Sometimes life floats the perfect scenario to hold up a mirror and assess the changes which have accrued from the inner transformation which takes place through meditation. Such was the case when I took my kids to an outdoor movie recently. We had grabbed some take out to enjoy as we watch the film. My daughter, Layla, insisted on getting soup, which I advised was not a good choice in that circumstance. She dug in her heels and stated definitively that there was nothing else she liked, so I chose to let her make the call. Soup it was.
When we arrived I began setting up our camping chairs. Layla's chair was first, and I was working on getting my son's out of the bag when I heard a scream cut through the air. This was a scream full of pain and fear, not an "ack there's a bug on my leg!" scream. My eyes immediately went to the sound and were met with the sight of Layla covered in tomato soup, her face crumbled in sobs and her legs and arms jumping around trying to escape the pain she was wearing in the form of hot liquid covering her clothes.
My mind and body immediately went into action. My first thought was I needed to get her clothes off of her. I led her over to a place off to the side slightly. (Thinking she would need to be stripped down, I wanted to try to save her a little embarrassment if possible.) She had leggings on, so it was easy for me to pull her pants away from her skin to assess if she was developing blisters. (VERY) Fortunately, she was not. I realized that it would save me time and her undue embarrassment if instead of taking her clothes off I put my hand and arm away between her pants and skin, and I know enough about energetic healing to know that I could also take away a lot of her pain if I just kept my hands on her where she hurt. Someone came by with a cold bottle of water, and we poured that on her skin as well.
I kept my hands on her for some minutes. She stopped crying pretty quickly, and before long she was fine. She even asked if we could just go buy some clothes somewhere so we could stay and watch the movie, but I told her we both needed to get home and get cleaned up (you can imagine it didn't take long in this adventure before I was also wearing the soup).
There are many ways we could unpack this experience, not the least of which is the healing power which is available to all of us, including the often un-utilized healing and calming power of touch. However, the aspect which serves the larger point of this post is that of calmness. As I was reflecting later on about what had happened, I remembered the intensity of the situation. I remembered the sound of my child screaming incredibly loudly with that unmistakable ring of pain. I remembered those seconds which seemed like years between when I'd seen what had just happened and I didn't yet know how severe the burn was. And then I realized that I was able to meet that chaotic, emotional, intense scenario with calmness. I was able to stay centered and move quickly, wasting no time trying to assess and organize my thoughts to decide what to do next. I saw what happened and immediately acted, and those actions were effective.
In meditation, there are many aspects of superconsciousness which reveal themselves. In fact, according to yogic tradition, there are eight aspects of our higher Self which can manifest: joy, peace, love, light, sound, wisdom, power, and... calmness. In meditation, we are engaging with one or more of these eight manifestations of the divine. Early in our practice, we may primarily notice these aspects in meditation and right after we meditate, but the effect wears off as we become engaged with the external world. As we get more experience, we notice these aspects bleeding into our non-meditation time more and more. We feel more peaceful, for example, throughout the day. We find our inner peace becomes harder to shake even when the external world gets rocky.
When the habit of meditation develops, it is usually called a "meditation practice." I'd always related to this phrasing of meditation as a practice in the sense of something which is done regularly. It was through this experience with Layla and the hot soup in which I saw another layer to that phrasing. In meditation, we are practicing those higher responses such as calmness and joy in the same way a basketball player practices free throws. The basketball player shoots free throw after free throw after free throw in practice, so that in game time the body and mind are well-versed in how to connect with the basket at the free throw line. In the same way, we get in states of joy, calmness, or so on in our practice of meditation so that when we are engaging in that unpredictable game of life we default to those states instead of getting pulled in to fear, anger, sadness, or so on.
There is an interesting phenomenon called sympathetic resonance, which is illustrated using tuning forks or stringed instruments tuned to the same frequency. If one is passive and the other is activated, the passive one will vibrate along with the active one without being directly activated externally (i.e. without someone plucking the string or striking the fork). Because they are both on the same frequency, they are literally "on the same vibe" and this causes them to activate each other.
