Aids to Meditation
Pen and paper are valuable aids to a writer. A computer with word processing capacity is an even better one. But the act of writing has little to do with either scribbling on paper or typing on a computer. The act of writing occurs as authors translate ideas, observations, and insights into words which express their perspectives and understanding. The tools used to register these words so that others may read them are important, but far from central.
The same can be said about meditation. There are many helpful aids the meditator can use to enhance the meditative experience. These range from the choice of a proper environment to instruction from a competent teacher. Yet, the actual act of meditating has little to do with whether or not these adjuncts are used.
The act of meditating occurs as the personality contacts the Higher Self and then translates the spiritual qualities and forces of the Higher Self into practical expression in daily life. The aids which might be used to enrich the meditative experience can be important, but they are far from central.
Nevertheless, many sincere people have fallen into the bad habit of overemphasizing the use of aids to meditation, often at the expense of the actual meditative experience itself. They become involved in the form and rules of meditation, forgetting that genuine meditation is an experience in consciousness.
For them, it would be better to use no aids at all, until they have learned to regard meditation entirely as an event in consciousness. Otherwise, they will continue to be like the man who was served a magnificent meal on a paper plate, only to throw away the food and nibble on the plate.
Our need for practices and rituals which enrich the meditative experience will vary as we progress in our use of Active Meditation. In the early stages, for example, the use of flowers and music may be quite important. The need for these may be important if we have come from a background of spiritual experience in which these elements are emphasized. However, the more we experience meditation as an event in consciousness, the less significant many of these adjuncts will seem.
Still, all of them do have their value, when properly understood and used.
As always, common sense should rule. If a particular practice is helpful to us, we should continue using it. But if we have become trapped in a certain practice, and our meditations are sterile, we had better reexamine the usefulness of this ritual, and perhaps discard it.
Under no circumstances should we make the mistake of substituting ritualistic practices for the actual work of meditation.
It is very easy to become absorbed in worrying about posture, breathing, and the direction we are facing.
As we obsess on these details we are likely to give little attention to making contact with the Higher Self and integrating its love, wisdom, and power into our character and self-expression. When this occurs, we are no longer meditating.
There are four basic categories of aids to meditation:
- choosing the proper time to meditate
- preparing the surroundings in which we meditate
- preparing the body for meditation
- and preparing consciousness for meditation.
Not every practice listed in each category will be useful to any one meditator. But many of them will be. The key, as always, is to experiment with the practices which seem most likely to benefit the actual work of meditation.
The Proper Time To Meditate
In many systems of spiritual growth, the correct timing of meditations is highly valued. And, indeed, an enlightened use of timing can be a valuable aid to effective meditation.
There are several factors to consider in this regard:
Since Active Meditation is designed to complement a full and busy involvement in daily life, most people find it best to establish a routine of meditating at approximately the same time every day.
There are no fixed rules as to when or how often this should be, however. It is primarily a matter of personal choice and convenience.
One possible program is to meditate twenty to thirty minutes in the morning, before the activity of the day begins, and again in the evening. Each person needs to work out his or her own schedule.
The advantage of building up a regular routine is that the subconscious begins to expect and look forward to meditating at the specified time. It becomes as much a part of our daily life as brushing our teeth or eating lunch. This is a desirable condition to cultivate, as it gradually helps the subconscious become more and more receptive to the Higher Self.
Meditating at special times
Some people make a major point of meditating at sunrise, noon, and sunset each day, at the time of the new and full moons each month, and at the summer and winter solstices. This is not just a personal idiosyncrasy, but rather an effort to take advantage of the solar and spiritual “tides” which sweep through our environment, physically and psychospiritually. It is a practice which is rooted in ancient tradition.
The ancients made far more use of astronomical timing and the position of the sun than we do today. These were not superstitious heathens, but enlightened people who studied the impact of solar and zodiacal forces on human consciousness and applied the knowledge they gained to improving the quality of their contact with the Higher Self.
They held that each of the heavenly bodies is multidimensional in nature, just as humans are – that the physical sun veils a more central, spiritual sun which is called the Logos or Higher Self of the solar system. This spiritual sun is the source of all spiritual forces and qualities within the system, and the physical sun is an important facet of its self- expression. As such, it makes excellent sense to attune our individual spiritual exercises to the timing of the physical sun.
Sunrise is an excellent time to awaken to new opportunities for attunement to the Higher Self, because the solar radiations are flowing toward us.
At noon, the solar tides shift, and the radiations begin to recede. Sunset marks the nocturnal eclipse of the physical sun.
It is therefore a little easier to invoke and receive inspiration, guidance, and divine powers in the time before noon, and a little easier to dispel unwanted forces and ground spiritual forces in the time after noon.
