There are correct ways and incorrect ways to do almost anything, including meditation. There are certain simple skills and techniques we can learn, that work and over time, tend to consistently lead to beautiful, inspiring results when practised with patience and precision. On the other hand, it is also quite possible to spend a lot of time and effort spinning our wheels without getting anywhere. How to learn the skills that will assure a steady progress in meditation?
If we were to sit down in front of a beautiful grand piano for the very first time, it is unlikely that we would expect to see our fingers flowing across the keys, effortlessly producing a stream of melodious music on our very first try. Even if we spread out the sheet music, with all of the notes for a Beethoven concerto before us, would it help us? Most probably, the crowds of notes, jumbling on so many neat horizontal lines like stacks of golf clubs would overwhelm us in its complexity. To attain the ability to play the concerto, we would need the help of a teacher – someone who already knows how to play, and who can start with simple exercises to build up our strength, dexterity and ability to read music. As we progress, and gradually become proficient in the basic techniques, slowly we learn to go beyond dry technique and truly achieve artistic mastery and self expression. Then again, receiving expert guidance from an advanced pianist who already knows how to delve deep into the music, fully engaging her whole body and spirit will accelerate our own progress and abilities more than if we practice only on our own.
Training the Monkey
The mind is an infinitely more subtle and complex instrument than a piano. It’s nature is to continuously create a stream of thoughts that keep it in constant motion, yet most of the time this process happens without any conscious direction. Indeed, the sages refer to the untrained mind as a mad monkey, bitten by a scorpion, hopping around in hyperkinetic reaction. Meditation involves processes that calm and soothe the conscious layers of the mind so that we can access the deeper layers of our being that radiate blissful inner peace and love, opening up our higher human potentials.
Two Common Pitfalls
And yet, often when we first hear about meditation, there are two common problems. Some of see the pictures of peaceful and serene meditators, and comparing those images to our own ceaseless inner chattering flow of thoughts and activities – it seems nice, but unattainable, at least for us. Thus the first mistake on the spiritual path can occur : to not begin. Some on the other hand, are attracted and sit down, straighten their spine, close their eyes and are expectantly wait to feel a special sensation of inner peace, bliss, love…etc…and yet, our the flow of thoughts only seems to intensify, the way the sound of a stream seems so much louder at night-time when there is so much less sensorial input to compete with. Here appears the risk of the second mistake on the path of personal develop: to not finish what we begin. Many people unfortunately become discouraged, and simply give up, after only a few attempts, remaining with the impression that meditation is just not suitable for us.
A Proper Teacher
Yet, as with piano playing, our progress will be so much more reliable if we seek out a proper teacher. Indeed, in the eastern cultures that have been developing and perfecting the inner technologies of meditation over thousands of years, the classical way to learn meditation was not through books or public talks, but rather, one-on-one through direct guidance from a qualified teacher. The qualification of the teacher was not given by a university or awarded through a certificate, but rather though the quality of that person’s own deep internal realization of unconditional love and inner peace. Illumination is like a bright flame that can light countless candles, and indeed, that light it is meant to be shared and to spread, and not “hidden under a bushel.”
Only for a few?
When mantra meditation is learned personally under the guidance of a teacher, then the mantra can be individualized and tuned to the specific vibration of that person for the maximum benefit. Yet it is a rare phenomenon to meet an illumined teacher, and indeed even the most enlightened of teachers will be teaching through a human body which means there are limitations on how many people can come in contact with such teachings. That would certainly seem to diminish our chances at coming across an authentic teacher, and leaving the teachings available only to a small elite of fortunate people. Indeed, for thousands of years, only the very motivated and sincere seekers were persistent enough to search for and develop a relationship with a truly enlightened master. As in all areas of life, there are also many levels of so-called “enlightenment” and not all teachers may be fully established in overcoming their personal egos. In the West, many of us have become disenchanted with the guru phenomenon precisely for this reason, preferring to avoid teachers altogether and piece together our own path. Yet meditation helps us to access a potential that is in each and every human being, not just in a select few. When done correctly, it has the potential to help anyone to live a more fulfilling, happy life. Shouldn’t it be available more easily so everyone can benefit?
Acaryas – a bridge to the teacher
Fortunately, throughout history, there have been a few visionary masters that have made their teachings more accessible to greater numbers of people by creating a system of transmitting the practices and preserving their integrity through specially trained disciples known as “acaryas”. The acarya in this system does not replace the role of the master, but rather facilitates it, like a bridge. The acarya helps a seeker to receive the correctly tuned practice and is then available, like an older sister or brother to offer continual instructions and guidance according to the teachings of the master.
Finding your way
If you are reading this, you are already a seeker, and looking for answers on the internet and perhaps also through books and courses. There are many examples of saints in Western traditions that had no contact with eastern “technologies” of meditation and simply through their immense love, faith and sincerity reached the same states of enlightenment described in those Eastern traditions, so it is certainly possible to attain those experiences even without formal instruction, though it requires a certain combination of inborn talent, luck and a lot more effort. When we reach towards the Divine and make a few small steps, He makes a hundred towards us and will find the way to teach us, if not through a person, perhaps through a vision, dream or other inner experience. However, if you need to get to a destination quickly and efficiently, while it is certainly possible to get there by asking passer-bys on the street or using our intuitive sense of direction, if we have access to a reliable piece of technology, such as a map, or maybe even better a GPS, which is preferable?
How to make steady, sure progress
However, the majority of us “mere mortals” are simply just curious about meditation and attracted by some of its more immediate benefits, like being able to maintain our balance in a stressful world. Often we do not even dare to imagine that we could actually taste something seemingly so removed from our daily experience like “enlightenment” that seem reserved for the talented few anyway. Yet, with a map or GPS, even someone who doesn’t have a wonderful sense of direction, like myself, can learn to reach a destination in a new city relatively easily. The opportunity to receive individualized guidance from an acarya gives us access to instructions that are fine tuned to our personality. The relationship with an acarya also gives us encouragement on the path in overcoming common obstacles (often quite mundane, like aching knees or a restless mind) that is invaluable in making steady, sure progress. Step by step, as we learn to direct the mind more effectively, we are able to experience the benefits of meditation, both in creating spaciousness in our minds in a stressful world, as well as the deeper spiritual benefits of harmonizing our personality with the love, wisdom and light that comes from that source within our soul. There is a saying – that human life is short, so the wise seek instruction in meditation as early as possible.