lac mahon, la peche, qc.

lac mahon, la peche, qc.
photo by graham law.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I'm Not Actually A Teacher, You're Not Actually A Student.

I’m Not a Teacher, You’re Not a Student.
I'm Not a Student, You're Not a Teacher.

This article is written for those special people who have become interested in or perhaps even fascinated by the idea of meditation. If you’re searching for instructions into a Reiki Level 1 course, Tarot cards, healing with crystals or how to contact your dead grandmother, this will not work for you. As wonderful as all those things may be, this article is exclusively concerned with explaining the pure, ancient and highly respected science of meditation, how and why to include it in your life. There is really no certification at the end of studying and practicing. There is, however, tremendous relaxation, a profound sense of well-being and a greater understanding of something I call ‘self-knowledge.’

At the start of one of my sessions, a severe-looking lady asked what my qualifications were for teaching. A lesser man might've broken down, admitted to being a total fraud. What I said, what I always say, is that I have no certificate or accreditation from any institute. I invited her to feel free to read the back of one of my books to learn a bit of my personal history, specifically as it pertains to the study, experience and teaching of meditation. But most importantly, I added, one has to rely on one’s own intellect and power of discrimination in order to choose who is worth listening to on any subject, especially this one. Moreover, ultimately, one has to take what is useful from any teacher or technique that guarantees results. Even the historical Buddha allegedly said that any technique worth employing must help a person in his or her life, here and now, right away.

The main teacher of my life, my beloved and revered Swami Shyamji, once gave me a piece of advice that I continue to keep close to my heart. As I was leaving his Himalayan hermitage to join a six-month, silent Vipassana Buddhist meditation retreat in Maharashtra, India, I asked if he had any last minute words of advice. “Yes, I do,” he said smiling impishly. “My advice is: Don’t be a Buddhist. Be the Buddha.” And with those words ringing in my ears I slithered away. Along with countless other words from Swamiji over the years, I’ve never forgotten that advice. I’ve often repeated it to my so-called students and even expanded upon it. Don’t be a Buddhist. Be the Buddha. Don’t be a Christian. Be the Christ. Don’t be a Hindu. Be Krishna. Don’t be a Sikh. Be Guru Nanak. Don’t be a Jew. Be Moses. Don’t be a Muslim. Be Mohammad.

So, no matter who we choose to listen to, sit with or learn from, it’s up to each of us to dig our own freedom, to find our own way, to become the enlightened one with no certificate to show for our trouble. Just freedom. It is in the light of this realization that I humbly offer these suggestions. In reality, I am not a teacher and you are not a student. If what I write is true and if it strikes a responsive chord within you, then we are united in that understanding. We are united not as teacher and student, but as Truth itself.

Having said all that, I should add something about why it may be helpful to seek some form of guidance or a ‘teacher’ when beginning to examine the science of meditation. One needn’t stay for long. One needn’t cook or clean for him or her, do anything strange in bed or hand over one’s money. What one must do is take advantage of the experience of a fellow traveler who has gone before, who has been up the path and who just might know the tricky twists and turns to watch out for along the way. And there’s one more reason to sit with someone whose meditation practice has matured. The rare people who have dedicated themselves to the process over many years actually emanate a spiritual essence, a vibration that is transmitted to those around them. That may sound terribly mystical, but it’s a fact and a quality not to be underestimated.

On one visit from India many years ago, my dad asked why meditation seemed to have helped me so much, but not my sister, who had also been meditating for some years. She was a devotee of a highly respected teacher, master and guru from India, Swami Yogananda, who had been a pioneer in bringing the information about meditation to the western world. Unfortunately, really, he passed away long before my sister ever heard of him. I replied to my dad that I didn’t have a definitive answer to that question, assuming that he was even correct. But I offered a possible explanation. I said that if one wanted to learn to play the piano, it wouldn’t really be of any use to sit in front of a photo of one’s teacher placed on the music stand above the keys. Why would meditation be any different? Why, for that matter, would religion be any different? It’s interesting that all truly enlightened people have said that we are one life, one energy, one love, irrespective of caste, race, creed, color or any other apparent difference. Why does the essential and original message of the enlightened beings through the ages become so perverted as to cause wars? Don’t be a Buddhist. Be the Buddha.