The same principles also extend to the time of the new and full moon and the summer and winter solstices.
The moon affects our spiritual environment in much the same way it controls the physical tides.
The spiritual forces conditioning the environment of the earth are magnified at the time of the full moon and at their lowest strength at the time of the new moon.
In addition, the Inner Masters, use the time of the full moon to radiate more light to earth and communicate with those who are serving as their agents.
For those who do not yet have a strong bond with the Higher Self and have not made much progress in purifying the personality, the time of the full moon is primarily a time of heightened irritability and difficulty.
But for the experienced meditator, who uses the principles of Active Meditation effectively, the time of the full moon is an excellent time to contact the light of the Higher Self and radiate it to the world.
Many meditation groups take advantage of this period to contact the Inner Masters and serve as their agents in blessing the whole human race.
The new moon also provides favorable opportunities for meditative work, but of a different nature. It is a propitious time to reevaluate and refine our values and goals, redirect the momentum of our self- expression, and focus on mental housecleaning.
The summer and winter solstices represent turning points in the solar year, and therefore make excellent times to meditate on long-term plans for service and self-expression.
It is interesting to note, in this regard, that Christmas coincides roughly with the winter solstice, which marks the return of the sun after six months of progressively shorter days and longer nights.
It is a time of renewal and reaffirmation of our faith in the spiritual power of life, somewhat similar to the time of the new moon, but on a larger scale.
It is useful to recognize that our psychospiritual environment does change to a degree throughout each day, each month, and the whole year. The change is slight, but significant. It is reasonable to make the most out of whatever slight advantage these changes bring us.
At the same time, however, it is important to remember that our primary relationship in meditation is between the personality and the Higher Self – the position of the sun or the moon does little to alter this basic rapport.
We should therefore be able to meditate successfully at any time of the day or night, to receive guidance and power, do mental housecleaning, or radiate light to others. If we become too dependent upon the movement of the sun or the moon, we are no longer meditating, just worshipping nature forces.
It should also be kept in mind that much of the enhancement of meditative work at these times derives from the faith and expectations of the one who is meditating, as well as their cultural conditioning.
Meditating on religious holidays
A large outpouring of aspiration and love for God always helps facilitate our efforts to contact the spiritual realms of life.
Religious holidays and special observances can be very powerful times, releasing an extra measure of spiritual force not only for the faithful but for all sincere aspirants, regardless of their religious ties.
The major festivals of all of the major world religions provide excellent opportunities for meditating, either for personal growth or for world service. The only warning in this regard is that some religious festivals in certain religions focus excessively on the suffering of humanity, thereby evoking more collective self-pity than any light of God. This does not provide a healthy climate for meditating.
The Place of Meditation
We should be able to meditate anywhere, not only in theory but in actuality. The presence of God is to be found everywhere, not just in a specially designated meditation room.
Far too many people become so dependent on meditating only in a protected and highly refined environment that they end up almost like a hothouse plant, unable to exist outside its own special home. When this occurs, there is reason to believe that they are not actually meditating at all.
The Higher Self should not be limited by any condition of the physical plane.
Nevertheless, it is certainly true that some places are more conducive to effective meditation than others.
There are also a number of practical steps which can be taken to prepare a room for a higher quality of contact with the Higher Self. The proper choice and preparation of the surroundings in which we meditate can therefore be an important aid to the entire process.
These are the factors to consider:
Meditating in nature. Some people put great stock in taking advantage of the “good vibes” of being outdoors and away from human-made structures. If our home or workplace tends to be saturated with human pettiness, sickness, or jealousy, getting away from it occasionally and meditating outdoors can be a useful practice.
The forces of nature, especially the higher forms of the vegetable kingdom, create a favorable presence which fosters human health, both physically and psychologically. Being outdoors in the sunlight also brings us the added benefit of the sun’s vitality and subtle radiations.
These solar forces can contribute to the purification and enrichment of our consciousness.
Nevertheless, there are some disadvantages to meditating outdoors, too. The most obvious is that nature can be very distracting. Sunburn, insects, and even the chirping of birds can interfere with our concentration.
On the subtle level, the distractions can be even more serious.
It is possible to become too grounded in the etheric forces of the physical planet or overwhelmed by the pleasing but powerful astral forces of nature.
A person who is adept at detaching from physical sensation will have no problem in becoming too grounded in the natural magnetic flows of etheric force from the earth. But others will actually have far better meditations if they are inside a human-made building which interrupts the natural etheric force field.
As for the strong astral forces of nature, these vary in intensity and quality from location to location, but can be a significant distraction to people who are rather emotionally oriented in consciousness.
It should also be understood that some people are attracted to meditating outdoors not because they love nature so much but because they dislike people.
