“The discontented man finds no easy chair.”
– Benjamin Franklin
For some reason, this quote is much better known in German: “Der unzufriedene Mensch findet keinen bequemen Stuhl.”
The source and only source of all peace, love, joy, wisdom, light, satisfaction and fulfilment is our soul. Our soul is more than ready and eager to offer all these qualities to us in infinite measure – as long as we show that we need them and value them. All happiness can be ours – for the asking.
Meditation is the asking. Meditation opens the doors within, establishes the lines of trade and communication between the inner worlds and the outer world, between our inner and outer lives, so that we can access, enjoy, express, reveal and spread the inner wealth of our soul.
When we shine a flashlight in a dark room, we see everything. Without the flashlight, we see only darkness. It is not the room’s fault that we cannot see it: it is ours for turning off the light. No end of complaining about the darkness will enable us to see the room: the culprit is the one holding the flashlight – ourselves.
It is the nature of all spiritual qualities to expand, spread and radiate. When we meditate and find peace, love, joy and satisfaction within, all of these qualities naturally expand, spread and radiate all around us, like fragrance from a flower. If we do not see and feel these qualities around us – if we find “no easy chair” – it is simply because they are not radiating from within us, because we have not sought them – we have not meditated – sincerely and eagerly enough. Discontentment is the absence of contentment, the natural consequence of not meditating.
Meditate for contentment: then find everywhere your “bequemen stuhl”, your easy chair.
Persistent thoughts, desires and emotions are huge impediments to our progress in meditation, and we would like to be rid of them – but how?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If we would have our attachments release us so we can finally enjoy peace and freedom, we must first release our attachments so they too can fly free.
In practice, this means separating our identity from our thoughts, desires, prejudices, notions and beliefs, for we are not them – we are something and someone much vaster, deeper, beyond description. All thoughts, beliefs and ideals – no matter how sophisticated, comprehensive, persuasive and noble – only limit us and block us from seeing, feeling and becoming what lies beyond them. They are idols, toys, models of reality in which we wrap ourselves against the unknown. However that which protects us from the unknown, also insulates and isolates us from the Real, the very goal of our search.
Why are attachments so difficult to dislodge? We blame errant thoughts and desires as unwanted, unruly tenants who refuse to leave after their lease has expired, continuing wrecking things and disturbing everyone around. We are helpless victims of their tyranny.
Yet when we look carefully within we see that the cords binding us to our thoughts, desires and emotions are of our own making. It is we who have entrapped them, we who have attached ourselves and cling to them, not the other way around. We cherish them because they enable us to label ourselves: our attachments define us.
As long as we derive our identity and sense of self from the enslavement of false notions and beliefs, we are only enslaving ourselves. To gain freedom, we must first grant freedom to all our attachments – unconditionally, permanently and irrevocably.
Right in front of you is the most beautiful child, more beautiful, more perfect than you have ever seen in this world or could ever have imagined.
This child is an emissary from a far-away realm and will be here on earth for just 15 minutes, in transit to another even further-away realm.
During this brief stay on earth, you are chosen to be the child’s host. Neither of you knows the other’s language, so you communicate only through your eyes, smiles, gestures and silent signs.
With a single glance the child captures and captivates your heart and your entire being. With glowing eyes and a smile of pure charm, the child radiates supernal beauty, innocence, sweetness and delicacy. Just to see the child floods you with an exquisite, ineffable delight; you are lighter, brighter than ever, the world around you fluid with luminescent beauty. In the child’s presence you are your own best self.
You sense a refinement, sensitivity and sensibility far beyond your reach. It is clear to you that the notion of ugliness and the restrictions of negativity are unknown to this child. In all your being you are enveloped with an imperative to protect, to cherish and to treasure.
Exercise: Take your imaginary child outside. You have 15 minutes to convey all of the world’s good to someone who comprehends only love, happiness, brilliance, beauty, subtlety and perfection. Set a timer. In silence, look around and show your child everything that is beautiful, everything that is lovely, uplifting, inspiring, harmonious and divine in this precious world of ours. With a grateful heart you find beauty everywhere!
After 15 minutes, the child vanishes leaving the impression of an ethereal smile in your heart and all around a transfigured world of glistening beauty: your new home.
Our minds are preoccupied with dividing, ordering, controlling and possessing our environment, including our own lives. The concept of time is a mental phenomenon: we focus much on the past and the future, to the detriment of our enjoyment of the present.
Through meditation we learn detachment from our minds’ preoccupations, including our obsession with past and future: as we enter deeper into our hearts, we become more centred in the moment, in the Eternal Now.
