The Best of “Philosophy Angel” on Meditation, Yoga, etc.
Q. Many times, I’ve tried meditation but instead of feeling calm, I see chaos in my mind? What’s that?
A. Because meditation is a technique to help you calm and focus the mind. You don't just sit and down and tah-DAH! you're meditating. Just like in learning to swim or ride a bicycle or how to paint or how to be a hairdresser or a computer programmer, you have to LEARN and then PRACTICE how to meditate.
When you first sit for meditation, your mind WILL be very noisy. This is taking the first step--noticing that your mind and emotions are noisy and chaotic. At this point, instead of forcing your mind to be quiet (which is impossible), you just observe the thoughts, the feelings, and the chaos without getting caught up and swept away with any particular thought and without having judgments about these thoughts and feelings. You just sit there and observe and feel it. In time, it does quiet down. You may not achieve a perfectly "no mind" state. You may be aware that thoughts are running on automatic but they will seem to be far away or like background noise. With just sitting with yourself like this, you can focus on your breath (inhalation and exhalation) and if you want to practice focusing your mind, you think about a short prayer or affirmation --or mantra--or just a sound will do--and the image it may represent. When you start to do this, you will be concentrating and if you can be focused on doing this or in being calm and quiet in your thoughts, you will then really be meditating . But it comes with patience and practice.
Q. Trying to meditate, but unable to breathe correctly? What are some things I can do to maintain controlled breathing? Are there forms of meditation that do not focus on breathing? If so, what are they, and could you give a brief explanation of them?
A. Breathe normally. In certain forms of Buddhist meditation, a person focuses on the breath. This is not the be-all and end-all of meditation. It is just one technique to help the mind concentrate and focus instead of being agitated with thoughts and emotions.
Sit in the same place at about the same time every day. Morning and sundown are the best times. Keep good posture (you don't have to sit crossed legged on the floor; a chair is fine but keep the back straight).
1. Watch the thought-stream w/o becoming involved with thoughts or having judgments about them. At the very beginning of meditation practice, this may be easier than trying to concentrate or force the mind to be quiet.
2. Gaze at a white wall.
3. Gaze at an image that is meaningful to you. This can be combined mental recitation of a meaningful name, word, or short affirmation or prayer (ie, a "mantra"). This is all meant to focus the mind and also turn it to loftier thoughts.
4. With closed eyes, visualize a meaningful image and mentally recite a related word, short prayer, etc.
5. In discursive meditation, you relax (can be done lying on your back) and visualize a calming or positive scene that you place yourself into and explore.
Q. How long to meditate? I used to meditate for about an hour per day but I stopped for a couple weeks. When i started back again, I could only do it for about 30 minutes before my legs or back start to hurt. How should i meditate to get the most out of it?
A. Your experience is normal. Don't be discouraged when this happens. You should try to meditate for at least 40 minutes during a sit and try to be regular. And you don't have to be a marathon meditator either unless you intend on living in a hermitage or ashram. After a while, you can turn the meditative feeling on even when you are not meditating (when you are walking or just going about your daily business).
It takes a certain amount of time during a sit for the brain chemistry to kick in and do the beneficial things that meditation does in terms of modifying brainwaves and consciousness, etc. At first, you should sit for an allotted amount of time (20-40 minutes up to an hour) even if you feel a little restless, and you can even examine the restlessness as part of the meditation. You won't progress if you stop meditating whenever you feel restless or sleepy or whatever. Instead, you will always just go back to the same habit.
I used to feel that I had to sit cross legged and all that when I meditated--and I was almost always uncomfortable. It is OK to sit in a chair. Your feet should be flat on the floor, your back and neck should be straight, and it is recommended that you wear a shawl or light blanket or something to keep you body warm. If you used to be comfortable sitting cross legged and now have some discomfort, try gentle stretching exercises and rotation of the joints, along with relaxed deep breathing before beginning meditation.
Q. In asana [sitting posture for meditation] should my muscles be very loose, or should I have them slightly tensed so it takes work to stay still?
A. In some lineages, particularly Buddhist lineages, one is encouraged to sit firmly in a certain posture for prolonged periods despite discomfort, the idea being that eventually the discomfort goes away. I've never sat through a posture long enough for that to happen and I have sat for hours at a pop in my lifetime.
Ideally, the asana should be comfortable--that is, the legs should be in a comfortable sitting position. The back and neck should be straight at all times. The body should be covered with a shawl or insulated to maintain steady body temperature. The room should be well-ventilated. Holding of a hand mudra and fixing the external or internal gaze is also recommended.
