Friday, August 31, 2018

Easy Meditation Video



Dear readers,
I have just started a series of six short videos about easy meditation practice on my Live and Meditate channel, both on Youtube and Facebook.
It outlines the basic steps of the initial phases of meditation practice. Hope you enjoy. 
Here is the link for Youtube of Step 1:
https://tinyurl.com/easymeditation1
Here is the Link on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/liveandmeditate/

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Live and Meditate: New video channel on youtube

Good news:
I have launched a video channel of short 3 minute videos on Youtube and Facebook. It is all about meditation and living. Hope you enjoy. 
I'll start off with once a week and work towards 3 posts a week, the same as I already have in Portuguese:
Here is the link:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4WRBR7lZuS2eqIB6oYtG6g

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mastering the mind (3) - the uncontrolled monkey


What to do with all the monkeys jumping around inside our heads?

"The goal of each soul is freedom, mastery, freedom from slavery of matter and thought, mastery of external and internal nature."

This is a phrase from Swami Vivekananda, one of the most respected spiritual masters of modern times. He was practically the first Indian yogi to appear before Western scrutiny. At the first Parliament of World Religions in 1893 in Chicago, he impressed many with his simplicity and clarity. Just by saying the obvious, "Sisters and brothers of America! " he received a two-minute standing ovation from the seven thousand present. At one point, he sweetly called attention to the prison of our respective beliefs. He told the story of a frog who believed that the well where he lived was the only world he really wanted to know about and he refused to believe that there could be others.

"That has been the difficulty all the while. I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. "



We comfortably forget that beliefs and practices are mostly external to our deeper selves. As we go further into the experience of the inner state, we move away from words, symbols, rituals and even religious differences. In spite of our diverse cultures and traditions, we are very similar at our spiritual cores. It's as if the mind is stuck in its most superficial state where it has absolutely no chance of controlling itself.

In his classic book, Raja Yoga, he compares the mind with the antics of monkeys. Not just any monkey, but one drunk on the wine of desire, poisoned by the scorpion of jealousy and possessed by the demon of pride. Even if his metaphor is strong, we can all relate to it. It's really a no-brainer to understand that, just observing the monkey’s capering, may calm it down, but cannot change it. 

Looking for a parallel to this lack of control in Western spirituality, I came across one in Thomas à Kempis' inspiring classic, The Imitation of Christ from the 15th Century.

“Whensoever a man desireth aught above measure, immediately he becometh restless. The proud and the avaricious man is never at rest; while the poor and lowly of heart abide in the multitude of peace.”
In spite of the archaic English, anyone from any tradition can relate to this explanation of the reasons for mental restlessness. We need to know how the mind functions in order to control it.

From over forty years' experience as a student and teacher of Raja Yoga meditation, I still feel like a novice when I see the multitude of things I still need to learn especially about my inner world. I can honestly say that the problem is not the mind itself but what happens in it. At a superficial level meditation can be, as some current "experts" tell us, thinking about nothing in an attempt to produce clarity. That´s OK, but I still have to understand what is creating the "flotsam and jetsam" in the mind and deal with that.

At a basic level, the mind is just like a beach where the waves of mental activity are breaking. There is a sea of past experiences and future possibilities which swirls this way and that, in an apparently random fashion, as we try to deal with what is landing on the beach. If I am just a passive witness to the play of the waves, I can become numbed to its restless state. I forget that I am the master sitting on the beach and not just as a helpless observer. I am not the beach of the mind. I have a mind. I am the creator of my sea of experiences and everything that comes from it. I have an intellect through which I can consciously decide what I want to think and what to do with it once I have created it.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to the control of this inner world is the word control itself. The immediate image of mind control is someone make arduous efforts to restrict, regulate or apply a brake to the stuff that the sea is throwing up. 



In my own practice, I have seen that spiritual power and the quality of mental activity are related. It's as if there is an inner dimmer switch. As I increase my spiritual power through meditation there is enough light to see things clearly. Negativity fades into the background and a sense of control becomes natural. As I turn the switch down, the shadows come back and bring with them restlessness.  
An easy example to understand is the relationship between expectation and fulfillment. As my sense of inner fulfillment goes up, there is nothing that I desire or expect from others or situations. As it goes down all sorts of desires spring up to help compensate for inner emptiness.

So the whole question of mental mastery is related to how much spiritual power I can generate and accumulate. With my inner battery full I can face anything. If not, situations will almost always be more powerful than my capacity to deal with them, bringing with them an endless string of useless and negative thoughts.

