Archive for the ‘Spiritual Topics’ Category

Life undoubtedly will present us with many challenges, but it seems that over time, we learn to accept things. The resiliency of spirit somehow gives us the ability to accept almost anything, in time. When we make an effort to show up everyday to practice meditation, we are training ourselves in a deeper way, to accept things as they are, in that moment, no matter how we feel. Meditation is an act of deep surrender that spreads out into all aspects of our life. Conversely, what arises during practice, often relates to our dealings in day-to-day life, one reflecting the others.

At times we may feel enthusiastic about sitting for meditation, and at other times we may feel like it is the last thing we want to do with ourselves. In my practice, when I’m distracted and preoccupied with the daily list of things to do, I make a note of what it is that needs attending to afterwards, and then resolve myself to the practice as earnestly as I can by saying to myself, “There is plenty of time for all of “that,” after “this.”

Often the mind will make every excuse in the book to not take the precious time out to sit. This is precisely where our practice of meditation can really start bearing fruit. When the river of emotion is swollen and ready to breach its banks, if we can bring ourselves to the meditation cushion, withdrawing the mind away from the pulls of the world, we are in a sense strengthening the muscle of dharana (concentration.)

Over the past 23 years of practicing meditation, I have become less interested in what will be gained by this process. I am less concerned with what I am getting out of it. At first, it is natural to yearn for some release from the tumult of the mind, from our struggles and suffering, but over the months and years, it has become apparent to me that practice has been of tremendous benefit in my daily life. Many meditators I have met over the years have shared with me a similar sentiment about the value of practice. It may not be an easy journey we are on, and at times it seems that we are dragged into the abyss against our will, kicking and screaming. The waters of mystery tempted us to the edge, and we couldn’t resist dipping our curious toe into the water, and whoosh, we are pulled in.

My guru often says, “fake it till you make it,” to students that complain about how distracted their minds get while attempting to meditate. What I feel he is trying to convey by this comment is that when we maintain a regular practice, making a concerted effort to sit still, calm the breath, and gently and persistently redirect the mind back to the present moment, the murky water of our mind will eventually settle.   Another point he makes is that each time we sit to meditate, it is like adding a thread to a rope, which over time gets thicker and stronger, until we can climb quickly into the stillness of meditation; into the clear sky behind the clouds our thoughts. This process may take time, even years, so it’s helpful to balance our effort with softness; remembering that where we are trying to get to is closer than our own skin. It may be helpful to reflect on the truth that there is nothing to attain that we don’t already possess in our heart.  There is no perfect technique, posture or practice that can enhance the changeless, pure consciousness that is the source our own breath.

It is the restlessness of the mind that keeps our true nature obscured, and the very act of practice is a willingness to turn within to uncover the truth of our being. When we stabilize the mind through meditation, day after day, the muscle of concentration is strengthened, and the gaps between the thoughts become larger and more spacious. This can happen for just a moment, but these moments can have tangible affects own our being. When we become become less interesting in the endless chatter, the thoughts the mind become like a distant roar of a crowd and the mind soon becomes merged into the object of our meditation. This object can be a thought, such as “I Am,” or one of the many the names or forms of God or Great Spirit.

In my experience, the one thing that I can say for certain is that the practice never leaves me alone for long. If I try to shake it off, and just hovers around like a horsefly, until it can again land on my shoulder again. The impressions formed in meditative states have a way of resurfacing in all aspects of our lives, coaxing us ever closer to our true Self.

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Ajapa meditation is the practice of reciting a mantra internally, as a mental repetition. One of the most well known mantras used for practicing Ajapa is the  So Hum mantra. This mantra is as ancient as the breath itself, since it is the sound that the breath makes as it moves in and out of the body. It is the first and most constant expression of the Self within. A new born baby chants this mantra as it takes its first breath. The seed syllable “So” represents the pure I-sense, that Self, God or pure consciousness, and “Hum” represents am-ness, or the sense of being. “So Hum” is often translated as I Am He, but I prefer I Am That, or That I am. It can also be recited as Hum Sah, and when put together as one mantra it is So Hum-Hum Sah, which is similar in meaning as I Am That I Am. So Ham Hum Sah is a good mantra to say internally or externally for protection and releasing fear or trauma.