Q. Is meditation completely safe to practice? The visualization is worrying me a bit because, supposedly, your visualizations must always be positive . . . but i am quite a negative person naturally.
A. Meditation is not recommended for people who have epilepsy or who have depressive disorders or some other forms of emotional or neuropsychiatric illness because meditation can make the condition worse. That being said, true meditation is not about visualizing something "happy" or engaging in exercises as described in tracts related to the Law of Attraction, although having the thought-stream focused on elevating, positive intentions, feelings, or images is extremely beneficial.
If you want to learn concentration as a first step toward learning to meditate, then you either look at or imagine an image--the image may be anything from a simple geometric shape or candle flame to your idea of God to an elaborate vision of heaven. You keep your mind focused on the image. Otherwise, you begin meditation by either watching your mind and having no involvement or judgments about what comes into it or else watching your breath and trying to keep a clear mind. Recitation of short prayer or affirmation or a special word during sitting or walking meditation to keep the mind focused is also popular. Eventually, the noise of the mind quiets down and you are sitting in quietness and presence. That's meditation.
You can also practice deep relaxation by listening to soothing sounds or by listening to recordings or creating a script committed to memory that will guide you into relaxing your body and/or having you visualize a pleasant environment or circumstance.
Q. What state was reached in my meditation? Yesterday, I was sitting trying to clear my mind and after around 20 minutes I just fell into a trance-like state. I could feel a flow in my body and started to become detached from myself. My body was just completely relaxed and I didn't want to even open my eyes. It felt as if I wouldn't wake up. I remember reading somewhere that if you feel an energy moving throughout your body you shouldn't try and control it but let it flow. So my question is what kind of state was I in? Is that what is it supposed to feel like?
A. You are simply in a meditative state of consciousness. This is what meditation is supposed to feel like: the mind is calm and clear and a feeling of "luminousness" or "expansiveness” may occur. The body is in a proper posture but is relaxed and the mind is detached from the body so that you may feel like you can't move or open your eyes (but you can). In very deep states of meditation, you may seem to completely lose the sense of yourself and be absorbed in a nondual state. This is different from being asleep or not conscious and it is not that common (except in very advanced meditators). You will not get "lost" in these states. They are self-limited. You naturally come out of them back to normal consciousness.
There is a stage of meditation that occurs for some people in which they feel energetic movement in the body and the body may move. Movement may include glossolalia (speaking in tongues), or affective symptoms such as laughing or crying. This occurs in esoteric forms of Tantric meditative practice, although some Tantric groups discourage it. It is believed to be the movement of prana or Kundalini. The same phenomenon occurs in shamanic mysticism and it in fact occurs in Pentecostal-type Christianity. It may have a root in neurological and psychiatric processes since the movements can resemble epileptic or moreso, psychogenic seizure activity. When the activity occurs during meditation or in the context of a spiritual practice (such as with Pentecostals), it is usually controlled and self-limited, and has a beneficial effect; when it occurs in other contexts in non-meditators, it is often a sign of pathology.
Q. Can someone explain how meditation was taken out of Christian practice? The first Orthodox Christians have this as an important practice. Did the Roman-Catholic church take this out?
A. The Desert Fathers practiced a type of mantra meditation in which the name of Jesus was meditated on with observance of the breath. The rosary is also a form of meditation, and mystics of the medieval era apparently were highly into meditation practices in which they visualized some idea about God, leading to ecstatic visionary and oceanic experiences like those expressed by Buddhist and Hindu adepts. Ordinary modern Christians are generally not taught about meditation, though. They are told to pray or sit quietly in the presence of God (which is meditation, actually). They don't learn about the mystical aspect of their religion unless they take the next step and proactively learn about it and practice it themselves. I believe that the Jesus prayer (the prayer of the Desert Fathers) has been popular among Catholics for several decades now, however; and Catholic clergy tend to be very interested in interfaith meditation practices. Some fundamentalist Christians believe that meditation is "evil" because they supposedly don't read it into the Bible and don't know about Western religious history or culture beyond what they read into the Bible. All they know is that meditation is something to do with Eastern religions. This is not true.
Q. I want to learn a way to open my chakras, clean, align them, and use them to project myself into the higher planes.
A. The chakras are levels of psychospiritual awareness in human consciousness, as explained in certain forms of Tantric Hinduism and yoga. You don't "clean" them. They are not organs; they are abstract ideas to explain how and why a person thinks and acts and how that person can change to be more aware and effective and less neurotic and controlled.
