A session led by the Warden at Shanti Sadan
Meditation helps us to relieve our mind of the cares and concerns of the day—to take a step back, as it were, or rather a step in to a level of our being where there is peace, not stress, silence, not noise, stillness, not movement. It is in this uninterrupted interval that we draw on the energy, peace and light that have their source in our deeper nature.
This inner communion leads to a unique sense of fulfilment, and gives us courage and strength to meet life’s difficulties without being overwhelmed by them, based on the growing understanding that nothing can disturb or intimidate the highest part of our being—and we can learn to take our stand on That.
We live partly in the external world—the sphere of society, business, family, and so on. We live to a greater extent in the world of our thoughts, moods, memories, desires, imaginings. But the outer life of the body, and the interior life of the mind, do not comprise the whole of us. Our being has its source in an ultimate selfhood that is free from all limitations. And when we create peace and harmony in our mind, we gain an increasing sense that in our deepest centre—our nucleus, so to say—we are more than the mind, and that our ‘I am’ is one with the power that underlies all minds and runs through the whole universe.
This dimension of experience seems to be hidden by the world of thoughts, actions and events. But it makes itself felt in the form of a longing, a desire for peace, harmony, security; an urge to throw off the limitations of anything that is weighing on our mind and which makes us feel small and powerless.
Meditation can help us to satisfy this deeper aspiration, for in its pure and advanced form, meditation is the means to inner freedom, even in the midst of the world of action. The practice guides our mind from the realm of limitations, by expanding and deepening our consciousness until we recognise the bliss and infinitude of our innermost Self. This is the Self that we refer to in our meditation texts.
Our mind has a range of skills and aptitudes that are necessary to cope with our outer life. But the mind is our instrument and not our ultimate identity. The mind derives its power to function from that great Reality, the true Self, that underlies it. We can learn to stand back from the mind and use it for our own higher purposes. The highest purpose of the human mind is to open up new facets of our inner being that shed light on our ultimate nature.
This process of inner expansion and deepening understanding begins when we train ourselves to quieten the thinking process, and we can do this at those in-between times, when the intense mental activity we apply to our outer affairs, is not essential. So we need to be alert to these periods of respite—often quite brief—and take advantage of them, filling the gap with meditative thought or practice. It is a capacity we can all develop. As it is said: ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ Our mind at present may seem hard to direct and pacify. But this same mind is always linked with the infinite—the eternal reality at its source. And if we go forward step by step through our daily meditation practice, we will gain light, peace and power from our own being, and realise true freedom.
Here is a set of practices we can take up for ourselves.
1. Inner Preparation
Our first practice is an acknowledgement of that deeper reality and its presence within and around us. We do this by sitting calm and quiet for a minute or two, inwardly bowing to that invisible all-pervasive power. This is a natural expression of love and gratitude.
2. Breathing Practice
Breathe slowly, drawing up the in-breath as if from the navel to the spot between the eyebrows. With each in-breath say silently: ‘Serenity’, and with each out-breath, feel a sense of freedom and relief.
Where is this realm of freedom? It is something we have to approach inwardly through the world of our own mind. We do this by tranquillising our mind.
The mind at first seems reluctant to reveal its higher potential. We might be inclined to ask ourselves: ‘Why bother to search within? There is nothing here except thoughts, emotions, memories.’ All these elements combine to form a kind of interior barrier which seems to be impenetrable.
But within and behind this inner barrier, so to say, is our highest potential: for an illumined understanding—a new kind of knowledge that satisfies for ever. And this knowledge has its source in our essential nature—our ‘I am’ as it is, when freed from the covering of mental activity. Its nature is peace, light and freedom.
In philosophical terms, it is indicated by the words existence, consciousness, bliss—Sat-Chit-Ananda in Sanskrit. This means that at one and the same time, it is our existence, our consciousness, and that peak of happiness we are ever reaching out for—that Self-joy which eludes us when we look outside ourselves.
In our breathing practice, our aim is to replace all tension with serenity, for it is in serenity that the higher self-knowledge begins to awaken within us.
Let us do this breathing practice for four minutes. If possible, keep the in-breath and out-breath the same length.
Visualise a bright light shining in the heart-centre. This light spreads to fill your whole body. Then imagine that its rays are issuing forth in all directions, charged with peace, illumination and compassion.
When we do such a practice, we may feel that we are dressing ourselves in qualities we do not really possess, so that it is a kind of self- deception, and that afterwards, the realities of life will undermine our aspiration. But the meditation on light at the core of our being is not a self-deception. In reality, we are removing, little by little, the clothing or covering of thoughts that hinders our self-realisation. Our practices help us to uncover that innermost centre of our being—that divine nucleus, that infinite principle of light and consciousness. It is never far from us, because it underlies our thoughts, reveals them, and indeed makes thought possible.
So let us now turn to this inner life and light with the help of this visualisation practice, as described above, for six minutes.
4. Meditation on a Text
ONE OCEAN OF CONSCIOUSNESS EXISTS,
INFINITE, ALL LIGHT, ALL BLISS, EVER ABIDING.
THAT AM I.
Limitations, barriers and differences belong to the world of thought, but not to the inner light that reveals thought. Change and tension belong to the mind, but not to the awareness that observes or witnesses the mind, the awareness that knows the passing of thoughts, the passing of time.
This awareness is everlasting, unalterable, untainted. In our meditation text it is called—by metaphor—one ocean of consciousness.
Again, we are not to feel that we are artificially dressing ourselves in some grand idea. On the contrary, we are learning to transcend the coverings of thought, to go beyond the mind’s hypnotism, and to withdraw into the deeper reality of our own true nature. Devote five to seven minutes to this practice.
5. Closing Offering
Our final practice concerns the practical world and its need, which is also our need, for light, harmony, peace and wisdom. During this practice we send out thoughts and feelings of peace, harmony and relief from suffering for all beings.