This is interesting from a meditation standpoint because (as I keep going on about) everything is energy. Even things that appear to us as solid (like your body) are actually compressed energy. The vibratory movements which are causing that sympathetic resonance are also energy. So we as energetic beings also resonate with energy which is on our same frequency. You know this just by moving through your own life. There are people who just fit with you on a deep level, and there are those who you just don't want to be around. The former group would be people on your frequency; the latter those with a different vibration. And then are of course plenty of people in between.
As we develop and continue on with our meditation practice, our vibration gets higher. It's interesting to see how that can change the company we seek, as we adjust to a new frequency. As our vibration gets higher, we are drawn to others on that higher frequency. If those around us are also increasing their frequency, then we'll continue to have sympathetic resonance with them. If they are staying at the same frequency while our vibration is increasing, we may not feel as strong of a connection with them. Is this bad? No, it just is. It doesn't mean we have to intentionally cut anyone out of our lives because we have grown "beyond" them (that seems like a good recipe for difficult karma to build up), it just means that both parties may naturally begin to connect more deeply with people who are on their frequency. Space gets created from the former relationship as attention is directed toward those both parties feel a deeper connection with.
This has been a popular topic amongst my students as well as with meditators I know in other places. They are noticing changes within themselves and are lining up their lives outside of meditation to match that inner dwelling. They are changing behaviors such as how much time and energy they put into watching the news or social media, changing attitudes and behaviors around alcohol, turning their attention to the energy they are sending out through thoughts, words, and actions, and they are assessing if their relationships are aligned with the direction they are trying to move toward or if certain relationships are working against their efforts for personal growth. (Note: I don't mean to imply things are all sunshine as these relationships change - it can in fact be quite the opposite. Perhaps a good topic for a future blog post.)
Another interesting aspect of this vibrational lift is the impact which it has on our environment, including those around us who are not on that vibration. Raising your vibration positively influences the vibration of your environment, including the people around you. You've undoubtedly experienced this yourself, when you feel great when you are around someone, but it's not clearly understood why. It wasn't something they said or did - in fact, they may not have said anything to you at all. People who have spent time around saints attest to this curious experience of just feeling something in their presence. Holy and spiritual places also have a feel about them which is almost tangible, such as Assisi, Italy or Lourdes, France or Sedona, Arizona or many other special places. It is espoused by many great souls that meditation is a service an individual gifts to the world, because as they work to raise their vibration/frequency/consciousness, they are also working on elevating the vibration/frequency/consciousness of the world at large. So, get to work!
I remember clearly a conversation I had with a friend when I was living in Italy. She was talking about how she had to tell her kids how unicorns aren't real. She had been pretending with them that they exist, and when she felt they really wanted to know the truth she had to come clean. They were so hurt and wanted to know why she would have let them believe unicorns were real when she knew they weren't, and she said she just enjoyed that they were getting to experience that wondrous feeling that the universe is a magical world. She said, "I just wanted them to hold on to the feeling of wonder for a little while before they learned there is no magic in the world."
As a yogi, I found her sentiment of the world always being completely predictable a bit dry and out of step with my own feelings. Although I had only been on the yogic path for a little, I had been a seeker most of my life. I was always drawn to stories of mystical experiences. You want to share a near death experience? Tell me everything. Divine intervention? I'm all ears. Visions? Strange lights? Unseen forces? I'm your audience. I believe there is wonder and magic to behold if we remain open to more possibilities than those to which we are accustomed.
