How do you keep your meditation practice fresh and inspired over the weeks, months and even years?
Meditate in a special place
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.
Be aware of your 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.
Make your meditation space special
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!
The power of concentration
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.