The Eternal Now is also the Eternally New.
They say there is nothing new under the sun: everything has always existed and will always exist, though in ever-changing forms. Newness is relative to our lived experience: for a child, riding a bicycle for the first time is a “new” experience, though people have been riding bicycles for hundreds of years. When we discover something that has not previously been known by mankind, we say it is “new” – a new country, a new species of butterfly, a new deposit of gold, a new law of mathematics – though all of these things have always been there, awaiting our “discovery”.
Newness lies in uncovering Truth, whether on the physical, mental or spiritual plane. Meditation affords us the most direct access to planes of spiritual Truth beyond our minds’ perception, and hence access – from the point of view of our experience – to the ever-new.
Living only in our minds is like living in the same room with the same furniture. We may rearrange the furniture, but the room remains the same. We become stagnant, bored and boring.
Our spiritual heart is the source of ever-expanding experience, ever-deepening Truth – and constant newness. Only in constant newness can we remain always inspired, enthusiastic, energetic, happy and fulfilled.
“There is only
One perfect road
That road is ahead of you,
Always ahead of you.”
– Sri Chinmoy
In the outer world, at a certain point knowledge of a subject might be considered complete. Not so in the infinite spiritual realms, for here where all is ever growing and transcending, nothing can ever be complete.
In our spiritual journey, whatever we have experienced, learned and become is always nothing in comparison to what we have yet to experience, learn and become.
Not matter how far we have travelled, we are always at the starting point of the only journey that matters: that which lies and unfolds ahead of us. The past is valuable, for it has brought us to this starting point. Yet we cannot allow ourselves to be bound, limited or defined by the past, no matter how deplorable or how glorious that past is painted: it is now, the decisions we take and direction we face at this moment from wherever we are, which will determine and cast the arc of our future.
Imagine always you are a beginner, an eternal beginner. A beginner is open, humble and receptive. The moment we feel we know everything or we have done it or seen it all before, our hearts along with our minds contract and close. When our heart-door closes, our consciousness dims, our meditation tires and slowly expires of asphyxiation.
Pride and arrogance are the folly and stench of a closed mind and deadened heart. Rather than expanding, they diminish us and sabotage our potential. Whoever we think we are, can never be who we truly are, for thinking itself cannot grasp our inner being.
Our true being, true happiness and fulfilment lie always ahead, along the road reserved exclusively for the eternal beginner.
There are many reasons for starting to meditate – seeking to reduce the stress in our lives, sharpen our concentration, improve our physical and mental health – yet all who continue with meditation, soon find that it beckons us far, far beyond anywhere we could possibly have hoped or imagined.
By showing the way beyond our reasoning, thinking and doubting mind, meditation not only releases us from all of the weakness, strictures and limitations of the mind, it guides us into the realm of the loving, beautiful, compassionate, wise, and expansive heart.
Meditation leads us from the finite into the infinite. This journey is not merely a process of incremental growth and integral improvement, though it starts as just that: it effectuates a quantum evolutionary leap in consciousness and a radical reorientation of our identity.
Our infinite heart subsumes, transforms and illumines all of our mind’s limitations, weaknesses, misconceptions, doubts, fears, anxieties, desires and attachments. For most of us, these form the most part of our assumed identity: free of them we are tethered balloons released to fly in the vast, vast sky.
Our transcendent and ever-transcending heart reveals itself as both the way and the goal of our journey – and of the game of life itself.
As a beautiful, fragrant flower blossoms from an unassuming bud, meditation reveals our very purpose, our supreme vocation – to explore and ultimately to become our infinite within, our highest and deepest self. No longer do we identify as doctor, student or nurse: we are a seeker, playmate and lover – of Truth and of God.
Our identity, our sense of self, blossoms from the finite into the infinite, the temporal into the eternal, the personal into the universal.
Roots are the source, fruits the goal. Roots represent raw materials, fruits the finished product. Roots are the inner world, fruits the outer world. It might be said that roots promote aspiration, while fruits attract desire. We are generally more attracted to fruits than we are to roots.
Of course the tree, like life, needs both roots and fruits to flourish. A tree may be judged by the quality of its apples, yet the greatest factor determining the quality of those apples is the health and strength of the tree’s roots. Healthy roots make healthy fruits.
Meditation is attending to our roots, to our inner existence, to the source of our consciousness, our all. There is no more important activity, none more influential and beneficial to the fruits of our health, wellbeing, happiness, success and spiritual progress – all of which grow and flow directly or indirectly from our inner consciousness.
