If you can dispel unhappiness from your system before you sit down to meditate, your meditation will be freer, easier and more effective.
Sri Chinmoy once offered three practical tips to help remove unhappiness. Each of these tips involves getting out the house, going somewhere and doing something. The very act of moving somewhere immediately challenges unhappiness. Unhappiness likes to brood in inert stillness, whereas movement invokes energy and a stirring of our spirit.
1) Go running to a garden near your house. Look at the flowers in the garden; appreciate and admire their beauty. Find one flower that particularly appeals to you and just gaze at that one flower, losing yourself in its beauty, purity, subtlety, simplicity and especially its fragrance. Touch your flower, feeling its delicate texture between your thumb and fingers. Unhappiness has to surrender…
2) Play with young children. If there are no young children around that you can play with, simply imagine them. Become yourself a 4 or 5-year old child, eager to play. Children have spontaneity, boundless bright imaginations and an inexhaustible appetite for fun. No room for unhappiness here…
3) Lie on your back on the grass and look up at the sky. (This one doesn’t work so well on a rainy day!) While breathing, imagine you are breathing in the sky itself. Already vast, feel the blue sky expanding and expanding without end within you. Or imagine that the sky itself is breathing, and it is inhaling you into itself. Either way, you are becoming the sky and its ever-expanding blue vastness. In vastness and expansion, unhappiness dissolves…
Of these three techniques, the flower is the easiest and most immediate, while the sky is the most difficult and yet the most lasting and effective.
Desire is a yearning to possess the unpossessable. It juggles chimeras and grasps at thin air while feasting on reflections in its castle in the sky.
The world we sense around us is but a projection of our own being. The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly – all are within ourselves. As we are, so we project, and so we see and feel.
We see or feel beauty, purity, love, light, peace, joy or freedom – all of which we want and need – in things, people or experiences around us. Desire says: “let me possess this thing, this person or this experience and I will possess the beauty, purity, love, light, peace, joy or freedom that I see and feel in them.”
Just as objects reflect the light of the sun, we fail to realise that what lures us is but a reflection of our own inner light. We can never grasp these qualities without, we can only realise and become them within.
Desire is a child of the finite, operating and relying on two entirely finite concepts – possession and definition. Yet the finite can never possess or define the infinite. The infinite cannot be housed. We are spiritual beings, and can only be fulfilled by the infinite. With a net you may catch fish but you cannot catch the sea. You can own a cage but never the bird.
The outer world is a giant puzzle. All the clues to solve this puzzle are within the puzzle itself. And they all point back towards us. Desire itself is a giant clue – follow it! To find its solution, we have to look beyond the apparent, beyond the distractions, beyond the smoke and into the mirror – we have to meditate.
“There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”
– George Bernard Shaw
When we do not get what we desire, we are left feeling frustrated and empty: if only our desire had been fulfilled, surely happiness would be ours and all would be well.
Yet when we get what we desire, we are again left feeling frustrated and empty: somehow the fulfilment of our desire has not given us the happiness and satisfaction we had hoped for.
The root of both these “tragedies” is desire itself.
From the spiritual point of view, it is not desire which is the problem, but rather attachment: our attachment to the fruits of desire, and attachment to desire itself.
Desire is neither good nor bad, but neutral like water. Water can be coloured or flavoured according to what is added. A few drops of poison can render water deadly: attachment in a desire can blind our judgement, destroy our happiness and cripple our will.
Attachment in desire will always lead to frustration, pain and suffering, for the moment we grab hold of desire with one hand, from our other hand spills our freedom and personal sovereignty. We vainly imagine we possess a desire, while that very desire secretly possesses us. Desire promises to empower us as master; instead it makes us its slave.
Desire is delusion founded upon falsehood. The delusion is that desire can and will lead to lasting happiness. The falsehood is that happiness and fulfilment are to be found elsewhere than our own being.
This fundamental falsehood of our age, which spawns the delusion which inspires desire which punishes us with endless suffering, can only be illumined and eradicated through inner discovery – through sincere, eager, patient, persistent meditation.
From the perspective of the river, its current appears to be its own doing, its own driving force. Yet when we step back and view from a larger perspective, we see it is actually the ocean that is drawing the river towards it. The ocean is calling each river, each stream and each drop of water in the world and in the skies, beckoning them all to return home to their source … and so they must, eventually.
This call of the ocean is the source of grace, the all-powerful compelling motive force of all evolution and progress. All life is subject to grace. Grace is the action of the highest within us, beckoning and carrying all our lesser, unconscious parts of our being. Grace is ultimately inescapable.
