Wednesday, 10 August 2022

What is Progress in Meditation?

The question is often asked, sometimes expressed, sometimes just thought about: I've been practising meditation for x number of years and nothing really seems to have changed. It may not actually be a question but it sure sounds like one.

First of all, what is it that's supposed to change? Maybe we have either been having the wrong expectation or looking in the wrong place. Meditation and spiritual progress are easily misunderstood, and no matter how much we know we shouldn’t have expectations, still we have them, and expectation muddies what should be clear water. 

Then how do you clear muddy water? Don’t touch it, don’t meddle, leave it alone and it will settle; try to settle it and it will stir it up all the more.

Intent and Expectation are not the same

Well first, do we even know why we practice meditation? Because there has to be a clear distinction between intent and expectation. Consider this: Meditation is not about self improvement, it's about self awareness. Of course there is self-improvement but not necessarily of the sort that we expect when we start out.

Intent is about having a purpose, an aim, a goal, a resolution - called a sankalpa. Having an aim is a positive intent, it galvanises and inspires. And it causes a focus on a sense of direction and therefore minimises distractions away from that sense of purpose. 

But an aim does not automatically confer an outcome. The aim makes sense and is do-able, but it takes time and effort, that’s why its called an aim. So have an aim, be inspired and make the effort, but have no expectation of the timing or the eventual outcome. 

A still small voice?

Meditation is about the inner life. We are much wiser in our inner life, but do we even have access, or hear, let alone listen to the still small voice within? Not really, and if we do, we soon take it to conscious thought, and then often find it unacceptable and reason it away. If this happens, and it happens a lot, we become a house divided - between our inner knowing self and our outer expectations. 

How can progress be made if we don't know how to hear our own inner self? Meditation is about discovering, hearing, listening to and trusting (in that order) the genuine inner voice. Then the question of intent and outcome resolve into one another. 

The right practice for the intent?

Then there is an essential but often overlooked question: Is the meditation practice the right one for the original intent? Because different meditation philosophies and practices have different outcomes. 

Without going into detail and just as examples, a meditation practice with a strong emphasis on focus will improve concentration, but it may have little effect on awakening compassion. And a practice of self inquiry into discovering and overcoming negative qualities to eventually arrive at a more positive outlook may not have much of an effect on concentration and focused attention.

For more on this, please refer to the book The Science of Meditation by Daniel Goleman and Richard J Davidson, citing clinical studies at the highest level  

Is there a right way to practice beyond the technique?

Then, even allowing for expectations - a hoped for outcome - have we even been going about the practice of meditation in the right way to achieve that hoped for outcome? 

To put it straight, just to sit and recite a mantra by rote even on a regular basis may not actually change much without other qualities awakening concurrently. 

For genuine change to occur, what needs to happen in all meditation practice is the concurrent awakening of self-awareness - the ability to be a clear-eyed observer of my own experience, viewing all things equally without analysis or judgment, in the same clear light. 

This is not so easy, and it takes time and diligent practice, experiment and trial and error, to align the vision accurately. But if the vision does align accurately then the motivating force - the cause behind the effect that leaves a mess of memories and impressions in the mind, pain in the heart - that motivating force may eventually reveal itself and in so doing neutralise the limiting effect. 

What is not known from within has power over us, what comes to be known by continued accurate vision must eventually relinquish that power. 

And so it’s true you cannot release what you don’t know

Including an awakening awareness in any practice is the clearest way to quieting the noisy brass band in the mind and the accompanying rhythm section in the heart. To be able eventually to hear, at first a hint, then occasionally, then intermittently, then who knows… the sweet soft melody of the innate wisdom within. All else is just fooling ourselves.

And three signs of change as a result of meditation practice

Desires generally get less and the strong desires gradually weaken their hold.

The ability to move more and more easily between the outer and inner worlds so that there is a sense of the two connecting up, with less of differences between the two.