There’s really nothing hard to understand about meditation. And yet, it’s widely misunderstood here in the western world, and even in its home country, India. From the Sanskrit word, dhyaan, meditation has become synonymous with all things flaky and maladjusted. It’s been blamed for wasted talents and even wasted lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. I will admit that I put the Saran Wrap in the refrigerator and the milk in the cupboard once in a while. But I, along with so many other people who have spent years meditating, have found something so fine, so beautiful and freeing that nothing can compare with it. Rather than blame the proud process of meditation for our foibles, we praise it as the cause of our deep sense of well-being.

My teacher, early on, once said, “Nathan, the same mind that has gotten you into trouble can get you out of it.” In those days I rather hoped drugs might be the answer. But he assured me that was wrong, that drugs would only ruin my nervous system. I still prefer a mild pain-killer for headaches. However, somehow I came to understand that meditation is a powerful tool. Once trained, I realized, the mind could be used against the enemies of true happiness, such as a myriad of physical ailments, mental complexes and even the innate fear of death. Apparently, the Buddha was known to say that desires are the root cause of all problems. My mother said that lack of money is the root cause of all problems. My friend Danny seemed to think that not having many relationships is the root cause of all problems. Since I tried my mom’s solution and Danny’s solution for a while, I decided to try the Buddha’s, even though I never actually met the fellow. I thought I saw him once at a party, but I couldn’t be sure. Be that as it may, I was pretty concerned about losing my desire for money and relationships if I began to meditate. My girlfriend at the time was even more concerned. Now I see that’s not how it works. You don’t have to give up anything. You only have to add one thing to your life: a few minutes of meditation daily. Then sit back and watch it enhance whatever else you’re into. Watch it help you let go of what you want or need to let go of. Watch it make you see the cup as half full. Watch it make you happy.

One of the most prevalent misconceptions about meditation is that you have to stop your thoughts, kill your mind. What one has to stop, cut or kill is only the concept. Leave your mind alone. To allow a wild horse to settle down, it probably isn’t a great idea to put it in a very small corral. It’s far more preferable to give the creature a large, wide-open field to roam around in. It'll settle down on its own. In the same way, it’s far better to let the thoughts come and go freely. Merely sitting or lying down for some time each day and applying the technique assures one of a positive result. Only your misconceptions concerning what you’re doing can get in the way. The very act of stopping for a while will have a positive influence on your day, your life. That’s because, actually, you do not meditate. You just need to get out of the way for meditation to happen naturally. I'll explain. It’s easy, yet very few people will do it.

Dhyaan actually means ‘attention’ or ‘contemplation.’ Whether a mantra (usually a Sanskrit phrase) or the breath becomes your chosen point of attention, the results of meditation, as I’ve said, are assured. Done with the right understanding, your mind will settle down, you will enjoy a heightened sense of well-being. Done with continuity, you will be well on your way to becoming a more contented person, walking happily through life while, of course, sometimes spoiling the milk by putting it in the cupboard.

There are three states of consciousness that everyone is very familiar with: the waking state, the dreaming state and the deep sleep state. From the moment of conception, the ancient sages have said, a person begins to forget that he or she has a fourth state, which is called Turiya in Sanskrit. This state permeates all the other states, just as water is the essence of the iceberg. So the very act of stopping all your activities and tuning in to the essence of your existence, which is what you’re effectively doing in meditation, will take care of a lot. And the benefits are many.

In eastern philosophies and scriptures, you’ll often read that whatever is transitory cannot be said to be real. You’ll read that whatever is eternal is real and true. So this body, mind, ego mechanism is in that case not real or even existing. The ancient sages said that there is, in fact, no death because there was no birth. The space from whence ‘we’ come from, to where ‘we’ go, is considered real. The technique becomes, in the light of the previous paragraph, like an anchor. Utilizing it helps bring one’s attention back to one’s own self, to the reality of the essential life animating your body and mind. The technique helps us stop. As well, the technique trains the mind to focus like a laser beam, which will have far-reaching effects on your day, your life and, ultimately, your true knowledge.