Traditionally, there are many methods for chanting So Hum. A good practice to start with is to simply recite the mantra internally as you breathe deeply and slowly. When you inhale, slowly and mentally chant the sound “So” and visualize the breath coming in through the nostrils and moving down through the chest and coming to rest just behind the navel. After a brief pause, slowly exhale and mentally say “Hum” as the breath comes back up through the body and out just past the tip of the nostrils, again pause briefly. As your mind becomes concentrated, your breath will  slow down and become more shallow. Keep repeating the mantra in this way, as if the breath itself is making the sound of the mantra. When your practice deepens, the visualization of the breath may fall away and just the sound of the mantra will remain. Throughout this practice, it is helpful to reflect, from time to time, on the meaning and vibration of the mantra. Ultimately, the mind will come to reside in the meaning “I Am That,” That pure, infinite, consciousness. The practice of Ajapa eventually leads the aspirant to heart of the mantra and Self realization.

If visualization doesn’t feel comfortable or natural, then simply breathe in and out while repeating the mantra, reflecting on the meaning and feeling the power and vibration of the mantra. If the mind stops the chanting, enters stillness, then just abide in that. If you notice that the mind is starts following thoughts, and creating stories, gently redirect the mind back to the practice.

It is helpful to keep the body relaxed and as still and comfortable as possible while doing Ajapa meditation. Lastly, my guru Baba Hari Dass has expressed that chanting So Ham helps to purity the subtle body, while Hum Sah is more purifying to the physical body. The practice I have shared here can be done either way. The key is to practice it regularly.

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Self-Inquiry Meditation – Atma Vichara

Healing the Spirit

Everyone can heal, no matter what the state of physical state of health and the practice of meditation is one of the most valuable medicines. Some might say that that goal of meditation is already our natural state, so there is no need of effort to attain it, but without knowing that from direct experience, it may be just another thought in the mind. To truly know that state, which is our very nature, we need to plum the depths of our hearts and minds to uncover that gem of pure consciousness that is always shining from within. If we’re already in direct contact with this natural state, then we have no need for self-effort, but for those that are not aware, practice is a gift.


Regular Sadhana (practice)

In this form of Sadhana (practice) we can suggest to the mind that the goal of meditation is already in the palm of the hand, and that all we need to do is gently, and continuously redirect it back to that simple sense of being. At first, the mind will start to buck like a wild horse, but in time it will naturally settle down. If we try to force the mind, it will rebel even more. The tendency is to give up if the mind proves to be stubborn in its desire to run wild. But if the sadhana is continuous and preformed on a daily basis, we start to experience a deeper spaciousness, or gap, between the thoughts. That peace is like the blue sky behind the clouds. When we train our minds to become less distracted and carried away by the stories that play out in the mind, then the thoughts and emotions that they generate start to become more and more transparent, and less and less real.

In the Yoga Sutras, the sage Patanjali states that the control of the thought waves is Yoga or union with God or Self. As beginners, it is easy to think that we need to get in there and somehow and build a dam against the rushing river of thoughts. This can easily lead to disappointment if we fail in our efforts to stop the torrent of habitual thoughts that have etched groves in the mind and over the coarse of a lifetime. The trick here is in not trying to stop the thoughts through an intense assertion of willpower, but by consistently and patiently redirecting the attention back to the object of meditation. As we do this, we pay close attention to keeping our posture relaxed and free from tension as much as possible. I call this “relaxing the effort.” It’s like the Tai Chi master, always soft, and rooted, yet ready to respond in the moment. Patanjali also states that our meditation asana (seat or posture) should be sukha (happy) and sthiti (stable). Sukha suggests a soft, comfortable, open, and receptive posture, and sthiti conveys a stillness and freedom from distraction, not ridged or stiff, which blocks the flow of energy.

When we bring ourselves to sitting practice, we do so with a knowing that we are immediately entering into direct and full contact with ourselves, at once human and divine. We may at times peak through the vial of heaven, and at other times plumb the depths of the underworld like a yogic shaman, coming into direct contact with all the debris that lays just below the surface of the mind and all the radiance that shines from our soul.