In these people, meditating outdoors on a regular basis will subtly reinforce their already bad habit of intolerance and contempt for their fellow human beings. These people need to spend more time cultivating goodwill toward mankind and a sense of brotherhood, not escaping to the woods.
The only real test of the benefits of meditating outdoors is to try it in a number of locales and compare the results with indoor meditations.
In making this determination, however, it is important to remember that feeling good while we are meditating is not a meaningful reflection of the value of the meditation.
We may enjoy meditating in nature more than indoors, because the quiet gurgling of a pleasant stream or the chirping of birds helps relax us. This does not mean that we actually accomplish more in these outdoor meditations than in our indoor ones. These pleasant sensations may actually serve to distract us from our real goal, improving contact with the Higher Self.
Some locations on the planet are more highly charged with magnetic energy than others. Ancient people were often far more appreciative of this fact than modern mystics and occultists. Talented individuals, gifted with extra sensitivity, would be consulted before a temple or church was built so that the best possible site of high magnetism could be selected.
This is one reason, for example, why many temples and churches in Europe and the Middle East have been built on top of the ruins of the holy buildings of earlier civilizations. These “high points” often occur along the ridges and tops of hills or at the intersections of valleys and small streams. There can be value in meditating at these particular locations, as they recharge the vitality of the etheric body and enhance the condition of the emotional body. They facilitate contact with the higher forces.
Along with the high points of the earth, there are also sites which are notably low in magnetism. The subtle forces of life tend to “sink” in these particular spots, and they are unwholesome places to live, let alone meditate.
Even insensitive people will notice an odd fatigue and irritability after spending an hour or two in one of these places. Highly sensitive individuals may become mildly ill with headaches, nausea, or vague muscle weakness, even though they may not know why they feel this way.
These symptoms can certainly develop for many reasons unassociated with the condition of our physical surroundings. However, as we grow in inner sensitivity, it is important to take these factors into account.
There can be a powerful advantage in meditating in a room which has been specifically prepared or reserved for spiritual work. This could be a religious chapel or sanctuary, or a special room set aside at home for meditating.
A chapel which has been consecrated for holy activities can be ideal for most meditative work. Unfortunately, not all chapels and sanctuaries are uniform in their consecration. Excessive division, greed, or bigotry among the members of the congregation may impair the holiness of the building. In some instances, we would be better off trying to meditate in an airport.
It is not always possible to set aside a room solely for meditation in the average home. But the effect can be simulated to some degree by setting aside a specific corner of a room, or a designated chair. By meditating regularly in the same place, we tend to dispel antagonistic forces which would interfere with our meditative work and collect favorable forces. Obviously, this is a cumulative effect which builds over a period of time.
The greatest factors which condition the atmosphere of the place in which we meditate are the customary thoughts and feelings of the people who use this place on a regular basis, including ourself.
In the case of our home, this would be our family.
In the case of an office, it would be those we work with.
Walls and furniture have a remarkable capacity to absorb the feelings and desires of human beings. Even the building as a whole can be affected in this way, which can be a factor for those who live in apartment buildings and condominiums.
Once saturated with intensely negative qualities, a physical structure can be very hard to cleanse and purify. It would therefore not be advisable to meditate in a chair which had belonged to a bitter and resentful relative, in a room once occupied by a hyperactive child, or in an area where many strident arguments have occurred. In some cases, it is better to buy new furniture than to surround ourself with polluted relics of the past.
Prayers of consecration
A good way to prepare a room for meditation is to bless it and consecrate the activities which are about to transpire to the expression of divine light and love.
The prayer itself can be a simple request to divine forces to help us conduct our meditations in peace and confidence. The sincerity of our aspiration and dedication is more important than the actual words of the prayer. If desired, the prayer can be accompanied by the use of the creative imagination to visualize a brightly colored light pouring through the room, flooding it with divine presence and washing away discordant forces.
Artificial lighting, regardless of color, has little impact on the quality of a meditation. Light from devotional candles, however, can be quite useful in creating a proper atmosphere for meditation. Naturally, it is not the flame of the candle itself which contributes to the quality of the meditation, but rather the prayerful attitude of devotion with which we light it, and the divine forces we invoke.
This makes the subtle essence of the candle burn more brightly on the etheric and astral planes, radiating light and burning away adverse forces in the vicinity.
It would make no sense to meditate on the candle flame itself, however.
We are seeking to make contact with the Higher Self, not a wick. Staring at a candle is not even an aid to concentration, let alone meditation. It is just an aid to deadness.
The use of incense, especially if it has been blessed, is also an effective way to dispel adverse forces and flood a room with qualities that are harmonious to effective meditation.
The aromatic resins of the barks and oils of certain plants are magnetically harmonious with the higher qualities of thought and emotion. The use of sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh, and patchouli, as well as other incense of their type, can provide these benefits.