The Vedantic scriptures liken the mind to a monkey flitting from branch to branch, tree to tree. Our mind flits from object to object and from thought to thought. We become so extraverted over the course of the years, or even as each day progresses, that it behooves us to find a way to regroup, so to speak. So, when we’ve decided to let the thoughts come and go freely while we sit and watch, we merely add one new thought. The phrase, or mantra, becomes a very significant and enjoyable thought as time marches on. All true mantras mean virtually the same thing: ‘I am the pure life, the essential energy animating all the forms.’ There is a popular Buddhist mantra that goes ‘Om mani padme hum’: ‘Behold the jewel within the lotus flower.’ There is a popular Hindu mantr that goes ‘Amaram Hum Madhuram Hum’: ‘I am immortal, I am blissful and indivisible.’ All real mantras basically refer to the one life, the one light at the center of all beings, the energy that animates all the forms.

It is often noted that Sanskrit is used for mantras because the vibration of the phrases resonate within the human mind to open certain spiritual channels. For an in-depth dissertation on the vibrational qualities of Sanskrit, I recommend Chaytna’s book, ‘Let’s Learn Hindi,’ which can be found through her website; I’ve always used the Sanskrit word; ‘Shyam’, as my mantra. It’s the name of my teacher and of the power that sustains life. It really doesn’t matter what mantra you choose, although Sanskrit mantras are the most recommended. However, choosing a mantra and sticking to it is important. Meditation is a technique of being one-pointed, after all. Chogyam Trungpa once wrote that western people tend to try many different techniques, which is like a thirsty person digging many shallow wells but never hitting water. He wrote that we should dig one well deep enough to achieve the desired result.

Having chosen a mantra, or been given one by a spiritual guide, master or guru, you’re ready to begin. My teacher used to say that you should be able to meditate anywhere unless somebody is physically shaking you. I once climbed all the way down to the bottom of a dormant volcano in Hawaii, called Haliakalu, in a quest to find the perfect spot for meditation. A hut had been constructed there for trekkers or foolish folks looking for a perfect spot to meditate. I felt so sure I’d finally found my place. Unfortunately, since there were no panes of glass nor screens in the windows, a couple of flies flew fairly frequently in there making a racket like they were at the El Macombo on a Saturday night. I left in a huff the next morning.

Later, on my way to India for the first time, I was compelled to sleep on the rooftop of a hotel in Peshawar after a long and tiring day of travel. The noise level from the crowds up there and the hollering, smoke and smells from the streets below were off the charts. I was convinced meditation would be a wasted endeavor in such a place. But, I had little choice. It was my rule to sit every evening one hour. And after an hour, in spite of my misgivings, I felt rejuvenated, refreshed. As well, contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessary to sit ramrod straight with legs crossed. It’s not even necessary to sit at all. You can lie down, settle into a comfortable chair or sit on a cushion with legs out or crossed. Since meditation is first a process of relaxation, let the sense of ease be your guide. You should feel relaxed and comfortable.

It’s easy to find a spot where there is very little noise. It’s easy to find a spot where there are virtually no pungent odors, unless of course you don’t bathe. It’s easy to find a spot where you’re not touching anything other than the pillows. But how does one get away from one’s own mental projections? As I’ve said before, the first thing to not do is mind your own thoughts. Don’t mind your mind. Remember, the same mind that got us into trouble can get us out. The mind is a trickster, a monkey. It will first distract you from your mantra and then make you feel bad for being distracted. Allow your thoughts to come and go freely. Decide beforehand that you won’t feel bad about them. Because I promise that you will be distracted again and again. So each time you realize you’ve been thinking or listening to a noise or feeling pain, pleasure or a strong emotion of some sort, just go back to your mantra without any sense of self-recrimination. There’s no need to beat yourself up over this. You can even get right into thinking, about your day, your life. You can get into thinking about life itself, pure, free and forever. Just keep returning to your mantra, again and again.

It is important to understand that whatever one perceives and experiences in meditation, just as in ones day-to-day life, is transitory and changing. Whatever one thinks, hears, whatever pain, pleasure or strong emotion one experiences will have a beginning and an end. So, when you meditate it is useful to just watch it all. Don't try to get away from anything or hang onto anything. Just practice being the watcher of it all. The same uninvolved observer who was watching as a young boy or girl is the same one who is watching now. As your body has grown and as you’ve gained more and more skills, qualifications and life experiences, that watcher has never changed. That one has been watching all the changes and is watching still, unchanged, uninvolved. That uninvolved observer has always and will always be fine throughout the life and even after. Think about that.