My podcast partner, Alessandra, and I recently interviewed Gita Matlock - an episode which will be released Sep 12. Gita is a vibrant soul, full of life and light. She grew up in a yogic community, and in the conversation she talked about how special it was to grow up with yogis because they are so open to any possibility. In childhood, we hold space for anything to be the cause for something to happen. Thunder can be literally thought of as God bowling (this was what we explained to me, and I believed it), a rubber ball bounced as hard as it can by a four year old clearly went into space rather than coming down out of sight (holding up my hand again), toys coming to life when you leave the room is pretty likely, princes starting out as frogs, all of these are certainly within the realm of possibility with children. It was fun for Gita to grow up in an environment where the adults were open to many possibilities, and it was important to these adults to keep the possibilities open to children. As Gita put it, these yogic adults believed in magic!
Let's be clear about what I mean by magic. Magic is often experienced as being voluntarily tricked. You go to a magic show and you know what you are observing is a manipulation of perception. You don't believe the magician has the power to go beyond the limitations of natural law, but rather that he is able to give that illusion. That's not the type of magic to which I'm referring here. I'm talking about the mysteries which reveal themselves to individuals throughout time and the world over. These are things that defy explanation, which go beyond the boundary of ordinary circumstances. Unlike the magic produced by a magician, these are events which occur organically and without manipulation or trickery.
Examples of the magic which can be found in life are spontaneous healing, near death experiences, feeling directed by an unseen force (i.e. feeling you aren't to board a plane which later crashes), seeing the image or another sign from a deceased loved one, and many more - really the imagination is the limit! However, the more open we remain to life being mysterious, the more we see the magic in everyday life. Synchronicity is such an example - those little coincidences which line up unexpectedly. Receiving a text from the very person you are in the middle of typing a text to, say. Or, considering signing up for a class and then happening upon the topic a couple of times throughout the day. When those smaller things happen, we can brush them aside as coincidences if we want, or we can open ourselves to the possibility that the Universe is vying for our attention and showing us we are seen.
The truth is, there is magic around us. The world is very predictable when we are viewing everything from the intellect. But when we open up and start seeing the world around us through our heart, we become aware of the vibrancy of possibility in each moment. We start to see that things are happening behind what we can perceive with our five senses. If we can tune into that, we begin to experience the magic.
Have you thought much about how a radio works? In a very basic sense (I am admittedly no engineer), you turn it on, set it to a certain number (frequency), and you are tuned in to a certain radio station. You can set it to another number, and a different radio station will come through. The radio itself is a receiver for what you want to hear, rather than the productions being created by the radio. You hear what you set the radio's frequency to. Flip through the numbers of the radio, and you'll hear that there are many possible stations for the radio to be tuned to. These radio station possibilities are invisible to us unless we use the medium of the radio to tune into them. As I sit here typing these words in silence, I am only privy to the possibilities riding along these radio waves by way of my imagination, since I am not currently using a radio to pull those waves into an audible experience to my human ears. Those radio waves are there in the air surrounding me, nonetheless. I need only get myself the medium of a radio to prove it.
This analogy of tuning a radio serves us in meditation, because in meditation we are able to attune ourselves to higher frequencies. There are many things we can attune ourselves to in meditation, be it our own higher consciousness/Higher Self, a divine figure or symbol of God, a saint, or a higher intelligent energy. Whatever resonates within us (and this can vary within an individual throughout time) which helps us reach higher, beyond our limited consciousness, is a good focus for attunement.
When we attune ourselves to something higher, we are aligning our consciousness with that higher consciousness for the purpose of drawing our consciousness toward it. Like a radio wave, we know this higher consciousness is available to us at all times, but we need to create the medium with which to receive it. The receiver (the radio) is our own mind, but we need to be still and focused enough to be able to tune ourselves to the frequency.