It’s not that there are no emotional peaks and troughs, but the speed of recovery from them increases with a spontaneous return to equilibrium.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

The Need of Awareness in Strange Times

If you go into a room and the door is locked from outside 
it’s called a prison. 
If you go into a room and you lock the door from inside 
it’s called solitude. 
So what have we got here?
It goes without saying that we are facing unique circumstances worldwide. There is no-one anywhere not affected by it. And it’s early days yet. Early days to tell what is going to happen over the next few days, weeks, months, years. But also early days to tell what kind of effect this is going to have on each one of us. This is a very substantial game changer in every way.
I’m assuming that those of you who come to this blog have an interest in the value of the inner life which is at least equal to what we can achieve in outer life. Because although of course there is substantial change in our day to day life the change is potentially going to be even greater in our inner life. Let me explain.
The catalyst
There is a growing suspicion, an unease, a hidden current of thought, a stifled cry of pain, that life as we know it has been becoming more and more unsatisfactory. In yogic terms the equilibrium necessary for life to flourish is getting increasingly out of balance. It doesn’t need spelling out here, the evidence is all around us, and it’s been becoming increasingly clear that it could not go on like it has.
Nature is equilibrium! Nature does not tolerate imbalance from within. Nature is the arbiter. It is the external manifestation of the Divine. Nature is the universe; the sun, moon and stars; the mountains and oceans and forests and deserts; New York, Beijing, London and Sydney; art, music, writing and acting; Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, the dear president of the United States, and of course you and me, and our pets, etc etc etc... and this virus. Nature is everything. 
And everything is divine, even if that is hard for us to see right now. Because we can only view Nature through our own eyes and with our own understanding, which is human and limited. Next to the Divine we have to accept that as true, unless we too consider ourselves divine. And of course the Divine and Nature do not ‘think’ with a human mind, like us. Nature is mysterious, inscrutable, ineffable. But one thing is for sure, Nature does not for long tolerate imbalance. Yoga calls the rectification of imbalance karma. But that’s another matter.

