Practical Meditation Pointers...That Cut Across and Illuminate All Techniques

By Acharya Shambhu

The heart is the most sacred of all places, go there and roam.” Bhagavan Nityananda

I have pursued a spiritual path and have meditated for almost 20 years, most of which I spent doing non-dual Tantric practices. Reflecting on my experience in the context of Bhagavan Nityananda’s sage advice for one to seek the shortest and most direct path to Shiva, I can’t help but notice a few insights that might be helpful to fellow seekers – this is the humble purpose of this contemplation. None of the content here is meant to be soundbites, but an invitation to truly, deeply, explore these pointers in one’s own practice.

Shiva candles with textFor me, this is a journey to and into the Inexplicable. The essence of the Inexplicable is the Enduring Revelation of Presence - my mouthful preferred term to Enlightenment, Liberation, Self-realization, etc. I use this term to reflect that from the highest perspective, the only thing we need to do is to remember. That’s it, it is all very simple. Presence is always there, it is revealed and stabilized permanently in our moment-by-moment experience through the pointers discussed here. These pointers fuel our capacity for pure insight (pratibha), which cuts through the veils of duality, ultimately revealing the Inexplicable.

During the journey, I have fallen into multiple traps – obsession with doing the techniques perfectly, the belief that the journey is a slow grind, unconscious separation of spiritual life and everyday life, spiritual bypass, unconscious over-reliance on the guru versus having and strengthening my own connection to the Divine, etc. Note how each of these traps reinforces duality with varying subtlety, in effect making the path itself an obstacle. This insight has been a major revelation for me, completely changing my practice, allowing me to go much deeper than ever before.

I realize now that there are several crucial pointers that naturally resolve these traps, illuminate any meditation technique, and allow one to accelerate the journey. These pointers make the journey much less mechanical and much more personalized, allowing the seeker to have increasingly deeper heart-to-heart with that which is being sought, until the slightest distinction between seeker, means of seeking, and the sought, is completely dissolved.

The salmon has no choice but to journey back home, because the beacon (grace) is always calling. Enduring Revelation of Presence inevitably arises. Freedom is inevitable. But, how can we make the journey at least a bit faster and more natural? We are all familiar with this amazing statement by Archimedes: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Lifting this statement (pun intended) from the great Archimedes into a spiritual context, suitably puts together the pointers I am trying to describe below in a coherent practical framework:

“Give me surrender long enough and stillness on which to place it, and I shall move the Universe, to reveal the Inexplicable.”

I truly believe, based on my humble experience, that all these pointers can and should be applied to any meditation technique. Without these pointers, not only secret treasures will continue to be lost in the field of duality, but most importantly not found. DO NOT TRUST ME, trust your own experience, try these pointers, and see what happens.

1) INTENTION. Intention is the focusing of our life force to seek the highest purpose of our life, to move the Universe to reveal its source, pure Divine Presence. Intention gives us direction. Initially, intention feels like a booster of a spaceship that allows us to rise above the gravitational pull of the ego. In every meditation, and every day when we open our eyes first thing in the morning, set the intention to tune into the home beacon. Just take a breath in the heart center and feel that call (grace) to go back home. If you can’t feel grace, say silently in the heart center a few times whatever mantra works for you: “Show me the truth,” “Show me what is Real,” “Help me open my heart,” “I wish to grow,” etc. Wait until some openness happens. Then do your meditation or go about your day and hold onto that intention. Swami Rudrananda made an incredible statement that the wish to grow for a human being is the most powerful force in the Universe. Our intention, at its deepest, is pure Divine will seeking to remember its Source, expressed at the level of the individual. Devotion is another way to describe this self-referential power – it arises from pure Consciousness. Bhagavan Nityananda said: “As is your devotion, so is your liberation.” That’s why intention is so powerful. To put it in practical terms, do not seek the object of your longing, seek its source. In meditations, sense intention as a field of subtle energy or awareness, feel deeper and deeper inside it, until all distinctions between seeker, means of seeking, and the sought, just go poof. Ironically, holding onto intention at its surface layer, reinforces the distinction between the seeker and that which is being sought. We end up creating another sticky identity: “I am a spiritual seeker.” You are the one you have been looking for all along – discover this mystery in your own experience by feeling deeper and deeper into the energy/awareness of intention.

2) SURRENDER. Surrender leads us from the experience of us doing the work to a point where the Divine takes over. All of a sudden, the Divine begins to do the work, we are being worked. We have moved into effortless effort. It is important to reach the point where the big boss takes over, otherwise we are stuck in an illusory loop of us doing something to get somewhere, reinforcing duality. There are several important aspects of surrender.