We focus on that object of attunement, and through our concentration we are creating an energetic magnet between our consciousness and this higher consciousness. Over time, we can energetically feel this connection in meditation. In the beginning, we may need to just stay open and play around with it to get a feel for it, but we may not be able to perceive very easily if much is happening. One approach could be if you have a figure which represents the Divine - what God looks like to you, or a saint - you picture that as clearly as you can in your mind. For me, this often looks like Paramhansa Yogananda. See that form, and picture a tunnel of energy connecting your eyes to theirs or your spiritual eye to their spiritual eye. Feel yourself drawing the consciousness of that form. You can do this also with your eyes open focusing on a photo of a great saint. (It is recommended to use a photo rather than a painting.) Stare at the eyes of the saint, and feel the consciousness of the saint coming through your eyes and into your nervous system. You may even be able to feel that you are drinking in waves through your eyes, descending down through the brain and into the body.
Like so much in life, meditation and its varied practices get better and easier with experience. It can be hard to explain exactly how to do things when you are working with energy, but if you just have a general notion of what you are wanting to do and you go forth with sincere effort, you will begin to understand and perceive. Asking that higher consciousness for assistance and keeping yourself open and receptive also helps very much.
One of the great benefits of meditation is that ability to raise our consciousness, and this can be an effective way to take that further. Through attunement we are deepening our connection with something greater than ourselves. We can feel the effect of this while we are practicing attunement, and we can also feel it subtly impacting our lives outside of meditation. Over time, we notice that outside of meditation our thoughts and actions have changed and are truly more similar to that higher consciousness with which we have been working on connecting. A grand prospect, and a true one!
Yoga is an ancient science. Its practices have been used for centuries. Of course, when I refer to "yoga" I mean much more than the postures (asanas) which we in the West have whittled "yoga" down to. Yoga means union, and it is a set of much broader practices which lead to union with all things, including the divine. Meditation is a big part of the ancient tradition of yoga, and ancient, sacred yogic texts (predating Jesus Christ by hundreds of years) heavily emphasize the practice of meditation as central to divine union.
Yogic practices like meditation are inward in nature. In meditation, we literally turn our attention from the outside in, noticing the breath and controlling our focus. Through concentration, we can achieve elevated states of consciousness, which can include feelings of joy, calmness, and love.
The beautiful thing about experiencing states of joy, calmness, and love in meditation is precisely because you are experiencing those states while meditating. While doing "nothing" (so it appears under outside observation - although meditation is actually active and not passive, but perceiving the action is difficult since it is all inward). In this experience, no outside validation is needed. We aren't feeling joy because someone noticed us, or because we were recognized for an achievement, or because we bought or were given something we longed for. There is nothing causing the joy which is related to anything outside ourselves. We experience joy in its purest state. Just joy, just because. The same goes for calmness or love or any other experiences in meditation. As long as we are holding true to the meditative state and not drifting into memories or meandering thoughts, these states are generated from within without external cause. This is something to get habitualized to! Not depending on the outer world for your joy, peace, calmness, and love can be downright revolutionary if you have been living your life in relation to everything around you and how you fit in with all of it. We realize that we already have - in fact, we are - that joy, calmness, and love which we have been looking for in our partners, friends, family, work, things, and so on. The joy, calmness, and love is within us at all times - we only need stop and tune into it.
The deeper we go in meditation, the more able we are to detach from the likes and dislikes of others. We can separate our worth from how we are seen by others. We can understand that if someone is rude to us without cause, it's a reflection of their inner state and not a reflection of us. We needn't fret over how we are perceived because we are directed within - not in an egotistical way, but working to align ourselves with our Higher Self, with our divinity.
Consider these words from Paramhansa Yogananda, from the book The Essence of Self-Realization:
Do not expect a spiritual blossom every day in the garden of your life. Have faith that the Lord, if you surrender yourself to Him completely, will bring you divine fulfillment in His time, which is the right time.
It is important to remember that changes which come from incorporating meditation into your life can be subtle. We may feel that we aren't really affecting any change because we don't get dramatic visions or hear yes or no answers to our questions in meditation. I have personally reflected that my efforts seem verily one-sided: much sending energy out without being able to perceive what is being received back. What a blessing it is for those who can perceive these things more easily than I can.
