Yoga as Meditation: The Power Of Sitting Now.

Via on Nov 28, 2011

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.

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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44 Responses to “Yoga as Meditation: The Power Of Sitting Now.”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

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  2. fivefootwo says:

    very instructive as usual. I am particularly shocked about the fact that I have never really bothered to find out what custerf*#k really means. It must be that scary. Off to do some research..

  3. Ramesh says:

    Fivefotttwo, as a non-native to the US and not one to hang out at bars, I encountered that term only a few years ago myself at a business meeting and ended up laughing out load with that group of raunchy guys. When I encountered the term in the Zen monk's article, I thought it so aptly misplaced that I laughed even harder….
    It's a crude term not commonly used in spiritual literature, of curse, but I think also an apt one, even if it only brings us out of the head and the intellect into the emotional realm for a while. But I also do understand that some people may not like the analogy at all!

  4. Ramesh says:

    Thanks for your research! Here's some more……
    Alternative forms

    * cluster fuck

    [edit] Etymology

    Reportedly coined by the hippie poet Ed Sanders in the 1960s, in the form Mongolian clusterfuck; it is frequently used in the military.
    [edit] Pronunciation

    * (UK) IPA: /ˈklʌst.ə(ɹ)ˌfʌk/, SAMPA: /klVst.@(r)%fVk/

    [edit] Noun

    clusterfuck (plural clusterfucks)

    1. (vulgar) A chaotic mess that might be compared to group sex, in which participants are so intertwined and intermingled that they might penetrate each other rather than their intended target. Its more precise usage describes a particular kind of Catch-22, in which multiple complicated problems mutually interfere with each other's solution. The looser usage, referring to any chaotic situation, probably prevails.

  5. Padma Kadag says:

    alas…to sit for spiritual gain..insight truth. If we sit for ourselves alone…what do we gain? Many many "buddhists" writing and preaching…Buddha this, Buddha that..attain bliss.. anger release, etc etc…Yet what moved the Buddha to renunciation was the fear of death …then the suffering which is never without end…The buddha brought all sentient beings beyond suffering…not to leave one mother sentient being behind…Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta so rarely spoken by these "buddhists" who write about this and that…What use is a spiritual practice without aleviating the suffering of others? Yet…the Buddha was able to do just that..with or without serving food at a soup kitchen…Where are all of the Buddhists?

  6. Padma Kadag says:

    BTW…your quote from Michael Stone…"“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.” …This says nothing. Read it carefully or uncarefully it still says nothing.

  7. Ramesh says:

    What MS describes is a form of Mindfullness which is an important element in meditation: observing the world as it is without attachment.

  8. Padma Kadag says:

    I know what he is saying and i still stand by my comment. Says nothing. Where all of the Buddhists?

  9. Ramesh says:

    The Buddhists can speak for themselves, but from my yogic/tantric point of view, there are all kinds of Buddhists–just as there are all kinds of yogi/tantrics. Nobody has a monopoly on either of the terms or paths. There are also Buddhist Yogis, hatha yogis practicing Buddhist meditation, Buddhists practicing hatha yoga. So to me, Micheal Stone's writing is often meaningful, insightful.

  10. […] Yoga as Meditation: The Power Of Sitting Now.. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Posted in Uncategorized […]

  11. Padma Kadag says:

    It is funny how we rate responses here…you appear to give yourself a +1 with every one of your comments…this speaks volumes. If we do not aspire first..to alleviate the suffering of all beings…whether buddhist or not..then how can we consider ourselves spiritual? This was the focus of the Northern California natives and without it the Buddha would have not existed. Maybe Siddartha would have been a progressive psychologist entrenching himself in more ego and selfishness

  12. fivefootwo says:

    I am far from on expert on this topic, but perhaps those Buddhist scholars write in other websites?

  13. OhDearGoddess says:

    Padma, what does the Buddha have to say about obliviously hypocritical self-righteousness and holier-than-thou spiritual one-upmanship?

  14. Ramesh says:

    Padma, you wrote: "All this talk of breath, posture, bliss, grace, and etc, etc, will get us nothing without the altruism of Bodhicitta…and yet…rarely if ever is it mentioned. That is all I am saying."
    It will not get us simply nothing…there are many many benefits to yoga and meditation on a personal level…spirituality is not all or nothing, it is all and every stage in between. BUT I do agree with you in the importance of Bodhicitta and the importance of balancing personal liberation with service to all sentient beings, the balancing of spiritual practice with activism and selfless service to the world. I also do agree that we could use many more articles about this topic here on EJ. If that is all you meant, then just say so! :-)

  15. integralhack says:

    Padma, Ramesh,

    I would say you are both right. The Buddhist tantric master Lama Yeshe wrote:

    "Although it is true that bodhichitta is the most important prerequisite for tantric practice, in fact, it is more accurate to say that the opposite is true: that the purpose of practicing tantra is to enhance the scope of one's bodhichitta."