Learn some basic meditation techniques to calm and to understand your mind. If you want to meditate on the chakras, a simple, Westernized method is to focus on a part of your body that a chakra is related to. Visualize it in one way or another and watch your thoughts and emotions with the aim of gaining some understanding about why you feel them and how that can change. Look up the words “tattva shuddhi.” It is a type of chakra meditation to “clean and align the chakras.” Also look up “tonglen.” It is a Tibetan Buddhist practice in which you identify an emotional pain and instead of trying to make it go away, you accept it and breath in, imagining that you are taking in the pain of everyone else who feels it. You breathe out the intention of contentment, peace, and compassion for yourself and everyone else. I’ve found that combining elements of tattva shuddhi and tonglen to be useful.
Q. Using the Ajna Chakra (Third Eye)? I can feel the immense energies in all my chakras, especially the ajna. During meditation on it, there is immense pulsating and the sensation of a lot of energy at the third eye, and the 'darkness' one sees with eyes closed in a darkened room gets replaced by whiter and whiter shades, accompanied by flashing white lights eventually and a feeling of pleasant trance-like disorientation. I wanted to know if there are any meditations/methods to use an already unveiled and active ajna chakra?
A. The chakras are psychodynamic centers--metaphorically speaking--within consciousness. Being related to major nerve plexuses in the body, they have correspondences in the brain and are affected by brain chemistry. When you do chakra work, you are playing around and modifying all of that, simply put. Electrochemical changes in the pineal gland or other parts of the brain, fostered by certain meditation practices, will cause the experience you are describing.
People do chakra work in the context of yoga and Hinduism and Buddhism to clear out subconscious complexes and habits and conditioning to become more fully volitional and "conscious" instead of habitual and reactive. That is all there is to it. Saying that a chakra is active or open is just throwing words around. You are either modifying consciousness or working through conscious content or not.
The ajna chakra is associated with intuitive abilities. By doing chakra work and meditative work in general, you may develop intuitive abilities that may include clairvoyance, clairaudience, and achievement of certain mystical states of awareness in waking, dream, and trance. How you want to use it when it happens is for you to decide, but serious practitioners just acknowledge that it is happening and let the experiences take their own course. If you grasp at experiences and the "siddhis" that arise and become attached to them, you run the risk of limiting yourself from further progress.
Q. Is anyone familiar with awaking Kundalini? If so, how does one go about it? What are the dangers associated with awakening it?
A. I've practiced forms of Kundalini yoga and have studied both the spiritual and the academic literature about it for many years. I also have experienced Kundalini effects, as have many persons that I know.
It is called different things in different systems in both Eastern and Western traditions but today we are most familiar with it through writings about Tantric yoga and Hinduism, in which it is called Kundalini (“She who is coiled”). It is a spiritual and also a psychological and neurological event that can occur "spontaneously" although there probably are precipitating factors, and it also occurs for some people after much conditioning in physical yoga and various kinds of meditation disciplines. The physical disciplines condition the physical body, including the nervous system. The meditative aspects condition the various levels of the mind that are usually full of subclinical neuroses and subconscious complexes (which are what the "chakras" essentially are).
Kundalini activation causes a transformation of consciousness that, classically speaking, is an immediately ecstatic, awesome, and altered-state experience. A person usually feels changed, content, and clear for hours to days after the event and has undergone a change. Most people go back to being ordinary, well-functioning people who continue with spirituality and subsequent spiritual experiences and transformations. Some have an experience that changes them so profoundly that they purportedly achieve a permanent, clear-mind state (ie, "enlightement").
People who have psychological or psychiatric vulnerabilities or who experiment with drugs coupled with psychological deficits can expect to have negative effects, some of which baffle modern medicine, but this is probably more tied into mysterious neurological problems than supernatural problems. But meditation in itself --regardless of attempts at Kundalini arousal--can worsen rather than benefit people with neuropsychiatric problems, and this had been documented in the medical literature. Certain forms of meditation or spiritual disciplines should be practiced under guidance to prevent things from going sour.
Q. Does jnana [spiritual knowledge] lead to bhakti [spiritual devotionalism] or vice versa?[The question was posed by an adherent of Thelema].
A. Shankaracharya says this on this subject: "Among all means of liberation, devotion [bhakti] is supreme. To seek earnestly to know one's real nature--this is said to be devotion. In other words, devotion can be defined as the search for one's own Self..." From the Vivekachudamani, verse 31 and first half of verse 32.
Shankararcharya, who lived in about the 7th century, was the principle founder of Advaita Vedanta, which is synonymous with jnana yoga--the yoga of gnosis.