The source of grace is the ocean towards which our life-river is flowing; the source of our aspiration is also the goal of our meditation. Our very life-flow is our ultimate goal drawing us towards itself by the action of its grace.
To attempt to meditate by my own will is to shine a flashlight in a dark room. To meditate by the action of grace is to open all the windows and allow the sun to flood the room with light. This becomes easier once we realise that the sun is not external to ourselves: it is within. Grace is our inner sunshine, the action and revelation of our own highest, most powerful, all-illumining Self. To allow grace to take responsibility for our meditation and spiritual progress is our fastest, most direct course and our wisest choice, for grace is the irresistible, unstoppable call of the infinite Ocean, our Soul, our Goal, our God, our Supreme, our All.
The current of a river flows always strongest in its depths. This underling current is the guarantee that the river will reach its destination.
When you look at the surface of a river, you may see little eddies and swirls flowing in many different directions. Rocks and snags initiate all manner of disturbances, convolutions and conflicts in the surface flow. If there is a strong wind, the surface water may even appear to flow upstream.
So is it with our lives. In the surface parts of our being – bodies, vitals and especially our minds – we observe eddies and swirls occasioned by the rocks and snags of daily life: challenges, problems, doubts, conflicts, fears and worries. If there is a strong wind of mental or emotional turmoil, our life may even appear to be heading in the wrong direction.
When our consciousness is bound inside our minds and emotions, we identify only with the surface of our being. Our life-river flows this way and that. Our different parts struggle against each other in opposing directions. We are confused and conflicted.
Yet the underlying current of the soul must always ultimately prevail. This current is the action of grace in our lives. Grace always flows unrecognised as long as we are engrossed in our surface dramas.
When we imagine meditation is our own effort, everything is a struggle, like swimming against the stream. When we learn to swim with the current, meditation becomes easy and natural, our progress swift and assured.
To meditate is to dive deeper into our being to find our home in the swift-flowing current of grace carrying us inexorably to our goal.
Surrender. Let grace do the work. Grace is happiness and fulfilment guaranteed.
A tadpole and a frog appear completely different creatures. Yet they are one and the same.
A tadpole can live only in water. Like a fish, it uses its tail to swim around. A frog can live both in water and on land. For the tadpole to become the frog, it must first develop legs.
A tail is indispensable to a tadpole. Without its tail it could not swim and would not survive. Yet once the tadpole grows legs and learns to hop about on land, its tail becomes an encumbrance, which eventually falls off of its own accord.
We are at once the tadpole and the frog.
As long as we live within our limited mind, we exist almost exclusively in the finite material, emotional and mental realms. We are tadpoles living in the water, unable to emerge. Just as the tadpole needs its tail to swim, to navigate and get along in its world, so we relate to our world and navigate our way through life with our thoughts and desires. As a tadpole is attached to its tail, so are we inextricably attached to our thoughts and desires.
As we meditate and aspire spiritually, like the frog we grow and develop new capacities and awareness. We acquire inner legs and the capacity to discover and roam around a much vaster, freer spiritual realm. We evolve into a new identity, which can live just as freely in water and on land, in the material and spiritual realms.
If you feel you are still a tadpole, aspire eagerly only to grow into your inner frog urgently. You will never look back!
If you are already a frog, lose your tail of thought-desire-attachment immediately, for this tail is now sheer dead weight dragging you down.
You live the richest, most varied and fruitful life that any human could imagine.
And yet … and yet … after all, you are still no closer to answering:
Who am I? Why am I here? Where have I come from and where am I heading?
A gulf has been opening up within, a chasm in the depths of your being, now taking the form of a distinct yearning for something higher, deeper, vaster, purer and more fulfilling. This yearning, this inner cry has a name, and we now know it: Aspiration.
Your inner aspiration-flame mounts and rises, all-consuming, all-pervading, all-encompassing. Surrender yourself into this flame, into its pure, simple, one-pointed ever-ascending arc. Its brightness and intensity consume all limitations, weaknesses, frailties and shortcomings. All boundaries of the finite are dissolved, you are released from thought, desire, attachment and the conception of time and space.
From the closeting cocoon of your human self, you emerge as a Divine Being into a silent, calm, grace-flooded, myriad-dimensioned festival of infinite light, eternal perfection and immortal delight.
