Inner Quest by Pandit Rajmani Tugnait

  • By Pandit Rajmani Tugnait
  • May 2003

Establishing Personal Practice    

                                                                   The Starting Point
68. How can I prepare myself to establish a personal practice?
The first and most important step in preparing for the spiritual journey is knowing why we are undertaking it. We must come to a clear understanding of why our inner peace and spiritual prosperity can no longer be ignored. We develop this understanding when we realize that something precious is missing in our lives. Think about it. Have what you have achieved so far given you complete satisfaction? Have you found the real meaning of your life? 

Most of us have been working all our lives to make ourselves secure and comfortable. We are also seeking emotional satisfaction. But instead we find only fatigue and disappointment. We spend our entire lives meeting the demands of the body and mind, yet even those who have been the most successful in attaining material comfort are not satisfied. Everyone wants more, but most people do not quite know what it is that they want more of.

If we listen, we hear the voice of the soul from deep within asking, “What about me?” If we heed it, we realize we have not been attending to the needs of the soul. That is when we start thinking about spirituality. Not knowing exactly how to undertake our spiritual search, we begin browsing in book-stores; attending lectures; listening to tapes; visiting holy shrines; or searching for swamis, pandits, medicine men, kung fu teachers, or tai chi masters. In the beginning, it I hard for us to know why one path is more appropriate than another, why certain practices are more fruitful than others, and most importantly, which practice is most suitable for us at this stage in our spiritual development.

We can successfully begin our quest only if we know where we stand, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Therefore, we must first look at our lives as a whole and understand that we are neither body nor mind alone. Neither can function smoothly without the help of the other. It is also important to understand the force connecting the body with the mind. This is the vital force, the life-sustaining energy known as prana, chi, or hara. A person whose pranic energy is depleted cannot maintain either physical or psychological health. A person with an unhealthy body and a confused mind is not fit to follow any path. Such a person is always dependent on others, whereas spirituality is a quest for freedom on every level. Therefore, no matter which path we eventually choose, the second step is learning how to balance the body, breath, and mind.

Once we have begun working with the techniques of bringing the body, breath, and mind into a state of harmony, the next step is learning how to recognize and heed the voice of the soul. Because it is not possible to be happy unless our lives have spiritual meaning, the forces of our body, breath, and mind have to be brought into the service of the soul. To be complete, a spiritual path must encompass techniques for creating harmony among the body, breath, and mind, and ultimately connecting them with the Soul. Once this connection has been made and our actions are guided by the light of the Soul, our relationships are no longer complicated or difficult. Our vision of life becomes clearer and we are able to choose the appropriate path, the one that will lead us to our goal. Unless our vision is clear, we are in danger of choosing a path at random and staying on it only until we meet obstacles and become frustrated. Then we will switch to whatever path next presents itself and stay on it until our excitement again peters out.

69. How can I decide which part of myself to work on first?
The task of choosing the right path and following it consistently until we reach the goal requires an assessment of our physical, pranic, and mental capacities. We can avoid wasting our time if we get a complete picture of our lives before deciding where to begin the process of self-transformation.

All of us have strength and weaknesses. Take the time to consider whether it will be more fruitful for you overcome your weaknesses by enhancing the stronger parts of yourself, or whether you can best strengthen yourself by overcoming your weaknesses. The tendency is to identify with the weak and messy parts of yourself, but this leads to self-condemnation, which damages your willpower. Usually it is better to invest your energy in further cultivating the strong, healthy, and beautiful parts of your personality. By doing this, you will eventually create such a reservoir of self-confidence, self-trust, and inner strength that working with the weaker parts of yourself will be much easier.

However, there are instances where the weak and dark parts of the self have put down such deep roots that each time you attempt to work toward self-transformation, you turn into a wall of obstacles such as illness, procrastination, doubt, laziness, lack of motivation, and so on. In such cases, it’s better to work on eliminating the weaknesses that are the source of these impediments. With the help of self-analysis and self-observation, and under the guidance of a competent teacher, you can discover where you are stuck and identify the weaknesses that are at the root of your frustration.