      A) BE WILLING TO DROP THE CRUTCH. We have to realize that the meditation technique is just a crutch. The crutch is not the end, it is just a means. Abhinavagupta said in Ch. 4 of the Tantrasara, translated by Christopher Wallis: “None of the ‘Limbs of Yoga’ are a direct means to the goal, though they may support discernment. Accurate discernment & insight (sat-tarka) alone is a direct means to that [goal of awakening & liberation].” Also, we can drive ourselves crazy with and get lost in the rich menu of powerful meditation techniques the ancient Tantric masters have bequeathed to us. The crutches range from external (rituals, chants, etc), the body, the senses, the breath, mantras, energy centers/channels, awareness, etc. These masters are saying that anything is a way to go back home, and how can it not be, when everything is an expression of Consciousness. To prove that anything can lead to immersion, for example, I have had meditations of simply feeling the tension in my jaws, and soon after pure awareness is revealed inside the physical tension. Try this – in meditations, follow the crutch until there is a shift in your awareness or some energy openness, then drop the crutch, abide in whatever is being revealed. Do not spend the entire meditation trying to perfect the technique. If after some time practicing the technique, it does not bring you to a point where you feel a shift in energy or awareness, drop it altogether, it does not work for you, try another technique. Simpler techniques seem to be more effective. The quicker a meditation technique brings about a shift, the better it works, as it allows one to spend the majority of meditation surrendered into a new level of awareness where one can allow revelation to happen, rather than expending a lot of effort trying to get there. Any meditation technique is just a bridge, do not stay on the bridge, the view is way better on the other side. Be willing to drop the crutch, be curious, find out what is beyond the prop. Another way to look at this is to view the crutch itself as the end and let go into it so deeply that it naturally evaporates into its source - the Sky of Consciousness.

     B) TRULY ACCEPT WHERE YOU ARE, FEEL INTIMACY WITH WHAT IS. Human beings have a natural tendency to avoid pain and seek pleasure. We also apply this pattern in our meditations. We try to change an uncomfortable state into a more acceptable state, we try to be alchemists transmuting base metal into gold, not knowing that the metal is already gold! Being an alchemist only reinforces duality, as we are imposing our will, actually strengthening our sense of separation, rather than loosening it. Start the meditation and your day just “feeling into” whatever state you are experiencing, do not try to control or manipulate it. Do not struggle with the mind, i.e. thoughts and emotions. Feel intimacy with what is, with whatever is arising in your awareness moment-by-moment. Nurture child-like curiosity, dig into all experiences, feel the juice in everything that arises in your awareness. This process frees our ordinary object-based awareness to melt into awareness being aware of itself (vimarsha). There is a natural shift to simply being, there is nothing to do, but to deeply feel the still nature of awareness (see Adyashanti’s book True Meditation for a great discussion of this topic). Only from this still place we can understand the dynamic creative aspect of awareness. My experience is that it is more beneficial to “go inside” i.e. truly feel/listen to/sense whatever is happening in awareness/body/emotions/thoughts, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable. This leads directly to the source of the experience – it can be said that we are following whatever has arisen or arising in our awareness back to its source. Taking the stance of being with what is, resolves a major trap for many seekers – spiritual bypass – and naturally addresses non-attachment. We are fully embracing what is, embracing every way the Goddess Shakti has chosen to express her creativity. In the process of immersion into what is, we develop the capacity to feel the source of everything as opposed to being caught in the surface waves of external creation and ego. Where is attachment in moment-by-moment experience when we are anchored in the Source of everything, drinking the nectar of life, basking in the glow of life?

     C) SURRENDER ALL YOU KNOW, ALL YOU THINK YOU ARE … AND MORE. Human beings are incredibly complex – we have bodies, senses, emotions, thoughts, mind, egos, memories, stories, beliefs, patterns, etc. In meditation we have to reach a point where we are willing to drop the laundry list of our complexity. The telltale sign we are approaching that point is the emergence of resistance or fear. These are the moments where we have to really let go and simply go into the resistance or fear. At some point it just falls away. Swami Rudrananda said it beautifully: “Life is profound only in its simplicity.” We have to surrender all we know and think we are so that the light of Consciousness (prakasha) can illuminate our limited understanding. In meditations, keep on surrendering until there is no sense of you as an individuated consciousness. This is called Samavesha, being absorbed in, or penetrating into Consciousness. Imagine there are two candles burning and shining, always-on. One is the candle of absolute knowledge of God Consciousness. The other one is the candle of God’s Love. Which one will you choose? Pause for a second, reflect on this question. In Sutra 59 of Bhatta Narayana’s Stava Cintamani (The magical jewel of devotion) translated by Swami Lakshmanjoo, Bhatta chooses the candle of Love. Why? Because when there is knowledge, there is something to be known. Some shades of darkness are bound to appear, as there are still traces of two, a seeker and that which is being sought. In the candle of Love, there is no possibility of any darkness, because Love just is. Drop everything you know, just drop it. If you have to, use this mantra: “I don’t know shit.” We ultimately have to surrender the illusions that we are the doer, that we are different, and that we are separate. To achieve the latter, we have to drop our will at the feet of Shiva. We are one step closer to this ultimate surrender by dropping first all we know. Wait a second – why don’t I just drop my will; wouldn’t this be a shortcut? This might be a good idea. Why don’t we give it a try? Give up the idea that we have to be martyrs and hobble our way into the source, it does not have to be a grind, it can be and is the joyful journey back home, the joyous offering of our limited will into the arms of Shiva. In meditations, feel your identity (stories, patterns, etc), actions, knowledge, and will as energies/awareness, let them go into the heart center/other stillness points or central channel, bathing them in higher energies and awareness. This has been a huge revelation for me – that “me/I” is an energy field/an idea/a thought and if I can just let go of it, I do not die, I get re-born, baptized in the flow of the river of life, whose source is the Inexplicable.

