Why meditate…what is the purpose?
Well, we nourish our body every day with food with great regularity, but most of us neglect to take care of some of the deeper aspects of ourselves. Meditation nourishes our mind and our soul and the spiritual aspects of our nature which also need constant attention. These shape our whole life experience. People who are peaceful, for example, are not disturbed by life’s ups and downs, they have an inner calm and poise. And our happiness – most of our efforts at being happy depend upon external things like better jobs, new relationships, material things, travel plans and so forth, but meditation cultivates an inner happiness that no longer depends on these changing outer things at all.
I remember many years ago travelling a lot during a very purposeless part of my life. But everywhere I went my inner unhappiness followed me, colored in all of my experiences. A Greek poet once said: ‘No ship exists to take you from yourself..’ – yes that is what it was like, I couldn’t escape myself. So meditation changes the inner landscape, helps you to find inner peace, a different kind of happiness and a new understanding about your life. You can pursue all of your outer life ambitions as well, but your happiness will no longer depend upon their success or failure, it’s coming from within.
So what is meditation ?
It’s an inner quest to understand yourself, to reconnect with your soul, to realize what and who you really are. All the big words – enlightenment, yoga, self-discovery, God realisation – refer to this achievement. It’s really our deepest purpose, but we’re so immersed in our life dramas and enchanted by the world that we’ve forgotten about our spiritual nature and how important it is to real happiness. People who have an interest in meditation are awakening – meditation is the response, looking down into the silences to see what is there.
What are some of the practical benefits?
There are lots! Even after a short period of sincere practice things start to happen, a range of positives from the physical to the spiritual. At the physical level you can expect to sleep better as you gradually eliminate stress and negative thought. And because our physical health is so connected to thoughts and mind –holistics! – increasing our sense of calm brings about a renewed vitality and life energy.
You’ll laugh more, become more heart centered and intuitive! You’ll simply feel more happy. You will slowly develop what is really an inner poise, a growing calm in the face of life’s endless challenges. This is really something! And as our practice deepens the benefits flow out into all of life, into how we understand and deal with each passing moment – it is a life skill that changes our existence from the inside out.
At the highest level, meditation reconnects us with our deepest potentials, unveils the great mystery of who we really are – and this is not just mind, body, personality or gender. We really are spiritual beings and the great quest for what is called ‘enlightenment’ or self-realization becomes increasingly real to us as we glimpse and feel the great joy and freedom of our souls.
How does a beginner get started?
Start with a modest and achievable goal of simply creating a space in your life, perhaps ten minutes in the morning, to practice one or two simple exercises in stilling the mind. Take it one week at a time, set an initial goal of sitting once a day for seven days. This sounds easy, but adding an uncertain new habit into a life which already prioritizes other things is a challenge. You need to have real sincerity! Come to one of our free workshops and learn the ABC’s, or go to some teacher or group to get properly started and inspired.
Create in your room a special place, a shrine with a flower and candle, as a focal point. Incense helps to add atmosphere and inspiration. Work with exercises to quieten your thoughts – breathing techniques, visualizations, mantras – and don’t have expectations or evaluate your progress . Each effort is progress, and the wanderings and restlessness in the mind will gradually subside. But you have to make a start!
How do we know what form of meditation is best for us?
You won’t at first, but as your practice progresses you will start to zero in on the methods most suited to your nature. We’re each temperamentally inclined toward a certain type of practice, of yoga, and will naturally veer towards that quite instinctively. There are many ways to meditate but most share in common the effort to still the mind – eventually the different paths all converge at the top of the mountain, reach the same goal.
One of the secrets of meditation is that all sincere effort seems to attract what I can only call grace – all the difficulties melt away, our path finds us, the universe shows us our way forward simply through our willingness to try.
Another secret of meditation is that this ability is already inside us – we are not learning how to be peaceful but remembering ! Practice is simply creating the time and space out of which this knowledge can emerge. Our spirituality is the most natural and wonderful of our gifts and simply needs to be awakened – it has been neglected and eclipsed by our busy outer lives yet remains the greatest determining factor in the quality of all our life experience. Everything begins within!
How long before I can begin to feel some of these nice things ?
A day, a week, a month…who knows? Just make a start and find out! We are all at different points on different journeys, though we share the same challenges to master the mind and find our way back to our deeper nature.