Once you find out where you are stuck and have decided whether it’s best to begin working with the stronger or weaker parts of yourself, you must take charge of your body and mind. No one else can walk the path of spiritual unfoldment for you. This is the path of self-mastery and self-discovery. Unless you find yourself, you will remain lost, so must learn to resolve your fears, insecurities, and other psychological complaints by yourself. In the beginning, you may seek help from therapists, counselors, teachers, and gurus, but ultimately what counts is your own commitment to help yourself and to turn your mind inward.

70. How can I turn mind inward?
If you think about it, you will realize that you have been searching for happiness all your life. You have tried every-thing-fine clothes, gourmet food, various sensual gratifications, exercise classes, stress management technique, counseling, and so on. But your mind has remained filled with anxiety and negative thoughts. At some point, you will discover that transformation takes places only when you work with yourself and that happiness comes only from within. Remind yourself of the moment when you realized how important it was to heal your body, to protect your nervous system, and to nourish and revitalize your senses. This reminder will inspire you to withdraw your mind from the stressful activities of the world and to turn it inward to find the peace, which cannot be found anywhere else.

Remember, too, how painful and frustrating it is to be caught up in the worldly mess. Remind yourself of all the disappointments you have suffered trying to find lasting peace and happiness in the external world. A mind that does not have a firm understanding of the unsatisfactory nature of the so-called pleasures of the world falls prey to disturbing thoughts, emotions, memories, and anxieties during its inward journey. Such a mind tends to go back to its old grooves. Turning your mind inward requires firm knowledge that this is the only way you will find peace and joy.

71. If a mind turned inward is the real vehicle for completing the spiritual journey, why is it necessary to spend so much time working with my body and breath?
Turning the mind inward is the most important step, but the body, breath, mind, and soul are intertwined. That is why your spiritual practice will be more fruitful if it includes techniques for working with your body, breath, mind, and soul simultaneously. A productive practice is one that is designed to enable you to penetrate the deeper layers of your being, while reducing the obstacles you encounter on the outer layers - the body, breath, and mind.

A tired body, an erratic breathing pattern, and a scattered mind are not fit tools for the spiritual journey. That is why yogis invented physical postures (asanas) to energize the tired body, a system of relaxation to restore the vitality of the nervous system, and breathing exercises (pranayamas) to regulate the breath and to revitalize the body and mind. By incorporation of yogic exercises, breathing practices, and relaxation techniques into your daily routine along with your meditation practice, you can reach the summit faster and more easily. Working with the body and breath while training the mind is the best way to prepare a solid foundation for an ever-advancing spiritual practice.

72. What is the key to a fruitful practice of yoga postures?
There are four primary points to keep in mind when practicing:
1. Watch your breath. Coordinate your movements with your breath. Pay attention to your breath and make sure that your physical movements do not interfere with your breathing pattern and vice versa. Inhale each time your torso expands in a posture and exhale when it contracts. Breathe deeply and smoothly.
2. Stay within your capacity. Be aware of your level of strength, flexibility, and stamina each time you practice. These may change from day to day. Stop before you feel fatigued. The object is to feel good while you are doing the postures and to feel refreshed and energized after you are done.
3. Follow a balanced practice. Any exertion on a particular limb, organ, or muscle group created by an exercise should be counterbalanced by another exercise. For example, the plow posture stretches the back of the neck and should be followed by the fish posture, which stretches the front of the neck.
4. Take time to relax. Begin and end each exercise session with a systematic relaxation.
73. The books I’ve read on yoga and holistic health indicate that breathing plays an important role in our physical and mental well being. Can you explain why this is so give me a sequence that can help prepare me for yogic breathing practices?
The scriptures say that “breath is life and life is breath.” Through the breath, you receive vitality from the atmosphere. Further, the breath is the link between the individual and the Cosmic Being, as well as between the body and the mind. Yogic breathing practices are called pranayama, which literally means expanding the vital force, or gaining control over the activities of the vital force within.

In a healthy breathing pattern the breath flow is deep, smooth, and silent. There is no pause between inhalation and exhalation, which are of approximately equal duration. Even though the breath is deep, there is little movement of the upper chest. This is an indication of diaphragmatic breathing, which is basic to yogic breathing practices. Diaphragmatic breathing enables you to balance and control your emotions. It also reduces fatigue and stress and helps you feel your best.