3) STILLNESS IS THE LEVERAGE POINT. This is a much more nuanced topic, but to simplify it, it can be said that the energies of life have two directions. One is external direction, which is object-based. Shakti, the power of Shiva, is exploring endless creative possibilities at the level of form. The external forces are gravitational and magnetic, they are designed to draw us out of our center, the form-based concealment power of Shakti. Internal direction is subject-based, where the subject processes both the external and internal energies. The subject on a more superficial level uses the energies of the mind (thoughts, intellect, emotions), and on a deeper level accesses the energy body where the subject begins to “feel” everything on a non-conceptual level. There is a still point in between external and internal directions that stabilizes all movement of energy, revealing the source of all energies - Consciousness. In my experience, stillness is the gateless gate. Stillness, per my teacher, Swami Khecaranatha, is the resonance of Presence. In his book, Depth over Time, there is a wonderful chapter on stillness where he discusses stillness of breath, awareness, desire, and will. Swami Khecarantha illuminates, “We open the door into inner stillness and Divine Presence by finding a place of profound simplicity within ourselves.” There are multiple still points that are dimensionless and timeless – they are the entryways into the Enduring Revelation of Presence. One of them is in heart center, another one in the center in the head, yet another one at the upper Dvadasanta. The innermost thread in the central channel also resonates with stillness. By grace, there are multiple entryways into Paradise. We might experience all our energies and awareness condensing and resonating into one of those still points. At other times, there is an opening on the other side of the still points into pure Presence. It is our willingness to surrender deep enough in our practice and during the day that allows us to tune our awareness into the still points. In my experience, stillness is not achieved through concentration or effort, but through total letting go.

4) CLOSE THE LOOP, IT’S A TWO-WAY STREET – BRING SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS INTO EVERYDAY LIFE. So, we have used our intention, have surrendered deep enough, we are anchored in stillness, we have moved the Universe to discover Presence, and are resting in the Self (vishranti). Sounds peachy, right? Well, yes, kind of. There is a reason we are human beings – we are here to serve and love and be part of the play of Consciousness. If we do not allow our experience of Presence to percolate in our daily life, we have done a lousy job – there are probably still some traces of dualistic Consciousness. We have to allow Presence to inform our intention, knowledge, and actions in everyday life for Revelation to stabilize. I have found out that when at the end of my meditations I “descend the ladder,” it is easier to carry meditation insights into everyday life. Let’s say we have had a good meditation moving through body to emotions to thoughts to heart to pure presence and we are immersed in awareness. At the end of the meditation, allow that awareness to inform your heart, mind, and body, feel how they all are born out of awareness. Swami Lakshmanjoo said (I cannot remember where I read this) that a great yogi is able to navigate all the levels of awareness (tattvas) in both ascending and descending directions. He also counsels: “While walking you are dissolved in Lord Shiva's state, while talking, while doing, while kissing, while doing, while going to the cinema, you are always centered in God consciousness.” Another even more powerful message from him from his Kashmir Shaivism, the Secret Supreme, book: “If you were to continue your practice of contemplation for just fifteen minutes while walking, the benefit will be the same as you would acquire if you were to continuously practice contemplation in your meditation room for two or even three years." I also love this quote by Adyshanti,

“In my case, which I think is similar for many, many people, the greatest solvent for ego is found within our lives—the fabric of our existence, the grit of what’s actually happening in our everyday experience. I find that this is often overlooked within the context of spirituality. Many of us are using our spirituality as a way to avoid life, to avoid seeing things we really need to see, to avoid being confronted with our own misunderstandings and illusions. It is very important to know that life itself is often our greatest teacher. Life is full of grace—sometimes it’s wonderful grace, beautiful grace, moments of bliss and happiness and joy, and sometimes it’s fierce grace, like illness, losing a job, losing someone we love, or a divorce. Some people make the greatest leaps in their consciousness when addiction has them on their knees, for example, and they find themselves reaching out for a different way of being. Life itself has a tremendous capacity to show us truth, to wake us up. And yet, many of us avoid this thing called life, even as it is attempting to wake us up. The divine itself is life in motion. The divine is using the situations of our lives to accomplish its own awakening, and many times it takes the difficult situations to wake us up.”

The mundane has to become Divine. All aspects of our life have to be immersed in Presence. All is One.

