Time and stress are intimately related. The pressure of time is the oxygen of stress. Without time and beyond time, there can be no stress; stress evaporates. So the surest way to alleviate and remove stress is to go beyond time. To go beyond time we must go beyond the mind – to meditate.
How can meditation take us beyond time? Thoughts, sensations and desires are the footsteps and markers of time. When we go beyond thoughts, sensations and desires, we are liberated from the awareness of time. Time measures the finite; when we fly into the infinite, we rise beyond time for nothing can measure the infinite. In pure meditation, the simple act of silencing our thoughts enables our ascent beyond the confines of the limiting mind and simultaneously frees us from the reach of time and its attendant, stress.
The regular practise of meditation not only takes us beyond the reach of time, it also creates time. The more time we have at our disposal, the less susceptible we are to stress.
How can meditation create time? Regular meditation enhances our capacity to focus, to concentrate our attention on one thing at once, to the exclusion of all else. When we can absorb ourselves utterly in one task, without the constant distraction of extraneous thoughts and desires, we are able to accomplish each task much more quickly and effectively. An activity that might take us one hour when we are being distracted, might take only 10 minutes when we are fully present and wholeheartedly immersed in the task: hence we have more time at our disposal. We have effectively created time, time for the fuller enjoyment of life.
Regular meditation = better concentration = extra time = diminished stress = more happiness.
The question is often asked: which technique is best for meditation? Should I practise mantra, breathing and counting, concentration on a candle, creative visualisation, singing or gazing at the sky?
We might as well ask, which is better – Lebanese or Thai food, Irish or Hungarian folk music, judo or karate, green or blue, sunrises or moonrises? There is no right or wrong, no better or best: they’re all good, and the one we choose is a matter of our personal preference.
Those with a good ear are more inclined towards singing, those with a good eye do better with visualisation. Basketball tends to favour the tall, rock-climbing the short. We can enjoy equally Indian, Italian, Guatemalan and Ethiopian food; we might play cricket, scrabble, frisbee and water polo. Our preferences might also vary according to our mood and circumstances.
For a beginner, the only essential thing is to start. Far more important than technique is attitude: the sincerity, eagerness and enthusiasm we apply.
Technique is the means to reach our goal, our road leading to Rome. We might walk, run, ride a bike or horse, drive a car, take the bus, the train or fly – all that matters is that we arrive.
It is tempting to obsess with technique, forgetting its purpose is to take us beyond itself, like the rocket engine that is ejected once it has powered us beyond the atmosphere. Technique is the usher who shows us to our seat and then withdraws; if the usher remains chatting, we cannot enjoy the concert.
Technique absolutely matters, as the means to reach our goal. Which technique, absolutely matters not. To gaze at the sun we must open our curtains. While gazing, the colour of the curtains is an irrelevance.
The pathway to the greatest treasures of the universe is absolutely free.
Meditation affords us the richest of riches – peace, love and happiness.
All of us have an inner yearning for fulfillment. We look around us and see a world dominated by economics, status and possession, where the standards of worth are material wealth, prestige and social standing. So it is natural for us to assume that the inner yearning we feel will be satisfied according to these measures; that the pathway to happiness lies in accumulating more wealth and property, getting an ever better job and acquiring name and fame.
Yet no material wealth – be it money, gold, land or property; no status, prestige or reputation can ever satisfy our inmost yearning for fulfillment, for all of these can disappear in an instant. Being finite they are always temporary and therefore insecure, tenuous.
Our yearning is infinite, for we are infinite: an infinite yearning can only be satisfied by an infinite, eternal source.
That source is within us, always. We house infinite and eternal peace, light, love, bliss, wisdom and power.
In terms of inner wealth we are all multi-millionaires already – yet we do not have access to our wealth because we are so preoccupied with searching for happiness via means outside of ourselves and beyond our control. We may have millions of dollars in the bank, but we have forgotten the PIN number or password to our account, so we cannot access our money.
Meditation is the PIN number, the password to our inner account of wealth infinite.
The wonderful thing about our inner account is that the more we rely on and draw from it, the more funds become available – exponentially and unendingly.
When we concentrate and meditate, outwardly we are statues of the Buddha: all calm, poise and serenity.
Yet inwardly we must be samurai warriors: all focus, vigilance and intensity.
Here is an exercise for next time you sit to concentrate and meditate…
Imagine you are a samurai. Your duty is to protect your master, your daimyo as he sleeps through the night. You are the solitary guard of the castle, your post its only entrance.
A thousand ninja warriors are eager to capture or kill your master. They are poised to attack, likely to appear from any angle and in any guise.