Existential questions

The virus is nature, absolutely neutral, which is why everyone is affected. It’s not subject to race, colour, country, sex, religion, culture or beliefs. The virus is lethal, but not excessively so, but still, enough to throw every mind back on itself virtually forcing a deeper look into places we might not have been to for a long time, if ever. 
It has brought existential questions from a long way back in our consciousness to front and centre, predicated on the one fundamental, Am I going to die; are those I love going to die? Not consciously maybe, but that is the undercurrent that no-one can deny except out of a kind of wilful self delusion. Agree or not, it still says it’s time to face these things: What is my life worth? What have I done? What do I do now? 
The challenge
Then there are the necessary requirements to combat the virus. In a few words: separation, isolation, aloneness, loneliness, boredom; as well as challenge, opportunity (see the first lines of this piece), a kind of fruition. Many are now faced with time to ourselves, with ourselves, like never, that is never, before. What to do?
First of all let’s assume that there’s only so much TV, streaming, online surfing or chit chat one can take. There are two obvious ways, which can also be combined. 
The first is to operate profitably in the external life, however limited it becomes. Most essential: have a purpose - having a real life purpose is essential to a life of satisfaction - and it doesn’t really matter if it is significant, like actually working from home, or seemingly unimportant, so long as it is meaningful to you and you can lose yourself in it. Keep the conscious mind well occupied and it will not miss what boredom would say it’s missing.
Exercise well. Find a way to use up excess energy by channeling it through the body, somehow. Be inventive and make yourself do it if you have to, because the rewards easily outweigh and outlast the effort by nautical miles. And of course this is the time when yoga asanas and pranayama really come into their own.
Then we come to what this is really about, and the theme that runs through this blog, summarised by its title Power of Awareness. I’m not going to spell out the fundamentals, but here are other posts if you want to read them:
The essentials 
With the catalyst of the underlying anxiety of a world gone wrong in general and this virus in particular, and then the ‘forced’ isolation, more unexpected or unusual thoughts during the day, and dreams at night, will almost certainly come into mind, eventually. You receive into conscious recognition thoughts, impressions, memories from deeper within, with their associated emotional baggage. Even so they are there for a purpose. Every memory is stored with the best intention, to be useful - this worked once so store it away, it might be useful again… 
Then long after their usefulness, they can get catalysed, like now, to return in a quiet moment to reaffirm their usefulness. You may get pleasant thoughts and memories, you may get unpleasant even horrible thoughts and memories, but they can all be accepted and treated equally, they are part of Nature and Nature does not judge. 
The actual power of awareness is the act of impartial self observation so that the imbalance of stored impressions are managed by observation, not by either indulging in them, or suppressing or rejecting them out of hand - both strong temptations, both to be avoided.
So in your private space view all reactions equally, without hesitation. Be anxious, be overconfident, be suspicious, be paranoid, whatever it is, feel it fully without restraint. But above all be an observer of it at the same time. And then you'll find that what is seen, experienced and acknowledged in this way is understood more fully, and by that knowledge these things lose their power to influence, and the greater truth that lies behind is eventually revealed. It’s done by facing yourself, accurately.
This may sound counterintuitive. But you set up an inner environment where whatever comes can be thought, fully; felt, fully; relived, fully, but without claiming them as my own. In this way think of anything as being in me but not who I am. Because in the bigger picture all impressions are temporary no matter how firmly fixed they appear to be. And when the awareness lines up accurately, the proof of that is seen by the observer itself, which is you - you are nearer to yourself as the observer than as an experiencer, even as both are fully present
This turnaround from identifying with all these things to viewing every experience as an observer is the active power of awareness. All that needs to be added is: it takes time, practice, patience, and putting up with myself, exactly as I am, for some time, maybe a long time. Or, although it's accurate, we end up 'proving' to ourselves it isn't. There never has been and never will be a short cut to self knowledge. So in this game the only failure is not responding to what you have realised to be inaccurate thinking. 
Change is now
The upshot is, if we can make profitable use of this time to investigate our inner nature, to face and know myself more fully, then when we return to a more balanced status quo we will see things in a different perhaps wiser way, by understanding more deeply what a loss of balance is, and how everything is included in maintaining that balance, both individually and universally.
Maybe you know all this, but reminders are necessary, particularly now, and just remembering is a substantial part of awareness. Because there's a significant difference between an intellectual understanding and putting it into practice. 
There’s no doubt we have to readjust the way of thinking that has brought us to the present state of society worldwide. Consciousness has to be raised first before substantial change can happen. Occasionally we have the choice to face the opportunity, or shirk the responsibility. This current situation is reminding us that we are all one in some fundamental way, as well as recognising we are all unique and inevitable in our own individual way. So are we in prison or in solitude? It’s just a way of thinking.
I’m a hesitant promoter (not because of any lack of vanity)  but because times have changed, what is in this blog is going to appear more relevant and therefore be more accessible than before. This is ancient wisdom which I’m just passing on, and you can do the same by passing on this link to anyone you think might profit from it. 

I don't know about the accuracy of the science, but the signifier of the the times is that my wearing a mask does more to protect you from me than it does to protect me from you. In a word selflessness...

Stay safe and may we see the Divine in Nature, even in those places we least expect

Friday, 25 September 2020

Waves and the Ocean

Waves are the things that happen, from the smallest thought to world-changing events. The shit that happens.

The Ocean is the Big Picture, the unity that is partly seen, or occasionally glimpsed. It is  the mystery that cannot be explained. The substratum of consciousness.

There is the ocean. And there are waves on the ocean. If you see only the waves they are as we usually see the events of life. There is randomness and coincidence and an apparent capriciousness in how things happen. We may think about it and take it personally. There are times and places, some to be sought out and some avoided. We dodge and weave to avoid impact and seek out sheltered places. And possibly end up blaming god for his all-too-human careless nature.