MAY ALL BEINGS ACHIEVE THAT WHICH IS THEIR BIRTHRIGHT – ABIDING IN DIVINE PRESENCE

 

Deeper Understanding of the Ego – Patterns, Contractions, and Tensions

By Acharya Shambhu

The first revelation of nondual teachings is that we are already Divine. Isn’t that great! If we can just realize that we are Divine, we have arrived. But, is this our experience? It certainly isn’t my experience all the time. The teachings also elucidate, right after the declaration of our Divinity, that our true nature is obscured. The implication is that if we cannot find the light that is already within and reside in our true nature, we have to lift the veils to uncover the light.

Let me explain. The concealment happens through three veils, which, in part, express themselves through the ego. We already saw that, ultimately, at the highest level, the source of the ego is the heart, wherein the heart of consciousness is the source and the field of consciousness in which everything is present. If we could just find our heart and reside in the heart space, we will find our freedom. The issue for many of us is that, due to karma, there is a density of obscuration that covers the light. This means that in our spiritual practice we also must develop the capacity to digest the concealment so that enough light can percolate through. In my experience, it has been critical to understand that we have to burn the candle from both ends – we must develop the capacity to open our hearts and digest concealment. Nondual spiritual practices provide us with the tools to do both.

In the Opening the Heart blog we focused on learning how to tune into our heart. This blog will shed some light on the tendencies of our own ego and how they impact our daily experience. We will discuss patterns, contractions, tensions, the nature of resistance, the three veils, karma, and the practices to free ourselves from karma. The teachings about concealment propel us to practice self-inquiry, a process that can shake us to the core of our very carefully constructed self-identity.

It seems to me that in our society we spend a lot of time and effort trying to accumulate knowledge about the world, but we spend very little time getting to know ourselves. We all want to sound smart and funny, entertain people with our stories, show off how much we know, etc., but, at the end of the day, it is all noise, just a child’s play in the sense that we have not really grown up to look at ourselves in the mirror of our own consciousness. We have not really taken a hard look and examined: “Who am I,” “What really motivates me?,” “What are the results of my actions?,” “Could I act from a different place?,” “Is life really about me, or maybe there is something more?” It is my experience that the reason we are not asking ourselves these questions is because of our resistance to change. The source of our resistance is the ego. If we truly want to understand ourselves, let’s take the magnifying glass and examine the ego on a deeper level.

Just to be clear, I love getting together with my friends over a beer, etc. I love listening to other people’s stories, I love sharing my stories, we learn from each other. But, over the years, my social experiences have changed from feeling inadequate if I had nothing to say to the simple joy of sharing and listening, with no agenda on my part, just being in the presence of the people in my life. And yes, this is an invitation to discuss the nature of concealment over a beer. Let me know, maybe after all, this topic is easier to discuss in a bar!

The Ego Spaghetti Bowl: Patterns, Contractions, and Tensions

The nature of the ego, the I-maker, is limited identity. The ego is relentless. It will hold on to its identity, it will fight and fight, it will resist letting go. As Nathaji says often, the ego is a leprechaun, it will morph endlessly, trying to pull us out of our heart.

One of the tricks from ego’s playbook occurs after we have had an opening or have burned some tension. The ego will come up with very subtle, hardly perceptible reasons to hook our attention again. For example, “I did forgive that person, I let the situation go, but I was right after all.” Translation: “I had a real breakthrough, I felt an opening, pat on my back, I am growing, but I am superior to the other person, they don’t get it.” In this situation we might have had a partial opening, but it illustrates a subtle arrogance that we are better than other people and ultimately humility was lacking. Watch for the “buts,” they mean we are still attached to our identity or some sort of condition, which is the ego’s attempt to cling onto us.

All resistance to change stems from the ego. I think it is extremely important to understand the nature of our own resistance, as the cost of resistance is the perpetuation of our suffering. Patterns, contractions, and tensions result from living in ego and are the energies that keep us bound in limited understanding, stuck in limited consciousness.

There are two fundamental patterns: self-rejection and self-absorption. Self-rejection at its highest-level means rejecting our divine essence, which is the trap of the ego to sustain its suffering. Self-absorption is the focusing of our life force on self-interest. Self-absorption, in effect, reinforces our self-rejection as it binds us in self-pity and self-importance, where the focus is still on limited self-identity.

Contractions emerge from these two patterns and represent our inability to stay open to the ever-flowing changes in life, which has two effects:

1. First, we live in conditions. We tend to reject life since it does not pan out the way we want it to – we are not in flow with life and search for the perfect condition to be happy. For example, “If I only had a partner or a better job, I would be happy.”
2. Second, we miss the realization that every situation is an opportunity for growth. Contractions happen when we are so caught in a situation that we squeeze the very life force out of the change that is trying to take place, prohibiting any real growth. For example, someone persistently annoys us and we blame the other person. Life might be trying to show us our arrogance, but we are so contracted in our reaction to the other person, that we are blind to the opportunity to free ourselves from our arrogance.

