets are Shakespeare's most popular works, and a few of them have become the most widely-read poems in all of English literature.
A sonnet is a 14-line poem that rhymes in a particular pattern. In Shakespeare's sonnets, the rhyme pattern is abab cdcd efef gg, with the final couplet used to summarize the previous 12 lines or present a surprise ending. The sonnet is further subdivided into an octave (first 8 lines) and a sestet (remaining 6 lines), with the octave being broadly expositional and the sestet reflective. The end of the octave is often marked by a particular punctuation mark, e.g. a semi colon, which is referred to as the volta or ‘turn’ .The rhythmic pattern of the sonnets is the iambic pentameter. An iamb is a metrical foot consisting of one stressed syllable and one unstressed syllable — as in dah-DUM, dah-DUM dah-DUM dah-DUM dah-DUM. Shakespeare uses five of these in each line, which makes it a pentameter. The sonnet is a difficult art form for the poet because of its restrictions on length and metre.
Composition Date of the Sonnets
Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, likely composed over an extended period from 1592 to 1598, the year in which Francis Meres commented : “The witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous & honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugared sonnets among his private friends...” In 1609 Thomas Thorpe published Shakespeare's sonnets, no doubt without the author's permission, in quarto format, along with Shakespeare's long poem, The Passionate Pilgrim. The sonnets were dedicated to a W. H., whose identity remains a mystery, although William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, is frequently suggested because Shakespeare's First Folio (1623) was also dedicated to him.
Narrative of the Sonnets
The majority of the sonnets (1-126) are addressed to a young man, with whom the poet has an intense romantic relationship. The poet spends the first seventeen sonnets trying to convince the young man to marry and have children; beautiful children that will look just like their father, ensuring his immortality. Many of the remaining sonnets in the young man sequence focus on the power of poetry and pure love to defeat death and "all oblivious enmity" (55.9).
The final sonnets (127-154) are addressed to a promiscuous and scheming woman known to modern readers as the dark lady. Both the poet and his young man have become obsessed with the raven-haired temptress in these sonnets, and the poet's whole being is at odds with his insatiable "sickly appetite" (147.4). The tone is distressing, with language of sensual feasting, uncontrollable urges, and sinful consumption.
An alternative reading of the sonnets sees Shakespeare as a fully-realised yogi who is addressing his verse to the Eternal Self, the Lord of life, or Brahman, and not to individual people. If we approach the sonnets with this perspective, they take on a whole new life and meaning :
‘As soon as we take it into consideration according to the Gita’s philosophy of Purusha and Prakriti , our problem regarding the identity of the ‘fair boy’ and ‘Dark Lady’ is solved. The sonneteer appears a perfect disciple of the integral Yoga of the Gita. In his sonnets all the disciplines of yoga exist in perfection.’
‘The Sonnets are an exposition of the inner workings of a yogic mind and heart. The personality of the sonneteer as it appears in the hymns abounds in the truth of his inner soul free from attachment to the objects of senses, ego and desire… When we study the Sonnets in its entirety, there emerges perfect evidence to view them as a divinely displayed work-out of the teachings of the Gita.
‘Shakespeare is chosen as a divine instrument, a divine worker, for he is the seer of the Self or the Soul. In his hymns, he sets conceivable examples of God’s presence as the universal Self in all visible objects.’
‘Shakespeare is a well-versed Yogi living inwardly. He is being guided by the Lord’s message : “When one does not get attached to objects of the senses or to works and has renounced all will and desire in the mind, then he is said to have ascended to the top of Yoga.”
Yoga nidra (Sanskrit: योग निद्रा) or "yogic sleep" is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the "going-to-sleep" stage. It is a state in which the body is completely relaxed, and the practitioner becomes systematically and increasingly aware of the inner world by following a set of (audio) instructions.
This state of consciousness (yoga nidra) differs from meditation, in which concentration on a single focus is required. In yoga nidra the practitioner remains in a state of light pratyahara with four of his senses internalised, that is, withdrawn, and only the hearing still connects to the instructions. The yogic goals of both paths - deep relaxation (yoga nidra) and meditation - are the same, a state called samadhi.
Yoga nidra is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. In lucid dreaming, one is only, or mainly, cognizant of the dream environment, and has little or no awareness of one's actual environment. The practice of yoga relaxation has been found to reduce tension and anxiety. The autonomic symptoms of high anxiety such as headache, giddiness, chest pain, palpitations, sweating and abdominal pain respond well. It has been used to help soldiers from war cope with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yoga nidra refers to the conscious awareness of the deep sleep state, referred to as prajna in Mandukya Upanishad. To read the full article, go to : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_nidra
by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati.
We may believe in one or the other of the philosophies of Dualism or Non-Dualism. We may see these philosophies as either contradictory or complementary.
However, when we want food or sex, or feel threatened, we automatically respond from Dualism, not Non-Dualism. If we watch a person die, or look at a corpse, are we not all struck by the mystery of apparent matter and consciousness? The higher truth quickly goes out the window in such moments and we find we are faced squarely with the Dualistic, conditioned response of the stuff of our mind.
There is something between us and Truth, the Absolute Reality, and that is called the mind. Training the mind is the starting point for Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras. For example, one of the first things he talks about is observing which of our thoughts are useful or not useful, positive or negative. Then he directs us to learn to make choices in life on the basis of what is positive and helpful in our growth, choosing to do that which we know leads towards a stable, inner state of tranquility. Such self-observation, self-examination, and self-training are necessary in preparation for the deeper practices.
