By Toshala Elliott
Meditation changes perspectives. That, at least, is one of the results I have derived from more than a couple of decades of close personal observation of my own meditation experiences. Not necessarily from the meditations themselves but from the gradual evolution of conscious understanding that has subtly changed the way one views things inwardly. (I hear you say…‘What?’) For instance, take infinity as an example – at school I was taught in mathematics that infinity is a stupendously large number that cannot possibly be imagined, but which may be used in mathematical calculations as a variable (∞) that may be multiplied, divided or subtracted. In essence:
∞ – ∞ = 0
There it is, in a nutshell: What Maths Taught Me. At the time this seemed rational and sensible, and enabled the minds of us teenaged students to comprehend infinity, pop it in a finite box, and use it at will. Even in casual conversation, if you wished.
Despite this education, for a long time the feeling has been growing in me that a philosophy that believes that infinity can be bounded by a hypothesis and used in mathematical equations is a limited one. One of the things that meditation enables one to understand is that the mind cannot fathom vastness, much less infinity. The universe itself is unable to be appraised by a mentality that requires boundaries and criteria to understand something. It can, however, be envisaged – and even felt – by the heart. The heart is the body’s seat of ancient peace and wisdom, this is where the soul resides, and where all the unknowable becomes clear… if you listen. And this is where the liberating understanding that infinity is a concept rather than a number, and is constantly transcending itself, springs from. In order to discuss infinity, the mind (and hence education) ascribes to it a substance, thereby pre-assuming finite parameters to infinity itself. However, this is a contradiction to infinity, which has neither substance nor
finite boundaries and which cannot therefore be ascribed the conventions of traditional arithmetic.
Sri Chinmoy summed it up nicely by saying, “When infinity is taken away from infinity, infinity remains,” which – it turns out – is an ancient philosophical concept from the Upanishads. Thus:
∞ – ∞ = ∞
Simply put: the philosophy of the heart that imposes no finite boundaries on infinity has an advanced understanding that infinity actually, really is……….infinite!
If you’re a nature lover, Auckland has some of the best outdoor places of any city in which to practise and enjoy your meditation. Nature’s silence and beauty lend themselves to quietening the mind and distancing ourselves from our everyday thoughts and activities, and there are some stunning places to explore. The purity, beauty, vastness and harmony we can enjoy meditating in these spectacular spots around Auckland can inspire us to rediscover our own natural balance and cultivate poise within ourselves.
With miles of beaches and cliffs looking out into the ocean, and almost 300 kms of forest trails in the close by Waitakeres, there are some very secluded spots to find your perfect place to sit, calm your body, clear your mind and bring to the fore the splendor and measureless expanse of your spiritual heart. Here are a few of the most inspiring places to meditate:
*Head west through Titirangi out to Whatipu beach, our most southerly beach before the Manukau harbour. Take a light trail pack and head north through the seemingly endless dunes and swamps towards Karekare – you’ll hardly see a soul. Find a warm spot in the dunes and just sit – no phones or gadgets! Just around the headland from the Whatipu carpark is a huge cave where the kauri loggers used to hold their dances – it’s signposted, well worth a visit and another great place to meditate.
* A beautiful walk can be found off Piha Road just before heading down the big hill into Piha township and beach – look for the Te Ahu Ahu road on your left, on into Log Jam Rd then park up and wander down the track that hugs the cliff edge. Great views of the ocean, the volcanic cliffs and Mercer Bay with its steep climb down to a very remote beach and a long sea cave carved out by aeons of tides. A track goes all the way down to the very beautiful KareKare beach, one of Auckland’s real treasures.
* If you head on down into Piha, take a right at the bottom of the hill into Glen Esk Road and park at the end carpark. Follow the track signs to Kitekite Falls, a 25 minute walk through regenerating native forest. There are lots of trails in this valley – if you’re adventurous and a little fit, take a light day pack and explore some of these and the rich history of the area. Once further up the track from the falls, you won’t encounter a soul!
* Best known of the Waitakere Ranges tracks is the well-groomed, all-weather Montana Heritage Trail and Auckland Walks. Get a topographical map and explore some of the many trails that depart from these and lead you into the deeper ranges – you’ll need trail shoes with decent grip soles in the muddier winter months but there are some wonderful experiences to be had.
The Sri Chinmoy Centre often has all year round weekend trips out west to introduce some of these wild places to nature lovers, meditators, fitness enthusiasts. If you’re interested in any of these free adventures do get in touch with us through our contact form or give Jogyata Dallas a call/text on 022 1887432.
Sri Chinmoy has written about meditating in nature in a book entitled A Galaxy of Beauty’s Stars:
“The best way to appreciate nature’s beauty is to sit and meditate with nature. If you take a tree as nature, then sit at the foot of a tree and meditate. If you take the sun as an expression of nature, then look at the sun and meditate. If you feel the ocean or sea as nature, then sit in front of the water and meditate. While looking at the tree or the sun or the ocean, try to feel your oneness with it. Anything that you consider as nature or nature’s beauty, you should try to become one with.
Again, if you want a particular thing from nature, you have to go to that thing. If you want to have vastness, then just go out of the house and look at the sky and you will enter into vastness. If you want to have a very vast, pure consciousness, then stand in front of a river and meditate on the river. And if you want to get height in your life, then go to a mountain and meditate there. So whatever you want, you have to stand in front of that particular thing and invoke it. You have to invoke the spirit of nature or become one with the soul of nature. That is the best kind of identification.”
The following interview is reprinted with the kind permission of the IndiaNZ Outlook newspaper.
In June, 2012 the United Nations General Assembly, acknowledging a worldwide concern at rising levels of stress and declining mental health, dedicated every March 20th as the International Day of Happiness, an occasion now celebrated throughout the world in a global effort to promote a happier human society.
Remedies and happiness formulae are remarkably diverse and range from material ambitions to the quaint Chinese proverb: “If you want happiness for an hour – take a nap. If you want happiness for a day – go fishing. If you want happiness for a month – get married. If you want happiness for a year – inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime – help someone else.”