In spite of what I wrote earlier, I am going to suggest two more techniques. Because I feel sure that the people reading this dissertation, like the people I keep meeting, and especially now with the right understanding, are brilliant enough to decide which is best suited to them and how to use the information offered here.

The first of these two techniques is called Anapana, with a soft ‘a.’ It is a technique of concentrating on the breath. Anapana is referred to as the maha mantra, the ultimate mantra. The reason is that it’s the least tangible, the subtlest point one can attend. There’s virtually no form to watch, no form to hold on to with your mind. However, the ancient sages have said that it’s a bridge between the part of us that’s transitory and the part that’s eternal, the source of our energy. I have often suggested it can also be combined with mantr.

The million-dollar question is this: Can you allow the inhalation and exhalation to happen on its own without asserting yourself? Can you stop doing anything and just observe your own breath? While sitting, slouching or lying down, or while waiting to be wheeled in for your gall-bladder operation, put your attention on the nose-nostrils-upper-lip area and watch the breath. Don’t follow your breath in or out. This is not a breathing exercise. Watch the inhalation, the exhalation and the spaces between. And, again, as often as your attention is deflected into your thoughts, the noises around you or the pain in your tummy, that many times you have to go back to your chosen point of attention. And don’t bother being bothered by being bothered by being distracted.

You may not think you’re having a very peaceful meditation. As I’ve already pointed out, you may think you’re wasting your time. Just keep in mind that rooftop in Peshawar and give peace a chance. There is no such thing as a bad meditation. You may doubt that you can do it. You may doubt that you should do it. I suggest that you be patient and give yourself time. In one of my recent sessions, a lady said that she really didn’t understand what she was doing while meditating. That was a valid point. It was a valid point because she was not doing anything. We’re not used to stopping. We’re not used to letting go. It’s much simpler to run around the block for a half hour than to stop all our activities for the same time period. It’s the most worthy and yet the most difficult of all activities. It's easy and hard. In fact, it’s too simple. And don’t get stuck on the technique. You can just watch the space, so to speak. You can decide. You are the teacher. You are the path.

Which brings me to my third suggestion, my last technique. This simple technique is close to my heart. In fact, it's close to everyones heart. Here's how this one goes:

Just think about a person you have loved with all your heart. Dwell upon that person, or even that pet, you have been most enamored of, most attached to, the being whose presence you have most treasured. Even if he, she or it is physically no longer in your life, even if the memory causes you pain, don't turn your thoughts away. The pain is because there was that much love, that much oneness and I assure you the pain and pleasure are not two different realities.

After a few moments, let go of that person or being and put your attention on the feelings, dwell on those feelings, follow those feelings to their source deep within you. Because those feelings existed long before the object of your love came in front of your eyes and other senses. Those feelings and that heart-space have always been there. Eventually, you can envision a pond that, when a pebble is tossed into it, causes ripples to spread out from the center. Let those waves, the vibrations, ripple throughout your body and flood your system with all that goodness. Envision that life-sustaining healing power spread throughout your body and even beyond. But, mostly, dwell on that place, space, center, the force, the source of your love.

One of the first things you’re likely to notice is that the quality of your thoughts will change. You probably won’t feel like hollering at your wife or husband so much anymore, tying a tin can to the tail of your neighbor’s cat, back-ending the guy who just cut you off. You may feel uncharacteristically charitable. When that happens, and it will, you may think something is wrong. Of course, if the new thought processes seem strangely soothing, continue. It won’t be long before you’ll get the feeling you’re looking for. When one is sitting, continuously placing ones attention on or identifying with the watcher, one is essentially developing equanimity. Each time one says ‘pain’ rather than ‘my pain,’ or ‘pleasure’ instead of ‘my pleasure,’ one is essentially stepping back from the ever-changing phenomenon just a tiny bit. In that way a person will observe again and again how all of ones sensory perceptions, whether pleasant or unpleasant, change. But a person will also observe again and again how the observer, the watcher, remains ever the same. In that way, one is travelling in the right direction and eventually, aside from any deeper effect, an ability to pause before reacting to whatever is going on around you is necessarily developed. And that ability to take a moment, even a split moment, to act creatively rather than react blindly, is incredibly valuable.