Yet while the tendency of the modern world is to neglect the roots of our being in favour of our obsession with the fruits of our outer existence, the opposite tendency – to focus all our attention on the roots of spiritual practice and spurn the fruits of the outer world as meaningless or of no consequence – is also an unsatisfactory approach to life.
Roots exist under the ground to serve and nourish the fruits above. Fruits are the most delicious part of a tree, its offering and legacy. While it is essential to attend to our roots, to meditate and fathom our spiritual depths, nevertheless we are here in the world for a reason: to utilise the nourishment from our roots to produce ever-more beautiful, fragrant and nourishing action- and service-fruits for the benefit and inspiration of the world.
Yet how do we even know what our dreams are? How can we know what we ought to pursue?
There are so many ideas, ideals, possibilities, pathways and goals before and around us: how to discriminate between an alluring yet empty desire and what will really fulfil us; between what society expects or our family or peers are pressuring us to follow, and what will bring us deep, abiding happiness?
We are each unique. Just as a cow eats grass and a lion eats meat, and to feed a cow meat or grass to a lion will cause serious indigestion, so one person’s greatest fulfilment will be another’s endless suffering. Only we can find our calling, our own dream, and we can only find it within.
In meditation we strip away the superficial and reveal the real. As the prospector swirls his pan in the creek, all lightweight objects and common dirt is progressively washed away, leaving only the sought-after heaviest particles of pure gold; so as we clear the mind of its trivialities and preoccupation with appearances, we are left ultimately with that which is most solid, precious and essential, our inner gold.
Our true dreams are those we are destined to grow into and become. As the future adult is already there in the embryo, so is our future fulfilment embedded within us. The more and the deeper we meditate, the brighter become our dreams and goals, the greater our conviction and eagerness to pursue them, and the clearer the way and means to their achievement.
Meditation is an incubator in which all our possibility-seeds germinate; fertile soil in which our potentiality-trees grow tall; and the sunshine in which our fulfilment-flowers gloriously blossom.
To enter into a silent mind, we must summon all our hearts’ eagerness, intensity, determination and unwavering faith in our soul’s almighty power.
Always focus on the goal: no matter how alluring a thought or emotion may appear, know that it is directly blocking our entry into a realm far more beautiful, peaceful, loving, enriching and fulfilling, so avoid thoughts as you would landmines or deadly snakes.
Imagine you are at the Wimbledon Tennis Championship Final. You are utterly absorbed in an epic game, a cliff-hanger. You can’t take your eyes off the thrilling action. At a crucial moment, someone stands up in front of you, completely blocking your view …
That person is a thought in your meditation, any thought. While watching the game, the game is the only thing that matters; you cannot tolerate any interruption: similarly in meditation, meditation itself has to occupy your entire field of consciousness; you cannot allow any distraction, or you will miss the best part.
Always we must feel momentum in our meditation; the moment we rest or stagnate, we fall easy prey to marauding thoughts.
Imagine you are a speeding arrow, hurtling through clear air. Your aim is infinite space. Your focus is absolute, your speed faster than any thought, which simply cannot approach you. Your only awareness is of the vast infinite ahead and all around you: silent, pure, all-light, ever-expanding, intimate and nourishing. Take any and all thoughts as your enemy: they are bullets aimed to shoot you down, traps to ensnare you, thieves to rob you, viruses to corrupt you, hostile agents plotting to kidnap you – you must evade them at all cost. No compromise: if you let one in, you let them all in, and your meditation is finished.
“Meditation is no meditation When it becomes a victim To endless thoughts.”
– Sri Chinmoy
If our daily meditation practise is an endless train of thoughts because we have surrendered to them as to an oncoming illness or to old age, then we might as well as be chatting or watching television. To compromise in this way is to accept weakness and admit defeat. The task is formidable: while it is inevitable that we will stumble, inevitable we will falter along the way, we must always take setbacks as stepping stones to our ultimate success and victory. Never surrender!
Thoughts come to us in meditation pretending to be our friends, supporters and advisers, and we welcome them because we want to believe they are. So do we deceive ourselves and cut the legs from under our own meditation practise.
It is so easy to blame thoughts for their intrusion: yet it is we who leave our minds’ door wide open for them.
To enter into a thoughtless mind requires persistent aspiration, imagination, daring, courage, sincerity, integrity – and patience.
