To control our thoughts we first must accept responsibility for our thoughts. Many of us feel that thoughts just appear from nowhere and are not our responsibility – yet even if a thought does appear from nowhere, it is still our choice whether to accept or reject each thought. If we do not take responsibility for our thoughts, we are fated to remain merely their puppet and parrot.
Just as learning to control thoughts during meditation takes considerable time and effort, so controlling our thoughts during the day also has to be practised, with determination, patience and persistence. Fortunately, meditation not only provides us with our spiritual treasure, but also with the means to protect that treasure.
Just as working out in the gym gives us the physical strength and conditioning to better perform all our physical tasks throughout the day, so the discipline, concentration and discrimination we practise during our meditation, are precisely the qualities we need to strengthen and protect our inner life while going about our busy lives in the outer world.
First we must practise detachment from the thought process. Most of us feel not only that we have thoughts, but even that we are our thoughts, a common error which leads only to suffering. Not only are we not our thoughts, they are not ours at all. The term used in English is absolutely correct: we entertain thoughts. Like any guests who come to our door, it is up to us whether to invite them in, and whether we will entertain them or not. Just as we do not allow just anyone to come into our house – especially not suspicious or dangerous characters – we need to be very careful which thoughts we spend our precious time with.
Most of us do not meditate in order simply to have an enjoyable experience during meditation: we meditate to find and cultivate peace, happiness, love, patience, tolerance, compassion, wisdom and creativity that we might grow in these qualities and express them in our daily lives. We spend time in meditation in order to improve the quality of all the rest of our time we are not in meditation.
What we gain during our meditation is more valuable than anything money can buy, any knowledge, possession or prestige; inner peace, light, love and joy are our real treasures and as long as we have them, we can also share these treasures with others. Just as we safeguard and secure our material wealth and possessions, so it is essential that we value and protect our spiritual treasure, the bounty of our meditation, for it is vulnerable, and can all easily be lost in a moment.
The greatest threat to our meditation treasure comes from our own thoughts. Thoughts are as pervasive in our lives as the air we breath: just as we would never choose to breathe poisonous air, so we need to be careful, vigilant and wise in regard to the thoughts we allow ourselves to play with.
Thoughts can take us to heaven – and to hell. Thoughts can be positive, progressive, inspiring, helpful. Again, they can be catastrophically harmful. All negative thoughts destroy our happiness: thoughts of bitterness, greed, doubt, fear, jealousy, resentment, blame, insecurity, pride. While good thoughts will help us maintain and extend the feeling and benefits of our morning meditation, just one negative thought, like a dark cloud obscuring the sun, has the power to obliterate our meditation-wealth and ruin our day.
“O bird of my heart, Fly on, fly on! Look not behind. Whatever the world gives Is meaningless, useless And utterly false.”
– Sri Chinmoy
“The past is dust.” – Sri Chinmoy
What is dust? Useless, meaningless, annoying waste matter, discarded remnants from previously useful, meaningful things and events.
What is dust good for? Nothing.
What do we do with dust? Get rid of it.
What if we don’t get rid of it? It accumulates, takes the shine off everything and smothers its beauty, distracts and bothers us, clutters our lives, and eventually makes us sick. So we constantly clean it up, and get rid of it.
So is the past. Our goal is perfection, liberation, enlightenment. Whatever our past has given, it has not given us our ultimate goal. Our goal lies ahead of us, not behind. It is always time to move on, to march and run forward, to fly upward.
To reach the ocean of enlightenment, our spiritual life has to be a river, always flowing forward by whatever means possible. A river never looks back; if it does, it becomes a stagnant pond and dies.
We have to be grateful to our past for whatever good, positive experiences and lessons it has brought. Take these positive things and expand them, build upon them. Negative experiences from the past are also valuable for they teach us what to avoid, what does not bring us satisfaction. Take these negative things and transform them into something better, helpful and beautiful.
Offer the past gratitude and move on. Especially during meditation, whenever the past arises, immediately discard it as you would dust. Replace these thoughts with images and feelings of the radiant dawn of your fast-approaching transformation-perfection.
The past is gone. Your glorious future awaits, here and now.
“Forgiveness Sweetens our hearts And Enlightens our minds.” – Sri Chinmoy
“Forgiveness Is the only real happiness That lasts.” – Sri Chinmoy
Forgiveness is both a product of and prerequisite for fruitful meditation and spiritual progress.
Meditation opens and expands our hearts, as a slow-motion blossoming of a flower petal by petal. As our hearts expand, the quality of forgiveness grows naturally and spontaneously, without any conscious effort on our part, for forgiveness is inherent to the heart as fragrance to a flower.
