Whenever you feel in a peaceful state of mind, meditate. Just close your eyes and relax, even if it’s only for a minute. If you wish to deepen your meditation, then schedule some time for this practice daily. Meditation needs the cooperation of both the body and the mind. Prepare the body with the asanas, Yoga postures, and pranayama, the breathing exercises. Learn to keep the mind fully occupied on one thing, but don’t let that thing or concept bind you.
Stick to one object of concentration, don’t change continually. It’s best to be regular when practicing meditation—try to have two sittings daily. The scriptures recommend the times when day meets night or night meets day for meditation—dawn and dusk. It’s neither day nor night and thus very conducive. If this is not possible, sit as soon as you wake in the morning and at night before retiring.
If you get up after the world is already awake, it’s probably best to quiet yourself by first doing the Yoga postures and some breathing practices. Then go on to your meditation. In this way you go from the physical to the mental, and from the mental to the spiritual. It’s easy to go from gross to subtle. If you wake very early in the morning, before dawn, it is already very sattvic or peaceful. Don’t disturb this with any physical practices; begin your meditation immediately.
Even in the midst of Hatha Yoga asanas, you may sometimes feel so very peaceful that you can simply stop doing the postures and enjoy that pleasant meditation. When you’re actually trying to meditate, be very gentle. Training the mind to stay on one point is something like training a horse. If the horse doesn’t want to go into a particular lane, you can’t force it because it will revolt. A trick trainer will say, “All right, where do you want to go? This way? Sure, turn. You let the horse go on a few yards that way, and then slowly you take him around. The horse is pleased: “Ah, I had my way.” Very soon the trainer will say, “I’ll have my way now.”
Your mind is something like that; just bring it around. Otherwise, the mind will build a block of tension, and from the moment you even think of
meditation, it might create psychosomatic illnesses. You might feel a little headache or stomachache. The mind has that power. You shouldn’t force the mind up to any level, but at the same time don’t give it too much rope either. It’s kind of a middle path. Be firm and at the same time gentle.
You should choose a nice clean place for your regular sitting, on something that is a nonconductor of electricity. You may have heard of Yogis in India
who sit on a wooden platform or on a certain grass that does not conduct any electricity. This more or less acts as insulation from the gravitational force of the earth. Have you seen pictures of Yogis sitting on animal skin? They used what was available. For forest Yogis it was natural to use a dry, tanned skin, like the nonconducting gloves you might wear when handling electricity.
Often they chose tiger and deerskins. It is believed that if you sit on a deerskin and meditate you will acquire all the aesthetic beauties, the charms of life, and liberation too. If you sit on a tiger skin, you get all the siddhis or attainments and supernatural powers. Tiger skin brings power because the skin has its own vibration. If the animal has died naturally, the skin will still have the quality or the nature of the animal. If you use a deerskin, you get the soft or gentle nature of the deer. Even if you wear a dress with the pattern of a tiger, you walk like a tiger. Immediately you feel you are a tiger yourself. It’s thought association.
Unfortunately, those old practices have descended to a low level today. Many people want to meditate on an animal skin, and this has been propagated by the people who are selling the skins. Certainly you can’t get helpful qualities from animals that have been slaughtered. I personally don’t like to use a skin for meditation. I don’t know whether the animal has been killed or died naturally. If I buy it, I will be encouraging people to kill more. I would suggest a clean white sheet, folded over a blanket or carpet. Use this only for your meditation practice and it will build up wonderful vibrations.
Preparing your body for meditation is also important. In meditation you are trying to keep the mind steady and one–pointed without shaking too much. To do this, begin by making the body steady. This is possible only if you make a firm decision. Just tell the body and the limbs, “I’m not going to move any part of the body until I finish the meditation.” Every cell in your body will hear the decision you make. If the decision is very strong, the body will obey you without complaining. Imagine your mind and body as little children. If you want them to obey, you must be a little firm. It’s best to sit in a cross-legged posture. Sit straight. Keep the spine erect, but not stiff. Spread the chest well. Beginners may find this position easier if they sit on the edge of a firm cushion. If this isn’t possible, it’s alright to use a chair, but keep the spine free by not leaning back on it.