So, this passage by Yogananda is a wonderful reminder to me. I must remember that if I keep up my side with devotion, meditation, and doing what I can to keep my vibration high, I am watering that seed which by divine law will flower in its time. This has probably been a stumbling point for countless souls through the ages - giving up their efforts toward Self-realization because they believe divine fulfillment would have come sooner were it to come at all. But particularly in this age, where instant gratification is at an all-time high, citizens of many cultures on this planet have set themselves up for disappointment when they are up against something which requires patience, steadfastness, and subtlety.
Keep going with your meditation practice, even if you experience periods of what seems like stagnation. Use your willpower to persevere, and know that things will unfold in their time. Continue to look for that fairest flower of Self-realization, knowing that it ultimately appears for all souls.
I remember the ten-speed bike I had as a girl. It was red with purple accents, and it seemed so grown up compared to the bike I'd had previously. The brakes were controlled by hand as opposed to pedaling backwards, and controlling the bike with gears was totally new to me. Two friends who lived on the same cul-de-sac and were my same age also got ten-speeds about the same time as me. We loved riding around the neighborhood together, edging further and further from the familiarity of our culture-de-sac and onto streets unknown to us.
I really didn't understand the purpose of the gears, but through experimentation I realized gear one made pedaling really easy. I tried the higher gears, but I didn't understand why I would ever choose to put myself through the effort required of them! I vaguely remember being advised to stick to a middle gear unless I "needed" the others at specific times, but I threw that advice out the window when I experienced the nearly non-existent resistance of gear one.
As my two friends and I began branching out from our little cul-de-sac and exploring the other parts of our neighborhood, our cycling behaviors changed. We were covering bigger differences for longer stretches of times, and I began to notice how much faster they were than me! I would pedal, pedal, pedal, and get a fraction of the distance that they got with less pedaling. It took me a while to understand that I kept falling behind because my gear was too low. I needed more resistance to be able to go further. I needed the higher gears to advance.
And such it is with life. We can tailor our lives so we are met with mostly ease all day long, day after day. Maybe we have stayed too long in a job which doesn't demand our best, and we move through the workday without much thought or interest. Perhaps we spend far too many hours each day scrolling through social media, YouTube, or watching TV. Maybe the bulk of our waking hours are fixated on other people - what they are doing, wearing, saying - and we let this distract us from the work we are here to do on ourselves. There are countless ways we can move thoughtlessly through the world, allowing ourselves to be distracted by outer things and thus not introspecting and growing as we might otherwise.
In yogic tradition (and many others), it is said that we are all here for a purpose. The purpose is individual - we aren't all meant to discover the theory of relativity, for instance - but we all have lessons to learn through this incarnation. The way we learn our lessons, the way our souls grow and mature, is through experience. The lessons we get the most from typically aren't fun or easy, they are painful. The things which really grab ahold of us and snap us to attention are usually things we wouldn't choose - the death of a loved one, a serious illness, a broken relationship, the loss of a job, a fire, an accident, and so on. These are things anyone would resist going through. But what if the worst things you have gone through are the perfect alchemy to deliver you to the best you can get from this life? What if it's a cleverly disguised present from the universe to allow you to experience growth which wouldn't be possible with comfort?
Yogic masters say that for a soul to evolve, it must neutralize all its karma from all incarnations. The soul will only be free when it has paid all karmic debts and released all desires. Paying off incarnations of karma takes work! Riding around life in first gear isn't going to do very much to advance the soul. We need those higher gears which make us work a little harder in order to advance our souls. Trust in the universe when you are going through a difficult patch that you are in fact being held and watched over. That higher intelligent power which flows through everything is seeking to help you get what you came here for by giving you the exact opportunity to experience what you need to experience to work through your lessons. This is not to say that you are enduring any type of "punishment" when you go through something painful. What can feel like pain and sacrifice can be just what the soul needs for progression.
