[This is part of a letter. Naturally, all personal references have been omitted.]
In your question about meditation, I assume you are referring to a formal kind of meditation, where you sit quietly, without distraction, either in active concentration or some kind of passive meditation? If so, then the 30 to 40 minutes twice a day you are doing already is ample, unless of course you are actually moved from within to do more!
The timing of this kind of formal meditation is most important. Ideally, it should be before you start the day, and/or as you end the day's activities. Also, the quality is far more important than the quantity. If you can regularly devote ten, or even five, minutes to meditation, totally without distraction and totally committed, then you will be accomplishing a great deal.
As for other kinds of meditation, we have found that snatching a few moments whenever and wherever you can, whenever you remember to do so, is very useful. The aim of meditation is to train the mind to consistently resort to itself, within, in spite of, and eventually during, other activities. In this sense, meditation is a mind-training and disciplining exercise.
So, while at work or engaged in any kind of activity, make a conscious effort from time to time, but regularly, to remember to bring your attention back into your heart, even for a second or so. When doing so, invoke God, or Peace, or Love, or the image or name of a Teacher.
At first, the mind will balk at this demand, and you will hear yourself voicing all kinds of excuses for not doing it, or not doing it at that moment. Ignore them, and do it anyway. Eventually, this practice will become a habit. You will not see it as a discipline, but rather a pleasure, and you will do it easily and spontaneously. You will find that it replenishes and calms the mind. In time, you will be doing it constantly. From there, Realization is not far off, since, at that point, there is nobody “in there” to obstruct It! Remember, a “somebody” is a product of thought, and depends upon thought to exist and prevail. Wipe out the thoughts, and that “somebody” is wiped out as well. This is what the “de-conditioning” of the spiritual path is all about, of course.
In effect, then, meditation is a de-conditioning of an otherwise undisciplined mind, an emptying of the mind's content so it can be filled with Grace. It is a continuous practice, employing both formal and informal means, throughout the day. It is about turning the mind toward one's Source, which we consider to be found within the Heart. So, turning one's attention to that Place within, where resides the Source of both oneself and the universe, is a method whereby the mind is stilled and retired and allowed to rest, until ultimately, God takes over, and runs it for you! (Of course, the amusing part of that statement is that God is already doing it for you, even as you, but the “you” that you think you are thinks it is doing it all alone, by itself!)
You may find that a mantra or prayer helps to keep the mind centered and focused within during the day. You may devise one yourself or find one in any religious book of any religion. The style is not as important as the feeling it brings you. One of the simplest I have found that works for me is simply “Take me, my God, I am yours!” Or, “Come to me, Mother.” The name of God, or of a Teacher, can be endlessly repeated. Better yet, ask for such a mantra in prayer, and then listen in meditation. You will undoubtedly be given one by your inner Teacher that is just right for you.
Here you are simply invoking the One you wish to immerse yourself in. You can do it in any manner that suits you. Remember, words, when spoken with Intention and Heart and Spirit, have enormous power. They literally create reality. All the more reason to discipline the mind.
I recently heard a wonderful piece of music on WERU, downeast Maine's community radio. The instrument was a didjeridu, a flute of some kind which I believe is indigenous to the Aborigenes of Australia. The CD is “The Art of The Didjeridu” by David Hudson (Black Sun label). My favorite cut is #3, “Message Stick,” which sounds extraordinarily similar to, and just as powerful as, the multi-chord chanting performed by Tibetan monks.
Over the years, a good number of people we know have bewailed the lack of like-minded spiritual aspirants and teachers (what we call holy company) within arms distance, or at least close enough to share their trials and achievements. Indeed, it is a normal progression for serious seekers to want to join a community, become a monk, live at an ashram, or otherwise find a lifestyle that is encouraging to their increasing devotion to the spiritual path. It is unfortunate that in the West at least, these kinds of communities are hard to find, or if available, often require total submersion in the communities' philosophies, or devotion to their leaders, or some other kind of expression of exclusivity. While there are sometimes legitimate reasons for requiring this sacrifice of one's own preferences in favor of the groups, or the leader, it goes strongly against the grain of the Western value of individualistic expression and autonomy. Of course, to be successful in the spiritual search, all of us will eventually come to a point where that autonomy and individual expression must take a back seat to our devotion, submission, and surrender to a Being greater than ourselves. But that comes despite and within the context of our daily lives, and will not be done until such time as it is appropriate and safe. Some groups know this, many don't.
Thus, a Westerner who is seriously on the spiritual path finds himself or herself in a quandary as to how to be in spiritual company without rejecting who he or she is at the present moment. Thus, many seekers wander alone and lonely as they progress on their path. This can lead to enormous sadness. No one should feel lonely on this path, when there are so many others of us on it, too. It is to this problem that I address my thoughts.
I personally have found the closest of friends through the written word. There seems to be a special energy, or consciousness that is contained, literally, within the written word of the great Masters and Teachers of the spiritual domain. Indeed, I have found that some books literally explode with living energy and power the moment I handle them. Others even draw energy from me to them. This is not some kind of special psychic power I have. It is simply being alert to the feeling that one has when one first opens a new book. If you are steady and quiet when you first pick up a book of this kind, you will feel it too. It is why some people return over and over to one particular book in preference to many others. It also explains, I think, why bibliophiles are so fanatic about their books. You don't have to be a spiritual seeker to feel the energy of any kind of writer.
