I am an anti-meditator.
Or at least I was, until almost two years ago when I embarked on a silent retreat over the new year.
That retreat changed my view on meditation. Up to that point I hated it. I hated the whole concept of it. But seven days in silence and some excellent guidance on what meditation really is and how to do it properly changed my myopic view.
The problem came afterwards, of course. In the camp with the support of the group and the teacher I was able to go deep, reach places I had never reached before, experience realisations that were literally life changing. This filled me with enthusiasm and aspiration. I left the camp on a high—not only converted but also affirmed in my conviction that meditation was the way forward, the linchpin from which my life would now revolve around.
And for a few weeks after the camp it was like that. Meditating for an hour daily in silence (unheard of for me a few months before that), practising what I learned, trying to apply it. But it wasn’t quite the same. The meditations didn’t go so deep, the focus was spasmodic at best and the realisations were scarce. Slowly my enthusiasm sapped. Like an oak tree heading for winter, one by one my leaves of aspiration fell. Before I knew it I was bare.
Inconspicuously my aspiration for meditation was put on the back burner. Other things became more important: reading, writing, asanas, pranayama… anything but the fruitless, futile meditation. Before I knew it I was back in my second silent retreat over New Year’s. I hadn’t learned to meditate in the preceding year but I had learned one thing—you can’t master meditation in seven days. You need to practise, a lot.
So going into my second camp I had a different attitude. I would use the camp only to have some realisations and use these to fuel my aspiration. I would no longer use the good states and realisations as the goal of meditation. I committed to a yearlong tapas (a spiritual commitment where you commit to a certain action for a certain amount of time) of one hour of meditation every day. This time I was leaving myself no room for excuses—no escape route. It was the longest tapas I ever undertook and also the most daunting.
I am now 10 months into my meditation tapas and I have learned a lot. I have done a lot of tapases over the last five years or so but this one is the most powerful and transforming. Yes, a few weeks after the camp I hit a dry patch. Week after week of closing my eyes for an hour every day and not feeling anything—not even stopping the incessant thoughts for a minute. But suddenly just when you were about to give up all hope a breakthrough comes. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn and I think this is the case with meditation also. When you feel nothing for days or weeks, one morning you will close your eyes and hit that zen spot of no mind, total tranquility. A deep bliss that reverberates through your entire being bringing peace and fulfillment. It completely changes your day and entices you to continue your practice, deeper, stronger. Meditations like this can last for days in your conscious mind and probably echo eternally through your more subtle bodies.
I used to get frustrated when I had a bad meditation session. But after meditating consistently over a longer period of time, I realise that things come in waves or phases. You have a week of good meditations in a row and you think “that’s it, I’ve nailed it. Never again will I have a bad meditation.” Only to close your eyes the next day and be persecuted by relentless thoughts completely indelible. And it’s the same the other way around. But if you don’t go through the bad meditations and continue on you will never see this pattern. You will always stop short.
One thing I learned pretty quickly was to give up state hunting. If you meditate to have “states” then you are in trouble. Unless you are already skilled, the first few years of meditation is really just practise to start meditating. When you can control your mind at will, focus it in one direction and maintain it there uninterrupted for an hour or more, then you are meditating. Before that you are just practising. And if you are seeking states all the time you will be very disappointed. Any day you don’t achieve those nice states will seem like a failure. It will dampen your enthusiasm and resolve. Take the “practise” approach rather than the “states” approach.
Apparently paradoxical (to the previous paragraph), results are important. But it’s how you use results that make them important. Results, which can include profound states, are important milestone, signs of progress. They let you know you are going the right way. They inspire you to keep going, to strive for more, achieve greater things. Results can also be inconspicuous. I had a firm belief a few months into my tapas I was going nowhere, making no progress. It got to the point where I had to take a step out and analyse what was going wrong.
My main objective for the year was to stabilise my level of consciousness in the Supramental. Almost 50 percent of the time in the silent retreat I was able to enter the Supramental, at least fleetingly. But I wanted to be able to go there whenever, wherever. So, after about two months of having failed to find the Supramental even once on my own I was getting deflated. I looked seriously at my meditations and my practise. It was completely true—I hadn’t entered the Supramental once on my own. An ominous sign given my tapas goal. However analysing my meditations I realised that almost never had I fallen asleep in the last two months. Furthermore not once had I failed completely to grasp at least part of a meditation (previously it was not uncommon for me to start thinking about work or emails or dinner at the beginning of a meditation only for that thought to be interrupted by the ending bell 30 minutes later). So yes, I was failing miserably with my objective—but unknown to myself, I was laying solid foundations for a good meditative practise.
Whenever you can, give yourself a shot in the arm, a boost, a pep up. Around mid-year I was in a trough. A good few weeks of focusing, losing focus, refocusing. A constant battle with my mind, searching for the illusive tranquility that always seemed to elude me. The opportunity came up to go to a self-revelation camp in Italy and I took it. There with the support of the group and the teacher I have the deepest and most profound mediation I ever had. I can still feel it now. It was like Yogananda’s first experience of Samadhi in his superlative book, Autobiography of a Yogi.
Mine was much more fleeting than his and I couldn’t return there at will but it changed something inside me. I could feel my attitudes, my beliefs, my DNA reconstructing inside me. It came on the back of a very dry period of personal practise and was made possible (I believe) only by the grace of the camp. That meditation still remains deeply impregnated in my being and I invoke it almost daily as a reminder of where this can lead. It has an overwhelming power to fuel my aspiration and to continue on what sometimes looks like a barren path.
Finally I learned to be more conscious about the effects that such a tapas and practice has. Things are often changing in our lives, we just lack the awareness to see it. I have noticed my overall disposition is more relaxed and detached on a daily basis. I am more aware and conscious of my body and my being. My love making and relationship has benefited enormously from my meditative practice. I can achieve deeper states of empathy and communion with my beloved. My asana practise is much quieter and more fulfilling. A lot of the transformations are subtle and not always obvious. But when I go deep into it I can see the connections clearly.
A year is a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things. Yet I have seen enough in this tapas to convince me that I want to meditate daily for at least one hour, preferably more for the rest of my life. There is so much to be explored within and I have barely scratched the surface. I have been fortunate enough to have glimpses of what lies beyond the waves of an agitated mind. It has strengthened my aspiration and resolve to turn the waves into ripples and the ripples into stillness so that I can experience that ecstatic bliss that comes from pure being.
Author: Kieran Dowling
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own