We are accustomed to the notion that progress is the outcome of learning. In our outer lives, learning and education are fundamental values, cherished personal goals, pillars of civilisation, bedrock of our society, culture and economy.
Yet in the spiritual life, learning is virtually useless: far more precious and pressing urgent, is unlearning.
Acquiring knowledge is a function of the mind. The more we learn, the more baggage our minds accumulate: ideas, notions, concepts, methods, theories, beliefs, ideals, prejudices and judgements. All this baggage combines and recombines to inform our world-view and our self-view. The more laden our mind with thoughts, the more cluttered with concepts, the more our mind’s sprawling contents and processes dominate and captivate our consciousness. There is simply no room or bandwidth to see or feel beyond our mental behemoth; the mind subsumes our concept of self and assumes stewardship of our identity. We think and act as though we are the mind. Thus, living as a lie, spiritually we die.
Lacking the heart’s capacity for love, identification and oneness, our minds sit apart from reality, seeking to know and control through analysis and guesswork. We build, project and inhabit models or constructs of reality – informed guesses, inherently false and flimsy. The mind is a hoarder of falsehoods and champion of ignorance – our mentality, once fancying we walked on a flat earth, is today greedier than ever for illusion, delusion and confusion-profusion.
All our minds’ cherished truths and isms are so many relative falsehoods: all are barriers to spiritual progress, self-discovery and fulfilment, to be discarded, overcome – unlearned.
As a snake must shed its own skin, its very identity in order to grow, so must we “unlearn” all we believe we know about the world and ourselves, to discover and become who we truly are.
Every question is the child of its answer. As every sight, sound and fragrance can be traced to a source, so every problem leads inevitably to its own source, its solution.
We are faced with countless questions and endless problems; our very existence presents as an unanswerable question, an insoluble problem. Yet all answers, all solutions, are already within us. If we cannot find them it is because we are not looking in the right place, or in the right way. Questions come from all around us: our outer world is the problem. Their answers are found within: our inner world is the solution.
Questions are indissolubly linked to their answers, as smoke and fire. Problems are intrinsically connected to their solutions by invisible, homing thread, as a migrating bird will return inevitably to its unseen birth-nest on the far side of the world. Each question is the echo of its answer, each problem the reflection of its solution.
We cannot see an object in dense fog, because of the fog. Peering at the object will not make it any clearer. Similarly, thinking, worrying about or dwelling on a problem cannot reveal its solution. The only way to see material objects through dense fog is to clear the fog: then the objects are self-evident. The only way to perceive truth through an obfuscating mind is to empty the mind – to meditate. Then the truth – which was always there – stands “clear as day” before us.
To “meditate on a problem” is a contradiction in terms. To ponder a problem only lends it more credibility and strength. Meditation only reveals solutions. Put aside your problem and meditate in silence. Then allow the solution to present itself in its own charming way, in its own sweet time.
If someone comes to the door of my home, I choose whether or not to welcome them: if they are a friend, I may invite them in; if a stranger, especially if dirty, crazy or aggressive, I refuse them entry.
Yet most of us leave our mental and emotional doors wide open, allowing free access to whatever thoughts, desires, feelings, concepts and prejudices appear, be they positive or negative, friendly or hostile, regardless of the consequences.
This mental open door policy is akin to having an open sewer flowing through our living room. We allow, and even welcome negative thoughts, feelings and emotions to flow freely through the living room of our mind, from where their poisonous vapours spread through the whole house of our being. These mental and emotional pollutants are absolutely as lethal to our consciousness as the germs and viruses we strive so hard to avoid.
Mental and emotional hygiene must be sought and practised routinely with the discipline and rigour we apply to physical hygiene. Just as it is far better to protect ourselves against the invasion of malicious viruses, rather than have to cure a disease once it’s taken hold of us; so is it far better to guard against the intrusion of harmful thoughts and feelings than to have to wrestle with the monsters of mental turmoil and emotional upheaval which feed, incite and inflate the grievous error of ignorance running rampant through the wreckage of our happiness.
Wanting to clean up and discipline our minds by keeping out unwanted thoughts, distractions and desires is one thing: being able to do so is another.
Fortunately there is a way to gain control and release the transformative power of purity in our mind and emotions: practise concentration and meditation, daily.
Imagine the whole stream of thoughts is being projected onto a screen and you are merely an observer, watching them pass by. They are not yours, and you are not theirs. Feel your own existence, happy and complete, separate and independent from what is happening on the screen.
Like sushi on a sushi train, thoughts are passing by and it is up to you to select the ones you like. Select only the positive; absolutely reject the negative. You will be the winner.
With practise, it becomes easy to discriminate between positive and negative thoughts. Positive thoughts open our hearts; negative thoughts close our minds. Positive thoughts uplift and expand us, make us greater; negative thoughts bring us down and reduce us, make us smaller. Positive thoughts put wings on our shoulders; negative thoughts put lead weights on our feet. Positive thoughts nourish our beautiful smile; negative thoughts fuel our furrowed brow and dark frown. Positive thoughts free us; negative thoughts imprison and control us. Positive thoughts give to us and inspire us to give freely; negative thoughts take from us and incite us to take obsessively. Positive thoughts ennoble us; negative thoughts demean us. Positive thoughts serve us; negative thoughts enslave us.
Frequently throughout the day, pause whatever you are doing, and consciously observe the flow of thoughts: at this moment, are you entertaining positive or negative thoughts? Whenever you find they are negative, even slightly so, don’t hesitate: kick them aside ruthlessly before they take hold of you. When they are positive, embrace and expand them gratefully.
Vividly recall your morning meditation. Breathe in all its peace, light, beauty and happiness. In this way your meditation will remain alive the whole day through and protect you from destructive thoughts, your worst enemy.
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.