Thoughts on Meditation
The Inner Bird
I remember an experience I had while travelling in India - again this was before I had meditated consciously, but I recognised the experience as something meditative or subtle - something real, not just imagination - and so it kindled my interest in learning to meditate properly. I was sitting at the top of a hill near Pushkar, the holy lakeside town in Rajasthan. After wandering around the hilltop temple I had made my way along the ridge to the Lingam, the symbol of Shiva, and sat down to stare out over the desert landscape. I caught sight of a bird in the distance, slowly flying away from me into the haze. I followed its flight, straining to keep track of the dark silhouette as it merged with the heat haze over the plain. I recall time apparently slowing down, then seeming to stop altogether. I felt as if some inner part of me had drifted out of my body, following that bird out over the desert, toward the horizon. The experience lasted for a few seconds. I felt totally at peace - as if all my troubles were in my thinking mind, and by stepping outside the thinking mind for a few seconds I had enjoyed a profound rest.
Finding my path
I returned from India determinded to learn to meditate. Herman Hesse's book "Journey to the East", which I had read while on my travels, had been full of references to meditation and it seemed somehow significant. When I did finally get round to learning to meditate I arranged to go on a course at the Lam Rim (a Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Bristol), but a strange set of happenings made it impossible for me to go. A friend had decided to go to classes held by the Sri Chinmoy Centre so I tagged along to a free session there. Nothing really happened for me, but I liked it and had no objection to going back for the second session. Nothing much happened on the second attempt either. Then came the third....a different story. I think I was the only person who went - just me and the two class-givers (who I later came to know as Balavan and Nurari). We concentrated on a candle flame. I slowed my breathing a little, as instructed, and tried to feel that nothing existed except myself and the flame. Something within me once again became free, like a boat detached from its moorings drifing away from the shore - I felt a sensation as if I was rising up out of myself. I remember feeling a touch of mild panic, as the experience was so unexpected.That vague sensation of fear has never returned - it was just the mind reacting to the totally new experience. From that moment meditation began to assume a new and significant role in my life, eventually becoming my main inspirer and motivator. Soon afterwards I wrote to Sri Chinmoy, asking to become his student. Unemployed and penniless at the time, I thought it would be difficult to actually travel to America to visit him in person, but I had read and heard a great deal about the "inner connection" a disciple enjoys with a spiritual master, and I realised there was only one way to find out if it was as powerful and transforming as I had been told. Some weeks later I heard that Sri Chinmoy had meditated on my photograph and had then accepted me. That was February 1993.
The Spiritual Heart
Once I was leading a spiritual life, meditating regularly each morning and evening, my experience of meditation entered a new phase. Like many people, I was new to the idea of the spiritual heart (or heart chakra) and not sure what it would feel like when I meditated there. Sri Chinmoy's path is known as the "Path of the Heart" and he recommends that the awareness be centred on that chakra, an area the size of your hand located in the very centre of the chest. By focussing here on the heart we can ignore the distractions of our thoughts and our senses (both of which seem to act primarily on the mind when they want our attention) and feel instead a deeper part of our existence.
The presence of this deeper part - The Soul (or Inner Being, Atman, Higher Self, etc.) is not tied to any one part of the body - in fact it is independant of the body, being the immortal part in us that exists even when the body ceases to exist. That said, the heart chakra is a place we can most readily and easily feel the Soul's presence and vibration - this feeling is the essence of my meditation. I use the word "easily" simply because I have been able to do this myself, and I am most certainly just an ordinary person, not some specially gifted or advanced seeker! The spiritual heart provides an open door to inner experience for anyone. Now, what use is someone else's description of an experience? You need to be able to have it yourself - it has to be attainable. This is the beauty of Sri Chinmoy's path for me - it has taken me out of the world of theory and into the world of practical reality. I used to read books about subtle experiences - then I found my path and began to actually have them. The most surprising thing is that these experiences are normal and can be a part of everyday life - they do not require us to leave the modern world and live in isolation in some remote cave. The higher worlds are undoubtedly to be found within us. If we are willing to look.