You are expert in all the martial arts and weaponry. The ninjas know and respect this, and they will not attack as long as they see you are fully alert and on guard. So they wait. But the moment you let your guard down, the moment you are distracted, lose focus or nod off, they will pounce from any and all directions… your master’s fate sealed, you would either be killed directly or live a life of shame.
Your master is your silence-heart of meditation, which you must guard and protect with all your being, capacity and will.
The thousand ninjas are all the thoughts, ideas, plans, desires, regrets, grievances, distractions, disturbances, temptations and impulses that lie in wait to attack, disrupt, capture or destroy your heart’s peace, poise and bliss.
These ninjas work together to distract or disturb you by flattery, trickery or treachery. Yet as long as your focus is absolute, you are invincible, you are more powerful than the entire ninja army.
Never fear, doubt or waver. You are only for your daimyo’s safety and protection – nothing else matters.
When the light of dawn breaks, all the ninjas fade and evaporate.
The goal of our outer quest is to have; the fulfilment of our inner search is to be.
What we have is material, which is immaterial; what we are is spiritual, which is real.
Peace is born in what we are, not what we have.
Love flows from what we are, not what we have.
Happiness radiates from what we are, not what we have.
Fulfilment blossoms in what we are, not what we have.
When we are in the finite consciousness of our body, vital and mind, our focus is on what we have, what we do not have and what we would like to have.
Even our identity and personal worth is derived from what we have: our physical appearance; our possessions; our profession; our income; our intelligence and qualifications; our family, friends and relationships; our social standing; our emotional state; our desires, both fulfilled and unfulfilled; our ideas, concepts, prejudices and beliefs; our allegiances; our land, language, race, religion and nationality; our outer achievements and experiences, successes and failures.
When we are in our infinite consciousness – in our spiritual heart and soul – our focus is on our being and becoming.
Our material self has; our spiritual self is.
We desire to have; we aspire to be.
We have the finite; we are infinite.
We have time; we are eternal.
We have life and death; we are immortal.
Having ends in loss; being never ends, ever transcends.
We think having is being; we know being is having.
Having smothers being; being liberates having.
Having is illusory; being is reality.
Having takes and impoverishes; being gives and enriches.
Having dances with not having; being transcends with becoming.
Having leads nowhere; being is already everywhere.
We go outside to have; we come inside – we meditate – to be.
Though the drops may have forgotten their source, they retain always an innate and compelling urge. Their urge is ultimately to return to the ocean from whence they came. Yet because they have forgotten the ocean, initially the urge presents itself simply as a yearning to transcend their drop-limitations, to grow, learn and explore, to join and become an ever-larger entity.
When drops flow and join together they become streams, lakes and rivers. When a drop joins a river it ceases to indentify as a mere drop: it identifies as the river, a being vastly greater in capacity, beauty, strength and purpose. Rivers flow into larger and larger rivers, their significance, power and glory increasing all the while.
Every river is aiming for the same destination – the ocean. That innate urge is now a powerful unstoppable current. Rivers will shape landscapes and literally move mountains to reach their goal.
Once a drop has entered a powerful ocean-bound river, its chances of being re-evaporated are almost nil. It is now focused squarely on the end-game – re-immersion in the ocean.
As each drop is a soul, so each great river is a spiritual Path, a vehicle carrying countless drops back to their ocean. As there are many rivers, each with its own character, charm and beauty, so there are many spiritual Paths, all appearing different yet all bearing the same underlying current.
According to our many perspectives, we give the ocean different names, yet the God-ocean was, is and will forever be one.
Once the drop merges finally in the ocean, it is no longer a drop, no longer the river: it is once more the ocean itself.
The drop has achieved its original and ultimate purpose.
Within its tasks and adventures, each drop is fully occupied. There is no apparent connection between the drop and the ocean. The drop’s provenance from the ocean is a remote, ancient occurrence, now obscured and lost in the all-consuming necessity of the moment.
Yet every drop is forever one in essence with its parent ocean. As the sun casts forth its rays and both experiences and fulfils itself through its rays’ light, warmth and power radiating and acting in the universe; as a flower experiences and fulfils itself through the beauty and fragrance it emits; is not the ocean actually experiencing and fulfilling itself in and through each of its children-creation-portion-drops at every moment?
In all their myriad forms and activities, is it not the God-ocean secretly sustaining, being and becoming all life, activity, history and progress of the world through its agent-portions, its soul-drops?