When I am first introducing clients to meditation, I try to keep things practical, easy, and low commitment. I want to encourage them to dip a toe into meditation and get some experience with how it makes them feel without bombarding them with 19 changes they need to make to their life in order to make an impact. I encourage them to make space for meditation each and every day, but I suggest that meditation to be just 5-10 minutes in length to start with. I'll go out on a limb and say if you can't find five minutes to dedicate to meditation, you aren't very interested in making a positive change to your life.
I find this approach helpful in allowing clients to feel empowered to beginning their journey with meditation. The great thing is, when you are just starting you really can feel positive changes with those short meditations, and the more frequently you do them, the more they build on one another, and the greater the progress. You begin changing your brain structure, and you can notice feeling calmer, more balanced, more joyful, a greater ability to concentrate, and so on. These effects of meditation are what may be thought of as low hanging fruit - definite advantages which are not difficult to attain.
Some people are only looking to get these types of advantages in their lives, and so they may not need to dig deeper to see what else they can excavate within themselves with meditation and introspection. However, it is natural for one who scratches the surface of meditation to continue to want to dig to see what other treasures there are to find. That was my experience. I came to meditation with a pretty secular interest and a fairly waned interest in seeking much beyond the material plane (read: God), and after a few months I was opening myself up more and more to the wonders of that which we cannot perceive with our bodily senses.
In order to open ourselves up more to the potential of experiencing that bliss which can only come from divine connection, we have to go deeper into the "work." We simply can't get to a level of stillness which can truly penetrate us to our souls with a few minutes a day. We need to keep up with regular long meditations to really give ourselves time to marinate in stillness. I like the analogy Dr. Sue Morter gives of our constant activity being like a ceiling fan, whirring so fast we can't connect to our higher consciousness. When we are still enough to let those fan blades finally stop moving, we can finally float up through them to make that connection. We also "do the work" by spending time in seclusion and silence. If you can get away for a few days in silence, that is wonderful. I haven't been able to experience this myself yet, but I plan to do so once my kids are grown and doing their own things - or maybe sooner, who knows! For now, I occasionally dedicate one day where I am "in seclusion" while they are at school - not going to the grocery store or doing things on my laptop at Starbucks or working through emails at home, but meditating, chanting, reading spiritual things, being silent, ignoring my phone. I can really feel a difference in my energy by the time they get home. As I type this, I am inspired to get one day per month in my schedule to make sure I do this more regularly! It's so easy to let time get away and not make the space for seclusion and silence, so I'm going to take a more active approach to giving myself that time.
There are so many other ways to continue going deeper in your practice, so I'll just touch on the essence of what they all are getting to, and that is connecting with that higher intelligent power which lies outside of yourself. The more time you are spending reaching toward that higher something, the deeper you are going. We do this quite naturally in meditation, but there are many ways to do this outside of meditation as well. The bottom line is, getting to "the good stuff" requires time, dedication, and sacrifice. Like everything else, you get out of meditation and spiritual life what you put into it. It may not be fair to expect something profound to come from your meditation practice if you are putting in minimal time. Luckily, as Paramhansa Yogananda says, the more we meditate, the more we want to meditate - and this goes for those other high-vibration activities like solitude as well. The more time we spend raising our vibrations, the more we seek out vibration-raising activities. The more time we are spending with our consciousness raised, the more the transformational effect is having on subtle levels of our being.
How do we know we are making spiritual progress? There are certain signs which have their basis in right attitude: greater kindness to others and oneself, calmness and even-mindedness, a decrease in desires, and a greater love for the Divine are all indicators. Compassion, also, is a virtue which grows deeper with progress.
There are certain meditations designed specifically to increase compassion. Compassion allows us to begin to experience ourselves in all, recognizing that we share in the suffering of others. Through compassion we honor the oneness which flows through all, connecting everyone and everything.
