Another Side of Meditation
There seems to come a point in the journey of many satsangis when meditation is less than appealing. We tend to refer to this as a ‘dry’ period. The mind makes us think that there are a thousand better things we could be doing instead of meditation. Perhaps we could make a million before we hover over the edge of our grave? Or could we snag a top of the range, diamond studded, chrome on everything, designed-to-impress automobile? Or should we simply kick back on the sofa and binge-watch Netflix? It’s amazing how things that previously held no interest for us suddenly become endlessly fascinating when it’s time to sit. For instance, sleep seems to hold a compelling attraction – even if we’ve just snored our way through a long mid-winter snooze fest.
Aren’t the Masters asking a lot of us? They are essentially beckoning us to rise above our humanity: our nobility and pettiness, our selflessness and selfishness, the endlessly surging ocean of desires that currently define us.
At first we embrace the path with the excitement and vigour of little puppies. The Master issues a siren call to the soul and it touches a yearning so deep and sometimes so hidden that we can barely articulate a response – but respond we do.
Once initiated, we start meditating with great enthusiasm. But when that wild untamed mind of ours does everything in our meditation period but keep still, the effort begins to seem more like drudgery. Confronted by this wall of resistance, we begin to retreat from the path; the world, which meditation held at bay like a gentle tide lapping at our feet, quickly becomes a large wave, followed by another wave and another. Before we know what’s happened we’re submerged in our little lives and rather than meditation being a priority, it becomes a footnote in an endless list of things to do.
At this point perhaps, when we think of meditation, we feel a sentiment that the seventeenth-century English metaphysical poet, Andrew Marvell, expressed so well. In a bid to woo a reticent lover he wrote:
Had we but world enough and time …
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow …
Marvell is saying that if time wasn’t so fleeting, he would woo his love at a pace as slow and gentle as that of unfolding vegetation, and that empires could pass in the meantime. It wouldn’t matter. But the trouble is, he doesn’t have that length of time.
Like the poet, it’s hard not to feel impatient. The rate of progress in meditation seems to be infinitesimally slow and as a result many of us lapse into an attitude of indifference to it.
We’ve read that the saints can take our consciousness up to the eye centre in a second if they so wish; that even a particle of their power could set this cosmos spinning in another direction; that all we need to do is live our life and when we die, the Master will take us in, up and home. And so we abandon the necessary effort of meditation and settle for the theory. For us it may seem to be the easiest option. But we pay a price.
Our negative tendencies begin to harden; the invisible tendrils of greed, lust, vanity and envy slowly and almost imperceptibly take over our lives until we find ourselves with feet that feel like they’re firmly cemented in the world.
We might see people suffering some terrible adversity and unfeelingly dismiss it as karma – but are we at that level at which we can see the reality of karma, or are we just parroting a theory?
We’re unable to face the storms of life without reacting in ways that are ultimately detrimental to ourselves and those around us; perhaps we lash out in anger, perhaps we bury ourselves in greed or throw ourselves into fruitless endeavours. Ultimately we lose our balance.
Meditation is an incredibly powerful act. It cleanses us at a deep, unseen level; it confers a subtlety of perception; it refines our being, moving us away from our instinctive, animal-like nature to a state of grace. It lets the soul shine. But of course it’s difficult. Meditation goes against the very grain of this world. It’s anathema to everything that exists in the physical creation.
You can sit in a country field and soak up the energy and stillness of nature; it’s a soothing thing to do. But in reality nothing is still. Trees are endlessly producing cells, water is coursing through sapwood to nourish and replenish interiors, embryos are growing in wheat and the soil is home to millions of insects digging, scurrying and eating one another to survive.
Meditation on the other hand is a pure act of attempted stillness – it is simple, focused concentration. It generates an energy we can’t see, one which will propel us inwards and upwards when the time is right.
Of course we’re going to struggle; we’re going to hit those dry moments and we’re also going to feel disheartened at times. This is inevitable; it’s part of the journey. But it’s our duty to keep going.
In life some of us will suffer seemingly terrible adversities; others may experience great worldly triumphs, while many of us may settle into some sort of middle ground.
But whatever our circumstances, meditation helps keep everything in perspective and, if we continue in our endeavours, not only will we realize the wisdom of Shakespeare’s lines from Macbeth, we will also experience it directly:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
This is the power of meditation. It opens our eyes. We begin to see things for what they are – not negatively, just realistically. As Shakespeare hints, the world, our being and actions take on a dreamlike quality. The world seems to have as much substance as a wisp of smoke.
A joyful perception enters our being, perhaps slowly and sporadically at first, but it begins to take root and grow. We begin to understand that ultimately nothing really matters except meditation and the Master.
If we don’t do our meditation, we rob ourselves of this sublime and subtle treasure and do a great disservice to our Master. We slow down our journey and unwittingly create obstacles for ourselves. So let’s recognize those ‘dry’ periods for what they are – arid and featureless terrains that must be passed through in order to reach the lush and elevating pastures that quench our soul’s thirst for freedom… and home.