Meditation:  An Invitation to Inner Growth


There has been in the West, over the last couple of decades, a great rise in the awareness that we are all connected -- that we are more similar than we are separate, and that actions in one location can have clear and definite consequences at another location. We are seeing that this is true on all scales, from the cosmos to the planetary environment to the human immune system. The key to harmonious interaction between all these complex elements is balance, and one characteristic of a dynamic system (such as our body, or the ecology, or a human life) is that the point of balance is constantly shifting. Staying in contact with the point of balance, riding the wave, can be defined as health in the physical system, clarity in the mental sphere, and calmness and stability in the area of emotions.

Each aspect of the physical, mental, and emotional realms contributes to our overall health, what we could call our total well-being. Each aspect affects every other aspect -- mental strain can lead to physical health problems, the stresses and tensions of our lives can lead to feeling a loss of inner vitality and centered-ness. In meditation practice, we focus on our inner vitality or energy (called kundalini) with a simple breathing exercise. By tuning in to our essence, the source of life, we move our entire system towards that essential balance of body, mind, and innermost spirit -- we have the opportunity to experience total well-being.

How is this possible? Meditation -- both its methods and its goal -- rests on the awareness of Oneness. Using various techniques, meditation turns our senses and our awareness ever deeper within ourselves, and as our attention becomes more and more focused and one-pointed, we realize that the most intimate, personal part of us is universal in nature -- there is no difference between our essence and all essence. This awareness allows us the freedom to find that ever-shifting balance point of wholeness on all levels of our existence.

So, if your interest is in reducing the level of stress in your life, research has verified that regular meditation lowers high blood pressure and improves physical health. Or you may wish to be free from the racing thoughts in your head. Regular meditation leads to mental clarity and calmness. You will also experience a new emotional stability that helps you deal with challenging experiences. At the highest level, meditation allows us to unfold the depth and fullness of our innate creative capacity -- it allows us to realize our highest potential as human beings by tapping into our underlying connectedness.

The method of meditation involves first releasing or letting go of the tensions that prevent us from experiencing and expressing our creative potential. We learn that tension is simply creative energy that has become blocked and crystallized. As our tensions are released, the creative potential within us begins to express itself in our lives. It is a wonderful thing. We learn to act in a way that promotes our highest interest while at the same time promoting the highest interest of everyone around us.

Meditation is the Vehicle

Meditation is the vehicle for contacting our source, our strength, the power of Life Itself. It is not something we do with our minds and emotions; it is an experience that we have and cultivate. In cultivating this experience, our knowledge about ourselves and life (and our capacity to deal with ourselves and life) is profoundly changed and expanded.

The techniques in meditation are the method by which we can begin to perceive our essential creative energy in all of its forms: our body, feelings, thoughts, intellect, intuition, and our spirit or soul. Most importantly, it leads us to understand the relationship between our ordinary self and our Connected Self. It's a simple but extraordinary method for expanding our experience of our creative potential -- for allowing us the broadest possible participation in Life Itself.

Tensions are the Barrier

Ordinarily, we are so caught up in our everyday tensions and concerns that we neglect to step back and consider what our ultimate potential and true nature might be. We tend to think of ourselves as limited, finite, physical entities whose spiritual yearnings are simply a dream. But the experience of meditation allows us to recognize that our true nature is an infinite, conscious, and joyful potency -- the potency of Life Itself.

Imagine a natural fountain that has been covered, over time, with a pile of rocks. The water continues to flow from the fountain's source, but on the surface only a trickle shows here and there between the rocks. The fountain represents our creative potential and the rocks are our tensions.

When we are tense and closed, the energy of our creative potential lies buried within us, as inaccessible as the water in that obstructed fountain. As the years go by, our own instincts for avoiding pain combine with the inevitable difficulties of living to form patterns of rigidity -- we put up walls and barriers, thinking they will protect us.

But when we meditate, we turn our attention to the flow within. This is our inner work. By turning our attention away from the obstructions and difficulties of life and focusing instead on our essence -- for even a short time, once or twice a day -- we begin to shift the balance. The fountain's flow is strengthened, and the rocks begin to shift, even dissolve.