Bhakti is generally interpreted as religious devotionalism. Christianity can be said to be a Bhakta-type religion. One joins with a spiritual ideal through a kind of emotional spiritual reverie. Jnana--which is related to the Greek word gnosis--denotes both intellectual knowledge and also intuitive, transformational insight about the nature of reality. The highest form of devotion, according to Shankaracharya is to realize one's True Self, which in Western occult-speak, is realizing the Great Work.
Q. Question about Buddhism and Eastern Spirituality: I am having difficulties understanding what one’s True Self is if not one’s body or individual soul (like in Christianity)?
A. In the West, we have the idea that the soul is eternal, individual, and a personality--what you are but without a physical body. There are some Eastern religions that sort of believe this: that the soul survives the death of the body and lives in some blissful state forever.
Other Eastern beliefs, such as those of Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, and Buddhism in its many forms, have a different idea of what the "true self" is. And they differ among themselves. Simply put, these systems do not believe in an everlasting individual soul. They talk about merging into "pure consciousness" or "pure being" or "suchness." The metaphor of a movie screen is used to describe it. A movie screen is a changeless blank screen--this is the "true self." On it, fleeing images are projected. This is the world of name and form, sense and sense objects and the idea of self as a soul and personality.
Through spiritual practices, a person can learn things about their personality and mind and then may undergo profound changes so that they experience themselves and reality in a different way. They become their "true self" and identify more with the screen on which the play of life is projected than the play itself.
In my opinion, it’s good to explore these issues but not over-interpret the texts. People are trying to explain an inexplicable mystical experience. You'll know it if and when you see it. In the end, one must be simply content with living.
Q. Are you Enlightened? If so, how did you come to the realization that you transcend all and became Enlightened?
A. I am not “enlightened,” and I would not go anywhere near (or purchase anything or attend a spiritual dog-and-pony show from) anyone who claims to be "enlightened" because they definitely are not nor do they know the meaning of the word. Some ordinary people can have very enlightening, transpersonal, and awe-inspiring moments and some people can be very spiritually impressive but the second someone thinks they're "enlightened," that person has hit a brick wall, and sometimes s/he becomes dangerous to themselves and mostly other people.
Q. Is enlightenment the absence of a physical reality? Is it death or really achievable in life?
A. Enlightenment is experiencing reality as it really is and acting in an authentically conscious and willed way and not in relation to habits and conditioned thoughts, reactions, and responses. It is only achievable in life. When you are dead, your body and senses are gone; what is there to experience?
Q. How do you prove the existence of karma, or can it be proven? How can you prove that something you did let's say in October 1999 is causing you grief or pain today?
A. The law of karma cannot be measured against “proof.” It is an idea. If you want to believe that the reason why something "bad" is now happening because of something you did in October 1999, then go ahead. That is not called proof; it is called an explanation, and it may be valid or not.
Karma means "action" and it is a concept that merely tries to philosophically explain the law of cause and effect and, in the religious sense, to warn people to be conscientious about their thoughts and actions because unwelcome consequences might follow from foolish or disruptive actions. In turn, pleasant circumstances might ensue if a situation is treated in a wise way. It is that simple. There are other aspects to it that are philosophically sophisticated but that have been dummied down and misinterpreted by ordinary people in the context of pop-culture.
Q. Does it seem to you that the term karma is often used in a vindictive manner?
A. In my experience, the term karma is used in an incredibly uninformed manner. Some people think it has to do with spiritual merit or demerit (if a person does something "good," they can expect a reward; if they do something "bad," they can expect punishment.) This ideology spirals out of control when a person thinks that his or another's circumstance is related to some good or bad thing they did in the past (or a past life). This is an incredibly simplistic way of thinking about "karma." Karma means "activity." It originally referred to doing spiritually or ritualistically relevant acts (ie, keeping up with religious observances). "Doing one's own karma" meant doing what you were culturally and sociologically were supposed to be doing (according to your caste and gender and all that--ie, playing your role and conforming). Philosophically--or metaphysically--it simply refers to the process of cause and effect and the momentum of cause and effect. It is not necessarily driven by intentionality or morality or fairness. Causes and effects arise from complex interdependent circumstances, and no one can judge whether they occurred as a blessing or punishment or because it is the nature of ordinary life. This is the view in higher-level philosophy in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Q. What would you be without your "thoughts"?
A. I would be fully present, fully conscious, and truly volitional and thus, truly effective and efficient and content in every endeavor--instead of being a reactive mass of mental chatter, conflicting emotions, artifice, and habits and conditioning.