It’s normal to feel some pain in a cross-legged position when you begin. Slowly, slowly you will get over it. The minute you feel the pain, change the position of your legs. Sit some other way that’s more comfortable for you, and continue your meditation. This doesn’t mean you should avoid sitting and meditating. Each day sit to that point where you feel the pain, then shift to another position. You can even get up while meditating and walk around a little; then, sit awhile longer. Once you find the real center of gravity (your equilibrium) you’ll have a victory over the position and be seated in a steady and comfortable pose. Build your meditation little by little.
How long should you sit? If it’s a deep meditation, five or ten minutes are enough. If it’s not deep, stay longer. Begin by sitting for fifteen minutes. In fifteen days you can easily sit twenty minutes each time. Twenty will become twenty-five then thirty. Nothing is built in one day. Everyone who has learned to meditate has gone through these same steps. If in meditation you are sometimes bothered by intruding thoughts or desires, the best thing to do is to meditate on the desire itself. Of course, you can first try to ignore it. But that might not work. A simple example: You are in a room and you are doing something intensely. All of a sudden somebody walks in without an appointment. You look at him out of the corner of your eye and realize that this is not the time to see him, or he is not desirable now. You could say, “Don’t come in without an appointment—get out!” Then he won’t be going away happy. You are making an enemy. He might bang the door as he leaves and go outside and shout. If you reject a strong desire it won’t go away, but will wait for another opportunity to pounce on you when you are a bit weak. Don’t force it out.
If you know someone is there, don’t even look at him. Seem to be very busy—deeply, deeply interested in something. Even when he says, “Sir?” You do not seem to hear him. You are very busy. Get even more involved in your conversation. He will wait some time, then say, “I see. He seems to be very busy. I will come another time.” Then he will walk out.
On the other hand, if he’s persistently waiting for your attention—even beyond your patience—then turn to him, “Yes, sir, what can I do for you?” Analyze the desire. If you can’t do what he wants right away, tell him. “Yes I will certainly do that, but not just now. Come again another time.” By analyzing it, you can either dispose of the desire or settle the matter quickly. Suppose you are meditating and you feel the desire to eat or to go the movies, which you can’t ignore. Then face it: “All right, you want to take me to the movies. How many films have you seen lately? With what benefit? What’s new today? Will this be greater benefit than that from meditation?” Analyze, argue and educate the desire itself. “Well, I see the benefit from the film is not so great,” it will say. “Then why can’t you wait? I will certainly oblige you sometime later, maybe tomorrow.” Don’t always be so adamant. It’s necessary to give in a little now and then; but you can’t give in for just any and everything. Be gentle with yourself and give in on occasion to your desire.
It’s like giving in to a little coffee once in a while. I usually advise people not to drink coffee and tea because of the stimulant in them. But if someone feels a coffee desire in the morning, he can still have a little. “You want coffee? All right, I’ll give you some.” The mind is satisfied it had coffee.
Treat your mind like somebody who is a little naughty and wants this and that. Use your intelligence. Educate your mind; argue with it, don’t just give in to everything. These tricks are very useful in training the mind.
As you continue your practice you will experience different degrees of accomplishment. In Hindu scriptures, the Lord says, “Fix your mind on Me alone. Let your thoughts dwell on Me. You will hereafter live in Me alone.” That’s perfect Yoga and the highest form of worship. If you’re not yet able to fix your mind one– pointed on God, then when the mind wavers bring it back again and again to Him. This is the next best practice —concentration—that leads to steady meditation. If you’re not able to practice this, just keep doing things, but while doing them, say, “I’m doing them for you Lord.” When you get the results, at least give a little to Him.