Tension is the surface expression of patterns and contractions, the acting out of patterns and contractions.

We might, for example, function from a resonance of being a victim, i.e. self-absorption. This resonance feeds our self-rejection, making the realization that we are an individuated expression of the Divine an impossibility, “How can I be Divine when everything and everybody in my life seems to show me that I am not good enough?” This belief contracts our energy and we close our heart. We do not open to the flow of life which constantly tries to remind us to shed our victimhood, to surrender our limitations, and experience in ourselves a higher truth. Because we are not open, we act out our tensions either internally with our thoughts, “You see, I did it again, I am a failure,” or externally with our actions by avoiding or blaming people, and maybe resorting to substances such as drugs, etc. Either way, we end up reinforcing our patterns. To top it off, feelings of sadness or despair might further steal our energy and make it harder to free ourselves from our ego.

Spaghetti bowl jpeg

Exercise 1: Self-Inquiry:
Do Exercise 1 from my Opening the Heart blog. Get quiet inside. Ask your heart to show you your blind spots. Explore your patterns, contractions, tensions. Write them down if you want to. What would the people in your life say they are? Does their answer match yours? If not, maybe we need to inquire deeper. Of course, it is much easier figuring out what other people’s challenges are than our own.

Resistance to Change = Unwillingness to Grow

I had an experience not too long ago when I felt an opening, completeness, a sense of bliss. It lasted for probably an hour. Then I began to close. I asked inside why I am closing when it feels so good to be open. The answer that came back was, “Too much Niko (my given name).” There you have it: the less of us i.e. identity there is, the more open and better we feel, there is no sense of lack! That is why I think it is very important to contemplate the nature of resistance and its effects. Nathaji and Rudi offer some profound insights about resistance that I have tried to paraphrase/summarize here in my own words. You can find more insights in Nathaji’s book “Depth over Time” and Rudi’s book “Spiritual Cannibalism.”

1. It is our own heart that tries to free us. Every challenging situation in our lives emerges from our own heart as part of the process of finding freedom. This can be a shocking discovery: we ourselves cause the tests of our lives, but how can it be any other way? When we say, “I want to open,” the grace of our own heart is that it will expose to us our own blind spots, our unconscious patterns, the reasons we have in ourselves to close which we have accumulated over many lifetimes. We have to expose those reasons, to burn them in the light of consciousness in order to be free of them.

2. Life will test us when we say we want to open. Rudi used to talk about the tests of life. What he meant was that when we open, life will test our conviction and capacity to stay open. We will encounter situations/people that will challenge our resolve to stay open, they will present to us endless reasons to close. The first sign of trouble is usually when we react in an unconscious way, i.e. we say something or we do something out of a contracted place.

3. The content of resistance is never relevant. There are millions of reasons to close: “I am right,” “I should not do this,” etc. The point is that the end result is always the same – we close our hearts. Another way of saying this is that we have the tendency to continually re-inforce and feed our ego.

4. The cause of resistance so often is our tendency to want to control life. Whenever we react to circumstances and conditions, we become tense because we want to control what is happening. Another way of saying this is that whenever we are unable to truly rest in the stillness of our center and accept something as it is, we tense up.

5. Resistance builds tension, which binds us and becomes our resonance. It is our resistance, our inability to accept life as it is, that produces tension. It is that tension that we act out from. We can experience this on a daily basis just by watching the news for two minutes. Of course, it is always easier to see other people’s egos than our own. That is why honest self-inquiry is very important to bring to light our tensions.

6. Resistance crystallizes our energy, limits the flow, encasing our Spirit. When our resistance and tensions merge into each other, our energy becomes stuck inside and squeezes the life force out of us, compressing our openness, energy, and consciousness. This is the density that encases Spirit, and which restricts our life.

We have to meet our resistance – if we are not feeling our resistance, we are not growing

The revelation of our resistance is a key step towards spiritual growth and expansion. When we consciously come up against our internal walls, our reluctance to change, it means we are doing our spiritual work and we can see ourselves more clearly. We have to face our fear of the dissolution of our own identity. Fear and doubt are key obstacles to spiritual growth. Some practices like the Sufis talk about the joyous offering of our identity to God. We must realize that we suffer because of our identity and try something different, i.e. begin to let go and trust that a higher truth will reveal itself.

It is important in our inner work not to take our resistance personally, it is not about us, it is about Divinity trying to express itself as us, through us. Nathaji explains eloquently,

When we realize that every challenge in our life emerges precisely to free the Divine within us, that knowledge changes everything. Whether it takes a day, a month, or a year, we deal with everything from this perspective and from a state of openness. We allow a contraction to burn up because we are detached from it being about us, or at least from the limited egoic ‘us’ that we identify as ourselves. When we are bigger than the contraction, its energy is in the flow and it is being processed … When we desire to know the God within, we are asking for no less than the annihilation of the part of us that doesn’t know it is Divine. So, in the process of profound transformation, we must experience both expansion and dissolution—the expansion of the Divinity within us, and the dissolution of the boundary of our limited self.