Contributing writer Jogyata Dallas interviews recently interviewed top Kiwi trail runner and super-fit ultramarathoner Vajin Armstrong, whose happiness formula is a mix of meditation and mountain trails, inner calm and the soothing beauty of landscape. Vajin is the owner of Gandharva Loka, a store selling unusual musical instruments from all over the world.
Viewpoint:So what is happiness to you – you seem to have a very simple life?
Vajin:Well, I’m very blessed to live a life close to the gifts I have been given. Happiness for most of us is usually very dependent on external things like health, job satisfaction, the other people in our lives, income and so forth, and these are all valid. But a large part of my life is simply doing what I love the most, which is running. I travel to some of the most beautiful places on the planet and compete against some of the nicest people you can imagine. Yes, a very simple life.
VP: You seem to have almost a reverence for nature…..
Vajin: Well, we’ve all become urban creatures surrounded by cars and concrete, disconnected from nature – the only soil or greenery we touch are our pot plants. Getting out into landscape is hugely therapeutic. Its our original home, Mother Earth, and hiking high up on a mountain or walking an empty beach puts our little life into a larger perspective, diminishes the importance of it all and humbles us. Nature reminds us of our frailty, the brevity of life, the existential truths. It’s soothing and healing and makes us sane. To be happy you have to have somewhere to go where you can be unburdened and feel God.
VP: You’re a meditator too, how does that connect with running?
Vajin: I learnt meditation years ago from the Indian teacher Sri Chinmoy. For me the practice of meditation and the practice of running are completely interrelated. Through running I develop concentration, discipline and determination while from meditation I get peace, stillness and tranquility. It’s always important to have some balance between the outer aspects of our lives and taking the time to develop and connect with the deeper inner parts of our being. While running, especially in long events, I do try and use the skills I have developed from meditation to make my mind still and calm and to be present in the moment. Very often when we are attempting to do something really challenging it is our own mind that can become our worst enemy. Our doubts, worries and insecurities can all attempt to hold us back. Having that ability to quieten the mind and focus on the task at hand is an invaluable skill.
VP: So you would sympathize with Dean Karnazes quote – “ If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon. If you want to talk to God, run an ultra”.
Vajin: Absolutely! At a certain point the physical body gets exhausted and that’s where the mental and spiritual dimensions kick in – we’re finite, but we can connect to the infinite and become almost limitless. Sri Chinmoy spoke a lot about sports and meditation and inspired countless athletes. He talked about the cosmic springs of energy, and how when you can connect with these through meditation your energies are boundless. The human in us can only do so much, but then the heart and spirit take over – ultrarunning is one of the doorways to explore this incredible frontier. In my own life I always feel so happy when I go beyond my perceived limitations. Transcending our limitations in any field always gives us joy!
VP: You’ve certainly kept pushing out your limits and you’re currently ranked pretty high as a trail runner!
Vajin: I’ve won the Kepler Challenge three times which is New Zealand’s premier mountain race. It is 60km over some of the world’s most beautiful terrain down in Fiordland. It normally takes hikers four days to walk it, my best time is 4hr 55mins. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have had the opportunity to race all around the world and have placed on the podium in numerous events in America, Australia, Europe and Asia. But the competing is not my primary motivation, I just love the joy of wellbeing it gives me. The world’s trail runners are inspirational as well, they’re like high performance rally cars, speed, endurance, hugely positive energy, and pioneers in the frontiers of the mind/body connection. And they understand that their running is a metaphor of their life, the obstacles they face and the qualities needed to overcome them are relevant to everything in our wider living. The great runner Scott Jurek once said: “I run because overcoming the difficulties of an ultramarathon reminds me that I can overcome the difficulties of life, that overcoming difficulties was life.”
VP: Among the different forms of exercise you have tried, what is so
special about running?
Vajin: I like Sri Chinmoy’s remark where he compared running to a family picnic – all the family members, the body, mind, heart and soul are all getting satisfaction and joy. When you’re really fit and healthy you feel a sense of exultant, positive wellbeing like a great current of happiness. When I run I feel the most alive, the most free and the most connected to the world around me. And there’s the self-discovery – beyond the very extremes of fatigue and distress we can find a great calm and power that we never dreamed was there: sources of strength never discovered at all because we never dared to push on past the obstructions.
VP: Whats in the calendar this year for you?
Vajin: This year I will be travelling to Bright, in Australia’s Victorian alps, for a major race in April called the Buffalo Stampede (75km with 4500m of climbing). This will be followed by a trip to the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands in May for one of the world’s premier trail races, Transvulcania (76km with more than 4000m of climbing).
VP: What are some of the highlights of your running career..?
Vajin: Well, the opportunities I have to travel and meet inspiring people from around the world, as well as the chance to try and inspire people to follow their own dreams and aspirations. We all have the capacity to do wonderful and amazing things, sometimes we just need some encouragement and support to enable this to happen. It gives me such satisfaction to feel each day that I am working towards my goals and then during the event itself the experience of giving yourself completely to the task at hand is very fulfilling. And being out in nature helps to reconnect me with a deeper and more ancient part of my being. When we are surrounded by nature’s beauty it is much easier to be present to the beauty, the joy and the thrill of being alive. It helps remind me that we are all just one small part of a far greater and deeper reality. I really feel a deep gratitude. Sometimes I sit up on a mountain pass and imagine this is my last day on earth – what is left to me, what is of value now? Then all of your attainments and all of your possessions fall away, and the last and only measure of your progress is how happy, how peaceful you are. The inner attainments alone survive this questioning. This is the same experience that you feel when you begin to practice meditation, the leaving behind of all the cares and worries of the outer world, and the connecting with the deeper and more real part of your nature.
VP: What diet do you follow and advocate for high level fitness, and would you
encourage others to explore nature running as an antidote to city life?
Vajin: I’ve been a vegetarian for my entire adult life and I have found that a plant based diet is really conducive to both my running and my life in general. A lot of the top runners are vegetarian or vegan. And yes, I’ll always encourage others to explore fitness in any form, and especially the many positives of getting out into nature. In New Zealand you can look out any window and see the silhouette of close by hills – we’re super-blessed here. Start walking, find a trail, challenge yourself. But no cell-phones, no toys, leave all that behind, leave your mind behind, just be happy and present and quiet out there in the garden of nature.