But if you also include the ocean where the waves play on the surface, the waves themselves would look exactly the same but their impact and influence would be perceived differently. The waves do have their significance, but they are limited in perception to place and time. They come, they happen, they go. Storms and calm are a part of the weather cycle to be dealt with, or not, or accepted, or not. 

Riding the waves

There is a certain inevitability; an acceptance of experience to be had. Not being influenced beyond a certain point by the randomness of the waves and seeking out the inscrutability of the ocean is the learning, and there the wisdom is found. 

Wisdom is not in the actual riding of the waves, no matter how magnificently we do it; but it is in riding the waves a certain way that we begin to see better the waves as part of the ocean. Riding the waves is incidental to the knowledge of the ocean on which the waves take place.

We experience the waves, liking and disliking as they come and go, but there is also some deeper understanding, which goes beyond endurance and desire, to wisdom acquired through ongoing wave-like experience. 

The breath of air far away may have caused the storm; our place too apparently coincidental in the thick of it. No matter how the waves themselves might shape up, instead of accidents of nature and timing they are part of the uniqueness of the ocean, just as our experience in the same scheme of things is too. 

Discovering purpose in randomness

We may accept this, in part, when we read about it, consider it philosophically and think about it. But when the waves are bigger, wilder, more unpredictable than ever before we have been able to deal with, then we lose balance and get tossed and thrown. And our philosophical viewpoint is also tossed and thrown out. But the actual experience of riding the waves can eventually bring us to the real knowledge. It depends on the point of view.

Every wave, every experience, is an opportunity to discover more the connection between wave and ocean, through mastering the art of riding the waves. The inevitability of waves is not random fate, even if it may seem so. But more even than just dealing with things we don’t understand, there is a purpose outlined in this existence for every participant in creation. To realise that purpose and put it into conscious practice is the goal of life. That’s what we’re here for. 

Thoughts, hopes and actions of the individual will not suddenly change - even good people  make bad decisions - but the end purpose of living will be found if the waves of individual nature are accepted and understood in relation to the ocean of consciousness. To reject it out of hand - usually as a result of the strength of the storm - is actually to lose sight of the purpose. 

Waves without an ocean?

And that What-about-life question is also one of the waves; one that tries to define the ocean itself. It is an essential question, usually overlooked until that particular wave comes along. Even when ocean, consciousness or god, are rejected or neglected, the question about the vacuum that exists when you know there is nothing of permanence is the point of departure on this particular road of discovery: 

That waves arise out of the ocean and return to the ocean; that waves of every type and description are a part of the ocean and do not exist separately from the ocean; and that no matter how we arrange ourselves to accommodate it nothing changes the truth of that.

Once the goal, one’s personal aim in life, is known then the voyage begins. Waves will never stop. But if the measure and the movement is in keeping with the personal aim, the waves of the world and the waves of the mind will be understood and dealt with differently than before. There will be knowledge of when to advance, when to retreat; when to speak out and when to be silent; when to move and when to be still. 

We make mistakes, many mistakes, continually. We hear our own advice and don't heed it; we take wrong turnings and go off track - sometimes even as we do it we know it. That’s part of the deal, it's how we learn, so we travel on. Forgive yourself; forgive others. We have seen the chart. We have a compass. There is something to trust somewhere, a star to steer by. But most of all, in going forward where we are sure we must go - dealing with the random and surprising events of life as they turn up - the awareness of the all-embracing nature of the ocean is surely, gradually going to become clearer.

Life is a meditation - meditation is life

This is the real purpose of meditation. We may have the breath to fall back on; we may have powerful practices that awaken the energy; we may have the magic of mantra that dispels the darkness; we may have faith in external objects, people or forces that strengthen our practice. 

But make no mistake, however we go about it, meditation will eventually bring us to see and confront all the waves in the mind in due course. But undeceived by thought about it. So that instead of waves causing attention to be wholly distracted by the ever-changing storm or calm, we may instead catch a glimpse, a glimmer of the vastness of the ocean. 