Your ego obliterated, absorb yourself utterly in this bliss-filled state. Feel and become your goal…
This Divine Being is not a mere whim of our imagination. This Divine Being is our inmost self and destiny. It is the goal of all our unconscious evolution and conscious aspiration. Just as the human consciousness grows gradually in the animal before its full flowering in humanity, so also the divine consciousness grows gradually in the human, its emissaries – love, peace, light and bliss – expanding the boundaries of awareness to the point where the limitations of our physical, vital and mental awareness surrender, our human ego falls away and our very humanity is transcended, in the full bloom and blossoming of the Divine.
In addition to the senses you had as an animal, you now have that most marvellous instrument of awareness – the mind.
It is as though your world has just exploded in scope, variety and possibilities. The power of the mind to perceive, to analyse, organise, classify, quantify and control is dazzling and unparalleled. Along with the mind, your sense of ego is now infinitely more developed and refined. Your interactions with the world are now far more complex and comprehensive. Your instincts are now guided and overruled by your mental awareness and growing moral compass, your sense of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust.
As an individual human being you play numerous roles in your family, at school, in society and even on the world stage. You study and learn the sciences, mathematics, history. You gather information, form and hold opinions, views, biases and prejudices. You travel the world, absorbing its cultures, customs, languages, sights, sounds and experiences. You play sports and games, enjoy hobbies and passions. You pursue multiple jobs and careers, from servant and labourer to landowner, employer and tycoon. You accumulate possessions and wealth, you acquire status and power.
You give and receive.
You immerse yourself in the arts, poetry, music, painting, architecture. You cultivate a rich aesthetic sense. You are involved in all manner of relationships and interactions, yielding a vast catalogue of experiences. You soar in untrammelled bliss, and plumb despair’s depths. You taste the joy of success and bitterness of failure, the devastation of loss and tragedy. Your renown spreads far and wide. You experience pride and humiliation. In addition to your explorations of your physical and social world, you dabble in the metaphysical, in religion, spiritual teachings and practices.
Eventually you become a huge tree, with magnificent strong branches and countless fluttering leaves, offering shade and protection to all and sundry, great and small. You bear flowers and fruits. You are admired by the world. You live a long, full and fulfilling life as a tree.
Then, slowly but surely, there arises once more from deep within you, a gnawing sense of something greater, stronger, vaster. Your sense of incompleteness grows and grows into an insistent cry, an intense longing for something beyond…
This inner yearning blocks out all else, becoming so intense you almost cannot bear it any more.
Then “whoosh!”, you are reborn as an animal!
You are a gush of freedom and dominion. Your senses are flooded with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations. You roam all around, investigating the world to establish your unique identity. Compared to your tree existence, this life is infinitely richer, more varied and fulfilling. You have a powerful, dynamic body and voice. You communicate with others of your species. You recognise which other animals are your sources of food and livelihood, and which would make of you their own dinner. You nurture and protect your own, at any cost. The world of sense and instinct is your dominion. You tread between breathless fear and exuberant glee.
You live a long, rich life as an animal, replete with adventure and achievement. Nothing more could you hope to accomplish. Yet again their arises, from deep within, faint at first and gradually growing, an inner need for something higher, grander, mightier, fuller. This desperate compulsion grows in a crescendo, to completely dominate your consciousness. It becomes maddening, of intolerable intensity…
… until Lo and Behold, you take birth as a human being.
To answer this question, let us embark on an imaginary journey. Immerse yourself, allowing no outside thought or distraction to enter.
Sit somewhere where you can be quiet and alone. Assume your meditation pose, breathe calmly and close your eyes.
Once you are settled into your breathing and have cleared your mind, imagine that you are a stone. This is not easy. A stone has no conscious awareness in the way that we do. It has no sense of time, place or order, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires, no will. It simply exists. You want for nothing. Cold, heat, light, dark, rain, storms and convulsions of earth are all the same to you. You are still, mute, inert, without sensation or motivation – and so you remain through the passing of days and nights, the turning of the seasons, the rolling years, centuries and millennia…
Now there arises from somewhere in your unseen depths a vague, wordless stirring, a push towards awareness. This bewildering force builds an irresistible momentum of increasing intensity, leading you, thrusting you towards the unknown.
Now suddenly you emerge from your stone-state. You are a plant. Your immediate sense is of liberation. You sense movement, growth, light, potential. You are free from the dire confines of the stone consciousness. Your roots reach down into the earth for nourishment, sustenance and stability. Meanwhile you reach upwards towards your radiant life-giver, the sun, source of light, energy, warmth and power. How you long only to merge with that all-nourishing, all-thrilling wondrous orb!