An article by contributing writer Jogyata Dallas Reprinted with kind permission of Indianz Outlook
One very positive attribute of life in New Zealand is an acceptance of religion and the many manifestations of spirituality throughout our culturally diverse society. As one example, in the past twelve months alone there have been many media articles about the growing practice of meditation in schools – not only as an effective antidote to student stress, but in recognition of a need to nourish a deeper aspect of our human nature and of the value of stillness as a creative place in our intelligence.
The Montessori and Rudolf Steiner philosophies have long recognised this principle, but a balance between academic study with its focus on the mind – knowledge retention and information – and the humanities where the ‘heart’ is more important – art, literature, music, creativity – is now being more widely considered and restored.
Golden Grove School in Onehunga is an excellent example of holistic education, recently celebrating its seventh year since opening. Its principal, Helena Royden, spent some time studying at the Oneness-Family School in Washington DC, a highly successful school set up by students of the spiritual master Sri Chinmoy and one that seeks to value and develop the unique capacities of each child. Golden Grove now has 40 pupils and five staff, focusing on smaller classrooms that enable more teacher- pupil individual time and attention to the uniqueness of each child. All of the staff are practitioners of meditation in their own lives, and encourage ‘quiet time’ and simple meditation in the classrooms as a practice that enables better learning and harmony.
“Our 40 pupils span ten different nationalities and many different religious and cultural traditions, but meditation is a common skill compatible with any point of view. It’s a way of creating a truly peaceful environment, better concentration for learning and an understanding among the children of the spiritual side of their natures. We use kindness in solving disputes, encourage developing a calm mind, and we rely on the power of the heart to find good solutions to all issues” Helena comments.
“Silent reflection is a part of our daily schedule because it gives children time to direct their attention and energy, to focus on the task at hand and to act with clarity. We encourage children to develop their wisdom, to think and feel for themselves, to distinguish between what is right and wrong, so that they may become responsible individuals. In order to do this, children need to learn about the world and come to know themselves.”
One of the things that makes Golden Grove School a little different from other schools is that it gives children a chance to explore the full richness of the world not only within them but around them. Its educational program is infused with adventurous field trips, guest tutors and extracurricular activities out and about in Auckland’s hinterland.
“Activities at Golden Grove go way past the classrooms and our playground – we run overnight camps; trips out into the Waitakere Ranges and an introduction to living forest ecology; visits to the Nihotopu dam and an understanding of its engineering and water chemistry; participation in the School Gymsport Festival held at Mt Roskill last July; and even an annual Time Capsule experiment. We love inviting in guest speakers. And at a recent day trip to the Manukau Botanical Gardens the children loved a workshop called ‘Mudpies to Mansions’, which looks at sustainability in building, and allowed them to make their own mudbricks. This is inspired, creative learning that results in children approaching education with joy and willingness, and finding it easy to learn even the most difficult subjects. Children need to love learning and be enthralled by life!”
Helena and her teaching staff use Sri Chinmoy’s landmark book on the teaching of children – “A Child’s Heart and a Child’s Dream” – as a guide to creating a loving and caring school environment. She quotes a short excerpt that reminds us: “If you can inspire your child with love, then he will inspire somebody else with love. It is from the one that we come to the many. This is the only way that the world can progress. We cannot dream of transforming humanity all at once; it is a slow process. But by starting with the children of the world, eventually the face of reality will be transformed by divine love.”
And in Helena Royden’s office at Golden Grove a charming aphorism of Sri Chinmoy’s reminds her each day:
By Jogyata Dallas
It’s hard trying to meditate every day. The chatter and constant movement of our mind, the momentum of habits and the addictive patterns of thought, make sitting still, breathing slowly, stepping back from it all and disentangling ourselves very difficult. Just as a small cloud can veil the light and power of the sun, or a few fingers covering our eyes can hide the whole world from our sight, in the same way the mind hides the inner light of the heart and the soul.
The spiritual Masters talk of the ‘cosmic game’, the ancient struggle between darkness and light, ignorance and knowledge, the journey of the soul back to its source, to yoga or oneness with God. Meditation is the space between things that allows this knowledge to grow. You can read a thousand books, but you will only find there what you already know, and very little of what you read will remain. The real progress lies in cultivating silence, stillness – here lies the doorway between the finite and the infinite, the space where knowledge, insight, understanding is experienced first hand.
If you’re just starting out with your practice, sit for five or ten minutes once or twice a day. Just watch your in-and-out flowing breathe, trying not to get captured by the thoughts and feelings that come into the mind. Let the mind be an empty sky, thoughts just a tiny bird crossing the sky, not important, leaving no trace. Don’t have any expectations, just keep training the mind to become obedient and one-pointed. You have begun an inner journey, and one day it will take you to some wonderful destinations – but don’t think or wish for this, just enjoy the journey itself.
Sri Chinmoy on the basics of meditation
Meditation can be practised anywhere – it is the still space deep inside you and ever-present – but you need a dedicated place in your home to establish regularity and discipline in your daily practise. Find a corner of your room, place a flower and candle on a low table, perhaps an incense holder. Meditative music will also help to create the peaceful environment needed to quieten the mind.
Meditation – an inner journey
We have an outer life of activity and involvement in the world, but we also have an inner life involving our search for happiness and peace, the quest for purpose, fulfillment and understanding. When you sit down to meditate, try to feel this sense of inner journeying and let the outer world fall away. Feel that every minute in meditation is very special – this will help you to bring intensity and understanding to your practice, the feeling of sacred space, sacred time, deeper purpose.
Some practical suggestions
Many little things help at the beginning. Sit physically close to your meditation table, your shrine – this will help you to concentrate more easily. Put some energy and effort into making your meditation space inspirational – find the little things that create the feeling of a sacred space. An aromatic candle, a serene meditating image that mirrors your own aspiration, even a photo of yourself as a child. Spiritual master Sri Chinmoy suggested this – your childhood picture reminds you of an original simplicity, purity of mind, happiness, innocence, all qualities of our inner life.
