'Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have been to hell and do not want to go there again '.
In my experience, meditation helps in four different ways.
1) Meditation is known to increase awareness. One becomes more aware of the surroundings and the task at hand, and is not absorbed by one's own thoughts as much. At a deeper level, it makes one aware of the presence of the higher being in one's life.
2) It stops further deterioration of the brain by having a thoughtless, peaceful state. Less thinking means calmer mind. Think of your mind as a resource to generate energy for the body. Calmer mind, stronger the resource for your body to fight the disease. If that's the case, who can be a better ally than your own mind in times of need?
3) Meditation helps create a positive state of mind. A positive mind generates positive energy in the body that sends positive signals to the nerve cells which gets translated into recuperation and regeneration.
4) Meditation helps develop the faith in future during any illness. Somehow it becomes easier to believe that things would be better in the midst of chaos. One learns to surrender and relax.
Meditation helps me become more aware of the surroundings, the present moment. I am more aware of my breathing and of my body posture. I listen better to the sounds around me. Most of all, my mind gets the necessary respite from the constant hustle-bustle of thoughts, emotions, anxieties and worries.
My quest for a focused mind
Until year 2007 I had been doing yoga regularly while meditation only on the need to do basis. During this illness however, meditation turned out to be a very crucial, life saving technique for me. It also gave me a chance to start working on my lifelong problem of not being able to focus on the task at hand. My mind habitually skips either into daydreaming or worrying about future or digging the past. It's never in the present moment. After searching endlessly for the underlying cause of my constant anxieties, daydreams, fears and worries, I finally figured it out (or at least I think I figured it out) that my brain does not have the necessary faith in the fact that eventually things are taken care of. It keeps working overtime unduly over trivial things. Every little thing happens and my mind gets trapped into an unending mesh of worries and thoughts.
Meditation helps me get into the receptive mode in which I am able to surrender my worries and gain the peace of mind that is so necessary for the recovery. Although I still struggle a lot to get into that receptive and pin drop silence mode, I am now able to do so at least for a small amount of time albeit not as often as I would like.
Journey to Spirituality
While searching incessantly for a solution to the problem of lack of focus of mind, I realized that my daydreams about my rosy future and my worries about potential disasters are two sides of the same coin, the coin of I or Self. My daydreams represent my ego. My anxieties represent my fear. Ego and fear are the two faces that represent my self as a separate entity. When I focus on the self as a separate entity, it gives me the feeling that I am alone and fully responsible to control everything and take care of the unknown future. I need to find that something or someone to support me and assure me that I am not alone and I can rely on things being taken care of so the burden of responsibility is shared. I found that someone or something in the philosophical heritage of India. All of what I had learned and heard of the Indian philosophy either through reading books or as part of my culture came handy now. Until that time, I used to believe in God out of cultural and religious influence and as a regular part of life. Now I started seeing God in a different light, as a spirit that runs through every living being. In this light, I could understand God without dogma of religion and thus with more free will. I could connect at a more intimate level. In this new light the source of my emotions made sense and it became easier to find solution to the problems I was facing.
In the following pages I want to share with you the nature of spirituality, nature of meditation, effect of prayers as I understood and applied to solve problems of my emotional nature and of my physical health.
Nature of Spirituality as I understood
Two sides of the same coin, Ego and Fear
The nature of spirit is pure joy and pure goodness. It's the ultimate truth, the ultimate happiness. It has no boundaries. It's universal. It's infinite in nature. Each living being has part of this spirit. When we identify with that spirit, we connect with that ultimate truth, the universal being (that is called God in general terms) and feel supported and protected. The more we separate our Self from this spirit, the more lonely and abandoned we feel. This separateness projects itself through fear and ego. Why fear? Because the disconnected Self feels abandoned and feels it needs to control everything around it and everything in the future in order to preserve.
The fear of the future, fear of losing what we have, fear of not getting what we want gives rise to an epidemic of anxieties, worries, wishful thinking and phobias and sometimes a general lack of self worth. These are the yin like expressions of that fear. In some cases it expresses in a yang like manner through aggression and controlling behavior. When you think of your Self as part of that ultimate truth or Universal being, the separateness is replaced by feelings of support and security and the edge is subdued. The fear is turned into faith in God and is channeled to the stomach where it's physically felt.