Remember though – don’t meditate to simply have nice experiences but to make progress, as though you have embarked on a long and wonderful journey. Some days are rewarding and easy, others difficult, but rise above all thought of good and bad and commit to the quest of self-discovery. And remember that where you are struggling to quieten the mind, there also is the greatest possibility of enlightenment – that is the coalface of progress! If you practice every day, then every day is another step closer to the great joy and the great happiness that lies at the end of all striving.
For a detailed ‘Learn to Meditate’ outline please visit Sri Chinmoy Center website.
You’re a vegetarian I believe – why?
It’s one of those lifestyle changes that can benefit meditators. I became a vegetarian about 40 years ago – it was one of the things my own teacher Sri Chinmoy requested and encouraged. The food we eat has some impact on our inner development, a calm mind and healthy body, and in my case I was amazed how much better I felt. I started running about that time as well, marathons, ultras, and as your wellbeing increases you can really measure and feel the effect of diet on your energy and stamina and life force. We’re herbivores, it’s only cultural conditioning that makes eating other animals a usual thing. There’s also a growing sense of ethical responsibility to respect life, to be the caretakers of life on this planet and guardians of all the other species rather than their main predator.
But you’re not a vegan?
Yes, I am pretty much. New Zealand is moving fast in this direction, a huge groundswell of change. I think in 50-80 years from now most of the world will be vegan or vegetarian as well, though there will be a lot of resistance to it. It took 400 years for slavery to be abolished, now we marvel that it ever happened. Women’s right to vote – what a battleground that was, and again it seems fantastic it should ever have been questioned at all! Killing whales and dolphins – look at the long struggle to stop this. One day we’ll marvel at our inhumanity, that it went on for so long. The environmental impact of agribusiness is also massively detrimental – we’ll be forced to change the way we treat out planet.
What are some of your other lifestyle differences from the mainstream?
Well, I don’t smoke or take alcohol, and that’s also a recommendation on our path. They’re a normal part of our world, but they’re not conducive to the wellbeing of the body and mind. In meditation you become more conscious of how much everything else in your life helps or hinders your practice, the mind-body connection – your spiritual life can’t exist in isolation from all the other things you do. You’re aiming for a body-temple, not a body-dungeon. In a really healthy body you can sit still for hours, absolutely unmoving – all those restless tendencies in the mind and physical body have been removed through proper exercise and good nutrition. Then meditation is easier, the mind and body are co-operating in your deepening stillness.
I’m single now, my wife passed away 16 years ago when she was still young. But if you are serious about your spiritual life and single, do enjoy the freedom and space this gives you to dedicate to your practise.
Marriage and relationships are one way, but singleness is an equally significant path with so much to offer us. It’s a training ground for other kinds of development. Historically, celibacy has always been a feature in many traditions, in various Buddhist traditions, Indian ascetics, Christian orders, Benedictine monks and renunciates, because it creates room for a relationship with your soul, with God. It encourages genderless friendships that recognize and honor the sacredness of the spiritual lives of others, and requires a renunciation of self-interest. It’s not a repression of love but an expansion, a widening of love. Celibacy deepens our talent for relationships, that we can love without desire, listen with genuine caring, serve without need of gain. It allows us to relate to people as human beings and to give up the pursuit of others as possessions. This kind of care and purity in our relationships is often gracious and full of empathy, makes us feel appreciated and valued for what we are. It dignifies and brings out the very best in us.
Nice point of view! Anything more about love?
Well if we want to get a little philosophical here, I personally think that most human relationships are a shadow of the soul’s deeper quest for yoga, which really means union with God, and only this final union can really satisfy us. We have loneliness, emotional needs, a sense of incompleteness, and quite naturally seek happiness in our union with others. But the happiness we seek won’t finally be found with others, or not fully, for human relationships are only the shadow of love’s greater purpose. God is unknown to us, so our love spends itself in people, in the world.
Any advice to meditators just getting started?
The first strength and secret of meditation is simply sincerity, the need to commit to our practice, to meditate a little every day in spite of all other responsibilities. Sincerity makes us feel that our spiritual quest is something sacred at the very heart of our life, an inner journey, and every day our practice of meditation is itself a further step on that journey. It’s helpful in starting meditation to have some practical goals. First of all, write down in a notebook the days of the week, and against each day see if you can meditate everyday – one tick or two ticks for each day. Try to get a perfect score, perfect week. Then see if you can add to your daily chart some additional new habits to support your meditation – try reading about meditation for 20 minutes a day. This will prepare and inspire the mind. But you just have to make a start.