The purpose of any spiritual path is to end suffering and to find peace. To this end, on the universal way of spirit there is one thing we need to master: the art of meditation.
In a short note to The Art of Loving, the philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm points out that, though we want something as abstract and sublime as love, we must first attend to the basics of learning and mastering any art. There are four essentials to mastering an art, whether it be playing the violin, performing surgery, mastering archery or practising meditation. They are discipline, concentration, patience, and ultimate concern.
Let us consider discipline. Intention is the roadmap, discipline the driver. Finding the time and dedication required to achieve our goals is impossible without self-discipline and the ability to delay gratification. Do what is right, what you must do; not what is ‘nice’ to do. The gap between theory and putting it into practice is willpower. For example, we all know the theory of how to diet or to save: burn more calories than you consume; spend less than you earn. However, most of us fail, not because we need to read another book, or learn a new theory, but because we lack the self-discipline to stick to the programme and say ‘No!’ when the impulse to consume overwhelms us.
Who is in charge? Who is in control? Currently, our will or higher mind is powerless and running after the objects of sense, and our higher self, the soul, is just a helpless passenger. We have to reverse this trend. The self needs to awaken in order to activate our willpower to take hold of the reins and command the senses to do what they should do. In other words, to stop being a victim of the senses but be a master of the senses. Discipline grants freedom; it does not constrain us. Self-control is liberating, not limiting.
Furthermore, consistent self-discipline creates a strong mental pipeline for our own vibrant inner love and devotion to be channelled and directed constructively in the world. Only in this way, as Baba Ji says, can we begin to establish love as our strength and not our weakness. Discipline channelizes the strong forces of nature and applies them positively.
The second essential is concentration. We are scattered beings. Our soul currents are scattered, our thoughts are scattered, our emotions are scattered. Spiritual practice, like any task we need to master, needs us to direct our scattered attention from the many to the one. That is concentration: to collect, gather, and focus – just as light is everywhere but when passed through a magnifying glass at precisely the right angle, it becomes a powerful beam. We are already awake, present, and conscious, but in a diluted way. We merely need to concentrate our innate sentience too become one-pointed. Concentration is the key.
The following quote by Great Master lays emphasis on this:
I took instructions from my own guru and he gave me the exact method. That method is the same as all saints use, which is simply the concentrated attention, held firmly at the given centre. What else can we say?
Maharaj Charan Singh also brings home a vital point: concentration is the crucial ingredient for happiness and joy, right now, in this life:
The more your mind is concentrated, the more happy you are; the more your mind is scattered the more frustrated you are.
Die to Live
Concentration creates automatic uplift, elevating our consciousness and perception, thus enabling us to glide over the painful thorns of life. When we are scattered, we get stuck and react. When we are concentrated, we glide. Concentration also makes us more efficient, thus freeing up our time and energy for more important things. Baba Ji is fond of telling us that we don’t have a time problem, rather we have a focus problem.
Now we come to the third essential, patience. The mastery of any art, let alone meditation, is not going to happen overnight. Weeds grow rapidly, but oak trees take decades. A sustained struggle with the mind is impossible without patience. This is nothing new. Here we need the three p’s: practice, perseverance, and patience.
There are many levels to this. Superficially, if one is undisciplined and scattered then everything seems to be chaotic and a big rush. This ‘rush energy’ disturbs and agitates our mind, which creates great stress and disharmony in our lives, bleeding our precious life-energy.
More subtly, in meditation the waters of the mind must become calm and still like the surface of a smooth lake in order to reflect the light of our true self. Extreme stillness and patience are required for this. Our physical, mental, and emotional selves have to be gradually and patiently remade for the task at hand. Re-grooving the mind with new habits and creating the groove of simran takes years of patient application. If the mind is pressured or forced, it will react and push back with immense power.
More subtly still, who is it that is in such a hurry? The egoic mind says: ‘I am the doer, I want results, I define the timetable of my own release.’ Thus one will never become free, because it is the barrier of ego that must be worn down by patience and time. With the little strength of will that we have, we must take the rough rock of our immature self and daily place it in that inner stream. Eventually, with time, we will become smooth and polished. All we need to do is just put ourselves there and wait. Patience is a form of spiritual surrender, a state of humility. Impatience is of the ego, the ‘little satan’.
Finally, there must be ultimate concern. To master an art, it must be the single focus of our life. Of all the concerns vying for our attention in life, what is our ultimate concern? Without a single focus, we cannot act coherently or progress.
That one focus, or goal, has a way of automatically integrating and pulling together all our diverse thoughts, actions, and habits in the service of that goal. Our main problem in life is competing centres of mental energy. For example, we say we want to be successful meditators, but at the same time also want to run a successful business, be a competitive athlete in our leisure time, and also manage a high-performing investment portfolio.
Each competing centre or obsession has different and conflicting energy demands, dietary requirements, rest requirements, and mental habits. Is it any wonder then that we are often drained, confused and never seem to get anywhere with our spiritual practice?
The greatest decathlete of all time, Daley Thompson, offers the solution. In an interview he once said: ‘I firmly believe that in order to get the most out, you’ve got to put absolutely everything in. Put all your eggs in one basket. Know where you want to get to, plan how to get there, prepare well, and then persist. That’s all there is to it.’ No inner conflict, no divided loyalties, no split energy.
If there is one strategy the mind uses brilliantly to defeat us, it is ‘divide and conquer’. Having a single focus protects us from this. All our other activities now become mere duties, a set of detached actions to go through lightly with a smile. Ultimate concern speaks to commitment, the final ingredient of mastery.
So, while we are holding the abstract goal of God-realization deep in our hearts, let us make our ascent to the eye centre our primary goal in life. According to a long line of Masters, this will let us achieve everything we ever dreamed of: peace, love, understanding, and spiritual liberation.