My finger and thumb are preoccupied with their own roles and do not know me, yet I know them, for they are of me. Similarly each busy drop may forget its source, yet the ocean remembers and knows each and every drop, for each drop, no matter how remote it travels, is always of the ocean. Separated in form, function and distance, they can never be apart in essence.
The body of water we see as “the ocean” is only ever part of the ocean’s entirety: much of the ocean’s being is in the sky as clouds, on land sustaining life or invisible as vapour. When we see a cloud, a lake or a cup of tea we don’t recognise them as the ocean – yet they are all the ocean – hiding from itself, playing and enjoying itself in myriad guises and disguises.
A drop is like a soul. All souls originate in the ocean of infinite consciousness – God – and at some point find themselves magically, mysteriously or miraculously evaporated from their ocean-source. They are still one in essence with the God-ocean, yet seem now to be separate, on their own.
When a drop of rain descends to earth, it enters the field of drama and adventure. Each drop undergoes a myriad of experiences, purposes and transformations. One drop might fall as a snowflake and reside in a glacier for several million years. Another might land in a stream, which falls as a waterfall utilised by a hydro power station; another lands in an irrigation canal, is watered onto crops which are consumed by a cow to fuel its rumination and digestion. Another joins a monsoonal deluge causing flooding and destruction; another is mixed into concrete and used to build a freeway.
Another drop finds its way into your home, is made into a cup of peppermint tea, is sipped and sent to help fuel your brain, enabling your mind to perceive, read and comprehend these words. For not only physical life: the entire realm of the mind and all its awareness and achievement is utterly dependent on this miraculous commodity, water.
Like the raindrops, souls also “descend to earth,” whereon they too embark on a great series of experiences and adventures, called life.
In between adventures, from time to time drops re-evaporate, seemingly disappearing and departing the earth-scene, returning to somewhere in the sky for a while. For souls, this experience is what we call death.
Thence the vapour-droplets re-condense as new drops to embark on whole new adventures.
For souls, this reappearance into the earth-scene is called reincarnation.
Every drop originates in the ocean; and to the ocean, every drop yearns to return.
The ocean is comprised of countless drops. Yet we don’t perceive the ocean as innumerable entities: we perceive the ocean as one.
When the sun shines on the surface of the ocean, some of its surface water is evaporated. It changes its form from liquid to gas, and so apparently disappears. As the newly formed vapour rises, it cools. As it cools, it reforms into myriad tiny droplets, which together form clouds.
These clouds are derived from the parent ocean: in essence they are the same substance, only taking ever-new forms. One might imagine the ocean gazing up, watching the clouds perpetually dancing across the sky, like an artist admiring his creation or a mother observing her children at play.
When these clouds float over the land they rise and cool. As more vapour condenses into larger and heavier droplets, the mass becomes too great for the clouds to bear, gravity plays its role and the clouds release their burden as rain, hail or snow, which descends to earth. What started as ocean became vapour became cloud became rain and now becomes all manner of phenomena – lakes, streams, waterfalls, snowfields, glaciers.
Water in all its forms and functions sustains, nourishes and nurtures all life, structures and activity on earth. Every living being is comprised mostly of water. Virtually all functions and activities of plants, animals and humans require the presence of water.
Water represents consciousness. Like water, consciousness is essential to and pervades life, all living beings, functions and activities.
Like water, consciousness takes many forms and shapes and like water, all “drops” of consciousness derive from one source, one “ocean”.
I was once fortunate to stay for about 10 days at a fine hotel in Phnom Penh, which incorporated an international school for chefs. The student chef’s training included preparing meals for our large group of vegetarians. It seemed that at least one dish at each meal had to be prepared from potatoes, and that no dish could be repeated over the course of our stay. Alongside a superb array of other courses, we marveled at the inexhaustible panoply of potato presentations.
We had potato curry, potato casserole, baked potato, roasted potato, mashed potato, buttered baby potatoes, stuffed potatoes, diced, sliced and scalloped potatoes, potatoes au gratin, potato pancakes, potato wedges, potato soup, potato bread, potato cakes, French fries, home fries, hash browns, potato salad, caramelised potato.
Many dishes were seemingly utterly unrelated to each other, yet all were expressions of the one subterranean tuber.
Like Truth or God, the source was one, its forms endless.
The potato is a fine example of the principle of oneness in diversity. Each of us may have our own favourite form of potatoes. Again, we may prefer one potato dish at breakfast and another for lunch. Some may be happy eating only boiled potatoes from morn to eve, while a true potato afficionado will of course love and appreciate potato in all its multifarious forms, always.
