This is a quick blog conceptualised and written at speed on a question that comes up time and again. It came up for discussion during one of my class and then took on a life of its own, as most things do with me. So here are my thoughts on it, anyone can as usual, form their own opinion about it.
The question started with why one should meditate and what makes them continue. I add these others as subsidiary concerns, what is the best technique, which teacher or Guru we should go to, how expensive are the courses and how long should we practice to become good at it, how flexible should I be for practicing etc etc etc.
Now I am going to replace some words in the above para and see what we get. Why should I play a sport, what is the best sport, which coach should I go to, how much investment is required for the equipment, how arduous is the practice, what level of physical fitness am I looking at etc etc etc.
Alternately, let us apply this to any other activity we want to indulge in, singing, dancing, cooking, playing an instrument…. Yes, that’s right you get the gist.
In all these activities is needed the same ingredients, training, commitment and a desire to learn, and this applies to meditation as well. Being meditation does not make it different, at least that’s my understanding from the experience of sharing a practice since over 21 years with various levels of practitioners, complete novice to adepts.
Modern usage has made meditation a mystical and esoteric field, almost as if one has to be esoteric and mystical to practice or teach it! Far from it, according to me.
“Practice the necessary means to achieve the necessary end,” I have heard my satguru Yogiraj Siddhanath repeat many a times. This practical approach is what endeared me to his teachings.
Having set that as a perimeter let us begin, feel free to replace the word meditation with any activity of your choice and vice versa.
The Choosing of the Game
The following modes are some of the ways in which, according to me, we are led to a practice, be it spiritual, a form of sport, an art or leisure activity.
Let us begin with a hereditary inclination, the sport is already in the DNA, you are a child prodigy. All you have to do is get a bit of training and the genes take over. Even you don’t know why you are so good at this activity. You sit and you melt into meditation, no effort, you are five years old; you play an instrument or sing like you have trained for years but you are only 10. You drive a ball, in tennis or golf or cricket and the body moves in tune, you are a pro and you have just started. People around you who have been training for years look at you with awe. In yogic terms we would call such souls past life practitioners, taking off from where they left off.
Then there is the family you are born into, your elders are musicians, you are trained from birth. Just by being around grown ups who ride, play polo or chess or tennis, billiards, carrom. The Bhagavad Geeta, sanskrit mantra chanting and their meaning, the Vedas and the Upanishads are part of a daily discussion; you learn all the various traditional rituals, what flowers to use for which deity, which of the Gods are angered by what, the chants for protection, for bringing luck in exams. Your education into meditation starts at birth, you may or may not take to it but the opportunity is there. You may love it or hate it, may move to another field or flow into the already prepared field.
Often parents want to live their life through their children or want them to do what they couldn’t do as kids, did not have the opportunity, nobody cared to teach them, whatever. Or they are pursuing a hobby and take you along. So here is a yoga teacher next door, a music academy, a paatu maami (music teachers, female) who comes home to teach. Sometimes you chafe at this but slowly you develop an interest and love for the teaching, the instrument or sport. Reluctance gives way to a fondness for it, you like sitting in silence, to watch your breath. While the same sport or practice may just leave others unaffected or unimpressed by the activity.
Influenced by friends we take up an activity as means for being with like minded people, we join a club, learn to play cards or alternately go for a yoga class. Same reason we try a meditation session because a friend recommended it.
Sometimes it’s a passing fad, a fashion statement of the day, like everyone is playing golf or doing yoga so maybe it is the ‘in’ thing to do. Trying a fad you sometimes get hooked to a practice.
It could also be a recommendation from a doctor or psychologist for mental and physical health reasons, start meditating to relieve tension, start walking or some milder physical activity.
In all the above scenarios, whatever motivated you, the fundamental requirement to carry on with the chosen sport or activity, you have to have an inner curiosity and interest. Only then are you able to sustain the practice. That is the basic common denominator, to want to explore the possibilities of the practice after choosing it.
In a short simple statement, as I understand, one can meditate only by choosing to, whatever the path that has led one here, one has to make the choice. Just like in any other sport, you choose to play
Investing in Equipment.
