On holidays we take photos of scenes and events we want to remember, and store these photos in albums. When the holiday is long over, looking through the photos we revive the memories, feelings and sensations of those scenes and events. The photos keep the memories of the holiday fresh and alive in our consciousness whenever we turn to them.
In traditional communities, in years of good and plentiful harvest, farmers always kept aside some grain to store as insurance against potential future drought, flood or other misfortune. Pirates would bury their treasure and keep a map, where X marked the spot.
We too can be wise like the farmer, the pirate and the holiday photographer, by keeping a journal of our best meditation experiences. When you have a good meditation, take a virtual holiday photo of the moment – take time to write simply and sincerely about the feeling, the circumstances, what made this moment so special. A spiritual journal serves two purposes: firstly, the act of writing brings focus to the moment, deepening our gratitude and appreciation which in turn helps assimilate and solidify the experience in our consciousness, strengthening, expanding and sustaining its benefit and positive influence in our lives. Secondly, our writings serve as stored grain against a potential dry spell. Simply by reading our words, the inner feelings, beauty, fragrance and power of the moment are summoned, and the closed door to our fruitful meditation magically swings open once more.
Our best meditations are priceless spiritual currency, our inner buried treasures. When all seems hopeless, by turning to our own first-hand accounts of our vivid, deep and authentic lived reality, we are led to the X marked on our map, our buried treasure is exhumed, our dry spell – washed away.
If we could meditate well under all circumstances and conditions, then we wouldn’t need to meditate – we’d already be perfect! Once we are fully illumined, then meditation without effort is our natural and spontaneous state, our default setting. Until then, practise – and persistence – makes perfect.
All the more reason to renew and rededicate our commitment every day. For only by practising – no matter the quality – will we ever make the necessary progress to eventually become masters of our own beings. If we turn our noses up at the dry crackers, then we might starve to death before the next delicious meal arrives: similarly the days of arid, tasteless meditation practise are just as important in maintaining our momentum and will ensure that the days of fruitful and blissful meditation will come sooner and more frequently.
Never be upset, frustrated or disappointed if the quality of your daily meditation is less than you might hope. In a marathon, as long as we are moving forward we are assured of reaching the finish line. Similarly, every time we practise our meditation with sincerity, we are taking one step forward towards our goal. Some steps may be slow or ungainly, while others are fast and sprightly, yet each plays its invaluable role, for each carries us forward.
To reap the rewards we seek, the quality of our daily meditation is secondary to consistency and regularity, powered by sincerity, love, discipline and grace. Don’t judge your meditation: just appreciate, admire and be grateful for every forward step you take, and eagerly anticipate the next. Just as dry crackers do give us some nourishment, so we learn and grow from every meditation, no matter how sublime or otherwise.
We cannot eat most delicious food every day – yet we still have to eat every day to sustain ourselves on earth. Some days we may be fortunate to dine at the finest restaurant; while on others we have to subsist on dry crackers. If that’s all there is, we’ll eat those dry crackers and be sustained by them, and see what tomorrow brings.
Sometimes we sit to meditate and everything flows effortlessly: the mind sits still like an obedient dog and our heart opens spontaneously as a fragrant flower in Spring. We are engulfed in peace, all is calm and clear, each breath is suffused with delight, the entire world is perfect. These are our most delicious meals: savour them!
Other times, try as we might, nothing works for us: the mind is all over the place, our heart nowhere to be found. The world is all confusion. These are our dry cracker days: endure them…
Our consciousness is subject to the influence of many forces, internal and external – thoughts, feelings, desires, responsibilities, incidents and accidents, pressures and stresses, worries and anxieties – our own and those of others around us and the greater world beyond – over which we have no control. Our consciousness is the sum of all the forces affecting us – consciously and unconsciously – at any moment.
To rise above the influence of these forces and circumstances – to become master of our consciousness – is precisely why ne need to meditate. Meditation is our pathway to self-awareness and self-control. Until we are truly expert meditators, we remain enthralled by these forces and influences.
In our present human condition, such fluctuations are absolutely normal and inevitable.
The secret is to cherish both dry crackers and delicious food, for they equally serve and guarantee our progress.
Nature knows no straight line, nor does our heart. The flow of life is never straight, nor our spiritual progress. Nature is all waves, circles, ellipses, curves and spirals – and so is our natural growth.
If we expect our spiritual progress or capacity in meditation to follow a straight line or constant gradient, we are bound for disappointment. No matter how regular and disciplined is our practise, its benefits will arrive in their own way and in their own time: sometimes we may progress in leaps and bounds, while at other times we seem to remain stagnant for lengthy periods, or worse, appear to be going backwards.