What is the way out? How do we dissolve our own resistance?

To borrow one of Einstein’s gems of wisdom, we cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it, i.e. the ego. The nature of the ego is to resist change. The ego is very powerful. Its power has had us trapped lifetime after lifetime. We must reach for a higher perspective.

For those of you who have read or are familiar with the great Indian epic the Bhagavad Gita, I think it is an allegory of our own inner battles depicted as the trials and the tribulations of Arjuna on a battlefield preparing to fight his relatives. Krishna (the Divine) suggests to Arjuna that his relatives are already dead. What a shocker! Our “relative” is our mind, we respect it, we want to spend time with it, we want to wine and dine it. The idea of killing the mind because it is already dead can create a tremendous confusion in our being. However, if we do a brutally honest self-inquiry, we might arrive at the same conclusion – the mind is already dead, in the sense that when we truthfully examine our stories, we realize that they are far removed from reality. Our stories have very little to do with reality, they are illusions/fantasies or fears/nightmares that keep us trapped in ego.

My experience has been that when I stop believing my own stories, I feel a sense of opening, a sense of freedom, a sense of soaring. We have to learn to stop feeding our minds with what the ego craves and re-direct our life force towards nourishing the heart. We have to learn to trust our heart and let go of our dependence on the mind. Our ego/mind is dead without its source, the heart.

Nondual ancient inner scientists illustrated this profound teaching, our way to freedom, also in a very direct way. In Ch. 18 of The Recognition Sutras, translated by Christopher Wallis, we are given the following meditation technique. Pre-discursive reality refers to the deep space within, which is free of concepts; it is a pulsation of the heart before it takes form in the shape of thoughts, etc. This exercise also asks us to let go of not just our identity, but also our sense of Self as the Knower. We let go in our own awareness where we experience complete freedom from our thoughts, stories, bodies, and separate identities. Wallis translates,

One whose mind is fixed on and entrusted to the Heart (through bringing attention to the fact of Awareness), by thinking of nothing in particular, stills the mind’s storytelling (which hinders the ability to abide in oneself), and through cultivating conscious contact with pre-discursive reality becomes intent on the perception that the one and only Knower is his own awareness, untainted by body identification and so on.

Exercise 2:
Just for one day, take the stance, make the commitment: "Just for today, I will stick my mind in my heart."

1. Find you heart center, stay there.
2. As your mind becomes active, don't try to suppress it, gently fall into the heart.
3. Let the mind do its thing and take the stance that the thoughts of the mind are useless garbage, don't pay attention to them, keep on falling back into the heart.
4. Thoughts such as, "I need to go to the store to buy milk" of course are OK, they help us function in the world. All other thoughts are not worth of our attention, you can even label them as “Junk.”
5. See what happens. Take notes about your experience if you feel inclined to do so.

How do we let go of resistance?

We have to work above the level of resistance to loosen its grip on us and digest it. There are multiple ways to generate enough lift so we can see our resistance (see #1 to #5 below). Then, we digest it (#6).

1. Make a conscious choice to open. We must use our innate intelligence (buddhi), to choose heart over and over again, until the ego just becomes background noise.
2. Nourish the wish to grow. Do the Wish to Grow exercise regularly to find a place in ourselves that will choose heart when the ego snaps back. Nathaji says, “We create an inner discipline so that when our resistance comes up, we fall back on the strength of and attachment to our wish, and we practice even when we do not want to.”
3. Use regularly the tension release to facilitate flow in the inner mechanism. Do the Tension Release exercise to shake off the tensions we accumulate during the day, flush out residue from our meditation practice, or to loosen/let go of a tension that we are struggling with.
4. Do selfless service. Selfless service frees us from our own self-absorption – we serve even when we don’t want to. Nathaji explains,

Our ego keeps us from Self-knowledge, and it is fear of losing ourselves that keeps the ego functioning. We live in a box, which defines our life in many ways. We get trapped in patterns, thinking, ‘This is what my life is. This is what I can or can’t do, and this is what I will or won’t do.’ If we wish to extend past these preconceptions, we must exert some effort to break free, because we all carry a resistance and an unwillingness to change. We must huff and puff and blow our own walls down, and not accept the smallness. One of the primary ways we can knock the walls down is by deciding to truly give of ourselves—and to do so when it’s wanted and needed and especially when we don’t want to give. But we do give, because it expands our boundaries. It really requires that we open our hearts more. Isn’t this what we say we want? We get past our limitations when we serve and surrender.

5. Develop the capacity to center ourselves. We must develop the capacity through disciplined spiritual practice to center ourselves so we can see when we begin to close from miles away. We center our awareness in the heart center, the central channel (the sushumna), or the navel chakra (two fingers below the navel).
6. We let go of resistance in the heart or consume its energy in the flow. From our center, we surrender everything that arises in the openness of the heart, or we consume the energy of the resistance in the flow (down the front and up the back).