Some of the modern, fruit-scented incenses, however, do not. A nice feeling about the scent of an incense is not sufficient reason to use it as an aid to meditation. Its benefit in helping to create a better climate for the growth of consciousness is the sole factor to be considered.
The act of blessing the incense before lighting it can be done by holding the incense and praying over it in the same manner as blessing the room. In this case, however, it is definitely helpful to use the creative imagination to visualize the substance of our blessing and the qualities we are invoking being absorbed into the incense. The key to making this visualization effective is to hold our mind and attitude steady in an ideal quality of thought and feeling. This should be done for approximately one minute.
The fragrance of fresh flowers will attract favorable qualities from the subtle planes, just as the fragrance of incense does. In addition, the flowers will either contain or attract elemental forces which are also in magnetic harmony with the higher qualities of the emotions.
Inspired music can be used, either before or during a meditation, to generate a soothing and uplifting effect upon consciousness.
The music must be chosen with discrimination, however, so as to produce a response in the subtle bodies of thought and feeling of reverence, joy, patience, aspiration, peace, or goodwill. The refined pieces of classical and spiritual music are usually the best in this regard. All too much of our modern popular music (rock and roll and jazz) has a debasing and destructive impact on consciousness, not a helpful one.
A picture or statue of a holy person
A picture or statue of a holy person can enhance the psychological rapport between the meditator and the qualities they admires in the consciousness of the holy person. In a sense, it serves as a psychic placebo, and as such, can be helpful to people with a strong devotional nature. It enables the meditator to make contact with the higher qualities of the holy person they so strongly revere.
The holy person may be the founder of a religion, a saint or martyr, an angel, or the head of a group the meditator has an allegiance to.
It must be understood, however, that not everyone who claims to be a saint, or a spiritual leader, is one. Many modern “gurus” are not, in fact, highly evolved people, and do not merit the devotion they elicit from their followers. A few even have corrupt consciousnesses. To keep a picture or statue of such an individual in the room where we meditate would have the unfortunate effect of linking our consciousness with the impure consciousness of the teacher or guru.
In some circumstances, the picture or statue a meditator places in his room and makes the object of his devotion and reverence will become a symbol which invokes the actual forces surrounding this holy person. The substance of the symbol becomes impregnated in time with these forces. The picture or statue will then serve as a talisman of the divine quality it represents, and will have a favorable effect on the consciousness of the meditator.
The major symbols of a religion, when placed in the room where we meditate, can have the same benefit as a picture or statue of a holy person. In addition, they can remind us of certain archetypal forces which can help us focus divine qualities and ideals. It can be most productive to meditate on the forces which major religious symbols represent.
If genuine, a religious relic can radiate a tremendous amount of spiritual force which is very useful in building up a positive state of energized qualities in the room where we meditate. Because relics are already impregnated with a powerful spiritual force, they have something more than a placebo effect. They radiate their strength and blessing into the room whether or not anyone is there to appreciate it.
We should always keep in mind that all of these aids to preparing a room for meditation can become hindrances if we use them fanatically or carelessly, and will be rendered useless if we treat them with indifference or disbelief.
We should use them always to help establish a favorable climate for meditation, not as a substitute for meditation itself. Naturally, the personal factor is important in which of these aids to choose. Some people will be terribly distracted by music or incense, while others will find it can be beneficial. As always, common sense should be the rule.
Preparing The Body For Meditation
The body is not really used in meditation, except to register in the brain the events which are occurring in consciousness.
It is not the body which is active in Active Meditation. It is the mind and the Higher Self.
The best way to prepare the body for a meditation is to make it comfortable and forget it. If we are able to think while walking, sitting, lying down, or curled up on a lounge chair, it is also possible to meditate in these positions.
The entire practice of preparing the physical body for Active Meditation can therefore be reduced to the simple procedures of:
- making it comfortable
- relaxing it
- withdrawing our attention from it
- and focusing our concentration inward.
Most traditions of meditation put an inordinate amount of attention on what to do with the physical body. Therefore, it is necessary to comment on some of these practices in this section on aids to meditation. It must be kept in mind that all of these practices are relatively unimportant, or useless, but have become important to some people due to tradition and social pressure.
Our interest in injecting common sense into what we do with the physical body is by no means a spiteful one. There is grave danger that if we give too much attention to the body when we are supposed to be meditating, we may in fact produce a “body consciousness” which is largely earthbound. This is exactly the opposite of what meditation is designed to do.
It is always wise to keep in mind that God has already flooded the whole universe with divine life, love, and wisdom. Surely then, these divine forces can penetrate into our consciousness no matter what position the physical body happens to be in.
There are several factors about preparing the physical body for meditation which deserve comment:
The direction to face
The best direction to face while meditating is always inward, toward our Highest Self!
