My podcast partner, Alessandra, and I were inspired to have an episode on seclusion. We thought it would be more powerful to speak on the subject after each doing a recent seclusion so we could talk more experientially than theoretically. So, last week I did a seclusion for seven hours while my kids were at school and my husband was at work. I was really happy with the results, as well as surprised because I wasn't sure the impact would be noticeable considering the narrow time window I had to give to it.
Let's take a moment to level-set about what I am even talking about with seclusion. Seclusion is giving yourself an intentional amount of time alone in silence. It works because you are giving a longer amount of time to live in that rhythm of stillness which you are harnessing in meditation. In silence you are giving yourself time to settle inwardly and really saturate yourself in peace.
There are many ways to observe a seclusion. You can make a point to be out in nature, you can go somewhere and have more of a retreat experience where you are out of the home environment which takes away that temptation to be drawn into day-to-day tasks, or you can remain home when you can be by yourself. I chose to stay home and remain in silence as much as I could.
I will go into more detail about the ins-and-outs of my seclusion in the upcoming podcast on the topic and focus here more on the results. I won't go as far to say that I was dreading my seclusion as it approached, but it could be said I was feeling unsure about if it was the best use of my time. One of my areas of improvement on the spiritual path is my task-driven approach to life. Spending an entire day being inwardly focused and really nurturing my spirit meant that I was not using my time to work through things waiting to be completed. In the grand scheme of things it is easy to see which is more important (and, as such, I cringe a little writing about this small internal conflict as it seems so shortsighted in black-and-white), but as the day approached seclusion simply seemed a little impractical.
I expected at the very least to feel a little peaceful as the time came to a close. I thought the time would probably go slowly and I might be eager for my 3:00 end time to arrive. I knew it would be beneficial - after all, Paramhansa Yogananda said, "Seclusion is the price of greatness" - but I thought the changes would be subtle and perhaps not even perceivable on the narrow conscious level. Although I am home a lot during the week, I typically leave each day if not to teach meditation then to run errands and/or enjoy some coffee out.
I was, therefore, very pleasantly surprised that the results of the seclusion were noticeably deeper meditations and a vastly different level of stillness internally by the end of the seven hours. I meditated at the beginning and toward the end of the seclusion, and by the second one I could tell I was starting the meditation from a higher-than-normal level of awareness, stillness, and consciousness. By the time my kids came home, I was much more centered than normal and felt that I was filled with an ocean of peace.
That's not all! After the seclusion I felt that I was living from a higher octave, and that sense remained for a couple of days. My meditation the next morning again felt that I was starting from a higher point (like the second meditation in seclusion had) of stillness and awareness. Eventually, those perceivable effects lessened, and at this point I feel that I have come back to around that same vibration from which I started before the seclusion. However, it seems logical to me that if the effects I could perceive were so noticeable then there must have been other positive changes on a much subtler level which I could not perceive, and I imagine those are longer-lasting. I understand anew Yogananda's proclamation about seclusion being the price of greatness, and I am ready to begin folding them into my life with much more regularity!
Concentration is a cornerstone of meditation. In order to raise ourselves into a higher state of consciousness, we need to stay relaxed so our energy can withdraw from outward interaction to inwardness, and for this to happen we also have to remain concentrated. This singular concentration works to bring the energy into the brain and spiritual eye like a magnet, drawing the energy up which has receded inward.
It can be challenging to continue concentrating, particularly when you are new to meditation. The mind is used to flitting from one object to the next, like a butterfly from flower to flower. We may concentrate for some moments, and then find ourselves lost in planning out dinner or teasing through a random childhood memory. When we see our thoughts have taken over and we are far away, we simply bring our concentration back to what we were doing, be that focusing on the breath or penetrating the spiritual eye.
Another way to think of it which I have found helpful is to consider that I am choosing to stay connected to what I am doing. Rather than trying to avoid letting the mind wander, I proactively keep making the choice to stay engaged. Thinking of it as a choice has more power behind it than trying to prevent the mind wandering. It is an action. Choose to concentrate. Choose to stay in the present. Choose to engage. Again and again. Keep choosing.