74. The air where I live is polluted. Is there a breathing exercise that will help keep my lungs clean?
The 2; 1 breathing practice is an absolute necessity for people living in cities where the air is polluted. This practice cleans the lungs and purifies the blood. In addition, the practice is relaxing and has the effect of increasing your vital energy.

You may practice 2;1 breathing either in the corpse pose or in a sitting posture. Being by establishing a pattern of even breathing. You can count to make sure that your inhalations and exhalations are of equal length. This may take several practice sessions.

Once you have established a comfortable pattern of even breathing, begin to exhale longer than you inhale. For example, count to ten while inhaling and to twelve while exhaling. After a period of days or weeks, try lengthening your exhalation by a few more counts until you are inhaling for ten counts and exhaling for twenty. This may take two or three months of daily practice. As with all yoga practice, be sure to stay within your comfortable capacity.

When you have been breathing at a rate of ten inhalations and twenty exhalations for several weeks, begin expanding the length of the inhalation while continuing to make the exhalation twice as long. For instance, if you inhale for twelve counts, exhale for twenty-four counts. Take your time and expand your capacity until you are inhaling for fifteen counts and exhaling for thirty. If you spend five minutes at least once a day breathing in this manner, you will be ridding your lungs of toxins from the polluted air around you. You will also find the practice very relaxing.

75. There are many days when I can’t manage to find more than five minutes for relaxation. What is the simplest, quickest relaxation exercise I can do?
The word “relaxation” may be somewhat misleading. If you “try” to relax, you will fail. This is doubly true if you try to relax in a hurry. Relaxation is the art of letting go. It must be learned systematically and then allowed to progress naturally. There are many methods of yoga relaxation. This one, which is done in the crocodile pose, is the simplest and takes only five minutes. As noted above, in this pose you will naturally begin to breathe diaphragmatically. As you lie in the posture, observe your breathing. Let the breath become deep and smooth. While inhaling, feel the abdomen gently press against the floor; while exhaling feel the abdomen contract. Let the body relax completely and keep your attention gently focused on your breath for the next five minutes.

76. I’m under so much pressure that I rarely even have time to sleep enough at night, let alone time to do any hatha yoga practices. What do you suggest?
Tension and stress are the breeding ground for many physical and psychosomatic ailments. If you keep yourself so busy attending to endless jobs and obligations that you do not have a few minutes to rest, your body will eventually force you to slow down by becoming ill. What is the point of staying so busy that you do not even have time to enjoy yourself or to use any of your energy for accomplishing the higher purpose of life? No matter how little time you seem to have, it is essential that you manage to reserve some of it for resting and relaxing. The following method of relaxation takes 15-20 minutes, but will leave you feeling more rested and refreshed than several hours of sleep.

This exercise is done in the corpse pose, a posture that relieves tension and helps to bring the mind into a state of relaxed concentration. Lie on your back with a thin cushion under the head. Cover yourself with a sheet or thin shawl. Place the legs a comfortable distance apart and separate your arms slightly from your body with the palms turned up. The spine should be straight, not bent to either side. Take the time to make yourself comfortable in this posture, then become still.

Close your eyes, and be aware of your body, the space around you, and the place on which your body rests. Observe your entire body from head to toe. Cultivate and enjoy the perfect stillness of your body.

Now bring your attention to your breath. Observe each exhalation and inhalation, and let the breath become deep and diaphragmatic. Breathing out, release all tension, fatigue, and anxiety. Inhale a sense of energy and well-being. Do not pause between the breaths.

After several breaths, gently scan your body mentally. You will naturally release tension in the places where you observe it. This “letting go” is the relaxation process. Systematically survey your body from head to toe and then back to the head, in his sequence:

Forehead, eyebrows, eyes, and nose. Pause for two breaths. Then proceed to your cheeks, month, jaw, chin, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, and fingertips.

Again pause with your attention resting in your fingertips for two breaths before shifting it gently back to the fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, chest, and heart center.

Pause at the heart center for four breaths. Then shift your awareness to your stomach, navel region, pelvic region, legs, feet, and toes.

Pause at your toes for four breaths, then reverse the order and proceed upward, this time without any pauses.