Nevertheless, there are always a few “authorities” who will insist that we should face the rising sun to take in spiritual energies and toward the west or north to ground or send away energies. Others will suggest different formulas.
There is a relevant relationship between the major directions and the alchemical elements: east with air and mental forces, south with fire and the fiery will, west with water and the emotions, north with earth and grounding energies, and upward with the akasha and the realm of divine archetypes.
The problem is that all of these qualities must be contacted in the fourth and fifth dimensions, where the concept of direction is rather different than on the physical plane. The direction the physical body is facing is virtually irrelevant.
Any posture which facilitates alertness, comfort, and convenience will suffice. It is wasting time to learn to sit in a lotus position unless we already know how to do it, and most people in the West do not.
The same can be said for the efforts made by some to keep the spine erect. Whatever benefit which might come from keeping a straight spine during meditation can be more than lost by the amount of attention we would have to give to keeping the body erect.
This is merely a question of common sense. For those who are convinced that the spine must be straight and erect, it might be better to sit in a chair with a tall straight back and then forget about the body. Nevertheless, this is a limiting belief that ought to be outgrown.
Lying down can be a comfortable position, but many people associate lying down with falling asleep. It is therefore not especially recommended for meditation.
There is some rationale for meditating with the spine straight and erect. The various levels of subtle energy which circulate in the area of the spine work slightly better if they are able to flow in parallel with the subtle forces of matter which emanate from the center of the earth upward.
In the Western tradition of Active Meditation, however, the emphasis is placed on the quality of consciousness and its expression, not on the movement of subtle matter. This is of secondary importance and will usually take care of itself. In other words, it needs little direct attention.
Some people insist that the correct posture for meditation must include keeping the knees or ankles together and closing the hands into a fist, or forming circles with the thumbs and forefingers. The idea is that these positions “close” the energy systems of our bodies so as to concentrate the forces of the Higher Self within the sphere of our attention.
On the other hand, if the intent is to send energies outward, these people claim that the best position is to have the legs slightly apart and the palms open and outward.
The actual value of these positions is very slight, although it can be useful to hold the hands palm outward while radiating spiritual energies or giving a blessing.
Once again, common sense must rule. The reception and radiation of spiritual energies are processes that are controlled primarily by the use of the will and the mental focus of our thought and attitude. If we are able to use the spiritual will, the position of the body hardly matters. If not, no positioning of the body will compensate for the lack!
Indeed, the concept of posture should always be seen as a symbol for the inner posture we need to attain, not the posture of the physical body. The true posture of meditation is one in which the mind is held erect – in moral rectitude, integrity, poise, confidence, the dignity of an enlightened self-image, and the strength of the Higher Self.
This mental posture is the one the meditator should practice, not the posture of the physical form.
Originally, the asanas were exercises of the mind, designed to place the meditator in rapport with their spiritual self. However, in the west, with few exceptions, they have degenerated into a set of physical movements. Meditation is an act in consciousness, not in the physical body.
Common sense tells us that even simple physical strain and exhaustion can also alter consciousness, yet we do not believe them to be spiritual techniques.
In the West, however, the way to ground the energies of meditation is to get busy and contribute something useful and constructive to the spiritualization of the world and the development of civilization.
Ritual dances had their origin in ancient times, when religious groups would use them as part of religious celebrations.
They were symbolic personifications of how divine forces interact with the physical plane and humanity. These dances were used very effectively by both the Hindus and the ancient Egyptians.
In more primitive cultures, however, this genre of dance was often debased, stripped of its symbolic meaning, and used as a way of promoting an exhausted state of consciousness nearing delirium. The use of drugs and intoxicants often accompanied the dancing, in order to produce trance states and astral clairvoyance.
Those who have resurrected ritual dance for the New Age, unfortunately, tend to use it more in the primitive than the symbolic context. Indeed, it is usually promoted by “teachers” who have little to offer in effective and genuine contact with the Higher Self, yet want to keep their students entertained. It is especially attractive to people who desire strong emotional experiences in a group setting.
Preparing Consciousness For Meditation
An effective aid for preparing consciousness for meditation will serve a number of purposes. It will:
- Take our attention off of mundane concerns and issues.
- Mobilize our alertness and responsiveness to the Higher Self.
- Prepare our immediate psychospiritual environment, the subtle or psychic equivalent of preparing the room where we are meditating.
- Put us on the wavelength of spiritual qualities.
- Help us invoke the qualities and life of the Higher Self.
If a practice can help us achieve any of these five goals, or a combination of them, it is useful. If not, it should be avoided, no matter how much religious sentiment or tradition may be attached to it.