Every little thing we do is a choice. Paramhansa Yogananda used to say, "The minutes are more important than the years... If you fill the minutes of your life with divine aspirations, automatically the years will be saturated with them." (Side note: I find something immensely satisfying in the thought of years being saturated with divinity. I am feeling in this moment that bringing that word saturate into meditation is a wonderful idea. So often I use "fill," which gives a good visual - "fill me with your blessings" "fill them with light" - but "saturate" gives this sense of being filled deeply and completely throughout.) It is easy to move through life feeling like we are being carried along without much consideration for the fact that we actually have complete control from moment to moment, and we are constantly making choices.
I took a training course years ago when I lived in England. It was a corporate training course, of the type that focuses on soft skills/personal development rather than technical skills. One of the main points of the course was to help people gain empowerment by understanding that everything we do is a choice. I remember one man who was there who just couldn't fully get on board with this concept. The instructor was trying to stretch him to accept that even going to work is a choice, and he pushed back saying, "If I don't go to work, I will get fired, I couldn't provide for my family, I don't have a choice. Likewise, if I pursue what I really want to do, I take away from my ability to do my current job fully, which means I could lose my job, and then I can't provide for my family, so there are many things I just don't have a choice in." The instructor kept trying to get him to see that even providing for his family was a choice, but he really couldn't accept that. The fact is, though, even those things that we take for granted such as providing comfort, stability, presence, food, medicine, shelter, and so forth for our family is a choice. You don't have to try very hard in these days of internet, 24 hour news, and reality TV to see that there are many people choosing not to do those very things for those who depend on them.
All day, every day, we are making choices. Some of these choices are so ingrained in our days, being repeated at the same time, day in and day out that it may feel that it is just how things are and we aren't making conscious choices about them - brushing our teeth, going to sleep, going to work, making and eating meals, and so forth. But, of course, these things wouldn't happen if we decided not to do them. Every day of my life until a few months ago I ate three meals a day. Every day. I believed that when my body felt hungry I was required to eat. I didn't like the discomfort of hunger and felt it unnecessary to feel it. I believed the healthy choice was to stay above the level of hunger throughout the day. Within the last year or a little more I started learning more about fasting, cleansing, and intermittent fasting. I began learning about how cleansing and healthy it is for our bodies to have periods of rest where food is not moving through our system, and I began intermittent fasting. Now, most days I don't eat until late morning or lunchtime. For nearly 40 years I lived my life as though I had no choice but to eat three meals a day, and in my mind I really felt that this was the only real option. But of course each time I made and ate my breakfast I made that choice, just as when I don't make or eat breakfast now I am still making a choice.
So when we meditate, we can help bring ourselves back to active concentration by choosing to engage our focus and immerse ourselves in the moment. If we find that we've strayed, we remind ourselves to choose again to be engaged in meditation. And if we have to do that 50 times, we choose to do it 50 times. On your journey to Self-realization, there are very few greater decisions.
I was in a little car accident a couple of days ago. I was waiting a stop sign when a car ran into the back of me. It was a little fender bender, no injuries thank goodness. I've only had my car since July, and it has been the source of many opportunities for patience in that short time. Someone hit it while it was parked and left a dent and some scrapes but no note. It had a mysterious tire leakage which required changes and 3 diagnostic visits before they could determine the problem. Now there is a cracked bumper and scratches and dents in various places in the back.
When I was reflecting on the series of challenges with the car, the thought did pass through my head to hide the car away. Leave it in the garage and only take it out if absolutely necessary. Avoid the opportunity for any other surprises to find their way to it.
It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? I bought a car so I can freely get where needed. I live in the suburbs; things are too spread out for me to walk from point to point and public transport is non-existent. But for a moment my logical solution to the unfortunate events that keep surrounding the car was to stop using it.
And yet, how many of us do this exact things with our hearts when we experience misfortune in life? We build up walls, shore up our hearts to protect them from further damage. We experience loss in love, we're hurt by friends, people we trust betray us, and when we are recovering from these heartaches our lessons learned point us to hiding our hearts away so to avoid being hurt again.
But, of course, the blocking and hiding of the heart's love is not the way to move through life if we want to continue to grow. We need to keep the heart open and live from its center to move in an upward direction through life. We need that energy to be fluid and free. Blocking our heart means we are contracting it, but real growth comes from expanding our hearts more and more. What we send is what we receive. By having a big, open heart we are attracting love back to ourselves, so not only do those around us benefit but we ultimately do as well - very much so.
