If you've spent any amount of time on this site, you've probably already run across some of the many, many ways that meditation improves our lives. There are so many physical and emotional benefits, from reduction in inflammation and headaches, improved sleep, uplifted feelings, improved memory, reduced stress, and on and on. But what about that third leg in our tripod of being - body + mind + spirit? What role does meditation play in our spirit, and - more to the point - does meditation go against your religion?
Meditation is a cornerstone in some religions, particularly in the East. Religions such as Hinduism use meditation as a vehicle to have direct communication and experience with the divine. Buddhism is heavily centered in meditation. In the West, Christian mysticism and contemplative prayer are also rooted in meditation.
Some people are not interested in religion in the least, or even have quite anti-religious feelings. They are still able to get the benefits of meditation discussed previously. There is no need to believe in a Hindu god in order to reap the benefit of lower blood pressure through cultivating stillness via meditation. I loved the analogy I heard Bob Roth, TM expert, give on a recent podcast: You can pick up a pencil, open your hand, and it will without fail fall to the floor, whether you believe in gravity or not. The principles of stilling your body and mind and directing your energy up to the front of your brain will give you certain benefits, regardless of what you believe or don't believe. They are grounded in universal laws.
There can certainly be a spiritual element to meditation. A meditator can experience seeing light, feeling peace or love, having an auditory experience, and that could happen regardless of their beliefs. A meditator can focus on technique and go no further into working on opening herself up to greater understanding/potential and still reap many positive benefits.
Meditation does not have to be about spirituality. However, it can be a wonderful vehicle to bring in a greater divine awareness, to feel more connected to one's Higher Self, higher purpose, to other souls, to the universe. But a meditator needs to consciously open herself to that. There is effort that is needed to go deeply in that direction. I say this because some people are a little bit confused about how their religious beliefs tie in to meditation, and specifically they can be worried that it is a threat to what they believe. To that I say take meditation where you want it to go. If you just need some help with your stress, focus on the techniques and let your mind and body benefit from that. If you want to use meditation to still yourself for greater concentration to deepen your prayers to whomever you feel connected with spiritually - Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, specific saints, God, angels - you can make those prayers more powerful with meditation. Meditation can be a wonderful augmentation to any religion, and it can also be a completely secular activity. It is up to the practitioner to decide.
Words are such an integral part of our existence. Moving back to America, where I can speak my mother tongue all the time, has given me a new appreciation for verbal communication that I didn't have before I spent four years handicapped by my inability to fully learn Italian. In that experience in Italy, I was really eager to learn the language and had high hopes that after a few months I would be having conversations easily in Italian. Despite taking private lessons, group lessons, online lessons, coordinating numerous language exchanges (a mix of linguistical backgrounds speaking half the time in Italian and the other half in English or another language), and a lot of independent learning with workbooks, Italian books, and CDs, I never got truly comfortable with Italian. I could have a conversation if the other participant was generous enough to speak rather simply, not too fast, and could meet me halfway with what I was trying to get across.
Being fully immersed in an English-speaking setting again is very comforting. Silly things that shouldn't require much thought, like returning something to Target, don't take much thought again; but if something required returning when I lived in Italy, sometimes I decided it just wasn't worth the mental effort. Trying to get things done when you're hindered by language requires not only knowing what you want to achieve (do I want a refund? Exchange? Credit?) and an advanced understanding of whether its even feasible (things that are givens in my culture were not always givens in Italian culture), and then forming the right words with the right verb conjugations to get the point across, and then enough understanding of the spoken word to be able to comprehend the response, which can be extra tricky if I managed to seem confident with what I said so the responder overestimated how quickly they could speak!
So, I'm back in American now so all my language issues are resolved, right? Unfortunately, no! More and more I am realizing what a hinderance my brain's insistence on using language for EVERYTHING gets in the way of me going deeper in my meditation. For instance, during meditation I will be just realizing that light is appearing, for instance, and my mind immediately starts putting words to it. My brain starts describing the light - how bright it is, if it's growing, when it started, what colors are there - and as soon as I start putting language to it I start to remove myself from the situation and the experience starts to dull.
So much of meditation comes from our feeling nature instead of our thinking nature. We obviously need to engage some thinking, particularly when meditating alone so we can transition through various techniques. However, it's our feeling nature that really gets us to go deeper in meditation. We want to immerse ourselves into the experience and feel that we are getting into that divine flow. We are aiming to get beyond language. Language uses the part of the brain which we are not trying to activate through meditation, which is why when I have an experience in meditation such as feeling divine peace and then I start to narrate to myself what is happening, the experience starts to wane. It has even gotten to the point where when I am in a complete feeling mode, the first words that creep into my mind are something like, "Don't try putting words to this." Mamma mia!
For me, this experience of the language interfering with my experience is frustrating. In other words, it is an opportunity for me to practice being patient with myself and also a reminder that we call it a meditation "practice" because that is what we are doing. We are practicing. And with that practice and with our willpower we are training our minds more and more to be more effective at meditating.
The last week or so I’ve been going through an internal shift. The kids’ summer break has been coming to a close - culminating in them boarding the school bus this morning for their first day at their new school, in a new country, and for that matter taking a much more independent route to school via the bus rather than walking with me. As I’ve been preparing for that change, I’ve also been thinking about how that changes the structure of my day, allowing me more time to focus more fully on my own meditation practice and teaching. It’s always a bit sad to have the summer break come to an end, but the blessing of time and structure is certainly one to embrace.
The second, and bigger, reason for a feeling of internal transition is that last week I was in California for my initiation into Kriya Yoga. I was at the Ananda ashram called Expanding Light during Spiritual Renewal Week. It was such an uplifting experience. SRW is an exceptionally busy time at Expanding Light, and there are daily inspirational talks broadcast from there all around the globe. There were also various courses throughout the week to further prepare me for the receiving of Kriya. I met many new friends who are, like me, inspired by the teachings of Parmahansa Yogananda, who love to meditate and are striving to incorporate yogic principles into the various corners of their lives. It was also wonderful to connect with so many of the teachers I have worked with over the last couple of years online, on this path to Kriya.
So the Spiritual Renewal Week in and of itself I think would have caused an internal shift of feeling my heart open more fully and feeling more, well, spiritually renewed, but putting the Kriya initiation on top of that really makes me feel like I have an almost palpable change in my being. I have been actively on the “path to Kriya” for a year and a half. Kriya Yoga is the highest meditation technique on the path of my guru, Parmahansa Yogananda, and the highest meditation technique of which I am aware, generally. It requires the completion of several courses (gratefully I was able to take these online, as I do not/have not live/d near an Ananda center) to prepare the body, mind, and spirit for the technique. Then, once you have this technique and incorporate it into your meditation practice it allows you to go much deeper, quicker. Yogananda called it the jet plane to God.
And now here I sit, back in “reality”. My kids are in the process of shifting their focus back to their educational growth. I therefore have been given a few hours in the day where I can take the things I was able to learn/relearn last week into practice, be it the Kriya technique itself, engaging in active periods of silence, serving others in joy, listening to uplifting music or talks, or taking some time in nature. I pray that through these acts and my memory of SRW I can take these high vibrations I am still feeling 3 days after my return home, and bring them deeply within my being. I pray that as I continue to merge out of this shift I am in and back into this “reality” - my blessed reality, make no mistake, but of course typically revolving much more around the material plane than the astral - I can manage to continue to feel this attunement to my Higher Self, to my guru, to the Universe and God. May you also be able to take more and more steps throughout your days toward the discovery of your Higher Self, achieving greater and greater attunement with the realm of all knowing. Aum, peace, shanti.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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