There are a number of practices which are helpful in preparing consciousness for meditation. They include:
Affirmations, prayers, and invocations
These can have great value in preparing us for effective meditation, but their benefit will depend somewhat on how skillfully we use them.
Affirmations can trap us in a concrete intellectual state, or even a state of wishful thinking which blocks off genuine transcendent qualities. The unskilled use of invocations can focus us too much on our problems or needs. Some prayers may keep us stuck in a devotional state. And for some people, prayers are merely words which do not reflect or embody the quality of thought they need.
Under no circumstance should the use of prayer or affirmations be substituted for the meditative work of making contact with the Higher Self. This cannot be achieved through prayer or invocation alone, no matter how sincere we are. Prayers and affirmations have important benefits of their own, used either in a meditation or non-meditatively, but if we use them as a substitute for meditative contact, we simply are not meditating.
The correct use of prayers, invocations, and affirmations as an aid to meditation is to focus attention on the qualities we seek, dispel undesired forces, and cleanse our consciousness prior to contacting the Higher Self.
The breath has long been a symbol for the inflow and outflow of spiritual energies. In a number of meditative systems, an elaborate science of breath has been developed. As long as it is understood that the real “breathing” of the meditative state occurs in the subtle bodies, certain breathing exercises can be a useful aid to the preparation of consciousness for meditation.
But it is very easy to trivialize a breathing exercise. We live in a culture which encourages the lazy of mind and heart to look for shortcuts to enlightenment.
Since everyone already knows how to breathe, the possibility that breathing exercises might help enlighten us has great appeal. If this were true, the whole of humanity and most of the animal kingdom should have achieved perfect health, purity, and enlightenment long ago.
One of the values of breathing exercises is that they can be a way to concentrate our attention on something simple while disconnecting from mundane, outer-directed thoughts.
The act of exhalation is tied automatically to the physiological relaxation of the muscles in the chest and diaphragm. If we mentally “tune in” to these natural processes, we can associate other levels of relaxation with the physical act of breathing as well.
At a more complex level, the act of breathing can become a symbol for transferring energies of consciousness. In other words, we can use the act of breathing, as though it were a “pump”. As such we could discharge excess tension, anxiety, or congestion with each exhalation. We could also breathe in tranquility, affection, and peace with each inhalation.
The weakness of this technique is that it does nothing to transform the habits or reactive patterns which caused these problems in the first place. It merely transfers energy. As a result, it can be useful as a “quick fix” in consciousness, but has no long-term impact or benefit.
One of the problems of using breathing exercises in meditation, therefore, is that it can generate the illusion that we are doing something quite significant. At best, we can use the breath to manage briefly a few symptoms. However, we are actually doing nothing to manage the causes of stress and habits that keep recreating the problems.
If we fully understand that we are only achieving a temporary relief from a problem, then breathing exercises can be a useful aid to meditation. But we will have to use other methods for a permanent solution for the real difficulty.
Another problem is that not all breathing exercises are really a part of meditation. Linking the breathing process with the skillful use of the will can be very productive in revitalizing the etheric body and circulating etheric energies. But a meditative level of consciousness is not required to do this. It can be done in a state of mind similar to that used for positive thinking and self-hypnosis.
Many people firmly believe that the use of any breathing exercise constitutes meditation. They forget that the purpose of meditation is to increase rapport between the personality and the Higher Self.
The type of breathing which does lead to a genuine transformation and enrichment of consciousness is not associated with the physical breath at all. It is the inhalation of the life of the soul into the subtle bodies. It occurs not in the lungs or the respiratory tract but rather at a point in the aura near the top of the head.
This inner breathing becomes possible consciously only after the meditator has established direct contact with the Higher Self and is able to ground its life in outer expression. At that point, the subtle bodies begin breathing automatically in this fashion.
Pranayama is an ancient Hindu term for breathing exercises that can have solid benefits if taught by a well trained teacher.
But prolonged use of deep breathing exercises, may produce a number of unfortunate effects, again, if not taught by an experienced and well versed teacher of this ancient art.
These unfortunate effects include:
1. The meditator may become parasitic. The meditator has learned, by default, to draw energy from the astral plane, through the solar plexus, rather than from the Higher Self. As a result, when they are in the vicinity of other people, at home, in a group meditation, or at a retreat, they soon begin drawing energies from the astral bodies of those around them. This is parasitism, an activity which is directly contrary to the practices of Active Meditation and spiritual growth.
2. The meditator may develop the hyperventilation syndrome. A dramatic loss of carbon dioxide in the system will alter the chemical composition of the blood, inducing lightheadedness, dizziness, numbness in the fingers and nose, and a paradoxical sensation of shortness of breath, as well as heightened anxiety.