We must first yearn intensely for this exalted experience; then imagine it is possible and inevitable that we shall be successful in this endeavour; be ready and eager to cast aside all that holds us back – self-doubt, fear, hesitation, insecurity and pride, all preconceptions and even our accustomed identity; be ready to give up everything in the pursuit; and offer all of our self to the task as our sole imperative.
Half-hearted is not good enough. We cannot swim if we only half dive into the pool, and we cannot meditate if we allow part of our conscious awareness to wander elsewhere: our immersion must be complete.
Keep focused always, rest not til the goal is won!
To constantly progress in meditation we must always strive for a silent, empty mind. Only in a thoughtless mind can we experience the true peace, beauty, vastness, clarity, light and joy of our inner being; otherwise though we may have glimpses of our deeper reality, we are selling ourselves short and will never realise our potential.
To silence the mind is challenging because we are accustomed to living and operating from a milieu of thoughts, ideas, comparisons, prejudices, rationalisations and judgements. To extricate oneself from this labyrinth is like separating the pattern from a fabric – seemingly impossible. At a glance, we see the pattern – our outer appearance or personality – rather than the fabric, our inner reality. To identify as the fabric, we must see through our minds’ outer patterns.
Unless we consciously and intensely challenge thoughts in meditation, they will always persist like a background hum we don’t even notice after a while. We are so habituated to this hum, we even imagine it to be necessary and indispensible. Complacency is a great danger in our meditation practise: to accept the inevitability of background thoughts as part of the furniture, is to allow our meditation practise to slide into decline.
Every thought is a blot obscuring the sun, a smudge on the mirror, a germ breathed in, a weed in the garden. True, one blot, one smudge, one germ, one weed does not ruin everything, yet thoughts always bring their friends and soon proliferate uncontrollably: quickly and inevitably the sun is completely blotted out, we cannot see the mirror at all, we are sick in bed from the flu, our garden is overgrown. Our meditation is finished.
Our constant imperative is to not allow even one thought to disturb the sanctity of our meditation.
“Please secure your own oxygen mask before helping children and others around you.”
– airline seat-back safety card
In meditation I sit alone, avoiding others and eschewing all involvement and even thoughts of the outside world, my focus directed exclusively within myself with the avowed goal of my own self-improvement, personal benefit and greater happiness. Meditation would appear the epitome of an anti-social, selfish behaviour.
Yet there is no other activity ultimately more selfless or yielding of more profound and lasting benefit for others.
A doctor sick in bed cannot be of much help to anyone. She needs first to cure herself so that she can be of service to her patients.
The world is the sum of our collective consciousness. We are the world, each of us players on the world team. As each football player who practises his skills and works on his own physical fitness, helps raise the standard of his team so that it will perform better, so each of us who meditates to lift and expand our own consciousness, directly helps improve the consciousness and condition of humanity and the world.
The qualities most needed, both individually and collectively in the world are the security and poise of peace; the oneness and compassion of love; the clarity and wisdom of light; the joy and fulfilment of bliss.
We each become wholesale distributors of peace, love, light and bliss. Through meditation we locate and secure these precious commodities from their source, the limitless spiritual treasure house deep within, store them in the warehouse of our heart, and spontaneously distribute them through the retail outlets of our lives: our interactions with family, friends and acquaintances, our work, social activities and creative endeavours.
In meditation, selfish becomes selfless; my good and the common good are one.
This parable has been retold in many versions, including by Swami Vivekananda at the first Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
A little frog had lived his whole life at the bottom of a well. He knew no other environment and yet was content with his life. He had abundant food from the various insects that flew into the well and small water creatures that bred there, so in time he grew quite plump and fancied himself an authority on the world.
One day a frog from the valley happened to fall into the well. “Where are you from?” asked the well frog. “I’m from the valley”.
The well frog jumped from one side of his well-world to the other in two bounds. For him, there was no number larger than 2. “Is your valley as large as one jump wide, or somewhere between one and two jumps?”
“The valley is larger than can possibly be described. You can never jump across it if you continued leaping your entire life.”
Disbelieving, the well frog persisted: “What does your valley look and sound like? How does it smell? What do you eat there?”
The valley frog realised he could never adequately describe the profusion of colours and scents of valley flowers, its rich air, thrill of its birdsong, glorious sunrises and sunsets, majestic mountains or its gourmet variety of delectable insects. “You’ll have to come to the valley to discover these things for yourself.”
“Enough! You’re making this up! You cannot describe your valley because it doesn’t exist. You’re trying to trick me into leaving so you can steal everything here! Get out now!”
To the closed mind, our inner, spiritual realms can never be described. They can only be experienced and realised, so –