After progressing through the whole body, gently relax your mind. Turn your attention to the quiet flow of your breath, and observe the entire breathing process. Rest for a few minutes and entertain the feeling that this subtle stream of breath is linking you to the cosmos. Then roll onto your side and sit up.

Some practice will be required to complete this exercise without a lapse of attention. If your mind wanders, simply bring it gently back to the relaxation process. If you do this practice every day for a week, the benefits will become so obvious that you will find way to fit this 20 -  minutes break into your hectic schedule.
                                                                  Advancing on the Path

77. Can you give me specific instructions on how to do a meditation practice?
There are many methods of meditation. In all of them, the most important thing is to be systematic. Even the best method of meditation, if not done systematically, is of little use. The following nine points are indispensable in a systematic practice:

1. Before practicing, freshen up and prepare yourself psychologically. Wash your hands and face and put on loose comfortable clothes. The room where you meditate should be clean and the temperature moderate.
2. Do a relaxation practice and several rounds of alternate nostril breathing to overcome fatigue before sitting for meditation.
3. Make a mental resolution that for the next 20-30 minutes you will entertain neither your memories of the past nor your anxiety about the future.
4. Either sit on the floor in a comfortable cross-legged posture or sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Make sure that your head; neck, and trunk are aligned. Relax shoulders, and let your hands rest on your knees or things.
5. Close your eyes and withdraw your mind from all directions. Mentally draw a circle of light around yourself, separating yourself from all external affairs. Fill your mind and heart with the feeling of divine presence. Remind yourself that the Divine Light pervading the universe is present within you and that it is a privilege to attend it. After establishing the presence of the Divine, bring your attention to your breath.
6. Breathe gently and naturally without jerks, pauses, or noise. Make sure your breath is flowing smoothly, evenly, and soundlessly. As soon as you have completed your inhalation, begin exhaling; being inhaling as soon as you have completed your exhalation. Thus you inhale and exhale as if the breath were an unbroken circle. To make sure that you are breathing diaphragmatically, be aware of the gentle outward and inward motion of your abdomen as you inhale and exhale. Your chest should move only slightly or not at all.
7. Focus your breath and watch how it flows from your nostrils to your heart center as you inhale and from the heart center to the nostrils as you exhale. Notice the breath as it passes the point where your nostrils meet your upper lip.
8. Now deepen your concentration on your breath. Allow your mind to follow the flow of your breath. With each inhalation, try to feel that your mind is traveling between you nostrils and your heart and, with each exhalation, back from the heart to the nostrils. Thus your breath and mind are flowing together as one inseparable stream of awareness. Go still deeper into your breath and you will heart in your mind a sound that naturally emerges from the breath. That sound is “So Hum.”
9. Focus mentally on the sound “So Hum.” While you inhale, listen to the sound “So-o-o-o-o,” and while you exhale, listen to the sound “Hu-u-u-m-m-m-m.” Let your mind, breath, and the sound “So Hum” flow together. Stay with this practice for as you find it enjoyable.

The next step, for those who have received a personal mantra through formal initiation, is to focus on that mantra. If you have received mantra initiation, follow the meditation instructions given to you at that time, even if they conflict with these general guidelines.

78. What can I do when I can’t get negative thoughts out of my mind?
Let such thoughts comes and go through the back door of your mind, but do not involve yourself in entertaining them. Letting your thoughts and emotions go requires no effort. You make neither an effort to let them come nor an effort to let them go. If you do, you are participating in the process of letting go rather than the process of meditation. Another way of looking at it is that letting go is a by - product of meditation, but meditation is not a by - product of letting go.

By cultivating the habit of letting go, you pass through the phase of being disturbed by memories and anxieties during meditation. Ordinary emotions will not be able to distract you. But some of the more powerful emotions will not leave your mind alone, regardless of how diligently you apply the formula of letting go. It seems that some emotions springing from totally unknown sources hover over the mind, and you can’t ignore them.

When you cannot let go of thoughts and emotions, you must learn to witness them. This means acknowledging the thoughts and emotions without adding any interpretations and elaborations. Instead of denying them or remaining indifferent toward them, try to understand what they are, what is causing them, and how meaningful they are in the present moment.