 

Why Opening the Heart Is Fundamental in Kuṇḍalinī Practices

By Acharya Shambhu

Introduction
The very first thing we emphasize with new students in our practice is the power of opening the heart. Opening our heart is the fundamental capacity we develop. It has wide reaching reverberations: 1) we begin to function in our daily life from a deeper place; 2) the heart transforms our own understanding of ourselves and the purpose of our life. This is why advanced meditation practices build on the foundation of the heart. This blog includes a few simple exercises to help us explore the heart.

Opening the heart is crucial in our spiritual development. Developing the capacity to first find our own heart and then nourish it, provides us with a foundation from which we can begin to function in our lives, both in our relationship with ourselves and with the world. A lot of authentic spiritual practices focus on the heart - Sufism, Christian mystics etc. It is important to understand why it is the case that the heart is a recurring theme and emphasized so much in so many practices.

One of Swami Rudrananda's (Rudi) most insightful and powerful statements was, "The reason the world is screwed up is that nobody opens their heart." We could examine this statement from another perspective: if people tend not to function from their hearts, what is it that we mostly function from, i.e. "the" reason the world is screwed up? We could re-interpret Rudi's statement: "The reason the world is screwed up is that everybody functions from their mind."

If we assume that these two statements are equivalent, we could collapse them into: "No heart = mind". The inverse of that is "Heart = no mind." The natural question these two shorter statements pose is: "Are the heart and mind mutually exclusive?"

But hold on a second! The second thing we tell people when they begin to explore this practice is that it is a non-dual practice. So, how do we reconcile that with the possibility that the heart and mind might be mutually exclusive, i.e. we are in an either/or situation, which is inherently dualistic! What a pickle! But, let’s slow down a bit and first explore what we mean by mind.

What is the mind?
In the cosmology of nondual philosophy, the mind is the instrument of the ego. In Sanskrit, the ego translates as "I maker," i.e. the creation of identity. This is "me," this is the "world," even "God" if I believe such a thing, is separate from me. In other words, the nature of the ego is dualistic understanding of life. This is the purpose of the ego, to conceal a higher level of understanding. How does the ego accomplish that? It uses a toolkit, called the mind.

The mind can be understood as the instrument of the ego - i.e. thought constructs, beliefs such as: "I can never get anything right, I am a loser," "Life is not fair, I am always the victim," "I can only be happy if I have a lot of money, relationships, etc.," and the script of the mind goes on and on. These thought constructs are very different from thoughts such as, "I need to make a right turn here to arrive at the store." Thoughts help us function in the world and that is a good thing, that is their primary purpose. The issue is the binding power of thought constructs that create limited stories which become the primary script from which we understand ourselves and life.

To make matters worse, emotions wrapped around thought constructs create a spaghetti bowl around thought constructs, further binding us to limiting beliefs. To be clear, emotions are a good thing, they, in part, make us human beings: we can feel, we have compassion for people, etc. Emotions only become an issue when we allow them to re-inforce our limiting thought constructs. For example, depression/sadness wrap around thought constructs of being a victim, making it harder for us to rise above the mind.

The problem with the ego is that it is the cause of our suffering. The ego has us wrapped around its little finger, and we don't even know it! The ego is very powerful, it has the capacity to completely conceal any possible higher perspective and experience of life. The ego is a tunnel with no lights. That is why the world is screwed up.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? What could that light be? Luckily for us, that light is called grace. It is that grace that brought us to inquire inside: "Is that what life is about? Is there more to life?" This is a pivotal shift in our life, were we begin to turn inside to find an answer, after unsuccessfully trying to find one in the manifest world. 

 

What is the heart?
In this practice, the way we find an answer inside is by learning to tune into our own heart. How do we do that? We use our breath and awareness.

Here is the first of three simple exercises that help us access our heart.

Exercise 1:

1. Close your eyes. Take a few regular breaths.
2. Listen to the breath, explore where it begins and where it ends. Notice the beginning and end of the inhalation. Notice the beginning and end of the exhalation. Keep your awareness on the cycle of the breath, simply listen. Do that for a few minutes.
3. Now, move your awareness to the middle of the chest, where the heart energy center (chakra) is. Keep your awareness there.
4. Allow the inhalation to open that center, feel the lightness.
5. As you exhale, relax deeply. Notice how we tend to have superficial exhalations, we tend to hold onto tension in our bodies. As you exhale, each time exhale deeper.
6. Notice that as you exhale and you let go deeper, the openness in the heart becomes bigger. Both the inhalation and exhalation create and expand the openness.
7. As you keep your awareness in the heart, whatever arises: thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, sounds, smells etc, gently let them go into the heart. Do that for a few minutes.
8. As you open your eyes, keep your center in your heart, stay centered there.
9. Do this exercise during your sitting meditations and also in your daily life with your eyes open.