The heart expands to include others, and ultimately all. As our heart identifies with others through love and intuitive oneness, we see and claim both their strengths and weaknesses as our own. When we can see others’ motivations and actions within ourselves, forgiveness flows automatically.
We cannot give what we do not have ourselves. Unless and until we forgive ourselves we can never know or offer forgiveness to others. Forgiving ourselves is as fundamental to our spiritual wellbeing as personal hygiene to our physical health. Every day prior to meditation, breathe in absolute forgiveness for everything you have ever thought, felt or done or will ever think, feel or do.
Our heart longs for happiness everywhere, always. As happiness cannot come without transformation, and transformation cannot come without forgiveness, any lack of forgiveness is always an insuperable hurdle in our hearts’ happiness-quest. Without the flow of forgiveness for all, the quality of our meditation will always “hit a wall” and be held back.
When we become aware of this, we must invoke forgiveness ardently and eagerly from the inexhaustible source of forgiveness in the depths of our hearts. Only when forgiveness flows unconditionally can our meditation aspire to its full potential and unlock all our other hearts’ qualities – peace, love, light, gratitude, sweetness, compassion, wisdom, freedom and bliss.
We may be inspired to attend a group meditation for what we will gain from the experience, yet just as significant is what we offer the group. Our very presence offers positive reinforcement and encouragement.
We are social beings, always communicating with one another on various levels of consciousness. Our customary communication with others is through talking, a favoured tool of our minds. When we sit together in silence, when talking is not an option, our minds are disarmed and another, deeper level of communication is enabled: our heart-to-heart oneness. In silence our hearts more readily open, to both give and receive their mutual love, joy, light and wisdom. Through such inner sharing we learn and grow in ways we cannot manage or imagine on our own. Our hearts feel and respond to the goodwill, beauty and aspiration of other hearts around us, even of those sitting behind us, while at the same time our own inner depths are nourishing other hearts, even of people we may have no outer connection with, in ways our minds simply cannot fathom.
We each embody a vast, luminous and supremely powerful consciousness, the greater part of which we are completely unaware, which can only be accessed little by little once our minds have been silenced. When we meditate we invoke this inner being, our soul. While inclining our will toward our souls in silent yearning, the presence of others around us doing the same thing, becomes like so many mirrors reflecting the light and intensity of our inner sun, so many gongs resonating with the ineffable beauty of our inner music, so many blossoms emanating our exquisite inner fragrance, so many waves surging with the power of our inner seas, so many birds soaring on freedom-wings across our inner sky.
As one candle can ignite many, so the presence of just one person meditating well, may inspire others to a wonderful meditation.
Some days we are up and some we are down. Sometimes we are the candle lighting many, other times we are in need of igniting. For both roles, the only essential need is our presence.
Group meditation is especially important for those on a spiritual Path or in a spiritual community. Each spiritual Path has its own requirements and disciplines, which invariably present challenges while living in a world where spirituality and spiritual practice are not much valued – especially for the beginner.
Group meditation is an opportunity for the beginner to learn and be inspired by the more experienced practitioners, both through the inner experience of sitting together in meditation and the outer exchange of advice and encouragement; and for the older ones to be uplifted by the enthusiasm and eagerness of the beginner.
In spiritual communities, as in every group of humans, there inevitably arise differences and conflict between individual members. In meditation we strive to touch our deepest, truest reality, our soul. Here there is no conflict, no confusion, no misunderstanding. Group meditation is simply the most effective means to transcend differences. Conflict and misunderstanding have no access to the soul’s realm. By diving into the profound peace we each have within, in silence all conflict and misunderstanding can happily be resolved.
Mental and emotional interaction cannot establish true and reliable friendship, for our minds and emotions are in constant flux and are hence inherently unreliable. Only our souls are unchangeable and therefore utterly dependable. Yearning for the pure realm of the soul, group meditation forges the deepest, most authentic and lasting bonds between members who meditate together with utmost sincerity and intensity.
The discipline of attending a meeting at a set time and place creates momentum, which is essential to our progress. It takes more effort to attend a session on the other side of town than simply meditating at home. Each time we make that effort we recommit to our purpose, we place more store in the value of our meditation and hence, the more likely we are to give our all to the meditation itself. The more we give, we more we invariably receive.
Attending a group requires preparation and commitment: we might wear special clothing, arrange our schedule, adjust our mealtime and navigate traffic. We might also have a role to play in preparing the venue or program, helping with cleaning, decorations or refreshments. This involvement increases our focus and reinforces the role of meditation in our lives. The more we give to our meditation practice, the more our practice gives us.
We have set aside all other commitments and excluded infinite possible activities to attend a group meditation. We have made this our priority. Having planned, prepared ourselves and made the effort to attend, we are clear of the endless potential distractions constantly surrounding us at home.