As you cultivate this skill, you will find that no matter how pertinent these thoughts and feelings were in the past, they are now virtually meaningless. Only your attachment gives life to thoughts and emotions connected to the past, thereby allowing them to influence the present. By witnessing these powerful thoughts and emotions in a detached manner, you will nullify the influence they have on our mind. Remember, witnessing does not mean involving yourself in a mental debate, but simply letting the facts present themselves objectively. When done skillfully, the practice of witnessing induces a sense of non-attachment and non-involvement. Once this feeling intermingles with the stream of meditation, thoughts, emotions, memories, and anxieties lose their power to entangle your mind.

79. I’ve read that meditation deepens in stages. Can you tell me what they are?
The first three stages are outlined in the answers to the previous two questions. The fourth stage begins when we have mastered the skill of witnessing. At this time, meditation becomes deeper. We begin to experience an inner joy that cannot be found in any other source. The mind has become more one-pointed and subtle. Now it can see through the dark night of the soul.

Now and then during the meditation, the mind gets a glimpse of an ever-lasting life. I can clearly feel that the kingdom of the soul is more pervasive and richer than any worldly kingdom. It can clearly see the Divine Light, but can’t reach it. A thin but mysterious veil hangs between the kingdom of the soul and the mind, yet that curtain is enough to create a barrier between our little self and the glorious universal Self. A seeker yearns to tear that evil away. He or she tries more meditation, more prayer more selfless service, more study, and more purification, but nothing really seems to work. As the longing and frustration mount, there comes a desperate cry from the soul, which spontaneously results in self-surrender.

Self - surrender means surrendering all your actions and their fruits to the Divine. You still continue to do your practice but you no longer feel that you are the “doer” of the practice. Now the internal conditions of the practice are totally different. At this stage you feel that the practice is being done by the Divine being who dwells within you and that you are just witnessing it. You no longer have the feeling that you are working hard to penetrate the veil that stands between you and the Divine; rather, it’s grace of the Divine that lifts the veil. At that instant, the lover and the Beloved become one. The experience of this union is ecstasy. After attaining this state of ecstasy, there is nothing else to be achieved. Here the process of meditation is transformed into a state of meditation, and a meditative remains in the meditative state even while living in the world.

80. I long for spiritual bliss when I’m surrounded by pain, misery, and grief, but once the conditions in my world become better, I lose my spiritual fervor. How can I keep it alive?
To keep your spiritual fervor alive, you must be skillful. This is also part of sadhana - to kindle your desire and keep making it stronger and stronger.

The company of like - minded people is a driving force in your practice. Those of us who are not yet perfect can easily be influenced by the company we keep. In the company of saints, we behave like saints, but in negative company our animal tendencies manifest quite easily. We do not intend to drop our spiritual quest and get caught in the concerns of the mundane world, but until our desire for spiritual advancement becomes strong, people and objects can easily distract us. Think of how affected you are by your friends and family. How often do you delay or miss meditation practice to entertain and please the people who are closest to you?

Friends bring forth in you desires that are similar to theirs. You have to be careful, even in a spiritual environment. Through introspection, analyze your thoughts, speech, and actions, and try to understand to what degree they are affected by your environment. This self - study and self - analysis will minimize the negative effect of company and help you keep your spiritual desire kindled.

Also try to discover methods of expanding your capacity. This entails growing emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, cultivating fortitude, forbearance, forgiveness, kindness, patience, sincerity, openness, and a deeper understanding of life itself. An ever-increasing physical, mental, and spiritual capacity brings stability in practice. A stable practice is what pushes us toward the goal and acts as a magnet to pull the goal toward us. Create an environment in which you can maintain a constant awareness of your spiritual life. This will keep your spiritual fervor high. Practically speaking self-analysis, self-observation, self-study, regularity of practice, and right company are the key factors in helping you maintain a constant awareness of your inner life. Without them, the help you receive from books and teachers is of little use.

In addition, try to create and nurture a sense of connection with the greatest source of strength - Divine Grace. No matter how satisfying or unsatisfying your practice is, be aware of the Lord of Life within. The awareness that the true guide is within will help when you become discouraged, doubtful or frustrated. The power of surrender supersedes all powers because it draws forth Divine Grace. The effort that you put into your practice is like a budding flower and grace is like the fragrance of the flower. If you cultivate this flower and wait patiently until it blossoms, you will receive its fragrance.

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