When a person throws an insult in your direction, for example, and you catch it as though it’s a bouquet of roses, the insult loses all its power. It would be tempting to underestimate the technique I’ve suggested. But before discarding the practice out of hand to return to your Scrabble game, you may find it interesting to dwell on the fact that there are thousands of people around the world who have dedicated their lives to doing nothing else. Of course, then you’ll have to figure out if they’re all misguided idiots or folks who have actually discovered a way to answer first-hand those insidious questions that linger in our minds from early childhood. While everyone is striving for name, fame and fabulous wealth during this lifetime, people tend to lose sight of one very important fact. In a hundred years or so, nobody you know now will be alive. And nobody who is alive will really care who you were.

There are certain things that don’t go well with meditation. Smoking cigarettes, smoking dope and drinking copious amounts of alcohol tend to be counterproductive. Heroin, crack and meth are not recommended. It’s a matter of going from the grosser to the subtler. And in that regard I would also take the chance to suggest eating less meat, especially red meat, and consuming more fruits and vegetables. People who are completely into eating animals on a regular basis might not appreciate my writing that. But, I think it’s really very important that I do. I only hope you don’t come after me with a meat cleaver muttering something about it being all fine if you use the right spices. In fact, as i've said, nobody need necessarily 'cut' out any pleasures whatsoever. Just add one more thing to your life. Meditation will help everyone.

And while I’m offending people’s sensibilities I may as well mention my belief in the importance of continence. I’m not referring to the obvious advantages of curing oneself of adult bed-wetting. After all, there are effective plastic sheets on the market these days, or so I’ve been told. Certainly, I’d have to be insane to suggest cutting down on sexual activity, it being the way we tend to judge how wonderful we are. So I won’t go there at all. This sensitive area of the ancient science of the sages is esoteric and I therefore will not explain it. It’s secret. My lips are sealed. I’m only lightly, gingerly alluding to the possibility of a certain conservation of energy. I will write all about it openly in my upcoming book, ‘Unprotected Sects.’

When I returned to Canada in 1998, I was quite amazed to find out how many people had attained miraculous powers rather, well, miraculously. It still seems to me that every second person has the ability to heal merely with a touch. Many don’t even need to touch you. They can do it over the phone or by skype. There are a plethora of channelers, people able to communicate with angels, crystal bowl healers, psychics, clairvoyants, palm readers, garden variety fortune tellers, intuitives, aura readers, tea leaf readers... It seems that in the new-age everybody’s sister, mother and brother are powerful healers and teachers. And that’s just great. I would only mention that one might be well advised to keep ones attention on the goal.

Many years ago Alan Abel, who was with the Globe and Mail in Toronto at the time, came to visit the Hermitage in Kullu, India, where I lived for twenty-five years. During his interview with My teachet, Alan asked if Swamiji had any extra-normal powers. “Yes, I do,” Swamiji said. “I have the power to love everyone unconditionally.” I’m quite convinced that greatest of all powers can be only attained by the direct experience of the oneness of all life, the one life permeating all the forms, pure, free and forever.

There’s nothing to compel one to meditate or even make enquiries about it. However, if you’ve gotten this far, if you are impelled, you may as well read the rest of what I want to say. When one looks up at the night sky and sees all those stars, one has to wonder where it ends. And, for that matter, one has to wonder where it all begins. Intelligent people through the ages have continuously wondered where they came from and where they end up after the body dissolves.

I haven’t an answer to those questions, not from firsthand experience or knowledge. But, I do know that asking oneself those questions is certainly the beginning of a great journey. And my direct personal experience has left me quite convinced that there is more to life than what meets the eye. There’s more to me than this body and mind. This is a fact that I know through personal, direct experience. It has also become extremely obvious to me that, in spite of the many differences, we all breathe the same air, that our hearts all pulsate with the same love of life, and that we all desire freedom.


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