Q: What is the ultimate destination of meditation, how will experiences evolve along the way, and how long will it take to complete the journey?
A: The ultimate destination is enlightenment. What is enlightenment? A state of balanced union between our two natures: pure bliss consciousness, and our sensory involvement on this physical earth. That is the definition of yoga, and the destination of all religion.
The evolution of experiences is a complex and personal journey, but has a certain pattern to it. There are three identifiable stages:
First comes the rise of silence from regular meditation. It is also experienced as an increasingly steady state of peace, happiness and bliss. Most of all it is experienced as an inner stability that is not shaken by any outer experience. Inner silence is the foundation for further experiences that are facilitated by additional advanced yoga practices that awaken the silence of pure bliss consciousness to a dynamic state in our nervous system.
Second comes the rise of ecstatic experience in the body and surroundings. It comes from an awakening of the life force in the body and a gradual refinement of sensory perception. Through pranayama (breath control) and other means, meditation is enhanced so that the senses are opened in an inward direction, enabling us to perceive the ecstatic energies coursing within and around us. You could say that silence moves within us, and this creates a new and captivating kind of experience. During this stage, appreciation for the divine flow of life is naturally heightened, leading to increased desire to enter and merge with the deepening sensory experience. One surrenders to the process as it advances, and this accelerates it. The second stage is like falling into an endless abyss of ecstasy. We function in the world with increasing joy as our attention becomes absorbed in the ever-present living beauty moving beneath the surface of all things. For us, the boundaries are dissolving.
Third, as our attention comes to reside naturally in the omnipresent, undulating blissful silence in all things, we become that ever-present harmony. We find our own self to be the essence of all things. This is the experience of unity, union, enlightenment. The world does not disappear. It becomes transparent. Boundaries become like veils, thinly covering the essence of life, which we have come to know as an expression of our own nature. Can we still act in the world? Yes, but our motives are different than before when we could only see ourself as separate. We now act in the interest of a broader self. In doing so, we may seem to become selfless. The truth is that we always are acting for our own self-interest. But our self has become universal, so our interest is for the whole of humanity, and for the whole of life.
From the beginning of advanced yoga practices (and perhaps even before), we may experience shades of any of these three stages, depending on the dynamics of our unique purification process. We may experience elements of all three stages at the same time. Over time, we come to recognize the telltale experiences as mileposts on the way to enlightenment. There will be many more sub-mileposts discussed as we get into additional advanced yoga practices. The mileposts are useful to keep us going, to keep us inspired and regular in our daily practices. The mileposts are not so useful for proclaiming, "Today I am here along the road to enlightenment." Indeed, we may well be, but it will only be significant when we have gone past there and our experience has become permanent and unnoticed. When the experience becomes natural and normal it becomes real. It is life as we are meant to live it. The mileposts will be dissolved in the journey. Enlightenment, ultimately, is not so much about the mileposts. It is about enjoying becoming that which we always were.
If you made that trip to California we were talking about earlier, would you spend your time marveling about how you got there? Probably not. Much better to enjoy the beauty of California. However, it is useful to review the particulars of the long journey for the benefit of others. After all, everyone emanates from the same divine consciousness as we do, so we are naturally concerned that all should have a safe and speedy journey.
Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The truth is that all others are you. So this is not only good moral advice, it is good practical advice. Experientially, we come to know that others are our own self as our inner doors are opened to the divine realms within.
How long does the journey take? It depends mainly on us -- on our past actions that have produced the obstructions lodged deep in our nervous system, and on what we do from now on. We can't change the past. But we can do much in the present that will shape our future. No one else can make the choice but us. If we take up advanced yoga practices with sincere devotion, there will be a new direction in our life. Once we have committed ourselves unswervingly to the path, it is only a matter of time. Then we see it is not even so much about the final destination. It is about experiencing increasing joy each day, each month, and each year. This is a path of bliss, a path of pleasure, as we naturally unfold from within. Get on it and begin to enjoy the ride today. You will get to the end, bye and bye.
The guru is in you.