“That practice when pursued constantly over a long time with earnestness and positive attitude is established on a firm and higher ground”
Yoga Sutra 1:14
Is it not beautiful when we persist long enough with our meditation practice it becomes easy, joyful and peaceful? Have you noticed that there comes a point when meditation becomes a propelling force in itself, ever evolving, ever deepening, and facilitating personal transformation?
Last thirty years or so I have been trying out different techniques of concentration and meditation. To wit: sustained concentration on an external object with open eyes; relaxed visualization on an internal image, sound or internal organ such as the heart center; open focus meditation; breath meditation; Yoga Nidra; mantra meditation, Tonglen- like meditation with love (Prem), compassion (Karuna) and Joy (Mudita); prayers and devotional meditation; mindfulness based meditation and the like. I have enjoyed them all and I am most grateful for the physical, psychological and emotional benefits these techniques have brought in my life.
My current practice, call it “holistic meditation,” is an integration and modification of the above-mentioned techniques. Holistic meditation provides me a greater-than-ever sense of completeness and fulfillment at all levels, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual.
Below are the major ingredients or building blocks of holistic meditation. If something here resonates with you please modify and incorporate them in your own meditation practice.
Major Ingredients of the Holistic Meditation
- Select your “Imago.” The term Imago in psychology and psychoanalysis refers to an “Idealized mental image or concept formed in the early years often persisting throughout one’s life.” Imago can be a deity, prophet, saint, parent, guru, exemplary model of ideal values and behaviors, a historical figure or living person whom you love and admire. Imago can inspire you to the extent that you come to totally identify with him or her.
Bible says, ‘God created man in his own image” implying that we should mold ourselves in God’s image. According to this Biblical “Sutra” we must constantly strive to develop God-like qualities in ourselves with modesty and humility.
- Identify the particular qualities, characteristics and behaviors of your Imago
Identify which qualities, characteristics and behaviors you want to develop most. For example, my Imago is Lord Shiva. Shiva, a.k.a. Shankara is the infinite source of love, light and compassion who bestows peace and joy upon everyone. The literal meaning of “Shankara” is that which brings peace and joy to everyone (Sham Karoti iti Shankara). In my small and humble way I strive for bringing peace and joy to others. For some whose imago may be Lord Jesus or Saint Francis of Assissi look up to their Imago for endless love, compassion, bravery, sacrifice, forgiveness, etc.
The point is that whenever you think of your Imago you become mindful of the values and qualities you want to grow and augment in your own self.
- Internalize your Imago Deeply: When we internalize someone intensively and extensively in our psyche they can influence and guide us from the inside. Our earliest lessons in life result from a process we may call, “Imitation, identification and internalization.” As little children we learn by imitating significant adults around us. Then we begin to identify with them but they are still partly outside us. Then, as the “learning and becoming” process continues we wholly internalize them. We take them deep inside our head and heart. We then tend to say or do things, consciously or subconsciously, much as our parents, teachers or other significant adults once did.
One way of growing Imago’s qualities in yourself is by totally internalizing with your Imago as if you yourself have become the Imago! Swami Muktananda of India, founder of Siddha Yoga and disciple of Bhagwan Nityananda, meditated on his Guru by imagining as if he has become his Guru Nityananda in the concrete and physical sense.
In another example, as per the Kashmir Shaivism tradition, a practitioner meditates and imagines becoming Shiva. Ancients texts say, “Shivoham Shivoham, Shivoham, Shivoham! ” It means “Shiva I am Shiva I am, Shiva I am, Shiva I am!”
Some texts of Kashmir Shaivism say, Shivo Bhutva Shivam Yajet, “ that is, “Become Shiva in order to worship Shiva!” Become your Imago to realize your idealized self in the outer reality.
You don’t have to always visualize your Imago as a person with a physical body. You may visualize your Imago as pure light, a special word or a unique sound. Whatever the nature of your visualization, abstract or concrete, it should not make any difference because you know that body, that light or that sound you are visualizing stands for none other than your own Imago.
- Mantra: Select your mantra, a phrase or a word that represents the qualities, characteristics and behaviors of your Imago. For example, my mantra is “Om Namah Shivaya.” Here is the spiritual meaning of my mantra: All that I have, such as my health, love, intelligence, prosperity, etc. is not really mine. All is granted to me by the most auspicious and gracious Shiva.
- Sankalpa: There is no one word in English that can do justice to the concept of Sankalpa. So, here are several words to purport the sense of Sankalpa: definite intention or determination to do something; to resolve; to will; to form a resolution; or take a solemn vow.
My two Sankalpas are: 1) To be “mentally alert, fully conscious and one-pointed and 2) To acquire Shiva Mind. Shiva mind represents for me the fountain head of infinite compassion, forgiveness, love, joy, light, spirit of oneness and cosmic consciousness. It is my Sankalpa, my firm determination to keep on working as much as I can to acquire Shiva mind. Do you have Sankalpa of your own? If not, have one and it will bring you out of your bed every morning right up to your meditation seat.
- Prayer/chanting: Prayer for the benefit of self and others, called “intercessory prayer,” is a powerful instrument for our own psycho-emotional and spiritual development. My favorite prayer is an ancient Sanskrit prayer which asks for happiness, health and prosperity for everyone in the world. (1) Another favorite prayer of mine is Peace Prayer attributed to St. Frances of Assisi (2)
Below is a description of my morning holistic meditation, frank, fearless and unabashedly devotional.