Jesus modeled the highest level of compassion when he prayed, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do" as he was crucified. As he was dying, he was praying for his persecutors. His compassion was so all-encompassing that it could not be contained to those who seemingly "deserved" it. He knew the consequence of their actions on their souls and prayed for mercy on them. This is unfamiliar sentiment for so many who find themselves still clutching to past transgressions years after the fact, bent on vengeance and darkened with spite.
There is also the beautiful story of a Tibetan doctor captured in 1959 during the Chinese invasion. He was sent to a Chinese labor camp for twenty-two years. When asked by Dr. Mark Hyman about the greatest danger he faced during that time, his response was, "the few moments I thought I might lose my compassion for my Chinese captors."
Compassion is sourced from the heart. There is a poignant story about compassion and meditation in Altered Traits, by Daniel Goldman and Richard J. Davidson. They talk about a demonstration they were giving to Buddhist monks in India using EEG equipment. They were placing electrodes on the scalp of the subject, and as they were doing so they were blocking the view of the 200 monks observing the demo. When they were finished attaching the electrodes and stepped out of the way, the usually staid monks erupted in loud laughter. The researcher thought they were laughing because the subject looked funny with all of the wires coming off his scalp in a spaghetti-like fashion, but they were told that was not the cause of the laughter. The true cause was the monks knew these Western researchers were interested in studying compassion, but they were placing the wires on the head and not the heart! It is common knowledge in many Eastern traditions that compassion dwells in the heart.
Teachings and anecdotes are inspiring, but when I look at myself honestly I know I have work to do to progress in the compassion department. It's easy to extend compassion to those in need, but I find it much more difficult to bring compassion to the forefront towards someone to whom I'm in opposition. Recently, for instance, I was driving my kids home after my son had had a difficult afternoon. We passed an ice cream shop, so I decided I would stop so we could have a little ice cream pick-me-up. It was raining, and there was a coveted space right in front of the shop (which as I was considering the unexpected stop had helped tip the scales in favor of stopping). I started to parallel park, but there were two people standing in the spot not moving as I tried to reverse in. I rolled down my window (in the rain) and he gave me a dismissive wave and said the spot was reserved. I continued to try to back in, and they remained standing firm in their spot. I knew these were public parking spaces and a human body does not mean that the space is unavailable, so I rolled the window down again and asked him to move. With a great amount of rudeness, the man again told me the space was reserved. I told him it was not, and he said they'd been waiting three hours for that space and said something about spending $45,000 on filming for the day. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I was quite conscious of the traffic building behind me as I couldn't get in the space enough to let them by. I suppose I can truthfully say my compassion for the cars behind me waiting patiently for me to get into the space hastened my decision to drop the ten second standoff and forgo the ice cream trip, but I was certainly not overcome with compassion for the person I had encountered standing in my way. I still don't know what he was talking about with the three hours and $45k statements, but I understand enough to know that if there was any truth to what he was saying then he was trying to accomplish something in a public space with a lot of variables which were out of his control, and time was money. From that perspective and with the gift of having some space between when this happened and as I type this, I can grant him that perhaps it was more correct in the big picture for him to have the parking space over my needs. However, it is clear that there were hundreds of other ways he could have approached our interaction with kindness, consideration, and humility instead of the entitlement and dismissiveness which he chose.
All of that to say, this man was abrasive, arrogant, and unnecessarily rude to me, and while I could bend my perspective to be more understanding and creative about why he may have acted that way, my knee jerk reaction was not to pray to God for his wellbeing. My ego was fully in command during the encounter, knowing that I had more of a right to that space than someone saving it for a car which had not yet arrived. Even as I thought back on the incident later, I thought I should have asked to see the permit allowing him to reserve that public parking space (being pretty sure such a permit was not secured), rather than taking that time and energy to work on becoming more compassionate toward him. And while this person behaved in this way, he was not crucifying me or holding me captive in a labor camp, and still compassion was not heavy on my mind but instead on the inconvenience he was causing me and the rudeness he was directing at me.