As a plant, you sense light and shade, cold and warmth, hidden magnetic and etheric forces unknown to human perception. You have a place in the world, and a role to play. Day by day you grow.
Two little boys were extremely fond of a particular red lolly.
Every day they would visit the corner store and purchase their supply, served in a white paper packet. They were agreed: nothing could equal these red lollies. They loved everything about them: their unsurpassable taste, texture, colour and shape. When they didn’t have their red lollies, the friends would think, talk and even dream about them. Visiting the corner store was a ritual; opening the packet a ceremony; popping the first red lolly into one’s mouth a sacrament. Their lives revolved around their beloved red lollies.
Then one day, the shop owner had no red lollies: she had heard the company might no longer be making them.
The boys were struck dumb. Their world teetered on a precipice.
Not to mind, said the shop owner, for she had new green lollies, which were far better than the old red ones. Just for today, she would offer them green ones for free.
The first boy shouted at the shop owner, hurled his green lollies on the ground and ran outside, crying inconsolably. Never in this life, he vowed, would he touch those accursed green lollies! He started hatching a plan to sue the manufacturer to force them to bring back his red lollies.
Numb, the second boy took his green lollies and walked home alone. Locking himself in his room, he grieved in silence.
Late that night, curious, he tried one green lolly.
That moment his life changed; he forgot all about silly red lollies. The green was indeed far superior in every way: taste, crunch, texture, aroma – an unparalleled sensation beyond description which just kept getting better.
Be always open to newness and change, the only way to grow, improve, discover and become.
“Meditate, do not delay – lest you later regret it.”
– The Buddha
Meditation is self-discovery, the purpose and meaning of life.
Tour Guide: everything is within. Meditation takes us by the hand and leads us from our floundering fixation on the outer, step by step into the fathomless depths and wondrous vastness of our limitless inner realms.
Teacher: the soul’s light dawns within a silent mind. Meditation – in the ever-expanding light of deepening silence – reveals the means and tools needed to learn and discover the secrets of the inner worlds.
Lover: love itself is what we love most, and love we must. Through meditation we not only discover love, we become love. The love within expands to encompass all, the apotheosis and perfection of love.
Playmate: life is a game. Meditation brings to the fore our childlike heart to eagerly embrace every experience-moment as a challenging, captivating, thrilling and fulfilling game.
Doctor: prevention is the best cure. Meditation supplies the antidote to every ill and ailment of our being – replacing stress with peace, tension with poise, darkness with light, confusion with clarity, hesitation with courage, anger with love, sorrow with joy and fear with faith.
Banker: far more valuable than money, to be happy in life we need the inner wealth of peace, love, light and joy. Meditation reveals these qualities, keeps them safe and accumulates them with generous interest.
Insurer: the best insurance against the pitfalls of attachment is to transcend attachment itself. Meditation elevates our identity from the material to the spiritual. Our satisfaction within is our comprehensive insurance against all outer mistakes, misfortunes and misadventures.
Friend: meditation is life’s only utterly reliable, dependable, cheerful, beautiful, playful, tireless, selfless, illumining, fulfilling, loving, caring, compassionate, affectionate, inspiring and aspiring all-weather friend.
Up to now, our evolution has been unconscious, determined by some unseen force of nature. As long as our journey is unconscious it is bound to be fraught and haphazard, with many false starts, wrong turns and missed opportunities. The ferntree or the mollusc doesn’t know that it is evolving: it may be aware of some instinctive desire or motivating force but it cannot know the source of that force or its goal. As long as evolution is unconscious within us, we are its helpless instruments and unwitting servants.
Now that we know we are evolving, we have the opportunity – indeed the responsibility – to become conscious and active partners in our evolution. Once we become conscious of where we are heading, then we can apply all of our energy, effort and aspiration toward expediting our evolution, toward attaining that future glorious goal or state of being as soon as possible.
How to become conscious of where we are heading?
The seed is always to be found within. Just as human tendencies can be seen and felt in the gaze and actions of a chimpanzee – for within it the human consciousness is already being prepared and slowly grows – so a hint of that future being into which we are evolving must also be found within our present consciousness. Meditation reveals hints, whispers and glimpses of that future self. Meditation leads to our conscious participation in our spiritual evolution.
The other more direct way to perceive our goal is to search for someone who has already attained it, and seek direction from them. That is precisely the role on earth of the spiritual Masters. A spiritual Master embodies the goal, reveals it to us and within us, and lovingly guides us there by the shortest possible route.