Spiritual Masters have likened spiritual progress to a spiral. If you imagine the thread of a screw and follow that thread from the base, it rises on one side of the screw, and falls on the other. Yet as it ascends, the height of the thread is always higher than it was on the previous time around: each high point is higher than the previous high, and – encouragingly – each low point is correspondingly higher than the previous low.
When viewing a low point in isolation, we may be disheartened to see the thread has fallen from its recent height: yet if we see it in context of the overall journey upward, we see that the low points are indispensable stages of the journey, for without them we could not reach ever-higher points. The only way to a new high is through the intervening low. The low and the high points of the rising thread cannot be separated: they are each integral to the operation which allows the thread to rise. Thus does a screw perform its task, and thus do we progress, inexorably toward our goal.
An underlying issue with dry spells in meditation is our feeling – our expectation – that the trajectory of spiritual progress ought to proceed upward at a steady, consistent rate, more or less in a straight line.
According to our straight line theory, as long as we continue to practise our meditation daily, we would increase our capacity and our experiences would deepen accordingly, a little each day. Because 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 + 1 = 3, it stands to reason that every day we meditate, our meditation would be better, more illumining and fulfilling than the last. So thinks our rational mind, and so we expect – at our peril.
In spiritual matters, rationality and expectation guarantee disappointment and frustration. Spirituality has its own rhythms, never bending to the laws of our reasoning minds.
Dry spells defy our logic of effort and reward: we are putting in the daily effort, and not receiving our due reward, confounding not only our expectation, but also our sense of fairness and justice.
The culprit here is the very notion of the straight line.
Our minds love straight lines – squares and boxes – because straight lines are predictable and can be controlled. Our minds employ straight-line instruments to measure and define, building straight-line homes and offices for us to live in, constructing world-views from the straight lines of fixed theories and opinions, moral straight lines of right and wrong, good and bad.
The straight line is a quintessential symbol of our minds’ mission to control and mould our universe in its own likeness – yet ultimately there is no straight line: the straight line universe is an imaginary construct, a wishful illusion, a mirage: persuasive from a distance, yet dissolving into nothingness upon closer scrutiny.
“Peace begins when expectation ends.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Dry spells arise when our experience does not match our expectation.
We can only do what is within our control. Frustratingly, we cannot control our experience, hence our dry spell … but we can control our expectation.
Expectation is a habit of the mind. Like any habit, it can be learned and unlearned, formed and broken. Our minds know that for every action there must be an outcome, and our minds like to foresee a favourable outcome prior to engaging in any action. Yet the mind can only conceive of an outcome that is already within its scope of understanding. Herein lies the paradox, for we meditate precisely to go beyond the confines of the mind’s perception and understanding. So whatever the limited mind expects can never be the unlimited reality we seek…
Expectation and meditation are incompatible. Expectation deals with the known; meditation with the unknown and the unknowable. Expectation is a potentially lethal virus endangering the prospect of real, illumining meditation. Expectation – for all its promise and allure – is a prison cell, denying us spiritual freedom and nullifying our bid for liberation.
Every challenge and every experience that comes to us is an opportunity to grow and learn. A dry spell can teach us one of the most valuable lessons of all: that expectation is not just useless, not just an impediment, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a mortal danger to our spiritual life.
While we harbour even the subtlest expectation, dry spells are inevitable. Accept them as a blessing in disguise, a warning from our soul.
Abandon expectation. Surrender to your meditation. Dive into the sea of the unknown to claim and become what we must: our precious, beautiful, peaceful, soulful, blissful satisfaction-perfection.
Like writer’s block or an athlete’s form slump, these spells arrive without warning, with no apparent cause and no clear remedy. Like the weather, a dry spell might last a day, a week or months on end.
During a dry spell, try as we might, our meditation practise seems to be fruitless, a sheer waste of time. We cannot control thoughts, we cannot feel our hearts, we are not getting any insights or higher experiences.
Frustration mounts, even despair. The temptation is either to just give up, or to try harder to force the issue. Both these responses are counterproductive.
Giving up can never be an option. All the reasons we started to meditate in the first place – our inner unease, restlessness, confusion, stress, tension and anxiety – will remain and only become further entrenched as our default state of being.
Using force also doesn’t work, because the secret of meditation lies not in pushing or pulling but in letting go, in realising it is not ‘we’ who meditate, but rather a higher being within us, our soul, who is not answerable to our dictates.