This gathering energy of special place, special time, special effort is cumulative – your shrine will become the focal point where the doorway to an inner world of silence and soul is most easily opened.
A little longer, a little deeper …
Sometimes we become stale or discouraged over long months of practice, and that is why newness and fresh goals become important. Sri Chinmoy often spoke of ‘self-transcendence’, a term capturing this idea and one which encourages us to surpass our earlier efforts. Add five minutes on to your practice time each week, try starting ten minutes earlier in the morning, incorporate a mantra into your practice to focus the mind, try a workplace meditation during a lunch break, read a spiritual book for 20 minutes daily. Gather to you as many of these little habits as you can – the breakthroughs and bigger things are made of these. All of the little things are really big things – this is how greater accomplishments become possible.
Meditation and nutrition
Body-mind-spirit are not separate entities but integrated aspects of our single humanity, inseparable and mutually interacting. In developing our spiritual life we cannot focus only on meditation and neglect these other aspects, for they cannot be isolated from each other. As your mind becomes clearer, quieter, you will also become more aware of your body’s wellbeing, or lack of it. You begin to understand the mind-body mechanisms, how thoughts, stresses, negative emotions store up and manifest in the body as restlessness, health issues, fatigue, aches and pains. Exercise is one of the great antidotes to this, and so is a deepening understanding of the consciousness and role of food. In his classic best seller “Meditation: Man-Perfection in God-Satisfaction”, Sri Chinmoy comments:
“The vegetarian diet plays a most important role in the spiritual life. Purity is of paramount importance for an aspirant. This purity we must establish in the physical, the vital and the mental. When we eat meat and fish, the aggressive, animal consciousness enters into us. Our nerves become agitated; they become restless and aggressive, and this can interfere with our meditation. But the mild qualities of fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, help us to establish, in our inner life as well as in our outer life, the qualities of sweetness, softness, simplicity and purity. So if we are vegetarians, it helps our inner being to strengthen its own existence. Inwardly, we are praying and meditating; outwardly, the food we are taking from Mother Earth is helping us too, giving us not only energy but also aspiration.”
Try to avoid meditating immediately after a meal – at that time the body is often more lethargic or restless. Meditate before eating, or several hours afterwards. And don’t lie down when you practise meditation either – it’s conducive only to sleep!
We are often inclined to close our eyes during meditation, but it is helpful to explore the benefits of meditating with our eyes half open, a technique called the ‘lion’s meditation’. This prevents us falling asleep, develops our ability to concentrate our mind more quickly, and enables us to bring our ability to meditate out into our life – while walking, working, sitting in a park or waiting for a bus! In this way we can learn to meditate anywhere!
Remember not to judge your practice – if you’re practising, you’re doing well! And don’t meditate just to have nice experiences – meditate to make progress and to feel the sense of a continuing journey. Each attempt to meditate is another step closer to the happiness destination. Think of meditation as a peaceful, vast, empty sky – each thought is an insignificant small bird crossing the emptiness. You notice it, but it does not disturb you – your mind is anchored inside the calm flow of breath.
Meditation and the spiritual heart
There are three principal channels of prana or life-force that exist inside our subtle physical bodies, and in Sanskrit these channels are known as nadis. These operate down the left and right side of the body and in the middle of the spinal column and they intersect together at six different places – each meeting place is called a chakra. A seventh chakra exists in the brain. In his book ‘Kundalini:The Mother-Power’ Sri Chinmoy gives a detailed and fascinating account of the chakras and their extraordinary powers and qualities.
One of these chakras is called the heart centre, anahata – this centre houses one of the secrets of meditation. The spiritual heart is like a large room in a house where the qualities of our higher nature are found – inner peace, oneness with others, love and compassion, wisdom, intuition, happiness.
“The spiritual heart houses the Universal Consciousness and is very vast,” Sri Chinmoy writes. “We can never touch it’s boundaries because the spiritual heart embodies the vast universe that we see and at the same time it is larger and vaster than the universe.”
Where the mind is constantly restless, the heart is a still peaceful space inside us where our meditative qualities are powerfully focused. By making the heart centre the focal point of concentration, we bypass the chatter of the mind and bring our consciousness into the more spiritual, meditative centre of our being. Visualize the breath flowing in and out of a small point in the very centre of your chest – this will get you started in heart meditation. Sri Chinmoy continues:
“The mind needs a superior power to keep it quiet. This superior power is the power of the soul. You have to bring to the fore the light of the soul from inside your heart.”
Much of the intuitive knowledge we find through meditation is being discovered in the breakthrough insights of modern science, and the revelations of the ancient Vedic seers and yogis are finding unexpected support in quantum theory and a raft of discoveries about the fundamental nature of the universe. Sri Chinmoy’s own startling comments about our relationship to the universe convey a sense of beautiful mystery – great discoveries and truths lie just over the horizon of our present comprehension and we are all travellers on a wonderful journey of awakening.
In the great task of finding happiness and peace through meditation, there are some simple, useful things to keep in mind. Some of these are mentioned here:
Don’t be too concerned with finding the right technique in meditation. Spiritual master Sri Chinmoy once commented that our own souls are our best teacher – in other words the ability to meditate is already there inside you, accessible in your deepest silences and stillness.
This is why it is helpful to understand that meditation is not so much about learning – filling the mind with theory, techniques, knowledge – but rather about remembering! All you need to know, and your own unique spiritual path, is a remembering of a forgotten part of your inner life that is already there inside you.
One of the great secrets is sincerity – the disciplined commitment to practise. See every effort at meditation as a step on an inner journey, and progress is not measured by your lofty experiences but by the daily steps taken when you practise. Like a marathon, where even the most arduous steps are nevertheless moving you closer to finishing, every moment in meditation is a step closer to happiness, insight, peace. Every day take another step.
This is why the struggle to quieten the mind or the restless body, the addictive habits and repetitions of thoughts, are where you make progress. Right there, that is where peace and liberation are to be won. These struggles are the coalface, the place where you confront the things in yourself that need to be transformed, where you regain mastery of your mind and access to your spiritual heart.
