Meditation in Crisis
In both Yoga and Zen a time of crisis is a good basis. A tragic bereavement, bankruptcy, public disgrace, ingratitude or even hostility from those who have been helped – these are the times when there is detachment from the world.
These are practices that Dr Shastri recommended; they are well proven and reliable, and the book that they come out of is Meditation: Its Theory and Practice, which was written by Dr Shastri. One can be showered with different practices or presentations, but if one does one thing properly, then there is a chance for a response to come – an invitation to make the practices go further. But unless we start to do something there can’t be any response, there is no rapport.
Lay down a particular time for meditation; he recommends first thing in the morning, when the mind is calm, though it might mean getting up a bit earlier to find the peace. Have a corner where you have a cushion, light a candle, have a picture of something that you revere, then read a text, a holy text. It might be the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, just a few verses, to bring the mind into tune with something greater than we normally perceive as our daily lot. There is something there; we try to bore through, but all that we seem to be getting is a lot of gravel. But with these sorts of practices, particularly the meditation practice which will come later on, there is an affirmation. Focus the mind on the navel, take a deep breath in relaxation, and as you breathe in imagine you are drawing the breath up from the navel so you end the breath by thinking of the space between the eyebrows. Take twenty-one breaths in this way.
Obviously we don’t breathe through the navel, but we can imagine that as we breathe in, we are drawing the breath up as though one is drawing milk from a straw, not straining, just breathing gently and comfortably. So you draw the breath in up the body, draw in the breath up from the navel, and when the lungs are fairly full, the column of light stops between the eyebrows. Then you finish the visualisation and breathe out normally, and then you bring in the next breath. (The practice, in fact, moves the stream of vital energy in the body, but this cannot normally be felt by a beginner, so a visualisation is made, as if the breath were coming in at the navel. The breath is associated, in a subtle way, with the vital energy, called prana.)
When a little facility is gained it creates a calm and a sort of expansion of consciousness. Now largely relaxed but maintaining the posture, peacefully cast off the various clothes you have been wearing for the individual life. It is like an actress at the end of a performance taking off her stage make-up and dress – silk and jewels if she has been a queen or rags if a slave girl. You take off l-am-young, I-am-old, I-am-man, I-am-woman, I-am-Chinese, and so on. Throw away all these roles, not wanted, not wanted.
On some days the moving thoughts will begin to die down, little by little you begin to become aware of an unmoving light which witnesses all the moving things.
Sit in the enjoyment of the peace of that light.
Now the meditation. It is not something which is imagination, though it starts off, and we have to support it as imagination; there is, in fact, a light within us, and that is what we are looking for in the meditation: “In me there is a light that lights the whole world.” How can we tell what it represents? How can we tell what we are looking for? It is radiating peace and understanding. It is not something arbitrary, it is something that one actually finds, but only when one has done the boring and the drilling, we have to go down into ourselves to find it. So the desert begins to bloom with those little reflections of inspiration that can arise in our daily life, the life that can seem like a desert at times. Something begins to stir and resonate, and we suddenly find we are released from habitual trains of thoughts: “I always do it this way, I have to do it this way, it has got to be so.” You become freer, there is opportunity for new ways of looking that come into the mind, there is freedom and ability.
Then the text for meditation: “In me there is a light which lights the whole world, it is radiating now peace and understanding.” We have been talking about light – the light within the body.
The Bhagavad Gita (XIII.17) says: “Light even of light, said to be beyond darkness. Knowledge, the object of knowledge, it is planted in the heart of everyone.” And in chapter XV, verse 12: “The light which resides in the sun illuminates the whole world, that which is in the moon and in the fire, that light know to be mine.” It is an affirmation, a statement.
To start with we have to hold by imagination; we have to take it on the trust of people like Dr Shastri and other sages who have experienced it in their own lives. But what Dr Shastri recommended was that we repeat it to ourselves internally three times, then if one has forgotten it, repeat it another three times. The point is to hold the mind on the flavour of that text. Then you are holding on to an image of a light that is within you, and is now actually radiating peace and understanding. There are many days, particularly on a Monday morning, when one does not feel one is radiating peace and understanding, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The teachers of old, in their autobiographies, describe the sufferings they have gone through, and unless they had that inner sparkle, that inner fire, then they wouldn’t have been able to carry on. This is an affirmation of truth, and we have the chance to follow what Dr Shastri and many other teachers of truth offered. Try a session now, for 15 minutes:
“Om. In me there is a light that lights the whole world, it is radiating now peace and understanding. Om.”
Finally, sit in the calm which these practices will bring and give your friendliness and forgiveness to all, to those people you feel you have hurt, and those who have hurt you. In those final moments of the meditation practice, just offer a sense of forgiveness to them.
Though one has to practise on a definite line, we revere all the great traditions and schools; my teacher often used to refer to the great Moslem mystic, Rumi, and this is a little poem on the subject. You will see that the presentation is slightly different, but you will see the light, the water and the living stream which is below the desert. It is presented in the terms of Islamic mysticism.
A certain man was crying “Allah!” all night until his lips grew sweet in praise of him.
The devil said: “Oh garrulous man, what is all this ‘Allah!’ Not a single response is coming from the throne. How long will you go on crying ‘Allah’ with grim face?”
The man became broken hearted and lay down and slept. In a dream he saw the prophet Elijah in a garden, who said to him: “Hark! You have held back at praising God, why do you repent at having called on him?”
The man replied: “No ‘Here Am l’ is coming in response, hence I fear I have been turned away from the Door.”
Elijah said: “Nay. God saith that ‘Allah!’ of thine is my ‘Here Am I’, and that ardour, grief and supplication of thine are my messenger to thee – thy fear and love are the noose to catch my favour. Beneath every ‘Allah! ‘of thine is many a ‘Here Am I’ from Me.”
We pray and we revere externally, but in the yoga and spiritual training we are taught that the Lord is not only outside, he is stirring within us, and that stirring is the spiritual quest. It is wrong to think: Oh, spiritual practice is just when one’s circumstances are favourable and when one has the time and energy and facilities.
No, as it is pointed out at the very beginning, it is when everything has collapsed, when we are disappointed, when our lives have been shattered, then is the time we can no longer depend on external things, they have collapsed and betrayed us. We can easily turn one-pointedly within, and in our turning not just revere what is outside, but find that stirring within us.