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.
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.”