The other side of the coin is ego. Why the ego? Because the disconnected Self feels that the accomplishments and successes are its own doing. The yang like expression of this separateness could be bombastic behavior, disrespect to others etc. Yin like expressions could be having a superiority complex. In general terms, it's absolutely true that the successes and accomplishments are results of your own actions. Your Karma (action) creates your own Karma (fate or consequences). However when you become spiritually aware, you will realize that though you are the one who takes actions, the ability to take actions is God given and so are the fruits of action. Whatever goodies are showered in your lap, either the talent behind the action or the result of that action, they are gifts from above. We are only actors whose responsibility is to take action but not the credit. Once that understanding is there you will feel pure happiness and gratitude instead of superiority upon your successes. The body becomes a container of that pure, innate joy and the gratitude gets channeled to your head. If you feel anxious about the results of your action, the same understanding helps to relieve the anxiety, the understanding that the fruits are not in your jurisdiction, only the actions are. The Karma Yoga in Bhagvad Gita states:
"You have a right to perform your prescribed action, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action.
Never consider yourself the cause of the results your activities, and never be associated to not doing your duty. "
Understanding emotions through spirituality
I try to understand my habit of daydreaming in the same perspective. At a practical level, daydreaming can be explained as lack of confidence in yourself to make things happen. It's an escape from harsh realities. It's a form of wishful thinking that occurs when there is a fear of action and thus it becomes an expression of fear. If you grew up thinking that you really have no control over your life, you will be scared to take any action. The basic assumption here is that taking action is not in your jurisdiction. Once you get rid of this frame of mind, daydreaming will no longer be necessary because you will be actually taking action to create the future you want.
From a spiritual angle, daydreaming is the yin like expression of my ego; It's surfing in the territory of consequences, the territory that's not in my jurisdiction. It's about not trusting the imagination of God. If I think that I have the imagination to custom make my future in my daydreams, why don't I trust the imagination of the one who gave it to me in the first place? Sometimes I feel the reality is even more beautiful that my daydreams. It has an element of surprise and crispness that is missing when I anticipate something. I am still not able to control my habit of skipping into daydreams incessantly. However I am hopeful that one day I will be able to do so by asking God for help.
Inferiority and Superiority
The feelings of inferiority and superiority can be resolved through the same spiritual principle. If each living being is part of the same spirit that is universal then there is nobody to compare you with. At the core of every living being lies the innate form of that spirit which is the same in everyone. Imagine a murderer who has committed a hundred murders and is waiting for his death sentence. In spite of being a target of hatred of the whole world, he is the same as a reputed billionaire. That resolves any feelings of inferiority one can have. On the flip side, imagine the roles being changed. In spite of the high reputation and position as a billionaire, he is the same as the ruthless murderer. Again at the core they both are the same. That takes care of any feelings of superiority one may have.
Feelings of Powerlessness
When I feel as if I have no control over situation or have no power to do something that I want, either because of an individual or because of the circumstances, here is what I imagine. I imagine myself as a prisoner who is heavily shackled and brutally beaten, locked in a solitary prison cell without daylight, starved, with no contact with the outer world. It looks like death would be the ultimate fantasy. I imagine myself thinking that In spite of such a situation, nobody has the power over what I have inside me, over my spirit that never dies. Whatever cruelty is going on, it's on outer side, it can never reach the inner sanctum of my heart because my spirit belongs to me. Imagining like this relieves my agony and frustration.
Nature of Meditation as I understood
Once I understood my emotional nature from a spiritual perspective, the nature of meditation also became clearer. I fathomed vaguely what I should be expecting from meditation and what I should be doing to get there. I realized that instead of focusing actively on some image in my mind, I should keep my mind more passive and receptive and let the universe enter it and show me the way. I should sit quiet and surrender my worries and expectations to the universe and be the receiver of its blessings.
Meditation is thus different than focusing or concentration. Focusing is outwardly. You are proactively extending yourself with your senses, either vision or hearing, to reach an outside object such as an image or a sound. Meditation is more passive. It's more about allowing things to happen by being more aware and receptive. In meditation there is a sense of surrendering to something higher than you. In spiritual terms it's letting your ego down. Actively searching for something is a manifestation of ego in spiritual terms. On the other hand, meditation is having enough faith in the higher power to let go of the control of your life. You sit in a relaxed and receptive position without trying to focus, with a keen awareness of the present moment. It's the present moment through which that higher being reaches to us, which is why even the noise around you is welcome during meditation. You are waiting to fill the empty bowl of your mind with the goodness of universe. The passivity of your mind is healthy. It's receptive, calm and full of faith. There is no sense of self in it and thus is devoid of ego or fear. Emptier the bowl of your mind is, more devoid of projections of Self is, more goodness of the universe can fill in that space.
Personally, I cannot get into that phase of awareness every single time I want. So whenever I find it difficult, I start by focusing on the vacuum in front of my eyes or on the sound of breathing. Once the rhythm takes over, I slowly stop focusing and slide over to nothingness. When I am able to get into that phase of awareness, I experience a perfect state of clarity, peace and receptiveness, which I call being at the bottom of my mind. When I cannot, I ask help from God. I say a prayer. Hopefully soon I will have enough command over my mind to experience that peaceful, receptive state more often.
