4 Ways to Improve Your Meditation
Before you begin your daily meditation, befriend your mind and connect with your inner teacher through the process of earnest introspection.
by Swami Rama
The mind is the greatest of all mysteries. Upon unveiling this mystery, all mysteries are unveiled. The mind is the source of all misery and happiness. It is the source of both bondage and liberation. The more you know about your mind, the greater the mastery you will have over the world around you.
Your whole life can be a meditation.
The mind is an energy field. It is the finest manifestation of nature. Nature has deposited its entire bounty—all potentials, capacities, and intelligence—in the mind. The mind is endowed with all creativity, imaginable and unimaginable. It has the capacity to create anything it wishes. It has enormous space to store its unlimited experiences and keep them as long as it likes.
The mind also has the capacity to fool itself. It can recollect its past deeds at will, or go on living in a state of forgetfulness. It has the capacity to dwell on one single thought, one single idea, and one single object, or it can brood on multiple thoughts and ideas. The mind has the capacity to flow in the external world and go on running from one object to another. It also has the capacity to turn its face away from the external world, and flow inwardly toward the center of consciousness. It can function as the best friend of the body and soul, or behave like their worst enemy. Therefore, nothing in life is more important than understanding your own mind and its relationship to oneself and the outside world.
To learn to know yourself, you need to take a few minutes for yourself every day. Many people think that meditation is the right solution, and I agree, but most people understand only one part of meditation. In meditation, you sit down quietly and repeat your mantra. During that period your mind remains one-pointed, but after that your mind goes back again to its same previous grooves. This is not the full process of meditation; the full process of meditation is a whole-life process. Meditation means to attend. It means paying attention to the whole of life. It should not be a strenuous act; it should not be forced. Your whole life can be one of meditation. From morning until evening you can meditate, either unconsciously or consciously, and if you do that meditation well, it will bring many benefits.
People often ask how they can do this. My method is to ask myself to consider some question that is on my mind. Once, when I was young, my master asked me to consider where I got my questions. When I told him they came from within, he replied, “Then the answers are also there. I can give you the answers another way, but the answers are there.” So from wherever the questions arise, there are also the answers.
Early in the morning, right after I get up, I go to the bathroom and prepare for meditation, and then I sit down. This is the calmest period of the day, when my mind is quiet. Everyone’s mind remains calm at this time, because at that hour the mind is not so external in its focus. I ask my mind what I have to do, and then I set up a dialogue with myself.
When all the thoughts have gone through my mind, then I start to remember my mantra. You often try to remember your mantra from the very beginning, but there are thoughts waiting for your consultation and you do not pay attention to them. So the thoughts are coming and going in your mind while you are trying to repeat your mantra, and the more the thoughts come, the more you repeat your mantra. The result is an inner battle. That is not helpful; you need not do that. If you use the technique described here regularly and faithfully, and apply it sincerely, you will be able to really enjoy your meditation.
Meditation is important. But preparation for meditation, the cultivation of an attitude of readiness for meditation, an awareness of what you should do after meditation, and an understanding of how you should continue this meditation during the whole day, are also important. You need to put this teaching into practice in your daily life.
1. Engage in Self-Dialogue
At the very beginning of your meditation practice, have a gentle dialogue with your mind. Sit down quietly and ask yourself, “What do I want?”
At the very beginning of your meditation practice, have a gentle dialogue with your mind. Sit down quietly and ask yourself, “What do I want?” You will learn many things when you enter into this kind of self-dialogue. You will come in contact with your inner states. You will learn about the subtle aspects of your mind, your own conscience—and you will see that you are training yourself in the process.
The aim of your self-dialogue should not be primarily related to the things you have been doing in your life, at your office, or in your family. Your task is to cultivate a positive relationship with your mind—a relationship in which questions about the purpose of life can be fruitfully raised. You must ask yourself what your purpose is. Otherwise, you are killing the inner teacher within you, and this is the greatest of all sins in life.
Let your mind be a friend. When you talk to a friend you accept some things and do not accept others. Establish a relationship with your mind on the same basis, and do not listen to the mind’s temptations. Listen to its suggestions, good ideas, and advice, and learn to observe what type of mind you have.
When you do this, you will find that there are two types of desires: the simple daily wants, and the higher desires. The two types of desires are mingled together. When you sit down to meditate, you think, “I need this thing; I need that thing; my car is old; I want a new car.” These are mundane things, but do not allow yourself to suppress these desires by reacting: “Oh, what am I thinking? I should not think like that!” That is not helpful; instead, let the thoughts come before you, and become an observer of your own mind. Do not try to escape; do not be afraid of your thinking, no matter what kind of thought arises.