So, it is with humility that I acknowledge the reflection from the mirror this incident presented, and what it says about what is left to be done to go the distance in the compassion arena. It is easy for me to throw up my hands and say, "Yes, but Jesus was a true master, an enlightened being! What do I expect, how could I possibly measure up to him?" But, the point of Jesus or Buddha or Yogananda or saints of all great religions is to be models for humanity. To show us there is another way; a better way for our development. Yes, we have to learn our lessons in our own time, but thank God they are here to shine the light in the direction of ascension.
I'm in the midst of summer fluidity. There isn't a lot of structure in my world right now, as my kids are on summer break and each week is different from the last. They are signed up for all types of summer camps, some of which require them to arrive at 9 am, others at 10 am, they could be 3 hours in length or 6, some drop off/pick up times overlap with teaching times for me requiring me to enlist help from family. As I type this, they are on their first overnight camp which will last six nights. Every week brings a new schedule, new planning, new flow.
It's all good fun and it's great to get this time to shake up our routines, get them more active, and give their intellectual sides a bit of a rest. The downside is it throws into the air my meditation routine. During the school year I meditate as soon as they get on the school bus in the morning and then again before they arrive home after school. With this summer schedule I have to reevaluate each day when I can fit in meditation. My meditations are shorter than normal, and it's difficult to fit in more than one per day.*
A former teacher of mine, Sanjan, as been organizing weekly long meditations in this virtual community of which I am a member. I've been watching these long meditations (3 hours) come and go each week with equal parts longing and intimidation. I know how good long meditations are for progress, but when I have done them I usually find my mind more restless than normal. It's as though because I know I will be sitting for a long time, there is no rush to get to a place of stillness. However, because I feel my meditations on the whole this summer have been quite thin, I felt that dedicating myself to some long meditations would help me close the gap a bit between my normal amount of time spent in meditation and what that has transformed into during the summer. Finally, the stars aligned and my thirst became deep enough that I joined the three hour meditation Sunday after dropping my kids off at their camp.
As per my usual experience, I had a hard time staying really focused throughout the meditation. Sanjan was a great facilitator and provided lots of pranayama (breathing) exercises and chanting/singing before we started to get our energy calmly activated, and we took a break every hour for a chant. I ultimately did feel that my meditation was quite a bit deeper than normal, but I think the benefit of the meditation was more pronounced when it was over. I came downstairs and could really feel a deep sense of stillness. I could see my husband was on our porch watching a soccer game, and I was tempted to go join him but I couldn't imagine getting in front of a TV and disturbing my inner stillness. Instead, I went upstairs and read an uplifting book.
Long meditations are definitely important to help your meditations progress. Aim to double or triple your regular meditation time once per week. These long meditations provide many benefits. Most obviously, you give yourself more time to enter into deeper stillness. This stillness has healing benefits in body, mind, and soul. The more time you spend in that place of stillness, the easier it is to get back to that place. With everything you do, you are training yourself. Wise men say that if you want to know who you'll be in six months, look at what you are doing today. Who you are today is a result of what you were doing six months ago. The more time you spend in stillness, the more easily stillness becomes a natural part of who you are. And really, that stillness is a major reason people explore meditation in the first place! Another great benefit of a long meditation is how it makes your regular meditations feel short! This morning I spent about an hour in total between my Energization Exercises, pranayama, chanting, Kriya yoga, and focused meditation, and it really whizzed by.
So try to incorporate one long meditation into your week. Just like everything else to do with meditation, experience is the key. You cannot simply learn about meditation and get any benefit. You must do!
*Alessandra and I explore our summertime meditation challenges in an episode of The Meditation Conversation podcast, entitled "Check Up - How We Bring Meditation Into a Busy Everyday Life," June 27, 2019.
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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