Another of the great secrets of meditation is the role of grace. Sincerity, mentioned above, is like an inner magnet that brings grace into our lives and into our
practise. What is grace? Just as the cry of a hungry child brings the immediate response of the parent, meditation is described by spiritual masters as the cry of the soul for happiness, freedom, peace – and grace is the response of the universe, of God, of an intelligence barely understood by the mind. Grace brings to us all that we need – the people, the understandings and opportunities, the insights. It is the law of attraction operating in the realm of spirit.
Set weekly goals and write up a chart of these goals to aim at every day – your morning meditation, perhaps a shorter evening meditation as well, some reading from a meditation book to inspire the mind, a regime of daily exercise to upgrade your sense of wellbeing and to prepare the body to sit quietly, dietary modifications to improve your health and so forth. How many ticks on your goal chart can you get each day, each week? Try for a perfect week.
Group meditation is very helpful. The energy, aspiration and sincerity of others around you who share your journey will increase your strength, uplift and energise your meditation. Historically it is called ‘satsang’ – the community of like-minded souls that expedite our progress.
Feel gratitude at the very beginning of your meditation practise. This will remind you that you have reached a very special time in your evolution, and that you are awakening, that there is a quiet perfection behind your life that is giving you this special opportunity. You are among a tiny percentage of humanity opening up to a new consciousness – you are part of the rising wave of spirit that is coming into our world just now.
Don’t limit your practise to your morning meditation in your room, but use meditation as a lifeskill and bring it out into your daily life. This is called karma yoga, the conscious application of your meditation into everyday events. Try this exercise offered by Sri Chinmoy. During your morning meditation, imagine a very beautiful flower in your heart – think of the flower as embodying one quality of your soul that you would like to offer, a quality like strength, love, patience, happiness, peace. Imagine the flower expanding in your heart, the image and fragrance of the soul-flower filling every part of your being and representing your chosen quality for that day – when you go out into your world, feel that you are offering this quality to everyone you meet. In this way, very quickly, you will multiply this positive quality in your nature, you will become what you imagined.
Try to make your meditation heart-centred rather than mind-centred. The mind is incorrigibly busy by its very nature, ceaseless like the waves on the surface of a lake. The spiritual heart however is the depths of the lake, the silent inner space where you experience consciousness without thought, and where silence and stillness offer doorways into an entirely different part of your being. Try to feel a sense of being at rest in this inner space, observe the wanderings of the mind with detachment and let each thought pass away, see how still you can become. Here in this inner realm where the mind is left behind, many discoveries await us – access to the ‘inner pilot’ where we find the wisdom and intelligence of the soul; the ‘remembering’ of meditation as something natural, essential and spontaneous; creative talents; an understanding of what is really important in our life, and of what is not. But much, much more.
Another very powerful attribute of the spiritual heart is the power of love. When freed up from earthly attachments and human wants, this power of love can be greatly expanded, becoming free of personal need and widening into its many manifestations as compassion, sympathy and kindness, oneness with the sufferings of others. One of its aspects is devotion, and this feeling of the heart belongs to a branch of meditation called bhakti yoga. Here meditation moves away from purely self-effort to an inclusiveness, and here again we encounter the idea of grace. In bhakti yoga the practitioner of meditation feels more like a child – his sincerity is enough to bring the loving parent to his side. If there is a fast track in meditation, this is probably it – devotion is like an invisible bridge between man and God, between the finite and the infinite. It is not an irrational discarding of reason, but rather the opposite, the intelligence and wisdom of the heart that sees past the appearances of life to something deeper. The hearts capacity for devotion utilizes one of the most powerful forces in human life – the power of love – and opens the doorway to many most significant inner experiences.
There will be times during the day when your meditation is easier and more accessible, and it is important to explore a little here. Try meditating on a bus ride, seated in a park, walking down a quiet road or along a seashore. You don’t need to only meditate in your space at home – bring this awakening gift out into your life as well. Once, in a busy airport departure lounge, Sri Chinmoy had a small group of us meditate six or seven times, one minute each time, with an interlude of instruction between each. We were going up and down the ladder of consciousness, back and forth from attentive-mind to silence-heart, standing there amidst so many people. He was training us to understand that the ability to meditate is always there inside us, wherever we are, and that with practise we can achieve an unwavering peace and happiness even in the face of life’s harshest challenges.
Jogyata Dallas for IndiaNZ Outlook catches up with Shishir Pauk, a popular Canadian meditation teacher offering a four evening free workshop at the Gandhi Hall in Auckland, plus further free courses in Wellington and Christchurch. The two met up recently in Indonesia at a Sri Chinmoy Centre conference, and just prior to Shishir’s New Zealand visit.
Is life mysterious to you, is there a hidden purpose?
Shishir: Perhaps one of the first mysteries of life is that we don’t even know who we really are. We think of ourselves in such finite terms, as mind, personality, body, profession. But we are essentially spiritual beings trying to rediscover and remember our true identity, find the freedom and happiness of our deeper selves. We are like eternal travellers, life after life, trying to find our way home. Each incarnation is like a chapter in the book of our soul’s long journey of awakening, the quest for ‘yoga’, which is union with God.
The writings of all the great sages and pathfinders over the centuries share many ideas and truths, but a belief in the wisdom and beauty of the immortal human soul is a recurring one. So too the belief that the more we listen to our soul, the more our outer life will prosper and find happiness.
But the soul seems a mystery to most people.
Yes, but this is why meditation is so important. It is in the silence and stillness of meditation that the wisdom and individual purpose of the soul can most easily be felt and experienced. Sri Chinmoy called the soul our ‘inner pilot’, adding that each soul is unique and precious, a special ‘dream of God’.
What does ‘happiness’ mean to you?