    To me it seems obvious that Ramesh is in agreement with bodhichitta as a beginning and an end. The overcoming of personal–maybe even public–samskaras and the blissful union are very yogic, Buddhist and tantric in the recognition/overcoming of the egoic self and its pathologies and the goal of (compassionate) union with the divine Self. Okay, doctrinaire Buddhists may have issues with the latter, but depending on what school you're from, you can replace divine Self, Brahman or what have you with "Emptiness," "Luminous Mind" or "Dharmadhatu," to name a few.

    It's really all just terminology until you get on your butt and practice which is what I think Ramesh might be saying.

    Thanks again, Ramesh, for an inspirational post and thank you Padma, for reminding of us all of the compassionate goal as well as the Archimedean point of bodhichitta.

    Matt

  16. Ramesh says:

    And thank you, Matt, for a succinct and poignant "summary" trying to bridge our viewpoints. Lama Yeshe is perhaps my most favorite Buddhist tantric teacher, so that quote was a winner!
    I think there has been too little emphasis on the integration of Bodhicitta or more accurately in yogic parlance: that the Self Is Brahma is the World. Too much of the yogic enterprize has been and still is about personal transformation and less about transforming the self and the world. While many yogis say the world is an illusion, so why bother, some Buddhists would of course say that one cannot transform the world before one is enlightened and with this I disagree. In Tantra, serving the world, seeing the world as sacred and divine no matter where one is on the enlightenment totem pole, is part of the practice, is part of the knowing the world is an imperfect and dualistic manifestation and will always be so while still being divine at its ground of being, and Lama Yeshe has beautifully emphasized that in his work, that all is Divinely Empty.
    Finally. yes these are all words, Matt, it is practice that counts, it is walking the talk that counts–how much we have actualized and realized.

  17. Ramesh says:

    Matt, thanks so much for your eloquence and broadmindedness. The essence of spirituality is very simple and philosophical doctrines can often make us loose touch with that inner essence. The Dali Lama and Thich Nath Hanh are great examples of that simplicity; yet they are very sophisticated philosophically. But when it comes to being Buddhists they embody the path's essence in their hearts of hearts.
    As you said: Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra is essentially the same. Christian Tantra also, even though there is no such term/path historically. Spirituality is in essence the same in all religion, and that is what Tantra is, the path of liberation, of transformation, no matter your religion..
    I wholeheartedly agree.

  18. […] is it?” is the Zen instruction for when things get this out of control in our heads. My teacher puts it another way: Watch the […]

  19. carolinemcmahon says:

    Thank you Ramesh. I have been sitting. My stuff is coming up in a new way for sure. Thank you for this post.

  20. Ebeth says:

    There is no one type of meditation. Each person finds their own level depending on what they are looking for. Each individual sits, closes their eyes and takes that deep breath. Reading Tolle (I never got that he wanted to give direct instruction for meditation) and Lama Yeshe (a particular favorite of mine), even Patanjali, offers different perspectives. Some people like Tantric meditation and stirring up the soup, others favor the Tibetan Buddhists adn Dalai Lama, others Deepak Chopra and his style of bringing in what you dream, even the Lutherans have contemplative practices. There are meditations for children, for soothing anger, for vigils as a body begins to pass, and one for women in childbirth. Many do meditation for health and to calm a storm in the body during illness. Tantric meditation is NOT for soothing intense illness.

    Isnt it said that your spiritual path is determined karmically, before you are born based on past lives? So each must follow their intuition and learn what the word soul means in their own time, with their own understanding. Every time I hear a person say this is the one meditation process or this is better than others, I know it is a young soul speaking.

    Blessings for the new year.

  21. Ramesh says:

    Elbeth,
    it largely depends if you practice meditation for transformation or for relaxation. All transformational and spiritual type of meditations will 'stir things up" that is part of the transformative path, no matter what type of spiritual practice it is. In that sense, transformation is tantric, and tantra is by its very universal nature sometimes a bumpy ride. That is life. But it is also, for me, at this stage, a mostly pleasant and blissful practice. So, yes, I agree with you, it very much depends on what you are looking for in your practice, to calm down or to truly transform? And if the practice is truly authentic and transformative, which is one definition of tantrs, then the practice will both soothe nerves and transform and liberate the soul.

  22. Yasica greenbless says:

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