If you can’t sit and meditate, don’t despair. Get up and do something. It’s like trying to sleep when you can’t seem to fall asleep naturally. Don’t just roll around in bed. Get up and do something until you feel sleepy. Then when you go to bed you’ll sleep easily. Not everybody is interested in sitting and editating. Many active people can’t do it. That’s all right. There’s still a meditation for them. It’s called Karma Yoga, meditation in action. Even when you’re physically doing something, you can be meditating. After all, what is meditation but focusing your entire mind on what you are doing. If you think of your friend or your business when you wash a dish, the dish can’t be washed clean. You might leave a spot on it. So, doing one thing at a time and doing it well is a form of meditation.
Sitting is a mental meditation. You allow the body to relax while you sit and do everything with the mind. Sit quietly; focus the mind on the object you have chosen, or just repeat a mantra; do nothing else; forget everything. To hear the inner sound, close your ears, eyes and mouth and listen to the sound of life within. Don’t open your eyes, but try to feel something vibrating within you. You don’t need to do anything. Instead, be completely still and watch what’s happening within. You’ll enjoy that. You may combine repeating the mantra with the breath in any way that is comfortable, either splitting the mantra sounds on the incoming and outgoing breath, or doing one repetition with the inhalations and another with the exhalations. If you watch carefully, you can feel the breath saying the mantra. Then you can stop repeating it and just listen for that. This needs the complete attention of an indrawn mind.
As the breath comes in, feel it go deep to strike at the base of the spine. Then as it comes out, feel it roll upward through the spine to the crown of the head. Don’t feel the breath flowing out the nostrils. In the beginning it might be difficult to follow the breath up and down the spine; you may only just feel it coming in and out of the body. But after a few months’ practice, you will be able to follow the breath along the spine. As your meditation gets deeper you can feel the breath and energy moving upward to strike at the top of the head. If you carefully observe the path along
the spine, you will be able to feel a very mild heat or gentle warmth; which is very pleasant. Try not to miss that. Once you feel it, put your entire attention on it.
The purpose of following the breath is to become conscious of the psychic energy traveling along the spine, passing through the chakras or spiritual centers. These nerve plexuses located along the spinal column can be used as a focus for your mental gaze during meditation. However, it’s inadvisable to keep the mind focused on the lower chakras. If you become aware of warmth there, feel it but don’t allow the mind to become fixed there. Bring the mind to one of the higher centers, such as the heart or eyebrow center. Draw the energy upward.
All the psychic nerve centers meet at a place between the eyebrows—not outside, but deep within, almost at the central part of the skull; to be precise, at the location of your pineal and pituitary glands, which are called Siva and Shakti in Yogic symbolism. They have the bull as a vehicle; the thyroid gland. Siva rides the bull, so we say he is the Commander-in-Chief, since the thyroid commands the whole system. It is a replica of the whole body itself. You may choose to focus your meditation either in the loving heart center or at the central tower between the brows, which is the location of the holy of holies or sancta sanctorum.
Sometimes in meditation you may hear a subtle humming sound. But when you try to hear it better, it disappears. It’s like a lover, if you see her, she won’t see you. But if you keep on doing something, she will look at you. When you hear that hum, that’s the sign of true love. The sound of the God in you loves you when you are not aware of it. It’s not that you shouldn’t be aware, but the moment you become aware you become a little excited or frightened and disturb the serenity out of which the hum is generated. It’s like seeing your face reflected in a large basin of water. If there is excitement or anxiety there is disturbance. As it happens you won’t be excited or anxious to have more, both of which disturb the mind. So, know what might happen in meditation. When it happens you won’t be excited or anxious to have more, both of which disturb the mind.
You may wonder, is this the cosmic sound I am hearing? Even if it’s your imagination, there’s no harm in that. Even if it’s an illusion, it’s better than other illusions. You are not imagining a demon, but something nice. It’s good to imagine something nice. Ultimately, you become what you imagine. Until you actually see or hear something, you have to begin with imagination. Later it will come by itself—maybe a little different than you imagined it. Don’t think these experiences are illusions.
To come out of meditation, slowly increase the duration of your inhalation and exhalation. Make the breath longer. Feel the air flowing out through your nostrils. Inhale and exhale deeply a few times.
(Sri Swami Satchidananda, from the February, 2005 IYTA Newsletter)