Hyperventilation is a favorite technique of some teachers of meditation because it produces an odd and, for almost everyone, totally unfamiliar state of consciousness very quickly. Yet it is nothing but a state of chemical intoxication caused by the rapid alkalization of the blood.
3. The meditator becomes progressively more bored. Even though some people mistake boredom for detachment and actual meditation, it is not.
In Active Meditation, the use of the breath as an aid to meditation is usually limited to focusing briefly on the symbolic value of our normal rate of breathing, for the transfer of energies at inner levels.
It is not necessary to quicken the rate of breathing or deepen the intensity of the breath to do this.
The use of mantras or short phrases of words in meditation is a practice which is many thousands of years old. During this time, mantras have proven their value as an aid to meditation. They are especially helpful when used to enter the meditative state, calming the emotions and mundane thoughts while redirecting our attention inward.
A mantra can be anything from a single syllable to a complete phrase. Many of the ancient Buddhists deliberately chose a “nonsense sound” which had no meaning at all. But it can be even more effective to choose a mantra which is in keeping with the theme of preparing for meditation, such as “I am at peace.” The mantra is sounded mentally.
Mantras can also be used quite effectively in combination with seed thoughts, as described in chapter six.
A mantra such as “God is love” can help attune us to the abstract force of archetypal love. By then adapting this mantra to a more active form, “God loves me,” we can use it to focus archetypal love into our emotions, healing them. Yet a third variation, “The love of God pours through my love, filling me with compassion and forgiveness for others,” could be used to focus the quality of love into our self- expression.
The use of the mantra “OM” must be considered in a class by itself. When sounded from the highest level we can reach meditatively, the OM tends to unleash a blast of spiritual light and power which cleanses our subtle bodies and dissipates inharmonious qualities from our psychospiritual environment.
The problem with sounding the OM, or any other mantra, is that far too many people have come to believe that sounding mantras is meditation. They therefore spend the whole of their time in meditation doing nothing but repeating a single syllable.
There is no question that it is always easier to sound the OM a few times than it is to energize a state of devotion, aspiration, conviction, or dedication. Only the latter practice can integrate the personality with the Higher Self and cleanse the aura and consciousness.
The degree to which mantras have been championed in recent years must surely qualify them as one of the top rackets of the millennium.
Thousands of people have paid millions of dollars to obtain a secret Sanskrit mantra, supposedly designed for their use alone but actually drawn from a list of only sixteen words and assigned entirely on the basis of sex and age. They were instructed to repeat this mantra twice daily as their entire meditative practice.
The result has been damaging to many good people, harming the associative mechanism of the mind and inducing a strong state of passivity toward life.
In people who have continued practicing this “technique” for a number of years, it has even led to the disconnection of the mental body and soul from the rest of the system, producing an odd form of schizophrenia not usually recognized for what it is – an extremely damaged state of consciousness which has little to do with enlightenment.
The lesson to be learned from this misuse of mantras is an important one for all of us. Anything which is good for us can become harmful if used improperly or to excess. There is never any real danger in any meditative practice if it is used with common sense. But common sense seems to be a difficult quality for some people to acquire.
Alignment to a teacher, group, or ashram
Learning the skills of meditation from a genuine and qualified teacher can be helpful for two basic reasons. First, the teacher can help in providing a presence of spiritual energies that serve as a catalyst for us to make similar connections with spirit. These are connections we cannot learn from a book. Second, good teachers can offer us the opportunity to become aligned with the inner spiritual sources and organizations they already serve.
If the teacher does have valid connections to inner spiritual dimensions more powerful than our ordinary state of consciousness, then we can utilize these connections.
For instance, we can recall the memory or the image of the teacher to help us reestablish a meditative contact with the Higher Self. The same process can be used to attune to a spiritual group or ashram to which we may belong.
The value of this practice depends on the relationship we have with our teacher or the group, plus the importance we place on making this kind of alignment.
When done properly, this can be quite helpful in establishing a telepathic or psychic contact with the psychospiritual atmosphere which surrounds the teacher or group. This can result in increased strength and power in our meditations.
Nevertheless, there can be dangers in this practice:
1. It may cause us to become too dependent on the power of the teacher or the group. It is valuable to recognize the wisdom and acknowledge the support of a teacher or group, but this alignment should never negate our own individuality and capacity to contact the
Higher Self. In the West, we have an obligation to seek out our own spirit and cultivate our own spiritual strengths and self-sufficiency.
2. We may end up aligning with an astral image of the teacher or the group mind. As a result, we tune in to what we like and admire about the teacher or the collective personality of the group, not the qualities and forces which will help us improve our contact with spirit.
These qualities and forces are found more at the mental level than emotionally.
3. Not all teachers are enlightened beings. Some are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Indeed, a number of teachers and the groups surrounding them work very carefully to cultivate psychological control over the people who take their courses or participate in their activities. Consciously aligning with such people or groups at the start of a meditation can draw us back into their control.