Every time you sit to meditate, first remember the spiritual power of your practice. Recall the strength of the meditative traditions that inspire you. Examine yourself sincerely and ask yourself if you want to meditate, to explore, to know yourself, and to form new habits of living. Then, inspect within to see what is good and what is not good for your practice. Ask yourself if the thought that is coming to you is helpful for your meditation or not. In this way, your meditation will be guided by the higher forces within you—and not led off into fantasies and wish-fulfillments.
There are three aspects to a human being: animal, human, and divine. The human being is like an angel that has fallen down. He is distracted by the charms and temptations of the world, and identifies himself with them, thus forgetting his essential nature. The goal of introspection is to see the images in the mind through the lens of the divine—and thereby restore the knowledge of one’s essential nature.
2. Practice Witnessing
Often, although you start to inspect within, you do not have the capacity to continue. You are swayed by your thoughts and identify yourself with your thought patterns. The wisdom to decide what is useful in the mind is not there. If you have not cultivated your spiritual resolve, your sankalpa shakti, then you will discover that your thoughts control you. You will see that you are far too easily distracted by the images that come into your mind. Your mind will create many fantasies and images, one after another. These images—the objects of imagination—are the result of what you have known, heard, thought, studied, or fantasized about.
When thoughts arise, you either start to worry or start to enjoy your imagination. So the first lesson is to simply allow thoughts to arise and then to go away.
When thoughts arise, you either start to worry or start to enjoy your imagination. Both kinds of thoughts are actually the imagination at play. Do not form the habit of merely enjoying your thinking process and indulging in it without bringing it to action; such daydreaming is dangerous. Many people do that; they enjoy and indulge in their imagination, but that is not the same as creative imagination. Creative imagination is that process by which you imagine something, and then when it is helpful you allow it to be expressed through your actions.
So the first lesson in this practice is to simply allow thoughts to arise and then to go away. The second is to bring back before yourself that which is important. The thoughts that are colored by your interest are those that motivate you to act, and not all thoughts have that power. Not all of your thoughts need external expression, so allow them to arise, decide if they are creative or helpful, and then later express those that are useful.
Your thoughts are not mere thoughts; they are people—identities within you. You are a world in yourself. You are a universe, and all your thoughts are people. Just as people are born and die, so too, thoughts are born and die. Some thoughts create great grooves or imprints in your mind. They live on in the unconscious. Those thoughts are called samskaras.
The unconscious mind is the vast reservoir of all of our experiences of the past. The subtle impressions of our every thought, speech, and action are deposited in our unconscious mind. It is nature’s most comprehensive database. Nothing in this aspect of the mind is inert and dead, and yet, we call it the unconscious mind. Why? Because people do not normally have conscious access to this part of their own mind, nor are they aware of what lies within it.
This so-called unconscious mind is like the basement of your house where years ago you stored your belongings, but for a long time you haven’t had a chance to visit. Over the years, you even forgot what you had stored there. In this long interval, your basement flooded several times, the plumbing and electrical systems became dysfunctional, and mice and other animals took over the space.
Today, you have a hard time entering this dark and musty basement. You have neither the convenience nor the capacity to take an inventory of your long-deposited belongings. For all practical purposes, you have abandoned your basement, but it is still your basement. Long-forgotten belongings sitting in your basement are your belongings. When you move to your next house, it is your responsibility to dispose of those belongings or to take them with you.
In either case, you have to enter your basement. You cannot escape your past. You cannot escape the fruits of your past deeds. You must face them. Your lack of awareness regarding the contents in the basement of your mind does not make those contents vanish. In your ignorance, you may go on proclaiming that they don’t exist, but sooner or later, reality hits. Then you realize that the vast storehouse of your past, in its own right, is fully conscious, very actively alive. Those impressions exert their influence on you, regardless of whether you are awake or asleep, conscious or unconscious.
You can eliminate those thoughts if you know how. You can obtain freedom from your samskaras, from the impressions that you have stored in the storehouse of merits and demerits, the unconscious mind. You have the power to do that. If you could not, then human endeavor would be of no use.