The Objective is Liberation

The objective of our meditation practice is to make available to us the widest possible experience -- to begin to pull down the barriers between us and our own true nature. Through meditation, we awaken and cultivate the blossoming of the infinite and universal Self. Realization is not attaining something that is missing or outside us. It is a simple, intuitive insight into the nature of our own heart. It is a release, a liberation -- a celebration of Life.
Meditation is an attempt to dissolve our patterns of tension and restriction and release the flow of energy within us. Our inner work does not change our essence, it simply allows us to be ourselves. It is like removing the rocks -- the tensions -- so the water can again rise up and express its true nature. And this nature, in us, is infinite and universal.


The Result is Total Well-Being

What is really important about this understanding of the Higher Self is our capacity to connect to it and live from it every day. And from this unfolding understanding, we can experience a state of total well-being: complete, deep, permanent, ever-present well-being. This experience of well-being allows us to move through every kind of unknown territory with equanimity. We have enough control of our mind and emotions that we can respond from harmony within us to any situation. Again and again, if we just make the effort, we can find the balance.


The Key Elements

The Higher Self we contact in meditation, that quiet, pulsating center of our existence, is nothing other than the universal Consciousness. The most intimate part of us is universal and infinite -- and as close as our breath.
This section describes meditation using the Tatric tradition.  

1. Breathe and Relax

First, simply relax -- relax your body, relax your breath, relax your mind. Begin by taking your attention to your breathing. Relax and feel its natural pulsation. With each out-breath, remember: Relax. Release. Let go. Gradually become attuned to the simple rhythm of your breath. If you are new to meditation, you may want to try counting your breaths as an aid to your focus.
As you focus on your breath, you will begin to see the relationship between your breathing and the state of your mind. When you are upset, angry, or agitated, your breathing is erratic. While it is difficult to directly confront your mind and gain control over thoughts and feelings, you do have voluntary control over your breathing. You will discover that when you consciously focus on the breath, your mind naturally begins to quiet.

As you meditate, continue to focus on your breath, relaxing your body deeply. Feel the energy of the breath. Feel its flow and rhythm.

If thoughts come into your head, do not dwell on them; rather acknowlege them, then let them go, and refocus on your breathing.

2. Become Aware of the Chakras

This flow of vital energy we contact through the breath (called kundalini in this tradition) is most powerfully felt at certain subtle energy centers, called chakras.

Chakras are subtle centers you experience when your system is highly energized. Sometimes the term "subtle body" is used to describe the entire complex of feelings, energies, and movements that are not exactly physical -- you can't locate them in the physical body -- but that are nonetheless powerful aspects of our being.

We experience the energy of the subtle chakras in decidedly tangible ways. For instance, when you've had a powerful emotional experience, your throat may feel blocked -- you have a "lump in your throat." In moments of extreme anger, the point two fingers below your navel may become completely constricted -- you feel a tightening in the "pit of your stomach." If your heart is closed to something, you may feel unbearable anguish -- a broken heart--while at other times, your heart suddenly opens, and you feel total joy and well-being. Our experience of the energy of the chakras is reflected in our state of mind. These energy centers are profound affecters of our thoughts, our emotions, and our behavior.

Really, everything that we feel and think and do is in some way manifested first through these centers, or chakras. So for the sake of the exploration of our inner Self, we need to take our attention into these centers and begin to look through those windows to our souls.

There are three primary channels in the subtle body related to the chakras. The first is called the sushumna, and it corresponds to the physical spinal cord. On either side of the sushumna are two other subtle channels, called the ida and the pingala. These crisscross back and forth. The primary chakras are located at the points where the three channels cross each other. There are many chakras (the texts of Kashmir Shaivism detail some 72,000 of them), but in this practice we focus on seven primary chakras.

These are located at the base of your spine, at the base of your sex, in your abdomen (about two fingers below your navel), heart-level in the center of your chest, in your throat, between your eyebrows, and at the top of your head.