One of the primary concerns of people looking at starting a practice is how much it is going to cost. You can buy simple and start, most meditation centres, yoga studios, sports clubs have standard essentials to start practice with.
Remember there is cheaper equipment and very expensive, it’s for you to choose. And you don’t have to buy everything all at one time! Not having an expensive yoga mat or bolster, a state of the art racquet, surfboard or ski, is not going to take away from the pleasure of the activity.
In meditation all you need is a mat, which can be a shawl, a cushion or a used blanket from home.
Continuity in Training.
To start all you may require is intention and a keen desire, but it is continued commitment that starts to improve proficiency. A desire to come back again and again for training.
When we say we meditate it’s a popular term but what we are actually doing is practicing the art of concentration that leads us into meditation. In the yogic practice Dharana comes before Dhyan.
Dharana is exactly like the training put in for learning or excelling at any sport or hobby. If you want to ride that bike, surfboard or ski, if you want to hit that ball, you have to keep training. If you want to sing or play the sitar or violin, you have to go through the stages of training. Ditto with meditation, Dharana is the training of the mind, bringing it again and again to a point of concentration to enable it to flow into Dhyan, since that is what you signed up for.
“To ease disease of random mind, a remedy suitable we must find,” says Yogiraj in his poem. “A rythmic breathing tension free.” To achieve that state tools are given that may involve a vision, a sound, a repetitive chant, a pattern of breathing. To move into meditation the training in Dharana has to be put in. Some days practice will go well and some days not so well, but if you are keen to learn you will not give up. If you try to get on a bicycle twice and fall and give up you will never learn to ride it. The effort to put into meditate is as simple as this.
Once the basic skill is learnt then you start to enjoy the process. You have got on that bike, you are standing on the surfboard and now you can enjoy the breeze on your hair, you can see the view around you, you are no more concentrating on the angle of your body or placement of your hand. It becomes second nature to you, you are not constantly struggling. The training starts to become pleasurable and at every opportunity, at every moment of leisure from your chores you want to get back to it, you dream about it. You have learnt to swim, you are no more thinking of the stroke to stay afloat, you put your mind only to perfect it.
In meditation too, as the technique of Dharana that you have chosen takes root, the mind from a turbulent and unruly state will deepen into a still pool. You will start to experience moments of peace and stillness while you continue to perfect your concentration.
As in all other training some people will be better at this before others, depending on the fitness of the body or the mind that you already had to begin the training with.
And the most wonderful factor is you can start enjoying it before perfecting it!
Choosing A Coach.
In the marketplace of today, choices abound with instructors and gurus promoting their expertise. No more trolling the vast Himalayan ranges looking for a guru, which of course you can do if thats what you want to. Though believe me many of them can be found on the internet today, having students from all over the globe to help put them on the world map. Once you have decided what you want to invest your interest, time and money in, take a tour. Look at the options available, most schools give some free classes, you can start with those. If you have already been inducted into a practice, treat it like any training be at it with the help and guidance of your instructor or guru.
It is important to form a rapport with the teacher to have confidence and a feeling of trust. Some teachers are harsh, some are kind, see which nature suits you. Some students do well under what to others may seem an unduly hard trainer, so be wise and choose the one who will help you excel. The teacher should be able to inculcate a love for the practice and see to your progress. In any case if you feel in any way consistently threatened you should look for alternate options. A disgruntled and dissatisfied mind is not a tool easy to use for training. Remember you as student are in charge of your continued attendance in that class.
If the coach is bad for you, change the coach not the sport!! It would be foolish to give up something that is giving you peace and happiness for a spat with a teacher or a disagreement on views.
I have tried to write this as a practical ready reckoner for seekers beginning a yog sadhana, without too many nuances. My more extensive blog on the Satguru, Gurus and Disciples you can read here.
Wishing you a wonderful journey of adventure on a path that has given me immense stillness and liberty.
Do feel free to write in any questions that may arise from it. I will be happy to answer them in my own style while hoping it helps in some way.