I meditate at least twice every day, in the morning and evening. It is something I have done pretty much every day since becoming a disciple of Sri Chinmoy in 1999. Sri Chinmoy's approach to meditation is fairly simple. He advises seekers to concentrate on the spiritual heart and stop thoughts from going around your mind. In fact the two are related because concentrating on the heart is one of the best ways to escape from the mind, whose very nature is to produce thoughts. When I first started meditating I found it difficult to enter this 'spiritual heart'. (The spiritual heart is a psychic energy centre or chakra. We have seven main chakras which run along our spinal cord. They each have different qualities and experiences).
When I started meditating, I remember feeling a slight pressure in the centre of the forehead (a chakra known as the third eye). I was perhaps used to being in the mind and found it difficult to identify myself as being centred in the heart. But, after a few weeks or months of meditating, I felt the sensation and presence of a psychic centre in the middle of the chest, just to the right of the physical heart. Concentrating on the heart gives a very sweet sensation. It is also reassuring because it gives you a real feeling that you are actually concentrating on the part of yourself where the soul resides. Sometimes, I may be doing some mundane task, and I feel an awakening in the heart centre. It never fails to lift a little negativity and create a better consciousness. The presence of the heart centre also feels like the soul’s alarm clock to meditate; it is a physical reminder of our inner life.
Sri Chinmoy has taught many different meditation techniques, but, when meditating I only use a few techniques. The first is being completely aware of this psychic heart centre. Secondly, when thoughts come I try to feel that I am merely observing them. You can easily be aware that the thoughts don't originate in the heart, they feel like they come from outside. By rejecting thoughts, you come to realise that the real "I” – the real Self – is not your thoughts, because there is something which can decide whether to pursue thoughts or reject them. This is quite liberating because often we find ourselves prisoner to our own thoughts; it is hard to detach from them, so we surrender to whatever thought comes – good or bad. But, in meditation, we should no longer identify with thoughts.
Unfortunately, as most people who have tried meditation will attest to, it is very difficult to stop the creation of thoughts. It is the nature of the mind to welcome thoughts – some good, some bad, and some just silly. So even after years of practising meditation, I still find thoughts will appear as soon as I start to meditate. However, when I can get into a good meditation, thoughts start to lose some of their power, they feel like a separate entity to myself. Although thoughts are still there, they feel insignificant. It is like observing leaves floating on a pond; you are happy for them to just blow away, they feel separate to yourself. Thus in a good meditation, you feel the power of the spiritual heart is much greater than the power of the mind. There are times, when for a brief time, thoughts are absent, and you are just concentrating on the heart.
Sometimes, when you are concentrating on the heart, it happens that you feel you are actually there – as if you are looking out from the heart. It is not just a visualisation but feels like a physical reality.
One problem with meditation is that when you actually achieve this silent stillness and you feel a peaceful consciousness, the mind starts jumping in and produces a thought like, 'Great, I'm meditating really well now!' Of course, the last thing you want is to have a running commentary on your meditation. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the mind; it likes to be involved in everything – even meditation when you want it to be silent. The only thing to do is persist and continue to ignore the clamourings of the mind.
In a good meditation, you have a better feeling about yourself, other people and the world. Sometimes you may fear a particular situation, or you are annoyed with someone. After a good meditation, the solution has invariably presented itself. Nothing has changed; only you have a different consciousness – a different perspective. When we are in the mind, the ego is to the fore, so we are often nursing feelings of wounded pride, insecurity or jealousy. But, meditation takes us out of this mental dis-equilibrium. In the heart, we don't have these negative thoughts. We are just happy with ourselves as we are; naturally we feel more charitable towards others. We empathise with the failings of others rather than being judgmental and critical. When we are in a good consciousness it is much easier to offer goodwill to others.
I have to admit that at the start of the spiritual life, one of the great attractions was the idea of entering into some vague samadhi trance, to lose consciousness of the body and see the universe in its reality of delight.