Quite often, we know what is right and yet we do not feel motivated to do it. We also know what is wrong but we do not know how to stop doing it. This happens because the contents in the unconscious mind keep influencing our conscious mind—its thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is only when we begin to meditate that we realize how vast our unconscious mind is and how potent are its contents. To understand the mystery of life and bring a lasting transformation within and without, we have to dive deep into the depths of our own unconscious mind. The process that allows you to peek into your unconscious mind is called self-study or introspection.
To understand your unconscious mind, you have to be alert and observant and work with yourself gradually. Do not be harsh with yourself. The mind is like a river; you cannot stop its thinking. If you try to create a kind of dam or reservoir in it for some time, like a beaver trying to stop the flow of the river, eventually there will be a great disaster. So do not try to stop or suppress your thinking. That’s a bad way to try to understand or control your mind.
The way to work with intruding thoughts is to let each one come, whether it is good or bad, and become an observer. Start observing your own mind. Simply decide that whatever comes, you will not be disturbed. Realize that this thought, whatever it is, cannot disturb your whole life. To think otherwise means that you believe you are weak and that the thought is powerful. When you become accustomed to witnessing, you can develop the habit of being more balanced, of losing your destructive sensitivity and reactivity to both positive and negative things.
3. Obtain Your Own Grace
To truly witness your thoughts you will need to travel even further toward the source of life and light within you. Your mind is the finest instrument of your personality, and yet you will discover with practice that the mind is not everything; something else gives power to the mind.
There is a source that you cannot see with the mind. At some moment you will learn to leave behind body consciousness, breath consciousness, sense consciousness, mind consciousness—and finally go beyond all of them. At such a moment, you no longer identify yourself with the objects of your mind or the objects of the world. That moment reveals a state of equilibrium, of tranquility. In that state you become the inner witness, not through some internal self-effort, but because that is who you are.
There are four types of grace. The grace of the guru, the grace of the scriptures, and the grace of that which is divine are the first three. But these three help you only if you have your own grace. Now, however, your state of mind is enveloped by dust. If you simply shake off the dust, your mind will be clean, so you should make a sincere effort.
When you have made effort with all your strength and willpower, help comes from above. That is the descending force. When you have used all your own ascending force, then the descending force of grace comes. The grace of the Divine is light. The sun is there, the moon is there, and all the lights of the world are there. The moment you obtain your own grace, this divine grace is there as well.
The path leading to such heights is the path of the inner journey. Embarking on this journey you will learn to know yourself and the unknown levels of your life. It will make you creative and brilliant. It will lead you to the silence from where wisdom flows, that fountain of life and light that flows with all its majesty. If you know how to use the mind you can be successful within and without. Then you can really learn to enjoy life. Then life is complete.
4. Revitalize Your Practice
If you want to become a serious student of meditation, the first thing that you have to learn is to get out of bed the moment you wake up.
If you want to develop your mind and become a serious student of meditation, the first thing that you have to learn is to get out of bed the moment you wake up. If you are awake, but you remain in bed, it is because there is a coloring of tamas, laziness or inertia, in your personality. Your mind will say, “Oh, it’s Sunday, I don’t have to work, let me stay in bed.” That’s a bad way of training yourself; it’s a bad way of teaching your mind. Regardless of whether it’s Sunday or Monday, you should get up. Otherwise, you are wasting time and energy, and at the same time you are forming a bad habit that affects you on both the physical and mental levels.
Rise, wash, and finish your morning ablutions—and then do something useful. Do not remain idle and inert. Lethargy and sloth result from not doing things on time, not forming habits which are helpful to you, or not having control over your appetites. Training the physical habits in this way has a direct result in training the mind.
This is an important secret of life: if you remain idle without doing something useful, your mind thinks scattered and random thoughts, and wastes its energy. A thought is like an unripened fruit that is not yet eaten by anyone. Ripening the fruit means bringing a positive thought into action. Those who are great, successful, creative, and dynamic know how to bring all their good thoughts into action, and how to give shape and form to their creative thinking process.
Positive, dynamic people conduct their duties well because they have established coordination between their thoughts, speech, and action. Do not be afraid of the word “discipline,” because to make progress you need to train yourself. In this kind of training, books can’t help you; nothing external can help you. You have to understand yourself. You need to ask yourself how you think, why you are emotional, and what the problems are with your mind. You need to consider why you often do not do what you really want to do. Put these questions to yourself, and you’ll find the answers.
Through such training and self-discipline you can truly understand yourself. And when you apply all your resources, intelligence, and understanding to exploring your interior self—the modifications of your mind and your internal states—it will be a fascinating experience.