Worrying and frustration only bring more stress and make matters worse. We simply have to know that just as we cannot force rain in a drought, so we cannot force a deep and satisfying meditation: each will arrive in its own time, and arrive it must. We just need to continue our practise calmly, patiently, resolutely and faithfully.
Such experiences are natural, normal and inevitable.
During a dry spell, explore other ways to find and to be in the heart –smiling, music, magic, games, jokes, innocent fun, adventure, a change of routine.
Our hearts will assure us that every dry spell can only be temporary.
Through meditation we discover, grow into, identify with and become our real self.
Because at present we simply don’t know who or what we are, we tend to identify with whatever is most dominant in our consciousness. For most of us, most of the time, that dominant part is our mind and all that our mind perceives and embodies.
Even though we may know that we are in reality not the mind, it is difficult to escape this long-established and cherished notion.
Silent meditation is the surest way to enlarge our sense of identity beyond the mind’s confines to embrace the limitless realm of the heart. Nevertheless for most of us it is simply not possible to silence the mind utterly at will, so it is very helpful to have some other techniques to assist this gradual realignment of our identity.
The mantra “I am the Heart” is simple, adaptable and supremely powerful. This mantra can be employed during meditation or any other activity, in silence or aloud, anywhere and anytime for any duration.
Try synchronising the mantra with your physical heart-beat – “I am” on one beat and “the heart” on the next – to the exclusion of all other thoughts and phenomena. More and more you will find yourself identifying not as your mind’s thoughts, theories and desires, but as your limitless heart.
Just by repeating this mantra, its truth blossoms within us and we start to feel more and more our heart’s sweetness, love, simplicity, sincerity, gratitude, humility, goodwill, hope, optimism, confidence, joy, determination, faith and courage, without specifically invoking any of these qualities.
To fly even higher to the goal, repeat: “I am the Soul” with utmost soulfulness and conviction, to glimpse the soul’s supreme ever-transcending beauty, light, bliss, power, assurance, promise and perfection.
This story has been told in many forms over the years. Whether or not it ever actually took place, its message is compelling…
A spiritual Master lived in an ashram with his disciples. One disciple, who had been with the Guru for several years, was quite convinced that he was doing very well in his meditation, spiritual discipline and service to the community. He did everything he was supposed to do, when it was supposed to be done. He never missed his meditation, and never put a foot wrong.
Yet despite his exemplary conduct, it bothered him that he still had not attained enlightenment. So when he had the opportunity, he brought his concerns to the Master directly: “I have been doing everything required of me and serving your mission most faithfully. Surely it is high time for you to grant me enlightenment. I am more than ready!” The Master remained silent, and simply smiled.
Weeks passed, with no response from the Master. The disciple was becoming more and more frustrated.
One day the Master and disciples were bathing in the river. Without warning, the Master grasped this disciple, thrust his head under water and held it there. After a while, the disciple started to panic and flounder: he was convinced he would drown then and there.
Eventually the Master released his grip and the disciple came up spluttering and gasping desperately for air. He felt helpless, embarrassed, confounded and furious all at the same time, and had to be helped to the shore. The Master calmly continued bathing.
Later that evening, the Master turned to this disciple and spoke: “Only when your inner cry becomes as intense and all-consuming as your cry for air today – then you will know you are ready and ripe for enlightenment.”
Music is God’s thinnest disguise, inviting us, even luring us into the spiritual realm. When we follow music to its source we discover ourselves in the silence, the undisguised God.
Our minds have the sense that we are separate from music, the music is coming from somewhere or someone else and we are observing it from a distance, as an objective critic. This approach works when music has some element of mental formulation – otherwise the mind has no foothold, no means of understanding; it is all at sea.
Sri Chinmoy’s keyboard improvisations can never be grasped or understood with the mind, because the mind plays no role in their inspiration, conception and performance. They come from realms far beyond the mind, and would lead us thither.
This music is universal in its aspiration and transcendental in its liberation. It points directly and only to its source – within.
When listening, imagine you are the performer. You are the music. You are its source. You are expressing yourself, your own inner consciousness, experiences and realisations. You are not constrained by the formulation of words, melody, harmony or language; you are simply a fountain of light and bliss, pouring yourself forth; you are the beauty and fragrance of the flower; the exhilaration of exploding fireworks; you are the sweetest smile; the thrill of love; the dance of the stars; the earthquake shaking the world; you are the skies expanding beyond the sky – and withal poised, still.