The names of the chakras are as follows:
Root (1) -  Muladhara (meaning "root" or "support")

Sacral (2) - Svadhisthana (meaning "sweetness")

Solar Plexus (3) - Manipura  (meaning "the place of jems' or "lustrous jewel")

Heart (4) - Anahata  (meaning "potential" or "the unstruck note")

Throat (5) - Visshudha (meaning "purification")

Brow (6) - Ajna (meaning "command" or "perception")
Crown (7) - Sahasrara ("the thousand petaled lotus" )


3. Become Aware of the Flow

Breath is the vehicle for experiencing the flow, or communication, between the chakras. Our inner work really begins to deepen when we can experience the circulation of energy through the chakras. First we focus our attention on the breath, then we expand our awareness to include the chakras. We then follow the flow between them, feeling the energy pierce the center of each chakra, rise up the spinal column from the base of the spine to the top of the head, and flow down again.
Feeling the flow between chakras is subtle; it sometimes takes a while to feel anything at all. Don't let this discourage you. Think of it as a thawing-out process, beginning little by little and expanding over time. Imagine it as whispers, rather than bugle calls. Visualize it; hear it; feel it; put all your senses to work as you tune in to this subtle feeling. Your effort is simply to become aware of it, to become quiet enough to hear it.

No matter how long it takes to develop sensitivity to the inner flow, remember that this flow goes on all the time -- even though you may not be fully aware of it. Your experience will change over time, then change again, and then again. Finally, even the sense of flow disappears into the unity of the Self, and you will experience a sense of complete fullness and well-being.


4. Total Integration in the Higher Self

Ultimately, through our practice in feeling the chakras and the flow, we come to a perfect understanding of this: that we are really everything that is. There is nothing we have to change, nothing we have to do. There is no place to go. There is only knowing yourself -- and connecting to the Divine.

Review: Breath, Chakras, Flow, and the Higher Self

By following the movement of our breath, we gradually withdraw our attention from the physical world. As we take our attention inside, we become attuned to the energy which is the support of the physical world. Chakras are the gateways between our inner and outer experiences. Slowly our whole awareness of ourselves changes. We begin to understand ourselves and all other people as nothing but flowing energy. We come to understand all of life and all experience as nothing but an expression of conscious energy -- an expression of the Higher Self. This awareness changes how we feel about ourselves and completely rearranges our priorities.
In the state of meditation, something special happens. You have a direct experience of the Higher Self. A simple, deep nourishment flows from this contact that dissolves all boundaries and all distinctions. The feeling is one of fullness and ease, quiet and deliciousness -- a sense of total well-being. You experience the Higher Self directly as it is; the boundaries between inner and outer dissolve and the underlying unity of the universe is apparent.

And it all begins with attention to the breath.

Miracles are possible every time you sit. You will have every kind of experience in your inner practice, from completely constricted to totally open and flowing. Remain centered and focused through every kind of experience, allowing it to become part of the flow of energy. You will develop the ability to absorb everything deeply within yourself, turning every experience into fuel for your growth.

The Role of the Teacher

In the tradition of kundalini yoga, this whole process of connecting to and expanding the creative flow inside us is nourished and supported through the direct transmission of this vital energy from teacher to student, as it has been over the centuries.
No one would expect to master a complex subject, such as nuclear physics for example, by themselves -- you would look for an authority, someone who has studied the subject thoroughly and can demonstrate their mastery. Further, for you as a student, that authority's ability to transmit his or her understanding to you is crucial.

It is no different in the area of inner work. Surely there are few subjects of more compelling interest than the exploration of your inner Self, and the support of a qualified teacher will be vital to your progress. The teacher you choose should demonstrate continuously and in every connection the incredible creative power that resides within us all.

The teacher is also a doorway -- a doorway to our inner Self. Through our relationship with such a teacher, we come to understand our true nature. Always, a true teacher will turn our focus back to our own Self, to our own discovery. The teacher is a guide and a mentor -- a source of nourishment, support, and inspiration. The student and the teacher join in a celebration of the Self in a relationship of mutual love, respect, and service.

Kundalini Yoga and Kashmir Shaivism

From the seventh to the eleventh centuries A.D., the north-Indian province of Kashmir was a meeting ground for some of the most careful and sophisticated spiritual practitioners of that time. These scholar-practitioners were deeply involved in observing, identifying, and articulating their inner experience. Their discussion was built on teachings of great antiquity and was actively tested and refined in the fire of their deep and intense reflections. The central understanding of the philosophy and practice they evolved is that the essence of all Life is One.
The process by which this deepest understanding emerged from within these first scientists long ago has been articulated in various spiritual traditions. The specifics of these traditions are fundamentally irrelevant. What is important is the capacity to connect to this understanding and live from it every day. And the vehicle through which this takes place is called yoga. There are various forms of yoga; for instance hatha yoga puts us in touch with our bodies and gives us greater control and flexibility. This flexibility is an expression of our essential, natural vitality. Meditation quiets the mind, quiets the emotions, brings us a much greater level of mental flexibility, a deeper level of mental health and hopefully an enduring sanity. Kundalini yoga is still deeper, the mystery of life itself, the manifestation of our inner spirit. Kundalini basically means inner spirit, although the implication is broader than that. This kundalini is the energy of life, the energy of the universe itself flowing within us. To examine that energy carefully frees us from the limited perspective of our individuality and establishes from within us a communion of body, mind, and individual spirit with the universal power of life itself, the universal truth, what we in the West sometimes call God.