If that happens, it will have been worth it to pursue it, what you had to do for it. So there remains the choice to do it that way or have life come and get you for the same purpose? Well, it does anyway, but that’s another matter.

For a short story on the same theme, if you haven’t already, please go to Life's Purpose

Sunday, 30 August 2020


Spiritual Interpretations of Beatles songs

In an interview Paul McCartney was once asked, 'What would you say was the lasting meaning of the Beatles?' Without hesitation he replied, 'All you need is love'. There was a long pause, like he’d caught everyone off guard… Then he said, 'Shall I elaborate?' He said something like: It goes in and out of style, but you keep coming back to it. There are many things in life that are needed in a tough world, but everyone is searching for love. 'And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make'. Which is the way it oughta be...

I always heard something more in the Beatles' songs than just the individual meaning on the surface. They were always open in their music to surprise themselves and catch the meaning later. Like that they kind of channelled something mysterious, something wonderful and enduring, because it resonated with some kind of truth. I think more than anything tangible, that was what lay behind their universal appeal. Their songs were my Upanishads (spiritual teachings) as I grew up.

Hope you find these interpretations of some of their songs interesting. Have another listen.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps - The White Album

Everyone must look around sometimes and wonder why is it like this? - does it have to be this way!? It may appear a matter of wishful thinking or idealism, but at any one moment there is so much that could be done for the benefit of others, which would be so simple, and would be such an improvement all round, oneself included. It is not a matter of equality, but of just sufficient compassion and concern that extends beyond one’s own individual cares and needs that take up most of our attention.

From the spiritual point of view, it is a scientific truth that the thought, care and actions of a person who sincerely aims to benefit and help others serve also to help release the tensions and negativity that are in us and around us. Be positive, look for the good in others, find the best in yourself.

Strawberry Fields Forever - Magical Mystery Tour

Nothing is real! So what is Strawberry Fields? In the Bhagavad Gita there is a chapter known as “The Field and the Knower of the Field”. The Field is the playing field of life if you like, and the Knower of the Field is the state of being able to view all that is happening, lightly as it were, as an observer, as if in a game, a play, not quite real - 'You know I know that it’s a dream’. The uncertainty of the verses expresses the position most of us find ourselves in of being aware of the state of affairs but not sure how to play, or how much of a game it really is.

Let It Be

It’s all in the title of course. In its fuller expression it would be: Let It Be As It Is. There is a term in yoga known as Ishwara Pranidhana. It means that - whether a believer in god or not, it’s not important – there is at least a perception of an intelligence, a consciousness, a power operating in nature, in the universe, in us too, which is beyond the capacity of the individual mind to comprehend. But the capacity to accept that the intelligence of that consciousness is there, that there is a higher purpose and so, let it be.

It’s amazing really that the human mind thinks it’s equal to understanding all the forces in the universe; to be qualified to judge unequivocally what is good or bad, what is right or wrong. Everyone must surely feel the need to surrender to something; or is this mind the highest intelligence of all? And which is the better proposition?

Rain - Past Masters

A statement of the truth that the vision of all things can be seen equally. By observing the two polarities of rain and sun, and accepting they are equal in purpose and experience, change is 'just a state of mind' because in the end 'everything’s the same' - the transcendence of duality concisely put. Of course, this is difficult to live by, but hearing words of wisdom leaves a resonant message that these things are worthy of intent.

Blackbird - The White Album

Very often it is not the aim or the direction that is lacking but the means that are missing. It’s a mistake to want the gratification of arrival without having the trouble of making the journey. In order to fly, the broken wings have to be mended; in order to have the vision you have to have the eyes to see. Patience is needed. A journey takes time; it can take a long time, but with continuity of purpose not a step is wasted, and there will inevitably come a time when this becomes clear.