This music cannot be interpreted or described. It can only be welcomed, felt and become. To embrace this music is to discover it as ours, as flowing from – and leading to – our own universal source. That source, owning, releasing and transcending it all – is silence, our own God-silence.
Listen to Sri Chinmoy playing the pipe organ at the Sydney Opera House:
“Silence is the nest and music is the bird. The bird leaves the nest early in the morning and returns to the nest in the evening. Similarly, in the spiritual world, divine music comes from the inmost Soul of Silence. It is Silence that embodies real music, divine music.”
– Sri Chinmoy
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
– Aldous Huxley
Music arises out of, and leads back to silence.
Silence is the canvas on which music is painted, the stage on which music is performed, the backdrop against which music poses, the air which music breathes. Silence sends forth music as its emissary, to reveal its secrets – love, sweetness, joy, harmony, perfection. Silence is the sun’s power, music the moon-beauty.
Silence sustains music. Music implies silence. When we meditate on anything, we are naturally drawn to its source, its inner truth. A footprint reveals the truth of the foot, though we do not see the foot; fragrance reveals the presence of a flower, though we may not see the flower; and so music reveals the inner silence, though we do not hear that silence. This inner silence is precisely our goal, the crown of our meditation practice.
When we give ourselves to spiritual music and surrender our thoughts and feelings into its flow, our mental activity is charmed into stillness. It is as though music takes us by the hand and leads us smilingly into meditation, our hearts’ sanctum of inner silence. Meanwhile like a security guard, music itself protects our meditation, evicting thoughts and distractions.
Spiritual music performs a paradoxical miracle for us that after years of practice we might otherwise never achieve or even believe: the opportunity to experience at once outer sound and inner silence.
“If we pay adequate attention to each action, then inside the very depth of that action we are bound to hear music. Unless we hear music inside each action, the action is lifeless.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Music is not just notes, sounds, melodies and rhythms.
Music, like meditation, is feeling, discovering and becoming. Just as real music is meditation, so real meditation is music. And just as meditation – self-discovery – extends beyond sitting in silence and into our every conscious breathing moment, so too does music. When we meditate, we resonate – flowing, uplifting, soaring, liberating. We discover the deeper truth that we not only embody music – we are ourselves music. Each of us is a song: to sing and reveal our song on the world-stage, the simple purpose of our being.
Through music we discover meditation; through meditation we become music.
Music is at once inspiration, creation and completion. Music is the discovery, appreciation and revelation of the beauty, love, sweetness, subtlety and perfection-delight nestled in life’s every breath; the colour, contour and costume of God.
We do not have to play an instrument to be a musician. We have only to live in tune with our inner music, our soul’s purpose, the cadence, melody and harmony of our deeper existence. Only then can our outer life express harmony, sweetness, satisfaction and fulfilment. This cannot be achieved through any outer means, not by possession, accomplishment or victory: only through the inner discovery of meditation and spiritual awakening.
In discovering and exclusively playing our own inner music, we find ourselves in surprising and delightful resonance with the supreme cosmic symphony. In playing our part perfectly, the full score of the universal music is revealed to us to play, to play with, to thrill to – and become.
“There is no difference Between our soulful songs And our fruitful meditation.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Singing occupies a central role in the practise and ritual of most spiritual paths and traditions, for good reason.
Spirituality lies beyond the realm of the rational, of reason, description and even understanding – as does music, and so is music a natural language of spirituality.
Because it involves every level of our being, singing is the most intimate and personal experience of music, and its most natural, immediate and direct means of expression and communication.
Singing soulfully helps our meditation go deeper, faster – but what does it mean to “sing soulfully?”
Our soul is our source, the most subtle, pure, powerful essence of our being. Our soul is within us, around us, pervading our all. Our soul is at once the silent witness and sanctioning force of our consciousness, intentions and actions; our highest ideal and integral fulfilment. To sing “soulfully” is to sing “fully with our soul” and to sing “full of soul”: with all of the soul’s qualities – love, tenderness, intensity, brilliance, power – and with all of the soul’s utilities, with our entire being, body, vital, mind and heart. To sing soulfully is to sing unreservedly, prayerfully, with one-pointed focus, utterly and self-givingly. To sing self-givingly is to offer one’s entire self – all of one’s capacities, skills, prayers, ideals and aspirations – to the song and to the singing of the song, with all of one’s wholehearted enthusiasm, eagerness, sincerity, energy, joy, dedication and commitment. Nothing is held back. There is no separation between singer and song.
Singer and song amplify and beautify each other.
The signature of soulful singing is an immediate sweetest, fragrant, ineffable, indescribable and inescapable psychic thrill.