Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Vol.68 No.3 Summer 2017

MEDITATION PRACTICE
A session led by the Warden of Shanti Sadan

Meditation is concerned with bringing to light the freedom and peace of our deeper nature. An ancient classical writer, Marcus Aurelius, has said: ‘Nowhere can we find a quieter, more untroubled retreat than in our own soul.’ But actually, when we do turn within, we find that our inner being—what he calls our ‘soul’— may not live up to this lofty ideal. Instead of entering a ‘quiet and untroubled retreat’, we may find ourselves drawn into a whirlpool of troubles and disturbances.

So let us consider two further sayings of the same Stoic philosopher which indicate the sort of adjustments we need to make in order to uncover our own interior wealth. He writes: ‘Very little is needed to make a happy life. It is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.’ And also: ‘You have power over your mind, not over outside events. Realise this and you will find strength.’

These observations draw attention to ‘our way of thinking’ our ‘power over our mind’, and this leads us into the realm of meditation. For many of us know that the practice of meditation is the best means for cultivating our inner strength. This is because our practice proves to us that we can gain some leverage or control over our thoughts and feelings. We can gradually guide them in the way of peace and self-discovery leading to enlightenment, or self-realisation.

Self-realisation is the fully revealed nature of our consciousness when our way of thinking has been tranquillised, harmonised and illumined. This new understanding quenches forever our thirst for satisfaction and fulfilment. The thirst of the soul is quenchable, but not through outer means, because however great our achievement, the satisfaction fades and the ache of unfulfilment returns. True fulfilment comes from turning within, and our inner creative possibilities are almost without limit. The hidden cause of our restlessness and discontent is that something deep within us demands release, expansion and freedom. But this longing can only be truly and lastingly gratified through the ultimate self-knowledge.

Meditation develops and bears fruit when we turn our search for peace and bliss within our own being. This involves having a realistic understanding of the range and limits of the joys available in the world. Normal life provides many joys, including, in the phrase of Shakespeare, things ‘that bring delight and harm not’. But what the world cannot give us is permanent satisfaction, nor can it release the springs of joy in our own being—a joy that needs nothing outside us to cause or sustain it. This higher joy and peace is the domain of meditation. For these qualities are the nature of our real Self. They are to be uncovered within us, not added to us.

Our higher nature is, as it were, covered or veiled by our thinking processes. But when our mind is calmed and infused with the belief that we do have a deeper centre of peace and perfection, a great self-development is set in motion. Something of the peace and bliss of our true Self impresses itself on our mind, and this confers assurance that we are on the right course.

In the practice of meditation we must exert our will. Meditation is turning theory into practice. An occasional interest in the teachings is not enough to release their higher benefits. For we find that all sorts of excuses arise to deflect us from our resolve. This is why it is important—if possible—not to leave the timing of our meditation session to chance. To keep to the same time each day, preferably morning or evening, creates a rhythm and a sense of expectation.

The first thing when approaching meditation is to quieten the mind. To breathe deeply, consciously and rhythmically for about five minutes brings physical, mental and nervous relaxation. Sitting in the meditation posture or on an upright chair ensures that we remain alert.

But before we apply the meditative technique, it is advisable to guide our thoughts away from the atmosphere of our practical and personal preoccupations, and to get a feeling for the specialness and purity of what we are now doing—the opportunity we are now taking advantage of. Thus, we sit for a minute or two with receptivity and reverence—that is, with a mind that is open to the influence of the higher peace and wisdom that underlies all our experience. Our preparation may include an expression of humility based on the knowledge that ultimately we depend on help from the supreme source. It may include an expression of love for that source. We recognise that our individual life is an infinitesimal. expression of the great cosmic life. Such sentiments as humility, love of ultimate reality, and universal goodwill, free us from self-importance, relieve us of tension and anxiety for results. We become aware of our living link with the infinite power—what the Vedanta philosophy calls ‘the supreme Self’. Our mind is thus fitted to enter into the meditation practices.

1. Inner Preparation
We sit for a minute or two in reverence, receptive to the higher influence that pervades and surrounds the inner and outer life.

2. Breathing Practice
Sit in relaxation, in the meditation posture. Breathe slowly and deeply, drawing up the in-breath as if from the navel to the point between the eyebrows. With each breath, say ‘I am Peace’.

There is a Zen saying: ‘Keep your practice so tight that no air can escape!’ Our breathing practice comprehensively engages our mind so that the ‘air’, so to say, of our attention, cannot easily ‘escape’ and run into distractions. For, during this practice, we have to think of our breathing, of the central line through which the breath upwardly is drawn; and once this mode of breathing is established, we also affirm: ‘I am peace’. So the practice has a depth and equips us with the means of establishing a strong focus of attention.

There is focus—but also relaxation. Let our breathing become light and free. Adjust your posture if necessary, to ensure that there is a free flow of breath. Establish a rhythm in the breathing, then affirm on the in-breath: ‘I am Peace’. Feel you are breathing in peace, your whole body is filled with peace. The focus is on the breathing and peace. Peace all around. Allow four minutes for this exercise.

3. Visualisation
Visualise a bright light shining in the heart-centre. The light spreads to fill your whole body. Let its rays spread in all directions, radiating peace, illumination and compassion.

By means of the breathing practice we make the mind peaceful. We thin, so to say, the crowd of thoughts and make an inner space. Now we consciously fill that vacuum with light— the light which has its source in that deep centre of peace and perfection which is our own essence.

We focus on and develop the image in stages:

1 A bright light shining in the heart-centre.
2 The light spreads to fill your whole body.
3 Its rays spread in all directions, radiating peace, illumination and compassion.

With the help of this practice, we fill our thoughts with this idea of a pure, spreading light at the core of our being. Devote five minutes to this concentration.

4. Meditation on a Text

OM
WITH A MIND AT PEACE,
I REST IN THE LIGHT AND FREEDOM OF MY TRUE SELF,
THE INFINITE CONSCIOUSNESS.
OM

Our aim is, first, to establish the text in our mind, and this is best done by repeating it inwardly or imbibing the statement phrase by phrase. If there are matters weighing on our mind, our attention may stray from the text and we may not be aware of the distraction. But let us be assured that the remedy for distraction is also within us, and our meditation itself is the great power that gives us insight into the mind’s tricks and turns. It also endows us with the interior strength and alertness to bring our thoughts back on track. So let us use our authority as active and alert shapers of our thinking. Through this positive attitude, the way to expansion and freedom will open to us.

In practical terms, as soon as we notice that our thoughts have wandered, we bring the mind back again and again by slowly repeating the words of the meditation text. Each phrase is a pointer—not to some imaginary dream world—but to the ultimate, immovable, invulnerable fact of the true nature of our Self—what we are in essence. And the living power contained in each phrase will have its own effect on our consciousness, as we take it deeper within our mind. Spend seven minutes in this practice.

5. Closing Offering
We close our meditation period by extending thoughts of peace and goodwill to all.

Meditation is not a cry to the void, but a drawing nearer to the living source of light and life which is already within us, our real home and support. Every time we meditate it helps us to uncover this source of inner strength—this inner retreat which transcends the limitations of life. The meditator is never alone, and there is never cause for dejection. The only unsuccessful meditation is the one we miss. The most delightful flowers are those that take us by surprise, and what happens in meditation has been beautifully suggested in the following Japanese verse:

O joy, to see by morning's ray
A flower that was not there yesterday.