If individuals then decide to leave the group at some later time, they can find it extremely difficult to do so. The possessiveness of the head of this group will tend to exert a direct, psychic command that can make us uncomfortable and discouraged about leaving.
The ideal in the Western tradition of Active Meditation is to use the assistance and support of a teacher and group as needed, but to maintain our own sense of individuality and responsibility for the growth and service we pursue. This includes the obligation to contribute our own strengths and talents to the work of the group as well as drawing on it when we have the need.
The use of color
The mental image of specific colors can be used in a number of ways to enhance our meditative work:
- To increase the health and vitality of the subtle bodies, especially the etheric and astral vehicles.
- To dispel negativity and unpleasant forces which may have gathered in these bodies.
- To help in radiating healing forces to others.
In using color, however, we must understand that the colors themselves do not contain any force or quality. They are symbols for the spiritual forces we seek to invoke and direct.
In other words, the mental act of bathing in a colored mist will not necessarily do any good, unless we are simultaneously contemplating a healing or spiritual quality and directing it at a specific deficiency or need.
To work intelligently with color, therefore, we must have a knowledge of what we need and the quality or force which will help us meet this need. We must also know the symbolic value of the colors we use. Not all green light has a healing effect. Nor does all blue light lead to serenity.
As for visualizing a color, it is never necessary to go to excess, as some meditators do. It is not even necessary to visualize the color vividly. In fact, an intense visualization of a color can be a distraction, if we become more interested in the intensity of the color than in the quality and force it represents.
One of the best aids for preparing consciousness for meditation is something which never occurs in meditation, but apart from it. This is the practice of reading widely in books which will stimulate a deeper understanding of our psychospiritual nature, the associative mechanism of the mind, and the life of spirit.
Reading a book written by an enlightened person helps attune our mind and thoughts to the archetypal ideas and forces which inspired their author. This can provide valuable information not otherwise available, and at the same time, strengthening our mind and capacity to interact with these forces.
In connection with meditation, for example, it can be most useful to read books which describe our invisible anatomy and the esoteric aspects of psychology.
Throughout this book, we have endeavored to approach all esoteric, spiritual and occult subjects in ordinary language, to demonstrate their eminently practical and sensible application to life. Nonetheless, it can be quite useful to explore these subjects in greater detail. Some of the areas to read about would be:
- Our inner anatomy—the nature of our subtle bodies and the force centers or chakras which operate within them. The three subtle bodies of the personality are the etheric (the subtle portion of the physical body or the energy body), the astral (the emotions), and the mental body. In each of these bodies, there are seven major chakras or force centers, overlying the base of the spine and the major endocrine organs
- the adrenals, gonads, pancreas, thymus, thyroid, pituitary, and pineal.
- The basic nature of humanity, our existence as personality, soul, and spirit.
- The seven levels of energy – the Logoic, Monadic, Atmic, Buddhic, mental, astral, and physical planes, and their relationship to the evolution of consciousness.
In addition, it can be quite useful to read fiction which stimulates the imagination and attunes us to the inner realities of life. One of the great problems the meditator must contend with is the fact that the subconscious is not used to dealing with the inner dimensions of life and may view them as dark and strange, even though they are not.
By reading the excellent science fiction and fantasy which is available today, however, the subconscious becomes more accustomed to working multidimensionally and symbolically. In addition, this kind of reading stimulates the associative mechanism of the mind and sometimes even exposes us to archetypal qualities.
Building faith in God
The enlightened use of faith prepares the emotions to be receptive and responsive to the divine forces of the Higher Self which we contact in meditation.
By resting our faith in the God within us, the Higher Self, we lift our attitudes and thoughts to a transpersonal level which makes it much easier for meditation to proceed.
At the same time, however, it should be understood that even faith can be overdone – especially if it is used to the exclusion of other meditative activities. Having faith in the power of the Higher Self to heal us will not actually heal us, unless we simultaneously get busy and correct the problems which caused us to become ill in the first place.
We must never let the use of faith in meditation cause our efforts to deteriorate into a mindless, emotional state of devotion.
The Three Best Aids
The greatest aids to meditation, of course, are a strong and unqualified devotion to our Higher Self, an unwavering dedication to cooperate with the Higher Self as an intelligent partner, and common sense.
There are other labels we could attach to these three factors – trust, collaboration, and wisdom – but these other labels only help explain what devotion, dedication, and common sense mean.
They do not change them.
Indeed, these three “aids” to effective meditation are timeless and changeless. When all the teachers, mantras, rules, observances, chanting, asanas and breathing exercises have been forgotten, these three basic attitudes will remain.
The intelligent meditator, therefore, begins by cultivating them.