The Dualism of the Yoga Sutra gives us detailed instructions on how to clear away the clutter so we can find the door. Non-Dualistic Vedanta philosophy gives us a sound contemplative base for deeper understanding of the nature of the door and that which is beyond. Tantra shows us how to open the door, as well as how and where to knock.
To view these as contradictory leads to confusion. To view them as complementary leads to freedom. We can apply the Dualistic and Non-Dualistic philosophies as different aspects of the same one journey within, which eventually leads to the direct experience of the center of consciousness, wherein all these questions are resolved and dissolved.
What’s The Dualism/Non-Dualism Distinction All About?
Dvaita means two or dual, and Advaita means not-two or non-dual. Whether or not a spiritual philosophy is dualist or non-dual makes a huge difference in terms of how it formulates our relationship to the world, the meaning of life, the nature of reality, why we are engaging in certain practices, what we are seeking to realize.
Just think of the (dualist) Christian idea of a soul that either goes to Heaven or Hell upon death based on one’s relationship to an invisible transcendent God. Think of the (more non-dual) pagan idea, which the Christians sought to suppress, of God(s) as existing in the natural world and of festivals that celebrated nature, the body, sexuality etc.. Consider the lack of a God in Buddhism, and the emphasis instead on one’s inner psychospiritual development.
In Western philosophy, dualism generally refers to Mind/Body dualism which we are most familiar with as the belief that there is an immaterial soul (or mind) distinct from and able to be independent of the body at death. Very few modern philosophers, biologists or other scientists find Mind/Body dualism convincing, and instead see the mind (or Consciousness) as being entirely dependent upon the mortal physical body.
The Relationship of Consciousness and Matter
This is where it can all get a little tricky, so here’s a simple key:
Samkhya (dualist) – Consciousness (Purusha) and Matter (Prakriti) are two distinct things, there is no God.
Patanjali’s Classical Yoga (dualist) – Consciousness and Matter are two distinct things, there is a God – by becoming identified with Purusha (Consciousness) and disentangling oneself from the phenomenal/material world, or Prakriti – including the body and mind, one can come to know God.
Advaita Vedanta (provisional non-dualist) – God is the all-pervading, ever-present nature of all things, Purusha and Prakriti are one – but we live in a world of illusion or Maya, in which we are unable to see this until we awaken.
Tantra – (non- dual) Everything that exists is a manifestation of the one Reality that is pure consciousness and bliss. Prakriti evolves through all the forms of the material world without ever losing it’s nature as pure consciousness (Purusha).
In Samkhya, the dualism (which Patanjali follows) is between Purusha (the Self/Seer/Soul/Consciousness) and Prakriti (the World/Matter/Nature). This is also an expression of a duality between the physical body and a proposed non-physical soul, and so falls into what in Western philosophy is called Mind/Body dualism, although Samkhya (and Patanjali’s Sutra) go one step further in proclaiming that Purusha is indeed distinct even from the mind. We seek to become dis-identified with Prakriti and identified with Purusha. An interesting difference between Samkhya and Patanjali is that the former denies the existence of God, whereas Patanjali (as we shall see) says that purpose of Yoga is to come to an awareness of God.
Advaita Vedanta differs from this dualism in it’s assertion that there is only God (or Purusha) – that everything, including the world and the Self are in essence one with God, but that the world of appearances casts a veil of illusion, or Maya, over the ever-present, all-pervading Divine. So unlike the radical dualism that says God and The World are two completely different things – this position says it’s all God, but until we pierce the veil of illusion we cannot see this. The fault therefore is within us – not in the world of phenomena.
Tantra, on the other hand, sees Prakriti as evolving through the forms of the world while maintaining it’s pure nature as consciousness itself. Not only is it all God, a la Adveita Vedanta, but even the illusion is God – everything is indeed a perfect expression of the Divine. Tantra is a radical non-dualism in that it challenges conventional notions of sacred and profane and seeks to affirm everything that is – hence the breaking of taboos and embrace of sexuality for which it is mostly well known in the West.
These three (or four, if we include Patanjali’s Samkhya + God formulation) different belief systems about the relationship of Consciousness to Matter are at the heart of Indian philosophy.
Benedictine Monk Laurence Freeman OSB talks about what meditation is and provides a simple meditation technique that Christians, or anyone, can practice. Father Laurence describes the primary experience and nature of meditation, and outlines a simple but effective method using a sacred word or mantra.See the full article + video on : http://www.meditationplex.com/christian-meditation/simple-christian-meditation-instruction-laurence-freeman/
Written by Swami Veda Bharati
From childhood we are trained to see, examine, and verify things in the external world, but initiation, or receiving a mantra, is a step for seeing and looking within. It is not a religious ceremony. Do not confuse a mantra or meditation with religion; they are entirely different.
A mantra is a sound, a syllable, or a set of sounds. It is known not by its meaning, but by its vibrations. It provides a focus for the mind and helps one become aware of his or her internal states. It is a way to understand one’s self and to coordinate one’s external and internal words.
The mantra is a friend that helps the mind become one pointed and slowly leads the student to a deep state of silence, to the Center of Consciousness within. It is a spiritual seed sown in the soil of the self. It is a therapeutic guide that leads one through various levels of being and finally to the unity between individual and Cosmic Consciousness.
The Mantra is an important means on the path of Self Enlightenment. You are encouraged to practice meditation regularly, to remember your mantra, and to make it part of your life.
When meditating, use the mantra silently and consciously. At other times, you can use it consciously or unconsciously. In time you will find your mantra guiding you in daily life.