November 29, 2011

Yoga as Meditation: The Power Of Sitting Now.

Like so many other spiritual seekers, I love the legendary little book by the German-Canadian spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now.

But I love my daily meditation practice even more than the beautiful and wise words in Tolle’s book.

What’s missing in Tolle’s book, for me, is a personal technique, a personal method as simple and transformative as those meditation techniques invented in India thousands of years ago, and which each day enables so many of us to feel the Power of Now, from our rear ends all the way up our spiritually inclined, kundalini climbing spines.

What Eckhart Tolle has given us are wise words on pages of bestselling paper, and, for me, these words are wise reminders for living life between the meditation sittings.  But they do not take me to that deep space of Now in the same way my meditation practice does.

My sitting practice gives me each day a direct pathway into my own heart and mind. Into that space where heart and mind may act in one harmonious flow. Like a silent symphony. And I would not exchange that experience, that practice, for any book, not even Eckhart Tolle’s.

The Power of Now we achieve while sitting in meditation is often incredibly blissful. But not always.

Because spiritual work—such as sitting and repeating a mantra tied to the sonic tune of our silent breath and concentrating on a chakra tied to the sonic tune of our even more transcendent soul—is not always spiritually uplifting, nor even spiritually insightful.

As an angry and very articulate Zen monk perceptively wrote in an article in Buddhadharma magazine: Spiritual practice is “transformative, and this kind of transformation can get messy. The Sanskrit term for this is clusterf*ck.”

What this wiseass Zen monk means is that meditation—not the listening-to-relaxing-music-kind, but the kind that’s designed for spiritual transformation—stir things up. It often creates the perfect little teacup of a shitstorm in our head and heart, where all the stuff we’ve been repressing our whole life (and perhaps from many other lives) may suddenly come floating up to the surface of our dark, introverted soul.

Transformative meditation is therefore not for psychological sissies. It takes courage to face and contemplate all the creepy demons suddenly let loose from the inside out. All those three- and ten-headed devils the Buddha faced under the Bodhi tree before his final enlightenment; we must face the same ones as well.

In modern lingo those devils are simply all the bad news we see on our ego-screen while meditating. Bad news about our self-esteem, our diet, our marriage, our relationship, our job, our family, our life in general. All those contemporary devils we all know too well.

And that’s one important reason why I think so many people find it hard to sit in meditation, day in and day out. And why so many leave the practice, a few months or years, before it really gets to be transformative and truly and totally fulfilling.

We have certainly heard stories about how meditation makes you calmer, more centered. But when did anybody tell us this peaceful experience sometimes is just the calm before the perfect psychological shitstorm?

And when the shit suddenly hits the fan, we may not be prepared to face it. And, since spiritual meditation practice comes without a psychology degree, or a therapist, we may decide to discontinue the practice, finally seek a therapist, pick up yet another copy of a self-help book, or simply continue our less psychologically confrontational hatha yoga practice with renewed inspiration and vigor. Then say to ourself “This is really all the yoga I need.”

But if we want more? Then we must face our lousy karma, or more philosophically correct, our lousy samskaras, head on. These physical and psychological imprints are stored in our pain body, the armor we, according to Eckhart Tolle, surrounds ourselves with, the armor of the body, the armor of the ego, the armor of the false me.

In yogic and Sanskrit terminology, the messy psychological stuff our armor is built of is our samskaras, psychological imprints from past actions and experiences. Unresolved and unfinished psychological business. Our hush-hush family traumas, repressed angers, untold fears, and secret desires.

In other words, all the repressed, unconscious material Freud said we invented religion in order to escape.

According to yoga, Freud had it almost right. Meditation practice was, in part, invented, not to escape something but to transform something, to transform the sludge of our repressed samskaras, and through sitting practice to dissolve this syrupy mess from our emotionally stuck hearts and soul.

Hence, I think of meditation mantras as microbe eating organisms that dissolve the oily sludge from the inner, watery ocean of our being.

But not so fast. Before the sludge particles are dissolved for good, the meditation practice stirs it all up and makes it all visible to ourselves, our friends, our spouses, our co-workers. More visible than ever before. This unconscious sludge is now expressed with renewed energy in the form of anger, irritability, impatience, lust, jealousy, greed. Or whatever other dysfunctional malady we suffer from.

Hence, the apt term “the enlightened neurotic.”

Spiritual practice and spiritual growth does not always equal psychological growth. Therefore it’s a good idea to combine cushion practice with mat practice. It’s also a good idea to combine meditation with psychological work, with ethical work (yama and niyama), with service and activism, with devotional practice (kirtan). Simply sitting on our ass is not enough. Our whole being must be engaged and transformed.

To paraphrase the famous sage and muckracker Charles Dickens: meditation can be the best of times, it can be the worst of times, it can be the moment of wisdom, and it can be the moment of madness. But one thing is for certain, if practiced properly and diligently, it can be one of the most honest, truthful, important, longest (and blissful) Now Moments of our life. Again and again.

As yoga teacher and psychotherapist Michael Stone says: “This takes us to one of the simplest aspects of practice; being honest. Once we train the mind to see the body as the body, to be with the breath without distraction, and to stay present even during difficult mental and physical states, a natural outcome is being honest about what we see.”

Often we don’t see who we really are because we are so wrapped up in the image of ourselves colored by our mental imprints, our samskaras.

Meditation helps us to gradually gain the insight that being in the Now is a condition of freedom beyond contradictions and limitations, beyond our samskaras.

This state of inner union or wholeness that comes with prolonged meditation practice, what many also call bliss, is a state where there is no need to resolve the contradictions of our life, because all opposites have already been solved.

We are then in that state where everything begins and everything ends, in wholeness, in union, in bliss, in love. We are truly in the Power of Now.

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