Metaphysically, this can no doubt be explained by the “power of the word” and all that encompasses with regard to the creative process. Indeed, in Genesis, the power of the Word is made clear in no uncertain terms. But metaphysics aside, the fact remains that teachers of all kinds imbue their words with their consciousness. Consciousness of a creative kind is the substance and form of words. Words are like a dress draped around a state of consciousness, if you will. Thus, if you stumble across the words of a truly enlightened being, you will, at that moment, be resonating with, and imbibing, his or her consciousness, literally, within your own consciousness. Or, put another way, consciousness is infective! Indeed it is! If you have any doubt on this point, just watch yourself as you read a scary book. You're scared, right? No doubt your heart is racing, and you are agitated, rushing to the end of the fearful part, reminding yourself that it isn't real, right? Or, instead, when you read an uplifting book, like a biography of a saint. You're uplifted with it, your heart lifts, you feel peace and light, right? It's as simple as that. But how few realize the potency of this little piece of knowledge.
Thus, in my own progress on the spiritual path I have turned to books as some of my dearest and closest friends. Here, I have been fortunate, for I have stumbled across some of the greatest minds in the history of spiritual seeking and instruction. They have become intimate friends of mine. They have entered into my consciousness through their words. They inhabit my world, my consciousness, and even my dreams because of this immersion.
Originally, they demanded nothing of me save my attention. I gave that willingly and devoured their consciousness through their words with my mind and its consciousness. In time, through my constant reading of their words, I found my own consciousness willingly submitting, with increasing abandonment, to some of their demands and requirements, requirements that originally repelled me or terrified me. I was safe, I thought. It was only a book. I could always put it down, and walk away from it. I could retain my individual identity which I valued so highly and was absolutely terrified of losing to another, while at the same time, I could dip my toes into the “community” of this particular teacher's consciousness. What could be better? I had it both ways! And it worked; it worked very well. I found that these teachers got inside me, and worked me, subtly and without much resistance. I found my egotism crumbling, while I was totally unaware of it happening.
Perhaps the fire of a one-to-one face off with the teacher in the flesh would be faster. Certainly it would be hotter and harder! But I was a Westerner. I would not risk that loss. Many of us won't. It is our strength in some ways, our greatest weakness in others.
Thus, I took a different path. A circuitous one, but an effective one nonetheless.
It is my experience that the spiritual process can be done through words in books with four assisting requirements. One, you need a good friend to keep you straight when you start to wander. A partner is the best, but any intimate, honest friend will do. This friend has to be on some kind of spiritual path as well, and understand your motivation, though not necessarily need to agree with its expression in your life. Two, you need commitment and a kind of desperation with the status quo – a willingness to change when you discover discomfort with the present or with your own state of consciousness. Three, a recognition that you don't have all the answers (or a reasonable amount of humility). In the beginning, there won't necessarily be much of the humility. But if you picked up a book with the intention of learning something from it, there had to be at least a little of it somewhere. And four, and probably most importantly, you need to fight the resistance to new ideas, the tendency toward doubt, that will always undermine the growth of your faith, sense of Grace, and capacity for change. You need to be willing to take the risk, accept a teaching as some kind of expression of truth, no matter how foreign or strange, and to surrender to its possibilities.
If done with an open and asking heart and an inquiring mind, your teachers will appear before you, books will walk into your life, fall into your hands, and sometimes those teachers may even appear in your life in the flesh. They will seek you out. You will not need to look far for them. You will find that the world literally turns on your asking, and you will be assisted at the very beginning. It may not seem so while in the thick of it, but in retrospect, you will be overwhelmed by the grace of it and the bounty with which your progress is and was assisted. That is how it works, in all aspects of life and in all areas of life. It is just that, in the spiritual area, it seems so obvious, because as seekers, we consciously try to cooperate with our lives, to observe them, and to learn from them rather than being constantly antagonistic about them. All of that, too, is a decided benefit of the spiritual search.
Listening to an American Tibetan monk the other day, he made a remark which got me to thinking about celibacy, and the pros and cons to that practice. He said that despite the monk’s vow of celibacy, he did not agree with it, and as he was not celibate, he was comfortable with the position in which he stood. While I do not know much about this person, I admired his character, and thus took his statement seriously, and at his word.
Having lived through my own monkish practices these thirty years, I looked over my own past, and that of my husband’s, and our own position with respect to celibacy, and came away with a conclusion which, while obvious now to us, may not be so obvious to others on a similar path.
Since almost all spiritual paths some where or another advocate celibacy, there must be some kind of value to it, or it wouldn’t be so universally advocated. Spiritual disciplines are not arbitrary, there is always a sound rationale for them. I think, as usual, these admonitions are useful, usually, and normally only, at a certain point in the disciple’s progress when he is on a edge, where he will either fall back, or move forward, and it is at these times, in particular, when celibacy is important and useful.
