I was in this discussion group about spiritual books, led by Rose, a yoga teacher, whom I believe was once a student of the famous and venerable Swami Rama. Most of the eight or so people attending (in an actual room, not on-line) are yoga teachers or students. Rose does a guided meditation for the first fifteen minutes or so before we start talking about topics in the book we're on. This group meets every other Monday evening. This was my second time attending. The book was Light on the Path/Through the Gates of Gold, written (down) by Mabel Collins, around 1885. The Victorian prose was pretty dense, and in some places hard to grasp. I resisted its meager charms at first, but have found many nuggets of very clearly-stated truths within its pages.
Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed the guided meditation. The discussion started out covering a chapter on the topic of Karma. We talked a little bit about how those of us who are "on the path," so to speak, become conscious of the karmic nature of our actions. We become aware that there are consequences to our actions that can come back on us. The further along in spiritual development we are, the quicker it may hit us ("instant karma"). But as we progess and learn, we gradually lose our focus on consequences (rewards or punishments) to ourselves, and begin to act out of kindness or compassion toward others in a natural way, and without attachment to the fruits of our actions. I called it the consciousness of virtue, behaving in a virtuous way, not because we are afraid not to, but because we have learned to see what is needed for a good outcome, not for ourselves, but for the life-forms around us, whether people, animals, plants, or the Earth itself.
The next section was about the Pursuit of Pleasure, how it is in our nature to seek sensation. The book was saying that if not for pleasure-seeking or the need for sensation, we might not even bother to breathe. It's fairly standard stuff to say that the pursuit of pleasure motivates us, and that pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin; as much pleasure as we seek and experience, we will receive an equal measure of pain or suffering. As we try to repeat or duplicate some pleasure, we don't enjoy it as much as we did the first time, and we become disappointed. It may drive us to pursue other, more exotic or extreme forms of pleasure.
On the other hand, as a spiritual aspirant, a yogi must learn to relinquish pleasure-seeking behaviors, to become detached, to attain a desireless state. That's a difficult lesson for most of us, and a hard road. It is not an all-or-nothing, once-and-for-all type of endeavor. It cannot be accomplished in some final way, by a decision or an act of sheer will. Fighting with ourselves about our desires, trying to suppress our wants and needs, doesn't really work. The swamis teach that we simply have to understand that our myriad desires are illusions, holding our attention in the illusory world. Desires we cannot obtain give us unhappiness and frustration; desires we do obtain will ultimately disappoint us, and have karmic after-effects, as well.
I talked a little bit about how I have been dealing with some things I wanted in my life that I had to let go of. It's been challenging and painful. Did I need those things to be there to sustain my life? No. Did I have to have them (love, money, recognition) in order to be happy? I used to think so. But what is happiness of that kind based on? I've been going through a process of surrendering those desires, and part of that is to swallow the bitter fruit of my disappointment with myself and my life. I bought that bitter fruit with desire and ego-needs. So I cry my bucket of self-pity tears for what I couldn't have and never acquired or accomplished. Then I saw that my self-pity was an old, unwanted, family heirloom; it was fifty-year-old pain I didn't want any more.
Letting go of deeply-felt desires and emotional needs is a long-term project. Some days will be better than others; some days, the desires and needs will gnaw at my guts, and some days, I will feel free of them. It is not a wholesale change, now-and-forever. But it is a shift in consciousness. Every day, I have the chance to find myself liberated by the only mechanism that works: meditation-awareness, my self-sustaining ajapa-japa, the breath mantra, and the awareness of pranayama in my body. It's so abundantly clear, it's so easily available to me. And it is that mindfulness, staying in the living moment, in my heart chakra, riding the waves of breath, that carries me, that can give me peace, that can make me feel loved, that brings me into a deep serenity where I can feel supremely satisfied.
In the group, there was some discussion about how it's a struggle to maintain focus during meditation, that everyone finds it hard. And spoiler that I often seem to be, I said that I didn't find meditation difficult at all. It only takes me a few breaths and I can get really deep, because I have a very effective technique (the Soaham Sadhana), and because I love the way it feels. That serenity has a sweetness to it that is so pleasurable to me.
The question was, is finding more and more pleasure in meditation a good thing? Didn't the swamis say to trade the thousand desires for the one? I've experienced so many great pleasures in my life, had what can be called "peak experiences," both sensual and spiritual. I've also suffered greatly at times, terrible pain, terrible fear, terrible regret and disappointment and loss. I know that my soul had to have those experiences, and that I was changed by them, guided by them, instructed by them. At this stage in my life, I can seriously say I've had enough of them. It's so liberating to stop asking the world for the satisfaction I now understand it can never really give me.
Is desiring the elixir of serenity, the joy and the feeling of love that arises in meditation, somehow counter-productive to the commandments of asceticism? Honestly, I never took the vow to become an ascetic. I am not a sadhu, nor a nihilist. All that self-denial is unnecessary, in my view. I'm doing what I want to do. I gain satisfaction from that which gives me pleasure. More and more, it is the Yoga-Consciousness, the flow of Prana, the sat-chit-ananda, that I seek to be immersed in. And it makes me happy, when nothing else does.
There is a dynamic of being engaged with the world. As we interact with people, situations and events, the mind deals with the discrepancy between our perceptions of how things are versus how they should be. That creates "work." The food is not cooked, but we need to eat, so we cook the food. The food was good, but now the dishes are dirty, and we have to wash them and put them away. I have to go here, I have to go there, I have to do this and that and the other thing. Why? Because there is a discrepancy between the way things are and the way they should be.
For those aspiring yogis or meditators who struggle, who talk about how hard it is to maintain focus, I want to ask, why do you bring the consciousness of discrepancy with you into meditation? The point of meditating (or one of them, at least) is to go into that room inside oneself and leave the outside world outside. You are not engaging people, events or situations with discrepancies that require your action to resolve them. You are meditating to find your center, to become one with the One. All you have to do is do nothing! When your mind wanders, let it wander off. You don't have to follow it! Your breathing and your mantra, stillness and silence are all present with you, they are where you are. There are spaces between thoughts when you can hear silence. You can keep dipping your awareness into them by the power of breath, and the whisper of mantra.
Self-realization/spiritual-realization/God-realization are not attained by struggle, by fighting a battle with yourself or anyone else. You are an aspirant, or a yogi, or an enlightened one, because the Universe desired it for you, and you desired it for yourself. It is the same desire, by the same being, the ultimate, true Self. That is not the kind of desire we know of in the world. It has no karma, it has no bitter fruit or consequence of suffering.
I don't mean to belittle anyone who struggles with meditation, when the mind wants to pull you out of meditation so it can go resolve some discrepancies in your engagement with the world. (How can I sit here doing nothing but breathing, trying to stop thinking, when there are so many issues, so much work to be done, so many problems? So much to think about!) It takes time and patience and perseverance and lots of practice, but with a good teacher, and the use of a good method, over time, meditation becomes smoother, easier, and quieter. Soon you learn to enjoy it; then you find that you crave it. It refreshes more than sleep, yet it awakens you in ways not yet imaginable.
PEACE and BLESSINGS,