We may look upon saints and yogis and think, “I want to be at peace like they are.” We may try to emulate their ways, and mold ourselves in their image, but it is important to also remember that all the great yogis have had to sit in the inner cave of the heart and make peace with themselves and the memories, both pleasant and painful, that lay in the mind. In essence, they have had to accept life as it is and to forgive themselves and others, before they could truly let it go. This letting go is a beautiful moment of loving ourselves to the core. Yogis have had their nose put to this proverbial grindstone. The very nature of tapas, or austerity, is to crate heat, or friction, that brings forth, the Agni, or spiritual fire, that ultimately transforms us like the alchemist touchstone.

 Self-Inquiry and Self-Surrender

For Atma Vichara, and other forms of meditation, the object that most appeals to the mind, and represents the divine can be chosen. With one pointed practice, the object, either mental or physical, will shine forth in the mind. Eventually, the mind will begin to dissolve into the object. This state is expressed in the age-old saying, “I Am That I Am, or “I and my father are One.”

The great sage Ramana Maharishi frequently taught that the one irrefutable truth is that we all have the sense of “I” and feel that “I” exist. We may not know how we came to exist, or why, but we are all here experiencing this life. This I-sense can be felt within as a vibration of pure beingness, or gently reflected upon when the mind moves outward into a distracted state. As the mind starts to follow the thoughts we can say mentally ”I”, or “I Am,” and then return to the awareness of the pure I-sense. With practice, this “I” will become all that we are aware of, and all that forms around this I-sense will fall away, leaving only the “I.” When the mind is further purify by the light of pure consciousness, the “I” thought too drops away and the self abides in the Self. This dropping or self-surrendering is not a forced or contrived event, but a natural process. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether a chosen object is of a personal or impersonal nature, the same self-surrender is needed, and the goal of both is the same. One can choose an object that best suits his or her individual nature or chosen ideal of God or Spirit. Devotion is within the effort and earnestness to drop into Gods Abyss.

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The Flame of Intelligence

From an ayurvedic perspective, all that we take in through the five senses is processed into a meaningful experience by sadhaka agni, the flame on intelligence in the mind. Pitta dosha, the bodily humor made up primarily of fire and water, has 5 subtypes relating to various sites and functions of the body. Sadhaka pitta is one these subtypes relating to the brain and higher mind function. Pitta is the container of agni, (fire) and this specialized sadhaka agni is responsible for good comprehension, discrimination, learning, and wisdom.

Just as food and water are processed by the gastric fire (jathara agni), the agni that governs mental and high mind functions transforms the “food of the senses” into a meaningful life experience. When an experience is not fully processed, it can cause mental residue, similar to the toxins that accumulate in the GI tract as a result of poor digestion of food. These unresolved thoughts feelings and emotions are often referred to as psychic or mental ama.

For example, if we experience a trauma from abuse or an accident, or we are involved in an unhealthy relationship that is causing us emotional pain, these experiences are not only felt in the mind, but also within every cell of our being. If we don’t come to terms with these thoughts, feelings and emotions, they can tend to linger, and in a sense crystalize within the tissues of our body. My teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad often says, “the issues reside in the tissues.” I have seen in my own life and with those I have had the honor to work with clinically, that deep healing comes when unresolved psychic ama is release into the light of pure awareness. Again Dr. Lad says,“when we observe our thoughts and emotions, they eventually blossoms into pure love.” This can come like rays of sunshine, bliss, tears, the surfacing of old memories, desires and tendencies. When we become conscious in this way, rather than causing further impressions of pain and suffering, they are transformed into a deeper self-knowledge and wisdom that further nourishes our soul.

These unresolved experiences are frequently being brought into the light through our daily life experience and practices, especially if we are sensitive to what life is constantly sharing with us. We can also utilize tools such as herbal treatments, Panchakarma (cleansing and rejuvenation therapy), meditation, mantra, yogic exercises, psychotherapy, prayer, and energy work.

In the ayurvedic theory of body constitution, an imbalance in the dosha can also cause emotional imbalances to manifest. For instance, pitta imbalances can cause feelings of anger, this could be from inappropriate diet, lifestyle or seasonal factors. Likewise for vata imbalances causing emotions such as anxiety, or kapha imbalances creating grief, and attachment. Here we might treat the dosha as another way of addressing the emotional state. Often Ayurveda takes everything into consideration and comes at it in a multi-faceted way.

