Training the Mind to Concentrate
Recently Swami Kriyananda has been emphasizing the importance of making the right spiritual effort. By so doing, we can transcend egoic limitations and become, in this lifetime, jivan muktas. Spiritual effort includes increasing our yearning for freedom. How do we do that?
Meditation: the point of greatest leverage
Paramhansa Yogananda said that our spiritual path is a combination of meditation and service. Service purifies the consciousness when done correctly, that is, without the desire for the fruits. For most of us, however, meditation is the point of greatest leverage. If we can meditate longer and more deeply, we will make faster spiritual progress than in any other way.
Yogananda defined meditation as “concentration on God or one of His qualities,” such as: love, joy, peace, calmness, wisdom, light, sound and power. The challenge is concentration.
If you can concentrate more deeply, your meditations will be more fulfilling and their depth and length will automatically begin to increase. When you are deeply concentrated, you won’t want to leave your meditation.
How do we bring more focus in our meditation? The key, by and large, is training the mind into a habit of concentration.
Focal points for concentration
Each of the meditation techniques of Ananda’s spiritual path has a specific point of concentration, a way to focus the mind and energy. The Hong Sau technique involves concentrating on the breath.
When doing Kriya we focus on moving energy up and down the spine, and looking into the light at the spiritual eye. With the AUM technique we focus on the inner sounds.
If we feel devotion in our meditation, we concentrate more deeply on that feeling. And if we’re visualizing Yogananda or some other Master, we focus on his image. Prayer and chanting, too, give a focal point for the mind.
Expect to go deep
The first few minutes of each meditation are very important, and we need to develop a habit of starting immediately with deep concentration.
It’s helpful to go into your meditation room expecting to have a deep meditation. It’s also important to establish a kind of psychic barrier that says, “When I come in here, I don’t bring cares, or worries, or projects.”
Take away the permission
Most of us have a tendency to concentrate briefly and then to drift into mental restlessness, the mind vacillating between periods of concentration and periods of mental drifting. We can stop this with a strong act of will.
As soon as you catch yourself not concentrating, train the mind to immediately focus again. The longer you let your mind wander, the more you give permission to its restlessness. So, take away that permission.
Over the years I’ve discovered a few helpful tricks. While in meditation a thought will sometimes come into my mind, perhaps about a project I’m planning. When that happens, I’ll mentally say, “After I’m done meditating I’ll put my mind to that, but not now.”
It works often, but not always. On rare occasions, if the thought is too persistent, I’ll write it down a on a little pad of paper so I don’t forget. Then I can resume meditating without the nagging anxiety of losing an important idea.
Mental chanting can also help break cycles of restlessness. The key is to do whatever is needed to get the mind to stay focused one pointedly on the object of your meditation.
Practice in daily life
Our ability to concentrate in meditation is enhanced if we practice it also in daily life. Recently we were in an airport and there was a television about fifty feet away from where we were sitting. We were too far away to hear or see anything other than the images on the screen, flashing and changing every two or three seconds.
We normally don’t notice how quickly images change because we’re absorbed in the content. But watching TV trains us to be restless; it’s teaches the brain to demand new stimulation every three seconds.
Train yourself to do one thing at a time, to do it with deep concentration, and to finish it. If you have ever seen Swami Kriyananda at work you will know exactly what I mean. His focus is extreme.
We’ve seen him reviewing letters brought by his secretary. Then someone comes in who urgently wants to speak with him and you can almost see the person’s fluttering emotions.
Kriyananda knows that the person and the emotions are there. He may even acknowledge the person very briefly. But, he stays focused on the letters, signs them, and finishes his task. After that he turns to the person with full attention.
It’s a very clear demonstration of concentration. He’s not trying to read letters, relate to the person waiting, and talk to his secretary all at the same time. When you work that way, nothing gets done right. Multi-tasking is not a yogic practice. In fact, it breeds mental restlessness.
Always start with Hong Sau
It’s very important to begin your meditation with the Hong Sau technique. By not doing Hong Sau, you start with a handicap. Hong Sau is a bija mantra that helps calm the astral energy in the spine, which in turn, helps calm the breath and focus the mind.
Hong Sau isn’t just a technique for beginners. It’s one of the cornerstones of our spiritual path. If you have gotten out of the habit of doing it, it would be good to retrain yourself to start each meditation with Hong Sau. I would recommend doing it for a minimum of ten or fifteen minutes.
Try to focus on solely on the breath—feeling it and gradually observing it closer to the point between the eyebrows. Practice with the sense that you are becoming so concentrated that you are going breathless.
Hong Sau, done deeply, will train the mind to stay concentrated. As you learn to maintain that focus, your practice of the other techniques, and your meditations in general, will become deeper and deeper.
