One of the things I love about the meditation techniques I use (and teach) from Paramhansa Yogananda is their step-by-step methodology. Yogananda gave clear guidance about how to meditate, which laid the foundation for me to have a daily practice I could stick to. There are pre-meditation exercises, and when I sit to meditate after those I have a flow with various techniques I use to enter into a meditative state.
A pitfall to this predictability in practice is the risk of staying stuck in the head, stuck in the process. This was indeed my problem for many months after I embraced the teachings. For me, it was all process-process-process, and I was missing a very key factor to going deeper in meditation: opening and engaging the heart.
The heart is very important in meditation, and in life! In Western society in particular, we really value the brain much more than the heart. We prize results from a lab which depends on rigidity, uniformity, and control. We like to break things down to their parts, study things separately from their ecosystems. This is even mimicked in our healthcare. We have specialists which cover each individual part of the body, but few healthcare practitioners deal with the body as an integrated network of systems which influence each other. But with this piecemeal, analytical slant we've favored in our society we've lost some of the richness of existence which comes from tuning into our feeling nature.
This analytical approach was how I initially worked with meditation. I knew the techniques I wanted to use, the breath counts, the length of time to use the mantra, and so on. It was mostly happening at the intellectual level. And that got me a lot of benefits. But once I learned to engage the heart, putting energy there to open it and lifting that energy up to augment what was happening in the brain I found another level in my practice.
The heart is where our love in generated, as well as our compassion, empathy, and connection. Focusing in the heart center helps us cultivate these attributes, as well as increasing our connection with the divine. Tuning into the heart helps develop our intuition and grow our feeling nature.
There are certain techniques which can be used in meditation to engage the heart, which I go into in my classes. But it also requires a fair amount of sensitivity, listening, and feeling that just needs to be explored and experimented with to gain a greater sense of awareness. There are also things which can be done outside of meditation to help increase the flow of energy in the heart, such as selfless service. Serving others helps us forget about our ego, or little selves, and helps us focus on others and the bigger pictures. We can also be conscious of our influences, keeping the media we let into our moments (not only news but music, television, movies, magazines) as enriching to our spirit as possible.
So, if your meditation is happening 100% in your headspace, I encourage you to spend some of your meditation time working on the energy in your heart. See if you notice a shift.
Renunciation is the devotional act of giving up earthly, sensory pleasures, and is commonly associated with monks and ascetics. As a spiritual seeker who found a solid path after having a family, I have in the past been left wondering if there is a ceiling on what my progress can be. How high can I climb up the mountain of progress considering I can't devote large swaths of time daily to meditation like those in an ashram can?
I know many people who have had the same internal struggles. They wonder if they are devoting themselves to the correct life by being "in the world." This is where karma comes into play. We come into this life with unsettled debts, so to speak, and those shape our lives to a large extent. If it were my karma to live in an ashram because that was the type of life I was supposed to lead, I would have found my path before I was ingrained in family life. That is such a monumental decision that the universe would not have let things unfold the way they have if in fact I was supposed to be in an ashram. I would have been thwarted at every turn as I prepared to get married and throughout my marriage, as we planned for and had children, and with my work endeavors over time. Imagine the negative karma that would automatically be accrued if I turned my back on my family to become a renunciate. Abandoning my family would certainly not help my spiritual progress - not only do I have no desire to do that, but they would be left with the pain of picking up the pieces and I would then add that onto my karmic debt. So, part of my sadhana, or spiritual practice, is my family. It is using the teachings within my family structure - putting them into practice as I move through life with my family members.
I write this because I have talked to "householders," or non-renunciate spiritual seekers, who do seem a bit confused about whether they are missing out on their true opportunity to really live the yogic teachings because they came onto their path too late give everything up and live in an ashram. In the end we must remember that the whole point of the teachings is to get us into higher consciousness. We do that through meditation, but we also do that through right action. Even when we are in the world we get opportunities all day long to have positive interactions and to choose the right actions to support our spiritual growth. The key is, as they say, to be in the world but not of the world. Your duties, responsibilities, recreation, etc, are in the regular world, but you are ever-reaching with an open heart on your spiritual climb.
Does meditation eliminate the reactionary process? By taking up meditation and the yogic teachings, are you untouched by life's trials? Well, that is the goal! Certainly there are those throughout the centuries who have achieved the ability to rise above all complications, seeing all trials from beginning to end as a cosmic dream. Those of us who are not yogic masters, however, still ride the waves of experience, feeling the lows and highs.
That said, those who meditate even just a bit each day enjoy the huge benefit of getting through life's trials quicker and feeling them less acutely. People notice the difference of how something that may have taken days or weeks to get over before they adopted a meditation practice take only hours or a couple of days to get to the other side of. I have heard many people speak of this, and I have noticed it also in my own life.
In fact, this week I had the opportunity to see it myself. One evening I started noticing that everything going on around me was in conflict with how I would prefer it to be (this also brings up our old friend, expectations!). One of my kids was in a very negative space and I wasn't able to successfully redirect him to a healthier mindset. For hours everything he said was a complaint, and over time that became more and more frustrating. Then, someone inadvertently did something that directly impacted me which I didn't agree with, which caused me disappointment and further frustration. And finally, I read a message which made it clear that I had inadvertently upset someone, which caused me to feel guilty. By around 8:30 that evening, I was very clearly feeling out-of-balance and unharmonious with my true nature. I tried to remind myself that everything is an illusion, as the great teachings say and with which I whole-heartedly agree, but when you are in the middle of negative feelings and events those thoughts can be easier to manifest in the mind than penetrated into the heart.
Throughout the evening, I really tried to direct my thoughts to the "long game" of life and remind myself that all of this will pass, and again while that softened things a bit it didn't really thow me back into balance. We need to do what we can to keep control of our thoughts so they stay buoyant and don't pull us down too far, but that wasn't a complete cure for me.
I went to bed knowing that sleep would smooth things out a bit. The passage of time in and of itself offers some balm, and the restoration and healing of sleep is really beneficial. I woke up and I did feel better in myself, but there were definitely still barnacles of negativity attached to me from the evening before. I was still seeking to be forgiven my trespassing, and so did I need to get over the trespassing done to me.
The complete healing did come throughout the day. In the morning I did my weekly long meditation. In the meditation, I asked for the divine to take my negative feelings. Everything we experience comes from The Source - however you choose to see that - and we can return it back to The Source through meditation. Our meditations are SO much more powerful when we accept there is something greater and ask for help! This something greater can even be thought of as your higher self - that part of you working behind the scenes for your greatest good. Call on that power to help you and see for yourself the results.
I felt a lot better after my meditation. I had many things I needed to get done that day, such as wrapping Christmas gifts, but I wanted to try to keep that vibration going while I was "doing," so while I was wrapping presents I put on some recorded webinars from the Ananda Virtual Community* to keep my thoughts high-minded while I was wrapping the presents.
I realized after a while that I was completely back in emotional balance. My negative feelings had dissipated. My guilt was gone. I was back in a peaceful state. So, it took maybe around 15-18 hours to get to the other side. Without my meditation practice and the yogic teachings I think I would still be dragging around those barnacles today. I am certainly grateful for the gift of the added hours of peace!
*The Ananda Virtual Community has been so important to me over time. I don't receive any compensation for mentioning them - I am only doing so to share from my heart because I really, really love this community and maybe it could be special to you, too. My podcast partner, Alessandra, and I will start leading an online meditation twice per month in the new year through this community, which I am so honored to be doing. So, if you are interested in trying it out know that you will already have a friendly face there! I believe they offer a free 2-week trial.
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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