To me, happiness is essentially an inner accomplishment, a freedom from the shadows in our nature – ignorance, loneliness, fear, anger, desire, attachment and so forth. We are brought up to look for happiness in the outer things, in relationships, money, travel, children, success, and though these are a legitimate part of life they are not lasting or certain. The teachings of Buddhism, for example, are based upon this impermanence. Real happiness is an inner achievement, freedom from desire, equanimity, inner peace in the face of life’s endless challenges, and God-reliance. We can have all the outer things too, but this inner achievement will be there when one by one the outer things fail us and disappear. Renunciation does not mean living in poverty, it only means an inner non-attachment. If you have these outer things you can be happy, but if they are lost, you can still be happy.
Religion seems to be in decline, does this trouble you?
No. If religion is waning, there is an unmistakable and widening interest in spirituality. The old structures of ritual and belief are simply renewing themselves into new forms. But the sap is still flowing through the tree. Even the neo-atheism evident in the publications you see today in bookshops seems trivial, a kind of irreligious fundamentalism that can’t survive the incoming tide of spiritual awakening.
And trying to contain the mysteries of the cosmos, the boundlessness, unknowableness of God within the tiny cage of the human brain is inherently flawed. It shows a critical shortage of humility – the awareness of how little is our elfin understanding of everything. Science itself is still a juvenile, barely out of evolutionary kindergarten. Atheistic reasoning also disregards all the other aspects of human knowing, other forms of non-mind knowledge and perception that are usually undervalued. And disregards the wisdom of the greatest luminaries, the most impressive human souls ever to walk this planet! Einstein very nicely wrote “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility towards the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.”
It might also be argued that God-love is one of the highest expressions of intelligence since it exhibits a rare ability to see past the painted veil of ‘reality’ to the very heart of Truth and Reality, the true nature of things.
I understand that Sri Chinmoy was a great bhakti yogi, a devout God-lover?
Yes, absolutely. And I think one of his truly remarkable achievements was to make God an absolutely living reality for so many of us. For his disciples Sri Chinmoy’s own intimacy with God was so obvious and compelling, his deference to God in everything he did so moving, and the godliness that he himself embodied so utterly beautiful that he quietly shunted – at least in my case – three prior decades of agnosticism into the waste basket.
Historically it seems that spiritual masters have always had to endure a lot.
Yes, all the way down through history – and not just the spiritual masters but great souls in every walk of life. Mandela spent 27 years in jail, Gorbachev is still blamed and reviled by many in Russia for their woes, Christ was nailed to a cross, Kennedy and Gandhi were killed…the list of assassinations and the bigotry and ignorance that confronted these luminaries is endless. Swami Vivekananda – he was Sri Ramakrishna’s closest disciple – used to say about the persecution of both himself and his guru: “When the elephant goes to market, the dogs come out and bark…”. The dogs have always come out to yap at their heels!
‘Mindfulness’ is a big topic now and turning up everywhere…
Yes, it’s all good, but we need to go much further and much deeper within. One day we’ll be talking about ‘soulfulness’, the ability in meditation to go past the boundaries of the mind into a wider realm of consciousness. The soul is like a blazing sun compared to the little mind, which only reflects the light of the soul – like the moon reflecting the light of the sun. Body, mind, heart and soul are like sisters in a family – the soul is the eldest and wisest, but somehow the mind has become the boss, an often unillumined one!
What is the main role of a Teacher or Guru?
They remind us of our life’s deepest purpose, the reason we are here – which is to find lasting happiness and to realize God. They make God a dear and intimate confidante, one to whom we pray, open our hearts, share our secret thoughts and our worst mistakes. Whether living or passed from this earth, they are all still here and accessible wherever there is sincerity and aspiration, devotion or belief.
Spiritual literature down through the ages is filled with their profundities, inspiratioal quotes that thrill the soul, the uncompromising and life-changing utterances of great sages and Masters. They are so powerful as to sweep aside an entire lifetime of cultural indoctrination – that tragic and ill fated love affair with worldliness that we are so immersed in from cradle rock to last breath. The masters have always had that effect in our lives – a reality check, bringing us back on course, reminding us what it’s really all about. In a world of enchanting distractions, a culture steeped in material ambitions that suffocate the spirit, how lucky we all are to have these exemplars, pointing the way home.
An article by contributing writer Jogyata Dallas Reprinted with kind permission of Indianz Outlook
‘Mindfulness’ is fast becoming a catch phrase these days, an acknowledgement of the need to observe and calm the mind in a hectic modern world where stress, clutter and high velocity lifestyles are placing great demands on our composure. Lasting health is founded upon a relationship between body, mind and spirit, and the physical body itself is only one component in the overall equation of well-being. Holistics recognizes this interconnection, and that a stress free and happy mind and a blossoming spiritual life are major factors in our physical health. Just as stress and negative emotions silently erode our life force, so too the practice of mindfulness and meditation releases a new and positive life force – borne of inspiration, happiness, peace – into every part of our existence, creating the optimum conditions for vitality and health. With meditation even our sleep pattern can change – an improvement in quality, a likely reduction in quantity. More time and energy to live our lives!
Everything Starts Within
The way we feel and function in our outer life is determined to a very great extent by our inner life – our happiness, our confidence, our moods, our consciousness. We often have little power to change events in the outer world, but we can change the way we react to them. When we are happy and calm, difficulties and problems are easily coped with – when we are anxious or unhappy, the same difficulties can become nightmares. Our whole experience of life is coloured by our own consciousness – our life is the creation of our minds! Meditation balances the inner and outer worlds and brings out the bright colours of our nature – joyfulness, serenity, loving kindness, strength. These emerging positive qualities reshape our very experience of life, for everything starts within.
The writings of all the great sages and pathfinders over the centuries share many recurring ideas and truths – one of these is a belief in the wisdom and beauty of the human soul. Spiritual master Sri Chinmoy describes the soul as our ‘inner pilot’ – it is our highest Self, our truest Self, our in-house life guide. The more we listen to our soul, the more our outer life will flourish and prosper – and it is in the silence and stillness of meditation that the wisdom of the soul can most easily be felt and experienced. In everything of life – decision-making, problem solving, the search for fulfillment and purpose – the inner pilot is there to show us the way and we can learn to access it through our deepening practice. Beyond and higher than ‘mindfulness’ is ‘soulfulness’, our identification and connection with this very deepest part of our being.