The Infinite Nature of Consciousness

We test the limits of language when we attempt to describe the infinite and universal creative essence, what we will here call our Higher Consciousness. To give us an image for discussion, Higher Consciousness is frequently compared with the ocean.
Imagine yourself out on the ocean on a calm day. The ocean appears still and unchanging. Yet, in fact, the ocean is never still; it is never inert. It is a vital, pulsating event that continuously expresses itself through movement. This movement creates variations in the water, in its direction, speed, and temperature. We see waves, currents, and eddies.

As you watch, you see the waves gently rising and falling. They appear to be entities in themselves, separately cresting and breaking. But are they separate? Are they ever different from the water? Is the water ever different from the ocean?

It is the same with the ocean of Higher Consciousness; it is the consistent medium, a vast ocean of potential, interacting with itself and within itself, giving rise to all manifestation. Major and minor variations -- universes, epochs, individuals--arise and subside, materialize and de-materialize continuously. The only constants are the movement and the medium itself, as currents give rise to currents within currents within currents. It is all part of the dynamic vitality we call Higher Consciousness, and each of us is like a wave on the surface of this ocean. We arise from it and subside back into it. We are an extension of the Higher Consciousness, and not in any way different from it.

It's Up To You

Unlike systems that rely primarily on either scriptural authority or strict logic and reason, Kashmir Shaivism emphasizes the direct, personal experience of its practitioners -- from the ancient scholars of India to you and me. You are encouraged to explore the teachings and test and retest them every day in your own practice. This simple approach is profoundly different from filling up your head with ideas. The goal is to experience, firsthand, the infinite nature of the inner Self. One word for that experience is meditation.

Learning about meditation is a part of the on-going, dynamic discovery of your own true nature. It is your discovery. The grace of the teacher and the techniques of the practice will lead you to the door of that discovery and even suggest to you how to open it -- but only you can actually do it, and only you can walk through. The choice is yours to make, at your own pace and of your own free will.

Developing a Practice

When you have all the tools you need to develop a real spiritual practice -- instruction in some techniques of meditation, an introduction to the philosophical underpinnings of those techniques, and the guidance of an acknowledged teacher -- all you need to add is your desire for growth and your simple, determined effort, every day.

Make a commitment to your own growth. All it takes is a quiet place, a few minutes of uninterrupted time, and a commitment to do it. Remember, the only way to understand meditation to experience it.

Where? -- Prepare a special place for your meditation practice, a clean and uncluttered space that reflects your respect for the practice and your effort. If you can, try to set this place aside for meditation only, making it special with fresh flowers, incense, and some of your favorite beautiful things.

When? -- Find the time that works best for you. Many people like to start their day with a period of meditation; another popular time is in the early evening -- after your work day and before the evening. Whatever time you choose to sit, the most important thing is to develop a pattern, making the effort to sit every day at the same time and in the same place. In this way, you develop an appetite for it, and the pattern itself will support you in your desire to practice regularly.

How Long? -- A typical period for meditation is 30 - 45 minutes long. Some days, you may not have this much time. On these days, instead of saying, "Oh, I don't have time, I guess I won't meditate today," just sit for as long as you can. Make it your commitment to sit for at least 15 minutes every day -- no matter what. This simple discipline will support your practice enormously.

How Often ? -- You should sit at least once every day. If your schedule allows and you find you have the interest, many people like to sit both in the morning and the evening. Again, the most important factor as you begin is to develop a simple pattern that you can easily incorporate into your day. The pattern itself will support you as you go on.

More Information

Yoga Kundalini FAQ:
Kundalini FAQ:
Major and Minor Chakras

adapted from "Meditation; An Invitation to Inner Growth, with Swami Chetanananda"

liner note (writer unattributed)

© 1989, Nityananda Institute

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. {Fair Use}.