A Tiny Ant
My first experience of the spiritual heart was in one of my early meditation classes, hosted by my good friend the aforementioned Balavan. I felt a very subtle tingling or ticklish sensation on the skin at the centre of my chest - somewhat like the gentle contact of tiny pinpricks. It was a pleasant sensation and accompanied again by that subtle sense of "peace and wonder" as described earlier. It was also accompanied by numerous thoughts which soon drove the experience away with their clamour (as so often happens for total beginners in meditation - don't be discouraged if that happens to you at first). When I mentioned this sensation to Balavan he asked if it were like "an ant crawling around there", to which I replied yes, it was. Apparently Sri Chinmoy had once described the early experience of the spiritual heart in those terms. I was reassured that this was certainly a real and authentic experience, which gave me the confidence to focus on that feeling when it came again, pushing aside the distraction of thoughts, allowing the feeling to become stronger and the spiritual qualities that accomanpanied it to deepen - a stronger sense of peace and delight.
First Experiences With Sri Chinmoy
In April 1994 I went to New York for the first time to attend the April Celebrations marking the anniversary of Sri Chinmoy's arrival in America from India - the beginning of his mission as a spiritual teacher. This fortnight-long celebration usually involves a lot of spiritual music and meditation but also dramatic performances, sports - in fact many different avenues of creativity and inspiration. On this occasion in 1994 Sri Chinmoy was holding lots of group meditations with his students in a beautiful meditation hall below the streets of New York. I was full of excitement and anticipation before each session, too much so in fact, as my mind would not stop racing. Also the expection that I would suddenly have my best meditation ever seemed to be working against me - it was a real mental distraction. This rather frustrating process went on for a few days, until at one afternoon session of meditation everything seemed to come right. Several hundred of us sat together with Sri Chinmoy in silence in the meditation hall. I drifted into a meditative state along with everyone around me - it was nothing out of the ordinary at first, but then I looked at Sri Chinmoy, who had his eyes wide open, leaning back and looking slighly upwards, his eyes seemingly focussed on some point in the far distance. I became aware of a kind of intense power emanating from those eyes - I could clearly see it like a heat haze rippling the air, shining out like the beams of two powerful searchlights. I had never actually clearly seen a subtle or spiritual power like this before with my own eyes - I was totally enthralled. Sri Chinmoy began to scan the room from one side to the other, very slowly turning his head and meditating on each group of people for a few seconds. As his gaze fell on each section I could see the people there shift slightly in their posture, sitting more upright, seeming to become suddenly more energised in their meditation. When Sri Chinmoy looked over towards my section of the room, it felt as if he were looking only at me (though I am sure each of the people sat around me felt the same), and the power I had seen flowing from his eyes shone suddenly into me. For a few seconds I had the hghest experience I had thus far had in my life. It was powerful, beautiful, delightful and as the moments passed the overwhelming feeling was one of gratitude.
That meditation has always stayed fresh in my memory as it was the moment I really learnt how powerful the help of a spiritual master can be. I already believed that to be the case of course, but here was something so powerful and real that even my sceptical mind could not reject it. I know I could never have had that experience without any help or guidance. In our individualistic society here in the West, many now feel that the spiritual journey should be travelled alone without help, and I have even heard much talk of "self initiation". If we look at truly great spiritual figures through history and study their lives, we will find that most had a teacher of their own at some stage on their way to enlightenment. I have always believed in the saying "When the seeker is ready, the Master will appear". As you can see, It even happened to me.
The Journey's Start
Meditation is an experience of the inner self. Anyone can have it. It doesn't happen in the mind, in fact it seems to happen in spite of the mind's objections. It makes you aware of your heart and soul, and, miraculously, it really can bring you inner fulfilment. Sri Chinmoy has often said of meditation that it is "not like instant coffee". Patience is required. Certainly in my case I have realised what a huge task the transformation of my human nature is, but also what an important task it is. We can only make the world a better place by making the people in it better people - and of course we have to start with ourselves. One thing every one of us can do though, no matter what our circumstances, is start out on that journey. Good luck!