ON THE SPIRITUAL SIDE OF LIFE:
HOW TO MEDITATE:
Our lives have been inundated with stimuli. We are the most fortunate country, yet, for many there is no peace. The human toll for the development of technology has been tremendous. Spirituality is taking a back seat. It has been said that it is difficult for a rich man to get into heaven. Maybe many of us are gaining the whole world but losing our souls.
It was my great fortune to be "imprisoned" at Sing Sing Correctional, as a volunteer, 2 times a week for 3 years. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life. My time there as originator of the Zen Meditation program was proof of the effectiveness of a practical approach to spirituality.
MY EXPERIENCE IN PRISON
I can't tell you the feeling I had when that steel door was first slammed behind me, and that large key turned. I kept cool as my emotions rose up, and my sense of claustrophobia intensified. You know now that your actions are magnified, the atmosphere is charged. You are being evaluated. You are being watched. How is he reacting? Is he afraid? What does he want from us? I instinctively hid my fear. I prayed to God to give me the strength to do the right thing here. I knew he would. I knew what I had to do was going to protect me, God would protect me, as he had in the past. I was an instrument of peace. Oh thank you lord. Thank you for making me grow, forcing me to grow, giving me the guts to even consider this insanity.
But, it wasn't long before I was able to feel more at ease, as my reputation grew, they knew I wasn't there to take. After a while, I began to feel stronger, and even protected. As crazy as it sounds, I began to feel more protected by my new found friends than I did on the outside. I began to look forward to the meetings. As the months grew on, I learned how the prison life took a man's mind and made it small, made it rigid. They were preoccupied with petitions for this or that privilege, doing this or that program, waiting for years to be put in a better cell with a view and more freedom.
The contrast of their lives in prison compared to the outside is so stark, that most cannot admit their guilt. It is too painful. It must be someone else's fault. I couldn't have put myself in this position. They can't accept it. I don't blame them. Of course, perish the thought, some may even be innocent.
We started each session with 45 minutes of Hatha yoga (positions), conducted by a professional teacher. Then, we would "sit" Zazen for 30-40 minutes, (SEE HERE) counting breaths. Then with the sound of a Tibetan bell, we would rise and do "walking" meditation for 5-10 minutes or so, to stretch the legs, then sit again. This cycle was repeated a maximum of 3 times per session, which was a maximum of 120 minutes, and a minimum of 30 minutes depending on the mood of the room. The more squirmy, the less time, etc. the more we were focused, the more likely to do a third sitting. Anyway, the meditation consisted of counting breaths, and keeping attention in the lower abdomen. Here are excellent instructions.
HOW TO SIT ZAZEN:
An excellent description by the people at Zen Mountain Monastery is given in (pif) adobe form here. If you follow these instructions, you cannot miss. By the way the only connection I have with them is that I bought their excellent quality cushions from them.
During you sitting, you should be aware of the different parts of yourself. Head, Thorax and Pelvic areas. As well as the top of the head and base of the spine. Sitting upright is definitely the best. Those with medical problems can try this in any position. This "scanning" is to find areas of tension and let go of them. A certain amount of tension is necessary, such as the long muscles of the spine to keep you erect. On an inner level, there is tension that can be let go of, and once you get past this superficial level you will find that it is much easier to go inside.
It makes no sense to demand perfection of yourself, this only gets in the way. As you discipline the mind, these will become second nature, and you will make adjustments quickly. In the beginning, it may take a long time to be aware of certain tension you are holding, for example in the head, neck, chest or sexual areas. The majority of your attention in zazen is below the navel.
Many people have this amusing idea that they should be able to sit down and do this perfectly the first time. Where have we gotten these strange ideas? It takes time to learn anything, and meditation is no different.
This is a lifelong thing. Just like watering a tree. It never stops needing it. The more water and nourishment it takes in, the bigger, healthier and the more fruit it will bear. The stronger you get, the more stable and happy you will become. Your life will normalize. All you need to do is water the plant. Stop watering, and you stop growing, you will crystallize. When you crystallize, it is like going into a sleep, or a state of suspended animation, you are alive, but not consciously growing, learning, evolving, being.