This does not mean that we don't learn from our experiences. We aren't doormats for fear of having our hearts closed. If enduring abuse, for instance, we don't carry on with that relationship to try to keep our hearts from contracting. Abusive relationships are not centered in the heart - they are centered in fear. You need to get out of that situation before you can even begin to work from the heart. Part of moving through life is learning to shed those things that are working against our growth to help us keep our heart's energy clear. When there is a relationship (be it romantic, family, friendship, colleague, etc) that is a negative influence in your life, release yourself from it as much as you can. It is likely that you are both not getting what you truly need from each other, and by separating yourself you are actually releasing both of you.
Once we are released from a situation that caused us pain, that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater (or keep our heart-cars hidden away in the garage). We learn from our experiences and make adjustments, but we don't go into our next relationship making that partner pay for what we went through in our last relationship. If there were fidelity issues in our past relationship, for instance, we don't unfairly assume our new partner is going out behind our back or remain cold and distant because it's going to fall apart anyway so better not get too attached. We can be careful about who we offer ourselves to in a new relationship, but when we do partner with someone new we do so with an open heart.
So, what does the ongoing trouble with my car tell me? That I'm better off without it? Certainly not. It helps me stay focused on what matters. It can take some dings and some inconveniences. I'd rather not have to deal with them, but then again it is helping me in my practice of accepting what is in spite of my expectations which is the true road to ongoing happiness. I keep traveling on the open road, with an open heart.
Meditation and relaxation. They go together like a hand and a glove. Even people who hardly know what meditating is associate it with relaxation. In fact, it is often mistaken for simple relaxation. Getting my body completely relaxed while still holding a steady posture was one of the first things I learned about how to meditate. As I continued to study meditation and yogic principles, I learned more and more techniques and began to take the importance of relaxation for granted. I just sort of felt like because I "learned" that part already that my body would sort of automatically become completely relaxed because I was meditating.
When I've been teaching others how to meditate, I explain the importance of relaxation in meditation and always guide them through a relaxation to get them completely relaxed. However, this still wasn't really driving the point home to me in my personal practice that I need to check in with myself throughout my practice to release tension which can creep in during meditation.
It wasn't until I joined an online satsang, or gathering to discuss higher truths, with the Ananda Virtual Community a few weeks ago that I started paying more attention to relaxation in my personal practice. The satsang was actually mostly aimed at individuals who were taking a "how to meditate" course, but other members of the virtual community were welcome to come. I always love to go to the virtual community satsangs when I can, as they are so often full of insipiration. It was the first satsang for the students of that course, and the monk leading the satsang was reinforcing the importance of relaxation. It all sounded so familiar because I have heard it many times before, but for some reason at that time it really sunk in that this is a continuing practice. I realized that I had not been assuring I was staying completely relaxed throughout my meditation, and as I started tuning into that while meditating I noticed I had places where over time I was tensing up which needed to be further relaxed.
I have found it to be helpful to aim to feel open to try to stay relaxed. If I notice tension, I try to induce relaxation by bringing openness throughout the body or directly to the part which is holding the tension. I also try to remember this when I am concentrating at the point between the eyebrows. It is easy to create tension when we use a lot of willpower to stay concentrated, so I try to remind myself to stay open. Try this yourself and see if you notice a difference!
Relaxation is important because in meditation we are dealing with energy. As we go deeper in our meditation, the energy in our body withdraws into the spine. By concentrating at the spiritual eye we draw that withdrawn energy up the spine into the front of the brain, inducing a meditative state. If we are tense in any point of our body that energy will not be able to flow freely past that point of tension and will be blocked. Blocked energy can be the cause of many problems, including pain, discomfort, and dis-ease/disease. And of course, we are dealing with our body's energy all day, every day, not just in meditation. That energy needs to run freely through our body to keep us healthy on all fronts outside of meditation, so staying open and not holding tension is important all the time, too.
There does come a point in each meditation where you do need to let go and "drop" the body, not keep checking in with it. Being relaxed helps to accomplish that, but if you keep continuing to check in throughout the entirety of your practice searching for tension you will not get to the point where you can go beyond the body. But it has helped me to stop taking for granted that my body will just be completely relaxed because I'm meditating, and instead make the point to check that my body is relaxed and open so I can meditate easier.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
All Cold Fasting Flu Healing Health Higher Living Meditation Meditation Challenges Meditation Dry Spell Meditation Growth Neti Pot Paramhansa Yogananda Personal Growth Spiritual Growth Spiritual Podcasts Yogic Breathing