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    « Meditation as an Attunement of Mind, Heart, Body and Spirit | Main | Review and Invitation to Thursday Night's Meditation Group »

    Preview of this Thursday's Meditation Group

    Hello Everyone :)

    I've written a long message this week. Lots to share with you.

    In our weekly meetings, we've been exploring different approaches to meditation, primarily the Classical Yogic approach of Mantra Meditation and the Buddhist-derived practice of Vipassana or Mindfulness Meditation. As I've said in class, both approaches have their value and both are worth learning. They offer different experiences and produce different outcomes, but the benefits in both cases are very worthwhile. I recommend learning both approaches and choosing what works best for you.

    However, this coming Thursday we'll be focusing mainly on Mantra Meditation, and I'll be sharing insights I originally learned from my three principle teachers: Swami Satchidananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Swami Muktananda. Being Yogis, they taught mantra to accelerate and deepen the benefits of meditation, and all agreed that correct meditation is much more than just the mental repetition of a word or phrase. It takes a little while to get the hang of correct practice, but once learned, the technique is unsurpassed in it's power to refresh, restore, inspire and uplift body, heart and mind.

    A little background: one of the fundamental concepts of Vedic thought -- the Vedas being the knowledge base from which all Yoga is derived -- is that perception, experience -- knowing itself -- is different at different levels of mind and consciousness. Expand your mind and consciousness and expand your access to the world, both in terms of experience and capabilities.

    (The phrase from the Rg Veda, and if you're a yoga geek you'll want to know this, is "richo akshare parame vyoman," which translates as, "what or how we perceive and know depends on our state of mind and consciousness.")

    This ancient idea, thousands of years old, is one of foundation teachings of every form of Yoga.

    Simply stated: the world is as you are.

    The idea is that our state of mind operates as a lens or filter through which we see and make sense of the world around us. Our attitudes color our world -- more than that, they limit or support our access to it. To a mind possessed by envy or rage, everything looks like a threat, everyone seems an adversary. To a mind filled with peace and love, the world seems a wonderful place, heaven on earth, a field of infinite and joyous possibility.

    In a similar way, a curious mind learns and discovers; a dedicated mind works tirelessly; a friendly and appreciative mind makes friends; a cynical mind doubts and distrusts, and so on. More awareness equals more intelligence, more choices; less awareness translates into dullness and rote behavior.

    There are modern renderings of this idea, like, "as a person thinks, so shall they be," or, "change your mind to change your life." Endless variations on this theme fill the pages of self-help and success literature.

    A problem, however, remains: how to effectively put this concept into practice. How can we invoke or maintain more adaptive states of mind? Habits of mind can be difficult to break; negative attitudes, in that they tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies, can be notoriously resistant to change. That's where the use of mantra in meditation can help.

    Meditation in the Yogic tradition, meaning the proper use of mantra, offers a simple, natural way to deeply and deliberately attune or imbue the mind with more resourceful, more adaptive ways of being. The mantra can be thought of as a tuning fork for positive change; through meditation the mind becomes attuned to the virtue of the mantra.

    Mantras have been part of Yoga practice since ancient times. Traditionally, mantras in Yoga were Sanskrit words or phrases that were used as a focal point in meditation or in daily life, to invoke favors or blessings. This is the simplest use of mantra, not that different from the contemporary use of affirmations, but much more effective.

    There are, however, more advanced teachings of mantra in meditation, perhaps best described in the Shiva Sutras of Vasugupta. Mantra in the Shaivite or Shankaracharya traditions is understood not as a word, but as the actual activity of mind produced by the word.

    "It is the state of mind that the word invokes that is the mantra, not the word or formula itself." (SS 2:1)

    This teaching was at the heart of the practice of Siddha Yoga that I learned from Swami Muktananda, as described in his book, Siddha Meditation. Another of my teachers, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi described mantra not as a word or thought to be repeated in the mind, but as a device for transcending surface thought and conscious mind itself, a vehicle to tap into deeper and subtler states of mind, heart and awareness, refreshing the meditator with energy and expanded awareness.

    You may already be experiencing this as a result of the sessions we've conducted thus far.

    Simply stated the power of a mantra resides in the use of the mantra, how it is actually used in meditation, not in it's "vibration." It's the way we use the mantra that draws attention to deeper states of awareness, deeper states of heart and mind.

    Note: there is no intrinsic value, no magic in Sanskrit words, nothing special about their "vibration." All concepts and the words used to express them, in every language, have power to influence the heart and mind. Words have great power, for good or ill, not in being said, but when only when the words or ideas are understood and "taken to heart."

    In our everyday life mantra usually means a word or saying that we hold to be useful and true, as in, "life is good," or "go with the flow." Again, mantra in this sense only has value if we "take it to heart," meaning, experience it not just as a world or an idea, but allow it to take hold as an feeling, an emotion, a conviction, something that pervades all of our feelings, words and actions.

    In meditation, for example, we could use the idea of "flow" as a mantra, and that simple concept could serve as an organizing principle, a way to align all the positive associations we have about growth and change, leading to an enhanced sense of trust in the idea that flow and change are good and useful parts of life. This meditation would render us more able to adapt to, utilize, enjoy and benefit from changing circumstances, a very useful trait in today's ever changing world.

    We need tools like these. The uninvited way our minds get used -- by negative messages, in the media and elsewhere, and by the wear and tear of the demands of everyday life, is an unwanted daily "meditation" on anxiety, scarcity and powerlessness. It leaves its mark on us in stress and chronic tension and the way those stresses overwhelm and interfere with our physical, mental and emotional health and well-bing.

    The correct practice of mantra meditation offers a remedy -- a simple, rewarding way for us to intentionally attune our minds to more adaptive, creative, resilient and resourceful ways of being on a daily basis.

    In this way, we can learn to eliminate painful or negative habits of mind and at the same time support more positive, adaptive ways of seeing the world.

    Meditation does many things for a person. It calms, restores and refreshes the mind and body, promotes healing and well-being on every level, restores balance and perspective to our mind and emotions, makes us more resilient, adaptive, appreciative; less negative, fearful or worried. All without much work or difficulty -- just 20 minutes a day -- your own personal workshop for attuning and healing mind, body and emotions.

    Success in meditation depends not on effort or skill, but rather on having a proper understanding of the process of meditation itself, and some training in proper technique. You cannot learn to meditate properly from a book or a website. Good personal instruction is necessary, and follow up is important to make sure the practice continues to be done correctly. It takes some commitment to get started, but then the benefits reinforce the continued practice.

    Learning to meditate is a lot like learning to drive a car. It may take a few lessons to get the hang of it, but pretty soon regular practice takes care of the rest. And think of the places you can go :)

    There are few practices that give as much benefit for so little effort. Or that can be so enjoyable and rewarding to do!

    Again, I'm hoping you'll join us this Thursday, Nov 5 at 7:30pm, for practice and discussion. All are welcome!

    Location: Firefly Yoga, 311 Washington St. Westwood, MA.
    Dress comfortably. Cushioned floor seating, so feel free to bring pillows or Backjacks if you wish.

    much love, always,


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