My curiosity has led me to learn more about meditation and the benefits of it. I have read in many books and articles the benefits of this ancient practice. One of my goals for 2016 is to learn more about meditation and how to do it. Anyone can do it at any age.
I invited a teacher (Uday, originally from India) into my home on 11 Feb 2016 and he presented his beliefs of “Self-Realization and Meditation” to my family (four of us) and one of my daughter’s friends. He was at our home for two-and-a-half hours and we learned a lot. At the end we did a 20-minute meditation. It certainly stimulated a lot of thoughts, debate and conversation.
We all had a very different experience. His teachings relate to self-realization with an emphasis on the spirit or soul. He had us think about many things. He encourages us to be human “beings”, versus human “doings.” He praises the benefits of meditation and offers his teachings as a community service to those who are interested.
I’d like to share with you some of what I learned that night and some of the thoughts from others who were at the session.
We are all made up of a body, mind and spirit. Some of us don’t believe in the “spirit” part or haven’t yet made it that far in our spiritual growth journey. I believe some of us may never believe it or get to that spiritual part in our lives. One’s upbringing, beliefs, age, or stage in life will influence and determine what level of spirituality is attained, if any. When I was young, I remember exploring organized religion. I learned about God, Jesus and faith. As I matured, and became more educated, I became more aware of my mortality. I became very conscious of my finite time on earth and started realizing my true purpose and what I really wanted in this lifetime. I called this a “spiritual awakening” and opened my eyes to what is beyond the material desires in life. I started seeing and appreciating the beauty in nature, the miracle of life and all that was good in the world.
To appreciate the concept of “spirit” or “soul,” we explored the question, “Who am I?” Uday says we are not just a body, or a mind. We are more than that. He talked about death. How are we different from animals and other living plants when we die? When we die, our body and mind and all our parts are still physically there, but “we” are gone. He asked us to think about “What is gone?” He taught us that the life force, or spirit energy is the true essence of our being. Amanda, my daughter Simone’s 17-year-old friend said she thought it was interesting to learn “you are not your body, you are your soul who is occupying your body.” My 20-year-old son Lorenzo said he feels he is all the parts put together – “body, mind, consciousness, etc.” He finds the concept of spirit hard to grasp. My mother said my grandmother didn’t believe that we had a spirit, either.
Our teacher also pointed out how humans are different from most other living entities. For example, when animals die we can still use them. We can use plants while they are living, and after they are picked. We eat the cow, we use the leather, we use the wood from the tree, we use the fruit from the plants. For people, there is no use for our bodies once we have died. They are vessels that carry our spirit from the day we are born, until the day we die. That’s the only purpose for our bodies. My son pointed out that our pet dog Rocky is not useful to us after he is gone, so there are some exceptions when it comes to pets.
What is human life? Our teacher explained that the Life Force is oxygen. Without oxygen we will die. We breathe it in and it is needed for our body to function. He also discussed that in order for life to be possible, there is a perfect balance of the five great elements: fire, earth, water, air, ether. If it was too hot or cold, we’d die. If there wasn’t enough water, we’d die. If there was too much water, we’d drown. He said that for some, Life Force is God. I know some call it the Divine and others call it Source. For others it is Universe. Life energy is whatever you want to call it.
Life is a puzzle. Each life experience has it’s purpose, whether good, bad or indifferent. These are like pieces of a puzzle. It all fits perfectly. Each day, each moment, it’s all part of the bigger picture. We learn how to accept all parts of the puzzle, for without all the pieces, our picture would not be complete.
The Lotus – A great analogy for life’s beauty amidst struggles and pain is The Lotus – from sludge, mud and slime, comes a beautiful flower. There is beauty in life no matter how difficult it gets.
Meditation clears the mind. For me, an analogy for meditating is like having a cluttered or dirty path in front of me, and I am sweeping away the debris and clutter. This is how I see it clearing my mind or my internal being. Our teacher said it’s when the consciousness, subconscious and unconsciousness meet. Amanda found this concept interesting as well. Meditation brings consciousness to the subconscious act of breathing. He said 20 minutes a day is all that is needed. He said if we all meditated for 20 minutes a day for a week, we would all have a different experience. If a thought comes, acknowledge it, then gently turn your attention back to your breathing. For me, I liked to say to myself, “breathing in…breathing out…” He had me light a candle in and we were all asked to look at it. He instructed us to take a deep breath in, hold it for a couple seconds, then breath out and hold it for a couple seconds. Many of us closed our eyes. This eventually becomes more of a habit. The more we meditate, the happier we become. In fact, our teacher said something that really impressed my daughter Simone. He said he was the happiest person he knows! Regular meditation practices helps him control his thoughts and desires of the senses. Simone was also impressed by the fact that he “never gets sick because he can control his body.” Another thing he shared with us is that he weighs the same as he did when he got married over 40 years ago! He ended by saying that meditation experiences will be different for each and every one of us. It’s a very personal experience. Uday said meditating on a regular basis can change you and change your life. It took him about 6 months of practicing meditation on a regular daily basis and it completely changed who he is. It also cured him of his migraines. He still meditates one hour a day.