The focused feeling of the heart
It is good to vary the mix of the techniques you practice. Those who have been initiated into Kriya Yoga should always try to do their Kriyas in each meditation.
But, other practices are important also. Give some time to visualization, especially of the Guru’s face and eyes. Inner prayer, chanting, or repeating “Reveal Thyself” or “Om Guru” over and over also gives you a very clear target for concentration. But verbalization can only take you so far.
You should try to get behind the words into the deep feelings the words are trying to express. This devotional yearning of the heart to be in God’s presence is something much deeper than the mere reciting of the words.
Both will and feeling are needed
Successful practice of any technique requires that we engage the full power of both our will and feeling. Yogananda taught that in doing the Energization Exercises, we should tense with will, then relax and feel.
Each technique of our path has both a particular point of concentration (as discussed earlier) and also a particular focus for the feelings. With Hong Sau we focus the mind on the breath. But, the feelings should also be directed toward a sense of deep relaxation into the spiritual eye, and a yearning to be free of the body.
The practice of Kriya Yoga involves using your will power to move the energy up and down the spine. Yogananda said, “ The greater the will the greater the flow of energy.”
The more you do Kriya with intensity, the more you strengthen the upward flow of energy in the spine. But, the deeper practice of Kriya requires that we also try to feel that energy.
Going beyond techniques
Finally, there comes a time in meditation when we need to let go of all techniques, relax deeply, and feel God’s presence. Many people leave their meditation without doing this.
But, real depth of meditation demands that we go beyond outer practices, and simply be in the presence of God. Try to become absorbed in the inner silence or in the vibration of His love or joy.
Then try to increase the intensity of that feeling and to expand it. Feel that you are expanding that feeling farther and farther, beyond all limitations of your body and personality.
Yogananda said that when listening to AUM, we should try to feel the sound expanding first throughout the brain, then the whole body. Then try to feel it expanding beyond the body until you become all space.
AUM practiced like this can take you to an extremely deep place in meditation. Floating in these expanded states—of AUM, calmness, love, or joy—will break down the sense of ego and bring us back to our soul nature.
“All I want is You”
Try not to block the depth of your meditation with wrong attitudes. Some of the more common wrong attitudes are: a sense of unworthiness, of not being ready to know God, that God is distant from you, or that you need to do something to deserve His presence.
Pray or meditate with the consciousness that you’re already in the state you’re trying to achieve. God is already in each one of us as much as He possibly can be. All He is waiting for us to do is to realize that and to say, “ I don’t care about anything else—all I want is You.”
Spiritualize each day
It’s very important at night, before you go to sleep, to give everything you have, and everything you are, back to God, so that you’re not clinging to anything in this world. And try to wake up with a chant or prayer in your mind—some awareness of God—so that the end and beginning of your day are spiritualized.
Then, when you go into the meditation room, go in with the intention of diving deep right away, and staying deep for as long as you can.
From an October 18, 2006 talk at Ananda Village.
Jyotish and Devi Novak are acharyas (spiritual directors) for Ananda Sangha Worldwide. Jyotish Novak is also acharya for the Ananda Sevaka Order, worldwide.
What Is a Jivan Mukta?
by Swami Kriyananda
Paramhansa Yogananda gave the following explanation of the stages of spiritual awakening: A master, having shed every vestige of ego, merges his consciousness in God. At this point he becomes what the Indian scriptures term a jivan mukta: one who is free in spirit even though living in a physical body. Such a great soul, no longer trapped in delusion, has won release from the bondage of desire. His reality, now, is God alone.
A jivan mukta still carries in his subconscious, however, the memories of his past, ego-motivated deeds. These memories must be expunged also, released into cosmic consciousness. The jivan mukta must realize that the Infinite Dreamer has ever resided at the heart of his human actions. He was their central reality, merely obscured by egoic ignorance.
That divine presence must be realized in even the most mundane memory. Even criminal actions are but veils the ego casts over its inherent divinity. An enlightened master, having released into soul-freedom the last of his karmic memories, becomes a param mukta, or fully liberated soul. Such freedom is rarely achieved on this material plane of existence, but it does occur.
When a fully liberated master is reborn on earth, he comes in response to humanity’s spiritual needs. In this case, he is an avatar, or divine incarnation. Through him, God radiates a power greater than even that of a param mukta. One who is fully liberated in this life can save his direct disciples, but a divine incarnation can bring to God as many as come to him with devotion.
Excerpted from The Promise of Immortality, Crystal Clarity Publishers.
Other Clarity articles by Jyotish and Devi Novak are listed under “Nayaswamis Jyotish and Devi.”
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