Herbs for the Mind

Here I would like to talk specifically about how herbal medicine can help with healing the mind. The channel of the mind is known as manovaha srotas. It’s marga, or pathway, runs though the entire body, to every cell. In yoga philosophy this is referred to as the manomaya kosha, the sheath of the mind.

There are many herbs that have profound effect on the manovaha srotas that are classified as medhya rasayanas. In Western herbology they fall under the category of Nervines. Medhya herbs help to rejuvenate the mind, and senses, increase memory, relax and replenish the nervous system and help to free the flow of prana (vital energy) within the mind. It is often hard to determine why a plant has a specific affinity to certain organs and tissues with biochemistry alone, but we do know through the time-tested wisdom of Ayurvedic energetics, that herbs can dramatically shift our consciousness.

Herbs like brahmi (gotu kola & bacopa), skullcap, and bhringaraj (eclipta alba) help to clearing excess pitta, in the form of heat from the liver and blood, thus calming volatile emotions of anger and generalized irritability. Some herbs affect the heart, like Hawthorne berry, elecampane or arjuna. They work to support healthy heart function, but can also help to open the heart in an emotional and spiritual way. When I see clients that have a lot of emotional pain, but they are not aware of why they hurt emotionally, or how to get in touch with that part of themselves. Here I might use herbs that open the heart like arjuna, along with herbs that increase conscious awareness, like calamus, tulsi, or gotu kola. This is an entirely different way of looking at the use of herbs.

For instance, we might use an herb that acts directly on the lungs, like osha root, which is decongesting, and helps fight viruses and infection, but it can also help to open the emotional body through its potent aromatic energy. Osha is a very spiritually cleansing herb. Some Native Americans used it in sweat lodges while praying and offering to purify physically and emotionally.

Herbs and Emotions

Ayurveda also see a relationship that certain emotions have a tendency to affect certain organs. For instance, vata related emotions such as anxiety and worry tend to become lodged in the colon; fear in the kidneys; and Pitta types of emotions like anger and irritability to the liver; and hatred to the gallbladder. Deep-seated grief and sadness get lodged in the heart and lungs.

This is not to say that emotions and their effects are limited to only these ideas, but if we look closely at the body and how it responds to how we are feeling, we can see for ourselves. Emotions circulate in the system, and can migrate from one area to another, until it is brought out into the light of our awareness and fully assimilated. Our body is designed to first assimilate, before it can release what is not useful to our life energy.

Examples of Medhya Rasayanas (nervines) herbs: Gotu Kola & Bacopa monnieri, jatamansi, skullcap, avena, shankapushpi, calamus, ashwagandha, chamomile, st. john’s wort.

Herb specific to organs:

Heart herbs: Elecampane (pushkarmula), arjuna, hawthorne berry, cardamom, rose, ashwagandha.

Lungs herbs: Pippali, osha root, licorice, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, calamus root, mullein.

Kidneys/Adrenals: Gokshura, brahmi (gotu kola & bacopa monnieri), licorice.

Liver: Brahmi, bhringraj (eclipta alba), milk thistle, kutki, shankapushpi, rose.

Spleen: (See liver herbs).

Pancreas: Turmeric, shardunika, neem, bayberry, barberry, tulsi.

Colon: Triphala, haritaki, sesame oil (enema).

Dosha Specific:

Vata: Ashwagandha, bala, vidari- kandha, calamus, dashamula compound, saraswati churna, haritaki.

Pitta: Shatavari, guduchi, burdock root, brahmi, rose, bhringraj, amalaki.

Kapha: Gokshura, calamus, trikatu, punarnava, bibhitaki.

Choosing the Right Herbs

Herbs can be selected to address dosha imbalances, specific conditions, and the organs and relating channels and tissues that are affected. If we are not aware of any emotional imbalances, we can just make note if any emotions that surface during the normal course of treatment of any condition. Sometimes emotional content will come up and pass, leaving one feeling more refreshed than before. If there is a psychosomatic aspect to a condition, herbs used to treat at the physical level also act on the emotional and mental body level. The separation of the physical, mental, and emotional bodies is only a mental construct, in realty all koshas (sheaths) exist as an integral whole.

Be Well!

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