However, after 10 years of meditating, I realize that such states are the end of a very long spiritual journey. Yet, there have been a couple of times when, unexpectedly, you felt a very different consciousness, a very powerful experience and vivid realisation that there is something much vaster and deeper than the ordinary human consciousness.
One experience was this feeling of tremendous peace. Previously, I had associated peace with a nice feeling of relaxation or something like that. But, this was quite different. It was a feeling of peace associated with great joy. It felt like this peace belonged to everybody. It wasn't something I was experiencing on my own. It was simply a consciousness that everybody had deep inside them. The only thing you wanted to do with this peace was to feel grateful and share it with everyone; you couldn't want to exclude anyone. Everyone is part of this experience. There was also a feeling that this wasn't a new experience; it was something you always had, but now had just remembered and you couldn't work out why you had forgotten it. There was also a sense of being really alive, like you had really woken up and life was much more vivid and real than ever before. Inwardly, I was begging for this consciousness to remain forever; nothing could approach it; all the name and fame and possible worldly enjoyments were as nothing compared to this experience. You would gladly lead the most ascetic life if it could be maintained. The last thing I remember is that I felt like I was making absolutely no effort. It was like something was meditating in and through me. Often, when you meditate, you feel it is you who is making a great personal effort. But, actually, when you meditate really well, you feel like you aren't doing anything! This is one of the paradoxes of meditation.
Sri Chinmoy says that it is our soul that meditates for us.
I try to bring the soul to the fore and then the soul convinces the heart and mind to do the right thing. So it is the soul's light that actually meditates in and through the seeker.
Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy Speaks, Part 6, Agni Press, 1976.
Our part is to make a clear path for the soul to come to the fore; this is where we need personal effort to quiet the mind and enter the heart. However, this personal effort is not enough – we also need God's Grace.
Every meditation is different. Sometimes, it can feel like tough work. On such days, I might not meditate for too long, perhaps 15 or 20 minutes. But, on other occasions, you feel a great desire to meditate. Other things can seem mechanical. I just feel a need to be silent and try to meditate. Even if thoughts are roaming through the mind, I still become drawn to meditate.
Sri Chinmoy says the real secret to meditation is not techniques but our inner cry – the inner aspiration to enter into a deeper, more divine consciousness.
One of Sri Chinmoy's greatest legacies is his output of spiritual songs, spiritual music. It is one of the easiest ways to connect with the heart and the psychic consciousness. On some recordings, Guru's voice is so profound and deep it can't but move you. There are also many disciple groups who have recorded the most wonderful music. At meditation classes, many of those who attend express their gratitude for such wonderful and uplifting music. So many people comment they have never heard anything like it before. Music has often given me a spiritual experience, even when I didn’t particularly feel inspired. Guru’s music can take you out of yourself.
Meditation and Singing
Before joining Sri Chinmoy's spiritual path, my experience of singing amounted to little more than a few short songs on the football terraces.
Anyway, life can change quickly and, after immersing myself in the spiritual life, I realized that singing was an integral part of Guru's path. Immediately, I was struck by the soulful and moving nature of music and, much to my own surprise, realised how much soulful singing could change one’s consciousness and inspire a more soulful consciousness.
I wasn't a great singer, but I found constant practice made the voice more tolerable. In my first few years, I learnt many songs, choosing those which moved me the most. I loved it and found the melodies reverberating in the most unlikely situations – cycling on my bike, even going shopping in the supermarket.
After a few years, my good habit of learning new songs fell by the wayside as other things came into my life. But, I never forgot those few hundred songs I learnt. Much to my surprise, I found they stuck in the mind. I can never remember someone's name to save my life; but give me a long Bengali song in Indian notation and somehow it sticks and I can find the words appearing on my lips, even though I last sang it many months or years ago. Every now and then I get back into learning new songs. I certainly get a lot from the sadhana of singing.
photo top: Tejvan, Oxford