Techniques to Stay Present

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Supportive

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At the meditation classes I conduct, there are always questions on what to do “in between” the sitting sessions when we tend to get pulled or hooked into stuff, be it interactions with others or our own addictive behavior. The following are some useful strategies, depending on how far into the “pull” one is.

Initially, without established inner silence, this pull/hook may only be noticed after the fact, either while still in the throes of it or much later after all has quieted down. As we cultivate inner silence through meditation, this pull is noticed more and more “upstream” until there comes a time when the beginning of the subtle fluctuations in energy are noticed at a very deep level, even before they crystallize into thought and /or action (response).

Strategies from gross (downstream) to subtle (upstream):

A. The pull or hook is noticed in retrospect:
Usually the tendency is to re-live the incidence again and again, with the inner critic going over all the ways the past outcome could have been different.

Instead,
1. At the end of a meditation session, bring up the emotion as intensely as possible – the sense of being wronged/insulted/disrespected (or the juicy temptation of the addiction) along with the bodily reactions that accompany it plus the compulsive need to react to it.
2. Become intensely familiar with it all. The more intensely this can be brought up, the easier it is to practice in “real life”.
3. When vividly brought up, gently bring the mind back to the mantra/breath or other familiar meditation technique.
4. Bring it up again, going back to the technique when the pull is felt as if real.

As this practice goes on, the package of sensations becomes so familiar that it can be noticed more and more upstream. With every repetition, the intensity of the package becomes less and less, to where it can finally be recognized as a non-issue.

B. In the throes of the pull:
As soon as it is noticed that the hook has been bitten, the first thing that may arise is dismay – oh no, I’ve done it again! This can lead to added frustration. There are many strategies that help at this stage:
1. Mantra – for those who enjoy mantra sadhana, this is one very powerful application. Bring the mantra into sharp focus, concentrating on each syllable. I find that the more complex the mantra, the faster I get “off” the hook. Any mantra I’m working on at the moment will do.
2. Breathe – place both your hands on the belly, fingertips touching at the solar plexus, and see how far you can push the fingertips apart during inhalation and how much the fingertips will overlap during exhalation. Simply bringing attention to the movement of the diaphragm works wonders.
3. Notice the sound of the breath – for this, it helps to become familiar with the inherent “soundless sound” of quiet breathing during peaceful times – “So” during inhalation and “Ham” during exhalation. Noticing changes in rhythm while going about daily activities is very helpful, because the jagged rhythm that occurs spontaneously when agitated can be easily recognized when it happens. If able to recognize this, consciously change the rhythm to what is remembered from the quiet times.
4. Pay attention to the breath – notice the length of the breath by counting, and increase the length by double for 5 breaths and triple for 5.
5. Bring full attention to where the hands are. This is simple but works even as a constant practice – always attend to whatever the hands are engaged in.

C. About to “bite” the hook:
1. Mantra (as above) – diverting the heat and turning it to bhakti in mantra works superbly well at any stage.
2. Once more established in inner silence, notice the change in texture of the energy behind the thought-emotion, the “felt-sense”. By noticing that felt-sense as well as the energy behind “wanting” to react but not reacting, the impermanence of the hook can be seen through. It can be allowed to pass.

D. There is a subtle arising of the temptation to “bite” the hook:
As we get firmly established in inner silence and the witness arises, the slightest change in texture or feel of the energy (felt-sense) is immediately noticed. As we become more sensitive to this, there can be a general feeling of being unwell every time the baseline of peace and contentment is “off”. Not letting things be is felt as resistance.

1. Samyama – this most powerful technique is an advanced yogic practice of bringing up an emotion from a place of stillness and releasing it back into the stillness. When practiced diligently, samyama becomes a way of life, where everything that arises is released into stillness even as we go about our daily lives.
2. Self-inquiry – another powerful practice, it works best when there is enough inner silence. Self-inquiry is the practice of looking deep within to find the “one who knows this”. In the present context, it is useful to simply notice the resistance and then work backwards from it, from “why is this such a problem?” to “where in me is this pointing?” to “who is this that notices?”
3. Become aware of awareness. An extension of self-inquiry, in this advanced practice, we are far more interested in the one that knows rather than “what” this one knows.
4. “Open” from the contracted state – the “something is off” feels like trying to squeeze through a tight opening. Relaxing or opening from that is like opening the door and walking into fresh air.
5. Stay with the raw energy – without labeling it as anger, sadness, etc, merely allow the energy to be felt “as is”. Anytime a story arises in the mind about the feeling (example, “how could she do this?” or “wish I had never met him”), return to the felt-sense. Without labeling and story-telling, the lifespan of such subtle shifts becomes exceedingly short and the present moment awareness is never “lost”.