Our teacher told us to make sure we enjoy what nature has to give us. Go outside. Enjoy the trees, the sky, the earth. He explained that we call our world Mother Earth, because she carries us. I would like to add travel to beautiful places if you are able. We can enjoy different parts of the world and the beauty that is on this earth.
We talked about our fears. He explained how a lot of our fears are learned. My son Lorenzo also added how many of our fears are innate, and they have been necessary for our evolution and are basic survival instincts. For example, we are born with two innate fears – the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. Other fears developed naturally in order to ensure our survival. Some of these fears have been carried with us from a long time ago, and are no longer necessary for our survival. Still, other fears are learned and we also develop irrational fears. For further reading, check out this article called, Are We Born to Be Afraid? from Psychology Today.
Dreams are meant to be self-interpreted. Our teacher told us to throw away your dream interpretation books. He says we have to interpret our dreams for ourselves. When we have disturbing dreams, it usually means we are experiencing some mental stress. The more bizarre and disturbing our dreams, the more distressed we are. We all dream, but we don’t all remember our dreams all the time. Here’s an article from PsychCentral That explains How to Analyze Your Dreams (And Why It’s Important).
Lorenzo liked the focus on “being aware of and having more control of your thoughts, something everyone could benefit from.” I remembered I knew about the practice of mindfulness and shared a related meditation with him. This one had no religious or other afiliations. No reference to spirit or soul. He thought this was a more realistic approach to being aware of your thoughts and breathing, and it was nice having a guide talking you through it. If you’d like to check it out, Mindfulness Meditation – Guided 10 Minutes by TheHonestGuys.
My husband Cupp states that “calming the body and mind for 20 minutes a day is a beneficial addition to your daily routine. It’s ‘internal hygiene.’ Things like exercise and brushing your teeth is hygiene for the body. Meditation is like internal hygiene starting in the mind and eventually benefiting the rest of the body. The ability to reach a higher level of consciousness may come in time.”
Our teacher was very enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge and beliefs. At times some of what he was telling us was hard to believe. For example, he said meditation has been clinically proven to cure people of cancer. He also said that there was one yogi who was able to go into a vacuum chamber, was pronounced dead by doctors, then emerged three days later, alive. He claims there are ways that very advanced meditation practitioners can control their subconscious actions such as heartbeat. I’d be open to hearing more about the validity of his claims. Incidentally, my son did a Google search and found an article about a study that debunks this belief – Can Yogis Stop Their Heart?
Every one of us is at different stages of spiritual evolution and we need to be mindful of this. I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about spirit and soul, and meditation, and how the two relate based on the concept of self-realization. I am enjoying my curiosity and openness regarding this subject. Going inward takes a higher level of thinking and consciousness, something most of us find difficult to do. My son and daughter daughter do not buy into the “spirit or soul” idea quite yet. I believe for some this can take years of life experiences in order to fully appreciate the concept. Some are at the self-realization stage already, others are on their way. Some are at the very beginning of their journey. It’s hard for some people to even imagine we have a spirit as it is such an abstract concept. We can’t measure it in the scientific sense. We can’t see it either. For now, we just have to believe.
Angela G. Gentile, MSW RSW
Specialist in Aging
*Namaste is an ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India and especially on the trail in the Nepal Himalaya. Translated roughly, it means “I bow to the God within you”, or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you” – a knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness. (Urban Dictionary)
For further exploration:
The Spiritual Research Foundation: http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/
How to chant Aum with Yogi Shanti Desai. Watch on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cudh7lXZw70
Chanting vs. Meditation. An article from the Spiritual Science Research Foundation. http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/spiritual-practice/steps-of-spiritual-practice/chanting/chanting-japa-meditation
How Spiritually Intelligent Are You? Take this quiz and find out. http://www.beliefnet.com/section/quiz/index.asp?sectionID=200&surveyID=90