I find it very amazing that often in life the books you come across reflect your present state of evolvement. It was certainly evident in my case during fall of year 2007. I stumbled across the book by Dr. Vasant Lad named 'The complete book of Ayurvedic home remedies'. There is a chapter on Meditation in this book. The description of meditation from this book phrased the vague concept that was in my head very accurate. It described the mind as an empty bowl that is ready to receive the blessings of the universe. It's about surrendering of your self and being receptive to the surroundings, letting the present moment take over.
Pray to develop faith in future
I have noticed that whenever I feel worried and pessimistic about something, praying gets me back into positive mode. I feel refreshed and calm. What does happen here? I feel that a prayer creates the feeling that you are not alone and someone is going to take care of you. Thus you feel more relaxed. Also it's been researched that the chemistry of brain improves after saying a prayer. When I feel overwhelmed, I say the following prayer.
'Let me be in that blissful state of mind where there is pure joy. This is a joy of just being, just existing. This joy has no frames of future or past, of success or failure, of health or illness. In this state, I am aware of the presence of something more powerful than me that is pure goodness. I surrender all my worries and fears of the future to this Being and immerse myself in this joy. Let this higher being remove the projections of fear and pride from my mind. Let my mind become that of a woman. Let me be the perfect receiver. Let me surrender all my worries and anxieties to that higher being and let the empty bowl of my mind fill with peace and calm in return. Let my fear of the future turn into faith and trust in you and channel it to my stomach. Let my pride turn into innate happiness and gratitude. Let my head be filled with the gratitude and let my body become a container of that happiness'.
I have always observed that praying and experiencing that awareness helps me get into a positive state of mind. The more I connect with myself and pray, the more I meditate, better I feel and faster my recovery is. During my illness, I made it a point to meditate, pray and visualize at least once a day.
I was amazed when I came across the article 'Seeing What's already there' by author Mary Martin Niepold. It matched my recent experience with spirituality and meditation so well. In this article she beautifully narrates her experience of how she got the motivation and inspiration to write her first book. She was having what can be described as a writer's block. However by asking god for help during her meditation, by saying a prayer, surrendering her Self, she overcame that hurdle and was able to write her first book.
Different ways of doing meditation
In the next few paragraphs I am going to describe how I do meditation in couple of different ways. You may want to do the same way as I do or you may find your own way of meditating or focusing. However imperfect the technique of meditation or focusing may be, as long as your mind gets the necessary rest (because you are not thinking), and you feel positive, energetic and more aware of yourself and your surrounding, keep doing it. Spirituality is a personal experience and thus there are no definite rules on how to do it. For some of you the term 'Bottom of the mind' may strike home and may be easy to follow. For some of you it may not make any sense. There is nothing wrong or right with either of that. You may explain your experience with a different analogy that is more natural to you. Instead of focusing on a void or the sound of breathing, you may prefer focusing on a picture or an image or sound of chanting. As long as it's helping you, stick with it and include it in your daily or weekly routine as much as possible.
There are two different ways I do meditation. First one involves sense of vision as a mean to focus mind. The second one involves sense of hearing.
Here are the different ways I do meditation.
Focusing on a void with shuteyes and feeling the bottom of the mind.
In this technique sense of vision plays a role even though eyes are shut. Sitting in a comfortable position I close my eyes. For a couple of minutes I let the thoughts pass by randomly without any resistance. Then I focus on the void in front of my eyes. Thus there are no thoughts and I am looking into a vacuum of time and space. Most of the time this leads to a trance where I am not sensing anything but a timeless state with circles moving out of each other in front of my eyes or sometimes just a void, sometimes a void filled with deep nascent orange light and a hum that I can hear. This hum, as many people call, feels like Brownian movement. If the trance lasts long, the hum stops and I feel like being at the bottom of my mind hearing everything with ten times greater magnitude. My mind goes in a perfectly receptive mode. My senses are sharpened and I feel an inner state of pin drop silence regardless of how much noisy the outside world is. In this state my awareness of the surroundings and of my own physique and psyche is at its keenest. In this state I feel very peaceful and alert.
This increased awareness is the most rewarding part of the meditation. After all, it's the search for the ultimate awareness, the ultimate truth that's the aim of most of the schools of philosophies and various meditation practices. For me, being at the bottom of the mind is the best state of mind. At this juncture, I do not have enough practice of meditation to achieve that state with every attempt. But I am hopeful that some day I will be in that stage.
Focusing on sound.
This technique is basically the same as above except instead of the void in front of the eyes, the focusing is on the sound. Thus I am using my ears instead of eyes. The sound could be that of Aum (Om) or any other sound from the environment. I personally prefer sound of breathing. I listen to every breath, inhale and exhale. I watch it. Once the rhythm takes over, I slowly stop watching my breath and slide over to nothingness. The sound helps me become more aware of what's happening around me and put myself aside. Sometimes the focusing also includes looking into a vacuum in front of my eyes. Slowly I slide into that quietness that takes me to the bottom of my mind.