As we do this simple yet powerful exercise, over time we might have some valuable insights. By focusing on the heart, the mind seems to slow down, we become more quiet and still. Put differently, the more heart, the less mind. As we lose our awareness of our heart, we will likely experience the reverse, less heart means more mind. That is OK. The good news is that we are beginning to feel a new place in ourselves, an alternative to the mind. It does seem like an either/or equation, right?

The answer is yes, however with a "but." Yes, the heart and the mind seem to have a mutually exclusive relationship, but this is more so in the beginning of our practice. In the beginning, we learn over and over again to first find our heart. As we find it over and over again, using our awareness and breath, we nourish that opening. The time that we spend in the heart over time increases. The heart becomes more and more familiar. While that is happening, as we stay centered in the heart, it feels like thoughts, feelings, sensations come from somewhere else. There seems to be a feeling of, "This is my heart" and then, "There is my mind, there is everything else." That experience is an important first step in our spiritual development.

Heart versus Mind

In my own experience, being in the heart helps me understand the nature of the mind better. From the quiet of the heart I can have a clearer perspective on the mind. My life experience before learning to access the heart, as my teacher Swami Khecaranatha (Nathaji) would say, had a floor and a ceiling. The openness of the heart expands that band of experience, I can "see" more, understand better the contrast between the mind and the heart. For me, there seems to be this contrast.

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It's an incredible contrast, isn't it? In my experience, as my band of experience expands with the heart, when I catch myself in my mind, I experience a sort of shock, the realization of the vast difference of experience between the heart and the mind. That shock helps me go back to the heart, it just feels so much better being in the heart! That realization happens in the intellect, which in nondual cosmology, sits above the ego and mind. The intellect does not refer to the sense of being intellectually smart, but a place in ourselves that has enough lift, enough perspective and enough discriminating awareness to make a choice from a place of clarity to open, even when the mind pulls us to close.

As my practice has deepened over the years, when the mind becomes active or takes over in a very forceful way, when a deep thought construct wrapped with powerful emotions takes over, I would follow Rudi's advice: "Take your mind and stick it in your heart." This exercise helps digest and melt deep patterns, in the heart. Another technique we use is creating a flow in our inner mechanism - on that teaching, I will do a separate blog post.

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Evolution of the heart - intermediate perspective
Over time, as we function more and more from the heart, we begin to move away from dualistic experience of the seeming friction between the heart and mind. We begin to be mostly open while the mind continues to function in the background. Nathaji describes that as a radio station. We tune into the station of the Heart FM 108, while the mind is doing its thing on FM 88, but it does not affect us as much. Both the heart and mind function simultaneously but the mind does not bother us as much. We are so busy being in the heart, operating from a higher resonance, that the mind is just a minor annoyance. This is both a dualistic and non-dualistic understanding.

Exercise 2
During the day, stay centered in the heart. Engage people and situations by extending from the heart. Do it over and over again. You will begin to relate to people and situations from the openness of the heart. Listen to what people say from the heart, feel the real resonance of what they are saying versus what they are "actually" saying with their words. You begin to experience life from openness vs the superficiality and the drama of the mind. We begin to relate to people in a simple way, from openness. This exercise helps us break-down the sense of duality of "me" versus "them."

Evolution of the heart - advanced perspective
We started with the experience that the mind is the slayer of the soul, which is very true at the level of dualistic understanding. Next we saw that the heart and mind exist in our experience simultaneously as palpably different resonances and that we can choose to function from the higher resonance of the heart.

Exercise 3
Do Exercise 1 until you experience a sense of deep stillness. As we tune into the heart and as we let go of whatever arises in the heart, our deeper discriminating awareness begins to see thoughts as they begin to arise. Notice that there is a revving of energy, an impulse, before the thought takes form. As we stay in that level of awareness, we begin to have the insight that the initial impulse is simply the pulsation of the heart. It is only our ego that takes that impulse and molds it into form, i.e. thoughts and thought constructs, to reinforce our separation from our own heart.

According to nondual scripture, ultimately, wait for it, wait for it…….the mind is simply a vibration of the heart. In other words, the heart is the source of the mind. We can verify that statement for ourselves by doing Exercise 3. We have finally arrived at nondual understanding!

This is a shocking teaching when you consider it. However, it totally makes sense in the context of the highest understanding of nondual practices that consciousness is the source of everything. It is consciousness itself, that out of its own freedom, created the mind to conceal itself from itself as part of the cosmic play. Nondual practices have a more sophisticated description of what are called the Veils of Duality (of which the mind is an important part) that we will explore later.

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Conclusion - the heart is the pathway to liberation from the suffering caused by ego
Notice how we moved from form, i.e. thoughts as the mind, into feeling the openness of the heart, then the pulsation of the heart, and finally into awareness. It is that awareness or consciousness that we seek to find in our own heart, the consciousness which is our own real essence. This is why focusing on opening the heart is pivotal in our practice.

 Sky Shambhu quote