Are You Sitting Comfortably?
I’ve been struggling with my meditation. Have you? In the first two years euphoria carried me along, but after that my attention and determination slowly weakened. Just as the initial flush of romantic love brings such eagerness to please one’s beloved that nothing is too much trouble, during the initiation honeymoon it feels natural, even easy, to put all one’s energy into meditation. But that early high may not last.
I found that my initial ideas about meditation were increasingly challenged by actual practice. Unwittingly, I also allowed the focus to shift slowly away from spirituality, becoming preoccupied instead by worldly life. One day it was suddenly clear that there was no longer the same zest to practise for two-and-a-half hours. Meditation had become a battle against circumstance, against mind and body - a fight that I had never expected to join.
For a while, this state of affairs continued unchallenged. Then I began to mull over the possible reasons underpinning this struggle and how I might take responsibility for attempting to overcome my difficulties. A resulting awareness developed: that once the initial exhilaration of being initiated and the consequent enthusiasm wear off, it is our responsibility to find a way – our own way – of sustaining ourselves on the path. In so doing, we begin to develop a deeper, experiential understanding of Sant Mat and, hopefully, a more mature relationship with the inner Master.
These reflections are helping me gradually come to a deeper appreciation of what meditation is and the scope of my role. I don’t have all the answers, but I have gained a few small insights about nurturing one’s meditation so that it becomes less of a struggle, more joyous - and, dare I say it, more interesting. These insights, which you may or may not already have come to by yourself, relate to preparation, to focus, and to identifying the goal of meditation.
Across the globe during the hours of dawn, when most people are still asleep, initiates awake to meditate. However, you’ve probably come to realize that more is required than simply turning up for our daily session. Regularity and punctuality are essential, but on their own they do not lead to ‘quality’ meditation and can even breed complacency. At this point, you may be thinking, “Stop there! The results of meditation, or even its quality, are not in our hands but those of the Master.” Yes, that’s true. But I’m talking about the quality of our effort - and that is most definitely in our hands.
Our effort doesn’t stop at turning up; that’s only the first step. The most important part is the degree to which we repeat each round of simran with as much single-pointed attention as we can muster. Achieving maximum concentration in our simran so that we can step through the tenth door and meet the Radiant Form of the Master is an ideal we’re trying to reach. On the ‘good’ days, we can probably repeat simran with sufficient focus that we’re aware of the names despite the constant images and thoughts rushing through our minds in the background. And even when the mind tries its very hardest to turn our attention outwards, we have the strength to resist and keep it occupied in simran.
Yet there are days when no matter how hard we try, the mind seems to have the upper hand. Flitting about from one thing to the next, it refuses to repeat simran, preferring instead to focus on the minutiae of daily life. In this frustrating situation, it is easy to become deeply dissatisfied with ourselves and our so-called progress on the path. However, before we dismiss ourselves as failures and our determination begins to wane, a little more introspection is required. Why exactly is it that we can’t focus on our simran in the way we desire?
To answer this, first we need to ask ourselves the extent to which we repeat simran throughout the day. As Baba Ji says, the mind is like a computer: whatever we download into it, that’s what we get back. If much of our time is devoted to ‘compulsive thinking’ - the process of abandoning ourselves to the inner chatter of the mind - it will come as no surprise that when we sit for meditation, our mind refuses to co-operate. If, however, we constantly look for opportunities to repeat simran, such as when performing mundane tasks, this can help us stop the habit of compulsive thinking. This is because there is an inherent power in simran, which helps to purify the mind.
Our level of attachment to the world may also help to explain why we find it difficult to repeat simran in the way to which we aspire. We are told that the more detached we become, the greater our level of concentration. But where does that detachment itself come from? It emerges from focused meditation, and focused meditation will occur as a result of ceaseless simran. So, once more we return to the practice of spiritual simran. Of course, underpinning all this is the Master’s grace.
Improving our effort in meditation requires focus. We all know that the focus of our meditation should be the Shabd, and to achieve this we practise simran as well as contemplating on the form of the Master who has initiated us. Sometimes, however, we focus more on ourselves than on the Master. The mind plays many tricks on us. As well as conjuring up thoughts about the material world, it also has the tendency to focus on the process of meditation at the expense of the practice itself.
We become preoccupied by our posture, fighting against ourselves not to shift position, obsessed with whether we’re pronouncing the five names accurately, wondering whether the numbness we feel in our limbs means our consciousness is rising, wishing we didn’t feel so sleepy, and so on. One of the biggest tricks the mind can play on us is when we start holding a conversation with the Master during meditation. We can fool ourselves into thinking that this is equal to meditation, or not as bad as thinking about material issues.
Perhaps it is through struggling with the challenges of making the mind and body motionless that we finally come to realize that our efforts are actually quite puny. We overcome the misconception that it is ‘my’ efforts that will achieve the goal. When we contact the Radiant Form of the Master and eventually reach Sach Khand, we will do so because of his grace and not because of our performance. Eventually we truly understand that meditation is not about you or me - it’s about him! Then we begin to see that it doesn’t matter exactly how we’re sitting or pronouncing simran; our focus should simply be directed to repetition.
Finally, our efforts in meditation can be improved by clearly identifying our goal. When we’re first initiated, many of us see the goal of our meditation as being to meet the Radiant Form of the Master and reach Sach Khand. However, the more we practise, the more we begin to realize that there is no goal other than pleasing the Master. We stop becoming anxious about ‘results’ and ‘progress’. Instead, with our attention focused on him, we (try to) meditate for no other reason but love and begin to accept that what he does is up to him.
We can draw encouragement from the insight shown by Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God, who said that he “endeavoured to act only for him; whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God”. He did not seek God for salvation or reward; rather he resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions. Understanding that our original aims in meditation are beside the point, we begin to have a different reason for leaving our warm beds in the morning. And that is love for and faith in the Master.
We may not feel like we’re in love as we get up each morning and shake off our slumber: indeed, we’re more likely to be feeling tired, fuzzy-headed, and distracted by worldly worries and excitements. We’re probably not feeling the kind of intense love for the Master that comes so easily when we sit before his physical form. But although that feeling may not be uppermost in our consciousness, it is still there. Why else would we give our time to meditation at all?
We begin this journey fairly egotistically - thinking “I’m in love with the Master,” or “I want initiation,” or “I want to reach Sach Khand.” Then slowly and subtly a transformation starts to happen. Our ego begins to ebb, and pleasing the Master by practising our meditation, regardless of outcomes, starts to become more important. We come to understand that it is not through the force of our ego that we are going to reach our journey’s end, but through taking practical steps to follow closely the Master’s instructions, putting in our best effort, and then leaving the results to him.
From the Master, ask for the Master, for when he grants you that, you will get everything with him.