BECOMING ONE WITH
ACTIVELY PASSIVE "Where man is like a plant"
Most think of meditation as non productive, just doing nothing. You can see an individual in a group, just sitting there, no attention, no effort, as if they were trying to figure it out. One cannot meditate effectively with the analytical mind being dominant. "The mind is the slayer of the soul"
Meditation is active, the active process of letting go, to sense where there is no flow. Any emotions or reactions that will inevitably occur, are needed. This is the manifestation of the tension, on emotional levels. Let it happen and it will strengthen you, interfere and you limit your evolution.
Not to react, to allow this flow to increase inside and transform us. A very active process of becoming receptive and increasing the intensity and depth of the openness. An active process of detaching from our lower nature (small mind) and allowing big mind to expand.
Whatever your problem, the question you must ask yourself is: " Are you above it?" You and I will always have imperfections, but are we trapped by them? Are we living as slaves to our desires or instinctual nature ? Proper meditation will open your centers and allow your higher self to energize and rise above the lesser nature.
Anyone who has been chronically depressed knows that when they feel energized it is hard to feel that way. They are then "above it". But, rather than wait for those moments, why not energize yourself consciously and break the cycle of the bonds of negative emotions. Those feelings will slowly fade away over time, but don't become familiar with them. Don't invite them in for dinner, and conversation. And for God sakes don't let yourself begin to enjoy them! These are monsters which suck the life out of people and drag everyone around them into it. The wolf in sheep's clothing. Beneath many a weak pathetic emotional state lies a ferocious lion waiting to pounce if you try to overcome that state. Just try to help the person. They can fight you tooth and nail.
Then you can live with yourself, not hating the imperfections, but seeing them for what they are. Hatred and annoyance of problems will only serve to create a rebellion later. Those same problems will come back because you have served them by feeding them attention and emotion. If you do not feed them, they will not get stronger and consume you later.
Don't make friends with your problems or illnesses, don't identify or accept them. Ignore them like a naughty child and that child will eventually calm down and become more manageable. The mind is like a monkey, jumping all over the place, without discipline, none of this is possible. One must make the mind one pointed, and controlled. Then the emotions can be channeled positively.
Detachment does not mean indifference, quite the contrary, it helps to purify and allow the universal emotions of unconditional love to flow forth. Spiritual growth is like the tree growing, slowly but surely, every year, until you cannot believe how large it has grown over time. But this takes a concerted effort over a long time. Try to make your spiritual practice a routine, but do not meditate more than 30-45 minutes at one time. It is too easy to get spaced out, and create a little escape world to run away from life. Sit down, get into it, open and strengthen your mind and spirit, and try to stay quiet and open throughout the day until it becomes permanent.
A few essentials for growth:
Gratitude: In the end, for life itself, no matter how difficult.
Surrender: The ability to let go and allow change to occur.
Trust: That those who have gone before are real.
Consistency, Humility, Dedication, Charity, Honesty
COMMENTS ON EASTERN RELIGIONS:
It is interesting to see the different kinds of meditation which reflect the different kinds of people and cultures. Zen is certainly a very stern, and earthy kind of discipline. The Hindu approach, especially Kundalini, is a very expressive, loving and emotive and even sexual expression of spirituality.
My teacher was once asked what are you looking to attain? He replied, that Tibetan Buddhism was like a lofty pine tree, and after a lifetime, you attain a beautiful flower atop that tree. The Hindu approach was like a beautiful bush of roses, not so high but very beautiful. What I want is to graft the rosebush onto the tree. He wanted to blend the two together.
For my tastes, Zen was a bit too dry. The Japanese culture is somewhat repressive to me. This is just my opinion. I liked my teachers approach, somewhere in the middle. But to calm an undisciplined mind? Nothing is faster than sitting Zazen.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHAKRAS?:
Yes, this is an interesting topic. The chakras are real. They are the doorways to the deep spiritual realms. Each with their own particular vibration. Each with their own purpose. Strung together like beads, vibrating in the cosmic harmony, all the corners of the universe are contained within a human being. We just have to learn to nourish and strengthen these divine centers. Here are a few nice diagrams.
The lower abdomen is the center of a human being. The energy flow is front down, back up. Any blocks along the way create problems. The chakra below the navel is the nexus between the upper and lower realms of awareness. The upper being more refined and human, the lower being more base and instinctual. A balance of these two "worlds" will help to bring peace, wisdom and personal freedom.