In a group there is always a subtle peer pressure; if we know the quality of our own meditation will have an effect on those around us, we will be inspired to make a sincere effort to ensure that effect is a positive rather than a negative one. Hence we often apply ourselves with more sincerity and intensity when in a group than we might at home, when the only one who will be affected by our less-than-wholehearted effort is ourselves. Our greater focus and intensity raises the quality of our own, as well as the group’s meditation.
Meditation is self-discovery. Hence the experience of meditation is always inner, and personal. Meditation itself is not a social activity. Nevertheless our inner experience, and our overall spiritual wellbeing, can benefit greatly from meditating with others who are following the same spiritual Path or have the same focus and goals.
Our personal daily meditation at home can be likened to an individual sport like running, swimming or cycling, while group meditation is a team sport. Team sports offer a special joy and fulfilment through their shared endeavour, camaraderie and the surrendering of one’s personal interests for those of the team. Team sports expand our hearts and horizons and through our self-offering, reveal a thrilling glimpse of a deep truth: our underlying oneness.
Our personal meditation at home is always the most essential ingredient of our spiritual progress, and forms the foundation of any group meditation. If we all do our personal weight training at home, then we are each and collectively much more effective when we join together in a tug-of-war team. If members of a group are not practising their meditation at home regularly, then they will not derive anywhere near the same benefit from the group experience, and the collective standard of the group meditation will also be significantly diminished.
While meditating at home, we are wholly responsible for finding the inspiration and summoning the aspiration required for our best intense effort, while in a group the responsibility is shared. At home we are like a stream, sometimes flowing rapidly but other times drying out. A group is a larger river, with a stronger, reliable flow and compelling current impossible to resist.
While group meditation can never replace our daily practice at home, its value in strengthening our practice and inspiring our progress is unparalleled.
“Patience, patience, patience!
Is the ultimate victory.” – Sri Chinmoy
Ambrosial blossoms.” – Sri Chinmoy
Spiritual progress is a natural process. It has its own time, like a fruit ripening, the seasons turning or even a glacier creeping. Nature can act in an instant as a lightning strike, or can proceed slowly as a continent drifting across the planet’s face. Each has its inexorable rhythm – and so does our spiritual progress. Just as we cannot force our physical or emotional growth, so we cannot force our spiritual growth.
Like thoughts and desires, impatience is a function of our mind. Transforming impatience into patience goes hand in hand with transforming the mind’s attachment to thoughts and desires and its need to define and control.
Impatience robs us of the beauty of now.
Patience is our goal in disguise. The more we develop patience, the closer our goal approaches. Surrender of our own timeline immediately hastens our progress, whereas impatience always slows us down or grinds us to a halt.
Patience does not imply lethargy or apathy – far from it! We still must yearn with eager intensity for our fastest progress at every moment.
Patience is our realisation that there is a higher Will guiding us – the perfection-vision of our soul – which embodies our ultimate fulfilment.
We may imagine patience as an enforced necessity to be endured, yet true patience is an exquisite enjoyment of each moment of the process and the journey. Patience loves the game and not just the result. Patience sees and adores the beauty and perfection not only of the fully blossomed rose, but also the gradual, magical unfoldment of each petal.
Don’t just seek patience – treasure patience as your most prized possession.
“Why do people go through dry periods? Because they lose their devotion. Devotion is like a magnet. If the devotion-magnet is not working, then the spiritual life is all dryness. But if one maintains devotion to the Supreme or to his Guru, then one will never, never go through a dry period. It is devotion that connects both love and surrender. Devotion is the golden link. If one has devotion, constant devotion, sleepless and breathless devotion, then one will never lose the sweetness in life.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Devotion is personal, intensely personal – never abstract.
When the goal of our meditation is abstract or vague, it is very easy to lose sight of. Dry spells ensue. But when the goal is personal, and when that personal conception is always with us, in us and around us – be it a personal conception of our own soul, of God, the Supreme, our Guru or another higher Being – then devotion wells forth to enliven, sweeten and elevate our meditation. Dry spells no more.
Devotion fuels our aspiration with purpose and meaning, with deep and unfailing impulse and conviction.
Devotion inspires us to act for Someone else – our beloved higher Being – not for ourselves. When we act for another, we are impelled by our heart, not our mind. We spontaneously do the right thing, in the right way, with ease. Instead of trying to push ourselves, we are drawn into meditation naturally, spontaneously, eagerly and gratefully.
Devotion keeps us focused on the big picture – it is not about “me”. Devotion tells us “I am not the doer” – indeed there is no “I” to do.
A devotee does not meditate. Loving the Beloved, a devotee enjoys and becomes the beauty, intimacy, wonder, power, sweetness and fullness of meditation.
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.