The Soul’s Special Promise
The great sages also tell us that each soul is unique and has something very special to accomplish on earth. It is by listening to our ‘inner pilot’ that we begin to feel and understand what our life’s deeper purpose is and then our outer life becomes increasingly in harmony with this knowledge. The discovery and fulfillment of the soul’s special promise brings us great happiness.
Power of mind
The many techniques employed in learning meditation share a common theme – harnessing and concentrating the power of the mind. The mind is like the waves on the surface of the lake, constantly moving – meditation stills this restlessness so that we can see down into the lake’s depths, the quiet inner spaces. By-products and benefits of this effort are numerous – an ability to focus and concentrate quickly, enhanced memory, a stillness in the meditating mind which enables us to access deeper, intuitive, creative and inspirational parts of our being. Silence and stillness are immensely potent, creative, the doorway where the finite connects with the infinite.
Power of Heart
The late teacher Sri Chinmoy placed great emphasis on the spiritual heart in our quest for happiness, for it houses many of our most powerful spiritual qualities. A widening, deepening capacity for love; compassion for others; a oneness with all of life; inner wisdom; a desireless happiness like the fragrance of an inner flower, spreading out into our life – a treasure trove waiting to be discovered! The heart is an egoless, unhorizoned consciousness and ‘living in the heart’ is one of the secrets of real happiness. One of the principle forms of yoga – bhakti yoga – is centered in the spiritual heart as well. Here, the power of devotional love is directed out to God and sees divinity in all things.
A Peaceful Life
Meditation will make you a very peaceful person. This peace comes about through a growing self-acceptance and self-confidence, and through an inner poise that comes from a deeper part of our being. This peace is not something passive and fragile – it is very powerful and dynamic. This kind of inner peace will lift us above success, failure, the positives and negatives of life – it leaves in us an adamantine poise and a sense of calm detachment in the face of life’s changing fortunes and tribulations. People who have developed inner peace are very powerful.
Meditation is the awakening to our true nature, a spiritual path to enlightenment, self-realisation, oneness with God. This is why one should always feel gratitude for the impulse to meditate – we have consciously begun the great journey of awakening that lies at the very heart of all human life.
When asking the question about whether you have ever meditated before to a room full of people embarking on an introductory meditation course, I am sure to always get a handful of people, at least, who firmly declare “No, never”.
You also may like to contemplate this question, but ask yourself any of the following instead:
Have you ever been at the seaside, looking out at the vastness of the deep ocean and felt something deeper and vaster within you?
Have you ever been immersed in a forest of trees and suddenly experienced having no thoughts, only a feeling of being at one with nature?
Have you ever stood on a clifftop and gazed out at the horizon to see a most glorious sunrise or sunset and felt an expansion within your own heart?
Have you ever had a child smile at you or offer you a hug for no reason, and felt this unconditional love deep within your own being?
Have you ever played a musical instrument and suddenly not required to look at the notes on the page but instead instrument and musician become as one and you feel transported to a higher space within?
Have you ever played a sport or gone running and without trying you are suddenly playing or running effortlessly, free-flowing and totally enjoying the moment?
Any of these moments above could be called spontaneous meditations or “magic moments” – they are sporadic and you often have no control over when they occur, how frequently or for how long. You have probably (in one of these moments or a similar situation) felt a few minutes of meditation; a higher consciousness; a space between the thoughts where your own inner state has expanded into peace or delight.
All of these lovely experiences have probably touched you and left you with a sweet memory of this fleeting instant, however when it is 4.30pm and the workload on your desk is sky high, your boss is pressing demands upon you and your stress-limit has hit the ceiling, you can’t just fling back the curtains to gaze meditatively at that gorgeous coloured sunset; or have a beautiful, pure child skip into the room and offer you a radiant smile and loving hug…life just doesn’t work that way. You need to put in the work too.
So instead of getting stressed out all year and waiting for your 4 weeks annual leave to feel a little bit of peace on your holiday, only to come back to work and on Day Two you feel just as stressed out again………..
By establishing a daily meditation practice, you can take control over those once-sporadic “magic moments”, and go on your own stress-releasing, bliss-inducing, peace-fulfilling mini-holiday EVERY DAY when you first awake! You don’t need to wait for opportunities to enter into the beauty of nature to try to feel that little glimpse of peace, you can consciously and solidly bring peace into your very own daily life by meditating first thing – early each day. Then when you enter the busy, stressful chaos that used to be your daily routine, you will have a storehouse of peace from which to draw upon – within your own heart!
Hridayinee, who is originally from Australia, has been practicing meditation for 18 years and offering free meditation classes for 13 years.
A version of this article appeared in ‘Indianz Outlook’, June 2011
There is currently a resurgence of interest in healthy lifestyles as many people around the world change their habits and point of view to embrace a culture of wellbeing. A quick survey of health statistics shows that there is much in need of repair. The Ministry of Health estimates that one in four New Zealand adults are obese. Nearly 40% of deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease, with cancer not far behind as a leading cause of death. The best available evidence shows that poor diet, lack of exercise and too much stress are the main causes. In many ways, such diseases are symptoms of the Western lifestyle of mass produced nutrition-less food, sedentary office jobs and the high expectations of material comfort. These ‘conveniences’ often come at the expense of our health, our happiness and even our sanity.
If you are looking for increased fitness, better diet or peace of mind then now may be the best time to start afresh. New Zealand is full of places to walk, run, play sports or swim. There are plenty of clubs and teams looking for members who are happy to inspire and encourage those wishing to improve their health. If there is no walking club in your area, then it is easy to start your own regular group. There are still plenty of natural reserves such as the Waitakere ranges near Auckland. These places contain beautiful scenery and fresh air, where one can go to experience the rejuvenating and restorative power of nature.