Meditation brings us to the source of our being, the central still point from which all our attributes and aspirations arise. We discover this same central silence as the source of not only our being but of all being. By entering into our own meditation heart, we see and appreciate all reality as expressions and manifestations of one Light, one Truth, one Being.
A seeker once came to a spiritual Master, eager to ask one burning question: “Who is God?”
The Master smilingly responded: “Who is not God?”
Throughout the history of human existence, nothing and no-one has been the subject of more speculation, discussion, dispute, reverence and antagonism, than God.
Is God personal or impersonal? One, two or many? With or without form? With or without attributes? Masculine, feminine, neither or both? Does God even exist?
How can we possibly know? And why should we care?
Swami Vivekananda concluded that the search for God was the only quest worth pursuing, so he traveled from place to place asking wise and learned people: “Have you seen God?” If the answer was “No”, he moved on. Only the mighty spiritual Master, Sri Ramakrishna, was able to reply: “Yes, I see God more clearly than I see you standing before me.” So he stayed with Sri Ramakrishna.
Whoever or whatever God is, one thing which all who speculate on God’s existence agree upon, is that God must be everywhere and in everything.
If God is indeed “omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient,” God must not only be all around us, but also within us. There can not be any part of our being which is not God. Mathematically speaking, our existence is a sub-set of God’s existence, our consciousness a portion of God’s consciousness.
The most obvious, and ultimately the only reliable place to seek God therefore, must be within ourselves – not through outer learning, but through direct inner experience.
This is meditation’s ultimate purpose and promise.
Anyone who claims: “I am God”, will likely be viewed as supremely egotistical or profoundly disturbed. Yet perhaps it is we who fail to declare: “I am God”, who are the truly ignorant and crazy ones.
Talking or writing about God is pointless, fruitless frittering.
Whoever or whatever God is, lies beyond the realms of thought, analysis and even description.
God can only be felt, experienced and realised.
Whenever we try to describe, define or confine God, God eludes us.
The human mind seeks the comfort of possession by labelling and confining everything within boxes and definitions. “Understanding” gives the mind a sense of safety and control, and supports the mind’s sense of its own hegemony. This applies to the individual mind, and to the institutions created and sustained by our collective minds.
Too often, a described and defined “God” has become a weapon of control, a tool of the limiting, fear-bound mind seeking to preserve and extend its own sphere of pettiness. The mind’s need for self-righteousness, whether through chest-beating or self-flagellating, feeds off division and difference as its oxygen, spawning arrogance, delusion and even hatred.
The God of Love goes into hiding.
To attempt to know or understand God using the human mind is as useless an exercise as setting out to measure the sky with a 30 centimetre ruler. It is simply the wrong and hopelessly inadequate instrument.
Only the infinite can comprehend the infinite. If we hope to know or to communicate with God, we have first to develop our own infinite instruments with which to do so: our heart and our soul.
Cast aside all speculation about God. Forget everything you have heard, or been taught about God.
Where can we find our father, mother or dear friend when we cannot see them physically? Inside our hearts…
If God is indeed your Father, Mother or Friend, then you have every right – and opportunity – to seek and approach God inside your own heart.
Choose a quiet, uncluttered place. Sit so that the spine is straight, yet relaxed. Close your eyes and focus all attention on your breath.
Imagine the outside world has dissolved. Nothing exists beyond your controlled breathing.
Now imagine that you do not have a body or a physical form; you do not have a mind or any thoughts or desires – you are only your spiritual heart. Your heart is all love, joy, sweetness and light.
Now imagine it is not your lungs that are breathing, but your entire spiritual heart. You are not breathing in air from the physical atmosphere; you are breathing in peace, love, light and joy from the spiritual realm within and all around you. With every breath you become calmer, lighter, purer, sweeter, vaster and stronger.
Just as our physical breath brings oxygen, essential energy and nourishment into our physical body and removes carbon dioxide and metabolic waste; so our heart’s breath brings a flow of inner energy, nourishment, peace and enlightenment to bathe our consciousness and releases stress, attachments, desires, limitations and the ignorance of ego.
Just as our physical breath connects us with every other physical being on this earth – people, animals and plants – as we all breathe the same atmosphere; so our heart’s breath connects us directly with the infinite inner realms of God. Our heart’s breath has a free access to the spiritual wealth of boundless enthusiasm, limitless light, absolute freedom and unhorizoned delight.
We do not have to sit and meditate to be conscious of our heart’s breath. With every breath of our lungs we can be aware of the deeper breath of our heart – while walking, playing, studying, sitting at our desk.
Through our heart’s breath, every moment is an opportunity for spiritual growth, for meditation-in-action.