In other words, celibacy, if enforced too early within the disciple’s progress, is, to my mind, extremely harmful to the individual who practices it. And yet, celibacy, if not enforced at a certain point in time, can lead to straying from the path, an attachment to passions, sensuality, and all the rest of it. As usual, it is a razor’s edge of decisions and disciplines. And of course, ultimately, within true liberation, there is neither celibacy nor sexuality that is practiced by the liberated one, because the expressions of both these states are not considered, nor imposed, nor advocated, nor accepted, they are just natural, and depending upon the circumstances, will, or will not be, expressed.
The practice of celibacy, as all other practices by monks, is modeled upon the behavior of the enlightened ones, who generally, but not always, are essentially celibate because there is no need any more by them for sexuality. Thus there are all sorts of practices and admonitions based upon the natural behavior of a liberated, or enlightened being, including, of course, the practice of celibacy, because the liberated ones seem to be celibate. But that is quite a different matter from a struggling disciple, who is still possessed of drives and desires, not to mention instincts and hormones, of a worldly and egocentric nature. In other words, modeling oneself after a liberated being has its pros and its cons. And it is important to keep in mind that the model is the goal, and may not necessarily apply to the present state of the seeker.
Thus, in the case of celibacy, which is abstention from sex, which is a huge drive, and which is at certain points in life, a driving force that is in fact addictive, similar to the addiction to any other stimulant, and to enforce abstention can cause all sorts of problems, both psychological and physical, if enforced before it is time, and is not easeful. Thus, I am against celibacy if an individual has an overwhelming desire for sex, since it will only create complexes and in the worst case, obsession with the very thing that one is trying to evolve out of.
In other words, the word “evolve” is the key word in this practice. A serious seeker will eventually evolve out of sexuality, by virtue of the fact that he or she is transforming that huge energy into other venues and modes of expression. But it is an evolution, not a coercion. It happens naturally. However, at the same time, there must be the willingness to do so. The “willingness” is the key word. With willingness, or desire to evolve, comes the impetus, the desire, to evolve, and with the evolution, comes the continuing willingness and eventual desire, to evolve, and a spiral begins to develop. Soon, one finds sexual desire begins to wane, and a desire of a different kind, every bit as fulfilling, replaces it, or better, stands upon its shoulders. And it is this kind of celibacy that is natural, evolved, and willingly embraced. It is not enforced, nor is it unnatural, but instead it is natural and normal progress upon the spiritual path.
It is this kind of celibacy that becomes incorruptible, and it is the opposite, enforced celibacy which is always open to corruption or seduction, and may in many cases explain the “fallen” spiritual teachers, who advocate celibacy, but practice sex in secret. While of course many of these teachers are exposed to sultry young men and women, in particular western disciples, and thus the temptation is great. However, were the celibacy anchored and an evolved type of celibacy to which I refer, for example, the kind to which Ramakrishna referred and lived, where it was natural and not enforced, these wiles would have little effect upon the spiritual teacher. Likewise, a spiritual student will, in her or his own way, find similar circumstances and temptations. Of course, depending upon the student’s standing along this path, he or she will fall to those temptations, or simply not notice them, each position depending upon the student’s evolution along the path.
So, I am opposed to celibacy if an individual still hankers after sex, just as I am opposed to fasting if the individual still hankers after food, neither effort will achieve anything but frustration and disappointment. That said, there is a moment, or a threshold, on which each seeker finds himself or herself many times throughout his or her life, where the choice is obvious, the strength of willingness outshines the addiction to pleasure, and it is at those crossroads that we can take leaps forward, or remain stagnated. The trick is to recognize those moments and take the step right then, and if done, it often results in great strides toward evolution of consciousness.
In concluding, from a strictly psychic or metaphysical perspective, the case for celibacy is conservation of psychic energy, or consciousness, which in turn, accumulates and feeds the spiritual search, which if done seriously, consumes great amounts of psychic energy. There is no question that sex, if engaged in frequently, drains the body of psychic energy, and often requires a re-building of that energy in order to do internal work. Physiologically as well, there is a draining of energy from sex, which probably explains why it is so pleasurable, because the bodily tension is released at climax. That said, it consumes physical energy as well, and if the Chinese are right about their theory of the meridians, it also drains the kidney meridian, which is the source of Chi, which is the source of our life energy. There must be something to this theory, because very frequent sex often results in ringing of the ears, a peculiar kind of languor, befuddled thinking, and other kidney meridian related ailments. While none of this is life-threatening, all of these effects can alter the focus, intention, and progress of a spiritual seeker if engaged in to excess.
One of the Buddha’s basic tenets is “moderation in all things”, and this applies to celibacy, as well as all other aspects of living the physical life. With moderation comes discipline, with discipline, comes focus, with focus comes increased energy, with increased energy, comes transformation of consciousness, and with transformation of consciousness, comes evolution, and with evolution, comes liberation.
“Rose of The River ” by George Wright
“Tiger & Cobra” by Nancy Nadzo
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Our thanks for the hummingbirds to Mystic's Graphics!
(Their website seems no longer to exist.)