Letting images run through the mind and experiencing flashes.
I do this technique when I want to quickly refresh myself from tiredness and fatigue or when I have a sleepless night before. I am either sitting comfortably or lying in bed with eyes shut. Then I focus on the void in front of my shuteyes imagining it as a representation of the universal spirit. I recall images of some random things in nature or whatever I have watched recently (like trees, road signs, cartoons, movie etc.) and let them run in front of my eyes. Focusing on these running images gets me in a trance like mode. In this mode there are flashes of light passing in front of my eyes that are invigorating and enormously refreshing. This quick refresher course (as I jokingly call it) gives me a surge of energy and my eyes feel cool as if an air conditioner has started inside me.
I learned this technique by accident in 1998 when I was riding a bus in the afternoon. My seat was facing the afternoon sun. Feeling tired I closed my eyes and felt a stream of nascent deep orange light entering my eyes. I focused my mind on that light and prayed, 'Let this light refresh and invigorate my mind and spirit'. It felt very refreshing and uplifting. I started doing it whenever I felt tired and depressed. It worked every time.
Here is the elaborate technique for doing the visualization.
Calm your mind. Think less.
Let the higher self, the universal spirit take control of your mind.
Close your eyes and imagine a stream of deep orange light entering your body from above and flowing through each organ.
It's easier to imagine this light when you first look at the sun or any bright light in the house and then close your eyes.
Visualize this deep orange stream of light which is nascent in nature, passing through your brain, your heart, stomach, arms, palm of your hands, fingers, your legs, feet, toes, refreshing and revitalizing them. You can direct this light to be focused on a specific part of your body as long as you want. Let it roll through your system in circular motion if you like. Stay with that light and pray.
Pray to that higher power
Let this light become the core of my existence. Let this light destroy the poisons of negativity in my mind and illness in my body and illuminate it with light of truth, positivity, good health and energy. Let this stream of light enlighten me with real knowledge and brighten my mind. Let this nascent light of pure joy and sparkle rejuvenate and refresh the cells of my body and fill them with health, strength and vigor. Let my liver regenerate to its healthy self. Let my digestive system become healthy and functional. Let my brain shed its old decayed cells and regenerate fresh, young, healthy cells. Let this stream of light destroy the disease in my xxxxxxx (whichever organ is ill) and rejuvenate it with vigor and strength. '
Focus on this light lingering in the ailed body part and stay in that state for as long as you want. Enjoy the positive vibrations and energy surges that you may feel after doing so. The more you experience these feelings, better it's for curing your ailment.
You can customize this prayer and exercise to your own liking and needs. You may choose a different color of the light or a different way of connecting to the higher power altogether.
Meditation helped me recover from a sleepless night
During the year of 1994 I was suffering from severe depression. It was a period of great emotional turmoil for me. Constant panic and anxiety had taken its toll on my health. My nerves were on edge and I could not fall asleep at night. Many nights I stayed awake watching TV on the couch and not having a wink of sleep. As a result I developed legions in mouth and suffered from frequent giddiness and faints. The doctor diagnosed it right and prescribed me Diazephal (Generic for Valium). He however refused to continue that medication for long. According to him tranquillizers were not supposed to be taken indefinitely. I had the choice of either going to another doctor who would prescribe me more of that tranquillizer or come up with some way to fight my depression without medication and I chose the second option. I turned to meditation. I said to myself, 'Why do I need a Valium when I have my own Valium inside me?' I was referring to the spirituality of oneself. Till that time, I had believed that it would take years of practice for me to be able to meditate. The situation however demanded that I should try it right away, however I could.
One morning, after an excruciating sleepless night, I shut my eyes and focused on the void in front of my shuteyes imagining it as a representation of the universal spirit. A few images of some random things in nature (like green leaves, trees, horse etc.) ran for a split second in front of my eyes and the next thing I experienced was like a flash that lasted for a second. I almost fell asleep for those few moments and woke up. Those few moments refreshed me like as if I had slept for ten hours. I felt a surge of energy in me. From that time on, I continued doing that exercise whenever I had a sleepless night. I would have those few moments of sleep cum trance that would bring coolness to my fatigued eyes and energize my tired physique.
Since that time, whenever I have trouble falling asleep or have any physical or psychological trouble, I focus my mind on a void in front of my eyes or allow it to float through random images of things. Either way, my mind is thoughtless and I feel refreshed and uplifted.
I am by no means an expert on meditation or even a regular practitioner so far. It's a work in progress for me. However even in this imperfect state it has helped me tremendously. I hope it does help you readers too.