I find that as I become more adept at this, it is fun to notice all the triggers (and sometimes even seek them out), to practice, to find new ways to let go into the vastness and loving acceptance of the present moment. The fun is akin to progressing along levels in an endless video game.

Mantra Sadhana (Japa)

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Supportive

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Mantra sadhana or japa has been a constant in my path, a practice common to all spiritual traditions and faiths. Sharing here some of the incredible benefits noted over the years..

Memorizing complex Sanskrit hymns is something I enjoy tremendously. Thus, although I grew up with commonly chanted mantras accompanying worship and rituals, it was in high school that I discovered my innate love for chanting. My math teacher, a Sanskrit scholar and jnani, insisted on teaching me Bhagavad Gita chanting for local competitions. Although at the time I didn’t grasp the meaning of the verses I was memorizing, I discovered that Sanskrit enunciation came quite effortlessly and there was deep peace in losing myself in the rhythm and intonation of the verses.

In college, I discovered the Hanuman Chalisa, being intensely drawn to Hanuman. I would chant the chalisa day and night, and it would go on in the back of my mind automatically during daily activities as well as in dreams. Through this, I began to feel Hanuman’s powerful presence everywhere, never feeling alone. Looking back at the most difficult times, there is only one pair of footsteps in the sand – His. And it was with this that I came to understand the power of japa.

The Vishnu sahasranama – the thousand names of Vishnu, was the first long hymn that drew me mysteriously into its fold, taking nearly a year to perfect and finding that doors would open in all aspects of my life. While trying to recall the source of all the goodness that has come my way in the last 20 years or so, I realized that it was after I began chanting this supreme hymn that things shifted drastically, including meeting gurus and being guided from everywhere.

Some years ago, I was drawn to the magnificent hymns from the Rig Veda (the oldest of the four Vedas) – Purusha Suktam, Narayana Suktam and Sri Suktam. It was with Sri Suktam, a hymn dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi that ecstatic energetic movements first began along with moving visions of the radiant mother, resplendent in her shimmering form, showering her abundance beyond anything I could have asked for.

There is a peculiar phenomenon I’ve observed with respect to mantras and hymns.. It seems that they pick the person, and “click” as they wish, or not. There are many hymns and mantras I have wanted to learn or practice but could not proceed. The hymn would seem to slip easily from my memory, rendering memorization impossible. Months or sometimes years later, the attraction to the mantra would arise again automatically, when it would seem miraculously easy to memorize and practice, as was the case with the Sri Rudram, a Vedic hymn.

The power of japa has been written about extensively by Mahatma Gandhi and by beloved teachers like Ram Dass and Eknath Easwaran. The incredible power of the Jesus Prayer is described in the spiritual classic, “The Way of the Pilgrim”, where a simple peasant in 19th century Russia discovers the true meaning of unceasing prayer first-hand . Japa is unceasing prayer that is established deep within the psyche and transforms one from within. It does not have to involve complex words; the simple name of our beloved ideal is enough, as described in Swami Ramdas’ elucidation of his extraordinary pilgrimage with his chosen mantra -the monosyllable “Ram”. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna lauds japa as the most supreme of worship or meditative practices (BG 10:25).

Discovering Eknath Easwaran’s teachings years ago, I was inspired to pick a “permanent” mantra, and “Om Namo Narayanaya” was chosen. In the years that I’ve used this, it has been interesting to notice how japa “settles” into one’s being. At first a conscious effort that is noticed at the brain/thinking mind level, it settles gradually into the throat chakra and finally into the heart. Once at the heart level, the dynamic changes entirely – at this point, the mantra moves by itself, arising in conscious and subconscious levels of its own accord (known as ajapa japa). It is the first thing that arises between sleep and wakefulness and the last thing that is noticed before deep sleep, arising automatically in dreams and turning them lucid. This mantra has become integrated into the very fiber of my being, and seems like it is being embedded into the deepest recesses at a primordial, cellular level.

The technique for mantra sadhana is simple. The first step is to pick the mantra or let it pick us. We then set an intention for transformation and begin the practice. For mantra “siddhi” (the power of the mantra) to occur, it is said that at least 125,000 repetitions are necessary. While this number may be arbitrary, the more we repeat it, the greater is its ability to settle into our psyche. Thus, it is helpful to set aside time everyday to chant/practice. A rosary or mala can be used if that is helpful, using the beads for counting; malas with 108, 54, or 27 beads are most commonly used. In addition, the mantra can be chanted during activities like cooking, cleaning, showering, waiting, exercising and others. It can be remembered upon waking up and before falling asleep, and any time emotions get the better of us. The first sign that the mantra is beginning to settle within is when it comes up on its own at unexpected times.

There is an incredible power associated with mantra sadhana that is easier to experience than to describe. It has the ability to transform life into a stream of miracles.