Tomorrow Never Knows - Revolver

Taken indirectly, and loosely, from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, these verses are like shards of light giving paradoxical glimpses of reality. Spiritual thought often appears contradictory. This is because appropriate teaching varies according to the different levels of understanding at different times. Advanced teaching may appear counter-intuitive but is often on a level which is beyond the mind that at an earlier stage would not rightly be understood. At the same time, to an open mind, verses such as these have the effect of breaking the intellectual hold by their paradoxical nature.

Long Long Long - The White Album

The implication of this is one of coming home. After a long long long time, finally an important connection is made and there is release and an end to uncertainty. This is often the experience of recognizing a teaching or a teacher perhaps for the first time, perhaps after many years of searching either knowingly or unknowingly. And actually it is at this stage that the journey really gets under way; because no map or guide, no journey.

Here There and Everywhere - Revolver

The title and the dynamic it invokes transcend this as being only a girl/boy love song. Anyway does anyone know a boy/girl relationship that unconditionally fulfils these conditions not just for some time, but indefinitely? The title evokes the quality of bhakti which is a state of devotion to something you feel to be divine.

Bhava is the feeling of a direct relationship with that divine quality in a particular way, making it personal and therefore accessible. Traditionally these are the divine as a master, as mother or father, as a friend, as a child, even as an enemy. But the most intense and sweetest - and the most difficult – is as a lover, where the intensity of the love for the divine is as one feels for a beloved, which works the other way round also: the beloved as divine. And that’s not new in popular song - Venus in Blue Jeans - it can be highly elevated. It all depends how you look at it.

Come Together - Abbey Road

The verses, without ever once being specific or attempting to nail it down, reflect the diversity and contradictions, often senseless, of living only in a material world. It is somehow subversive and upbeat at the same time. It is literally meaningless but we seem to sense what it means - 'One thing I can tell you is you got to be free'. This is not a political statement, but something more transcendental. Then the chorus comes, which says effectively all this diversity is brought to one point and transcended. The Me, as in “over me” is the point, not separate from oneself, where duality ends and there are no contradictions left.

Eleanor Rigby - Revolver

Loneliness and fear go together. Here in the people mentioned there is loneliness because there is fear; and it is there in the chorus, which seems to imply everybody. The loneliness is a product of the contraction of the individual nature to the point where there is no longer any genuine connection - with people, the environment and life, and inevitably oneself. It is the more sad because people don’t realize how lonely they are, not knowing any alternative - 'I think I’ll jump in the Mersey, but it looks like rain.’ Everything that takes place is some form of escape from reality - she ‘lives in a dream’. Even death is mistaken as an entry into greater loneliness rather than a release from it. A beautiful but very sad song.

Nowhere Man - Rubber Soul

Nowhere Man is a song that accurately and honestly reflects the ‘lostness’ of self-delusion. A spiritual path often begins from a state of disillusionment and frustration - the realization of all this effort, seemingly going nowhere. In the Bhagavad Gita the first chapter is known as the yoga of despondency, and it is only when we’re up against it that the essential questions get to be asked. Like now?

A spiritual path is not passive, it needs real effort. But it is not the kind of effort we are usually accustomed to, more one of intent, of earnestness of purpose, of sincerity and consistency, along with the ability to let things develop as they must, in their own time – a sort of effortless effort.

And Your Bird Can Sing - Revolver

Everyone is conducting a lifelong experiment called The Search for Happiness, enduring happiness. You may try many directions, or one direction for a long time, and think, Ah now 'your bird can sing'. But without including one other essential quality all effort will continue indefinitely. How do we interpret that one thing - the Me in the song as in, You don’t get Me? 'When your prize possessions start to wear you down', only then the search begins to look in My direction. The wise have always spoken of a Something Within, something beyond just the pleasures of the body, the articulation of the mind. It has many names - Atman is one that does not exist as a definition. It’s only by including that essential quality within us as part of the equation that enduring can happiness ever be found. It's always calling, but quietly...

Because - Abbey Road



All You Need is Love Magical Mystery Tour (of Life)