Despite the fast food explosion of recent decades, many people are now coming to realise that a natural diet of fruit, vegetables and grains is far better than the chemically concocted food-like items which line most supermarket shelves. Luckily, New Zealand is a fertile agricultural nation with numerous growers’ markets offering cheap produce even in the cities. There are now plenty of vegetarian cafes and restaurants, especially in Auckland, and a burgeoning interest in organic and living foods. Many plant-based natural supplements of high nutritional potency have recently arrived on the Western market. These are often called ‘superfoods’ because they contain much higher levels of vitamins and minerals than most other foods. Goji berries, for example, have 500 times more vitamin C per ounce than oranges. Raw cacao (from which chocolate is derived) is one of the best known sources of magnesium, a crucial mineral often lacking in the Western diet.
An often neglected factor of healthy living is the relationship between inner peace and health. Stress is one of the main factors increasing the risks of heart disease and early death. Although stress is an unavoidable fact of life, it is the way we deal with it that is important. There are many techniques to minimise stress and its harmful effects. Meditation, the practice of stilling the mind during regular daily sessions, has been shown in numerous studies to be enormously helpful not only for managing stress but gaining a deeper perspective on life and greater satisfaction. How meditation works is not fully understood, but many scientists believe that it gives some relaxing ‘time out’ for the busy mind and helps develop greater capacity for dealing with everyday life. Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a component of religious and spiritual practice.
Free meditation classes, including those offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre, help to address some of these problems and inspire Aucklanders to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. In addition to free meditation classes the Centre holds concerts of relaxing music, fun runs and inspiring talks.
One of the inspiring speakers during the Centre’s recent ‘Festival of Meditation’ was Dharbhasana Lynn, the only New Zealander to run the world’s longest footrace (3100 miles). Dharbhasana completed the ultra-race on a diet almost entirely composed of raw fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. A student of Sri Chinmoy, he believes that human beings are capable of far more than they believe, and hopes to inspire others with his example.
Einstein once explained relativity this way: spend an hour sitting next to a beautiful human being and it will seem like a minute; spend a minute sitting on a hot stove and it will seem like an hour. This is relativity. When somebody asks me what do I think is our purpose on earth, or what is really the nature of the Universe, I now ask in return: “What do you think it is?”. This is not because I’m trying to get rid of such questions, but because these conundrums cannot be comprehended or answered by our mind. Better yet, I think I would answer: “What do you feel it is?”
Our mind is like the surface of the ocean, filled with constantly changing waves. Blink, and the wave you were looking at will be forever gone, replaced by thousands of others that didn’t exist before that moment. It’s our mind’s nature. But reality, we know, is something that persists. In the ocean’s analogy, reality is the bottom of the ocean, that permanent fact that exists, no matter what is happening on the surface or in our thinking minds. If we can dive deep within, we can find that Reality; and to dive deep we need to go beyond the boundaries of our own mind, open up to the Incomprehensible. That’s what I learned when I found my spiritual path.
I have been following my spiritual path now for one year. The more I think about it, the more it amazes me. One year ago, I was suffering and struggling in this changing world, occasionally being happy, occasionally being sad, and not in contact with my spirituality at all. Now, a year later, all the puzzling questions have fallen away, the trying to dissect the fabric of existence and reality into comprehensible language. I like my teacher Sri Chinmoy’s aphorism where he writes:
‘Your mind has a flood of questions.
There is but one teacher
Who can answer them.
Who is the teacher?
Your silence-loving heart.’
~ Sri Chinmoy
Eduardo is a graphic artist and cartoonist who is from Mexico but now lives in Auckland. He has been meditating at the Sri Chinmoy Centre since 2011.
A deep meditation is one of the most peaceful and fulfilling of all possible experiences. Once we have learn how to find our way into that desireless inner stillness that is always there inside us, our life can never be the same. Here in the sanctuary of the heart, free of time and the burdens of the mind, everything is clear, everything is already done. Out of this silence comes wisdom, understanding and delight.
In many ways our teacher Sri Chinmoy taught us to take our practice of meditation out in to the everyday aspects of our life – karma yoga – and to sustain the meditative feeling as long as possible. Walking through a park, sitting on a bus, waiting for somebody, travelling to the next moments of our life, learning to string these moments of calm together as a necklace of day-long happiness moments.
A wave rider makes the effort to reach and finally catch the wave that will carry him ashore….the student of meditation also strives in his practice and eventually his own slow awakening grows into a wave of spirit that sweeps him beyond thought and technique. He finds and rides the forgotten ocean of joy that has always been there inside him. This is why we need to commit to regular practice, the accumulation of all the tiny breakthrough moments; and to have patience and discipline, to find and catch the rising wave.
At first, the experience of meditation itself relies upon environment and some combination of time, place and correct technique. But then it goes beyond these needs. We begin to realise that while our increasing moments of ‘success’ have been possible through some combination of factors – a workshop we attended, group practice, a new exercise we tried or inspiring music – in reality they merely reconnected us with our deeper self, and that ‘self’ is always there inside us, where ever we are.
Sri Chinmoy, like the many great teachers before him, wanted us to understand our own capacity to uplift and serve the world, reminding us that ‘every human being is a very special dream of God’. And that meditation will take us past our identification with our body, thoughts, personality to a deeper understanding of our ultimately God-like nature. The space in our lives where we put aside the burdens and preoccupations of the day’s dramas, silence our thoughts, venture past the many attachments and distractions of the mind to a growing stillness, this space allows us to rediscover the very source of all our creative, intuitive, spiritual capacities. The closer we move towards this ‘intelligence of silence’, our ‘inner pilot’, the more perfect our outer lives become.
Meditation comes easily today, sitting on the grass in a park in Auckland under a wide blue summer sky, a sky of such startling clarity and endless transparency as to illumine things and gather close the silhouettes of far-off, familiar mountains. There is this lovely sense of stepping outside of the story of one’s life into a state of just ‘being’, at rest in the here and now, a lovely inner space of pure consciousness. Over in the western corner of the park the tai-chi practitioners are also touching the lives of passers-by and strollers, their calm and gentle movements reminding of other realities beyond the ordinary. And I remember Sri Chinmoy’s words, reminding us that we co-create this world and that “Just one smile from my gratitude heart immensely increases the beauty of the universe”.