My Morning Holistic Meditation Practice
Relaxed and Steady Sitting Posture with Diaphragmatic Breathing (DB)
I am sitting steady and comfortable, with head, neck and trunk aligned and relaxed. DB is established, upper chest still and the action of the breathing muscles occurring mainly in the abdomen and the mid-section. If not, I work a little more to relax the body and the mind and making sure that I feel connected and aligned from pelvic floor to the crown, the point where Indians used to grow tuft of hair called “choti” or “shikha.”
Invoking and Honoring the Significant Figures
After chanting a couple of times “Om Namo Gurudev Namo (Om I bow to the Guru),” I chant the Guru stotram (3)
Then I pay homage to my Guru and our lineage, the saints who inspire me, teachers who I am deeply indebted to and my parents and forefathers (and foremothers as well!) to whom I owe this life.
Prayer for all who need our help, love and compassion
Most days I chant my favorite prayer, “Sarve bhavantu sukhina…( May all beings be happy)… (1)
As I chant the prayer I deliberately create feelings of love, joy and compassion by remembering and thinking about my loved ones and about people who are going through difficult times.
Seeking blessings for today’s meditation
With my eyes closed I visualize my Guru and Lord Shiva as if they are sitting in front of me and seek their blessings for the meditation I am about to begin.
Time for the Sankalpas
I reiterate my Sankalpas : 1) Sachet, jagrat, ekagra (I will remain alert and awake with one-pointed mind 2) I will maintain my focus on Shiva Jyoti, call it Shiva Mind or “Big Mind,” which represents for me the cosmic consciousness, joy, love and compassion for all.
Having repeated my Sankalpas I ask Guru’s and Shiva’s support and power so I may steadily hold on to the Big Mind and let go of my little mind.
Symbolic “dipping” for personal transformation
At this point I bring my mind to the eyebrow center. Visualizing in the eye-brow center a body of holy water (which is Ganges for me) I take three “dips.” I recite my Guru mantra with each dip while imagining my little-mind is being washed and cleaned with the sacred water and being transformed into Big Mind. I ask Shiva that where there is anger, jealousy, criticism and other little-mind activities, let there be love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness and other self-liberating thoughts! With each successive dip, I imagine the transformation in my heart and mind is becoming more complete.
With my Imago in the heart center I make the offering
From the eyebrow center, now it’s time to come down inside, deep into the heart center and bow to Lord Shiva. My imaginary offering consists of “Panchbhutas” the five elements (space, air, fire, water and earth) with which this body is made. My offering is completed by surrendering everything that belongs to me including my Atma (Sprit).
Mantra Japa/ mantra meditation
Now is the time for mantra japa and mantra meditation proper. While continuing to sit “facing” Shiva in the heart center, I begin with silent recitation of my Guru mantra. Depending on the quality of my concentration, sometimes I use mala (string of 108 beads) for part of the time or for the entire duration of meditation. As the breathing becomes more slow and subtle, recitation of Guru mantra begins to transition into almost non-verbal recitation. It feels like the mantra recitation has transitioned into thought-form from the word-form. I call this stage as mantra meditation proper.
During this time I am stoking my heart with feelings of love, compassion and joy. Whenever people going through some crisis would pop up in my head I would extend them my love and support.
Obstacles, mentioned in Yoga Sutra as Antaraya (YS 1:30-31) often interrupt my meditation practice. My main obstacles are extraneous thoughts, sleepiness and troubling thoughts and feelings. As soon as I realize I am going off-track, I step up on my mantra japa and repeat my Sankalpa to be alert and concentrated. When thoughts of criticism, jealousy or anger would sneak up on me I would replace them with love and acceptance or silently say to myself “Big Mind” and/or visualize Shiva Jyoti in the heart center.
Intensifying the visualization of Shiva Jyoti
At this point, unless it’s a particularly challenging morning, distracting thoughts would lessen and breathing would become slower and smoother. Mantra recitation is now akin to thought vibrations rather than to fully enunciated words. At this point, visualization of Shiva Jyoti in the heart center would become more lucid. I may witness* one or more of the following experiences:
Seeing sparks or streaks of light in the heart center and/or other part/s of the body
Expansion of self in the vast space
Memory flashes of different places I have visited in the past and associated with joy
Flashes of streaks or column of light from pelvic floor to the crown of the head and going up towards the sky
Feeling connected with the cosmos and other people
The space inside and outside the body may feel as one continuous space. Once in a rare while I may see as if the light is emitting from the fingertips and toes into the space.
* Witness: It is a mixture of passive imagination/visualization and spontaneous perception
Ending the meditation with gratitude and thanks
When the time is up I bow to my Guru and Lord Shiva. If my mind has been naughty and flighty during meditation I reiterate my Sankalpas and resolve to do better next time. I ask for blessings so I can do better next time.
- Ancient Sanskrit prayer
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah!
Sarve Santu Niramayaah |
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu!
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
“May all beings be happy!
May all beings be free of illness and afflictions!
May all beings be prosperous!
May no one experience pain and suffering!”
Om Peace! Peace! Peace!
(Invocation of peace three times means we ask for peace among people, peace in the Nature’s disruptive forces and peace in our heart and mind
- Peace Prayer attributed to Frances of Assisi
“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
- Guru Stotram
Gurur Brhama, Gurur Vinshnu, Guru Devo Maheshvara!
Gurur Sakshat Param Brahma Tasmai Shri Gurve Namah!
Guru is Brahma. Guru is Vishnu. Guru is Shiva. To that Guru I bow!