How then to charge the battery? I will take up this topic in the next post. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mastering the mind (2) - Meditation and Mindfulness



Today there is an explosion of interest in meditation. A 2012 study in the US, published by the National Health Institute, found that 8% of the population practiced some form of meditation that year. Among them, mindfulness was the one growing the most.
As a student and teacher of meditation for over 40 years, I can only feel happy that many people are having contact with this very ancient practice. Given the chaos in our world and lives, there is a repressed demand for it. At the same time, I'm a little wary of the marketing that surrounds meditation.

In the question of mindfulness-type meditation, there is a multitude of books flooding the market. It appears as a panacea for many areas of society. Titles like "Mindful Something" abound. Just replace Something with Work, Eating, Exercise, Leadership, Child, Teenager, Parenting and we have the promise of a wonderfully aware world. 
Doing all these things in a more 'mindful' way obviously brings benefit. Unfortunately, like so many of the therapies that appear from time to time, none of them can be the answer to everything. The way mindfulness is presented, makes it look like something newly invented. As if the practice of meditation had not existed for thousands of years! We know that meditation in different ways has been available for millennia to solve the problems of life.

To complete the insertion of mindfulness into the Western mainstream, even the word meditation has been dropped by many, so that it is no longer associated with any spiritual or religious practice, according to its Buddhist roots.

Exponents of mindfulness say that their goal is not to control the mind. According to popular belief and the reasons described in the previous blog* about our "flaccid mental and emotional muscles", they say that it is not possible. Instead of controlling thoughts, the idea is to just observe them. In this way we calm down the mind's activity, learn to deal with anxiety, and so on.

This is all true. Just taking meaningful breaks in our frantic lives and concentrating on the regular in and out of our breathing, as we observe the movement of the mind, body, and world around us is a definite way to slow down and feel calm.

Trying to do it in the face of a major crisis is another story. For example, in the face of:

  • News related to someone's terminal illness (or your own)
  • A natural or human calamity
  • Death of a loved one
  • Being robbed of all your money and documents
  • Going through a divorce
  • Losing a job
  • Getting involved in a serious traffic accident

The ability to stabilize the mind in a second in such situations requires long practice and a more complete understanding of the reasons behind things and especially the inner working of the being, through the mind and intellect. Deeply rooted personality traits cannot be transformed just by calming down. It requires what the ancients referred to as tapasya - an intense state of concentrated understanding and connection with the self and the divine that can burn the seeds of weaknesses. 
In other words, it is possible to change basic aspects to our character, but, as they say in India, it´s not as easy as going to your aunty's house

What many may not know, is that mindfulness is related to the practice of Sati, one of seven steps to enlightenment in Buddhism. In 1881, Thomas William Rhys Davids, a British magistrate in what was then Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), had to adjudicate many Buddhist ecclesiastical conflicts. On analyzing sacred texts in Pali, the ancient language of Theravada Buddhism, he suggested for the first time the word “mindfulness” as a synonym for “attention” and as an approximate translation of the Buddhist concept of sati.
Sati, and its Sanskrit counterpart, smṛti, basically mean awareness, or ¨that which we remember" or even more simply, “remembrance”. It can also mean consciousness, depending on the context. One of the first steps in ancient Vedic traditions of meditation, was to stabilize the smriti through various techniques. Since Buddha came along hundreds of years after Vedic meditation had taken root, he and his followers may have been familiar with these traditions, as can be seen in many of the similarities, especially concerning sati.

By isolating sati from the other six steps to enlightenment, and by Westernizing it, like so many other spiritual paths, we may have lost its essence. With so much trivialization, courses and "experts" on mindfulness seeking new ways to earn money, we may be only fooling ourselves that feeling good will actually solve our deeper issues. And our minds continue just as uncontrolled as ever. 

After all, one of the central tenets of Buddhism is that we do not escape suffering. We must understand and come to terms with it. This requires quite a bit more work than just developing a state of attention. The other six steps were in fact, essential to complete this journey. 

In the next blog I will share about one of the greatest meditation masters of modern times, Swami Vivekananda, who takes the whole question of controlling our minds from a different angle. We will see how hours and smriti were exactly the same thing. Stay tuned.

*Previous blog.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mastering the mind (1) - the role of no's


How many thousands of no's do young children hear until they are six years old? 
Don't do this. Don't touch that. Don't talk back
Even the word infant means the one who doesn't speak - sort of shuts up and sulks in a corner. Silently we go on building up a resistance to no's even as we get into trouble when our curiosity gets the upper hand and we end up disobeying our elders. Hearing a no later on becomes a problem. 

Most religious traditions also have their commandments. 
Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't commit violence or adultery. 
Even then, we don't realize that establishing lists of moral and social rules, doesn't guarantee that people follow them. The first commandment of loving God before anything else is mostly put aside according to the convenience of the moment. He's often the last One we think about when things go wrong and we begin to suffer. 

Once a very good contact became the president of the São Paulo city council. He told me that his objective was to reduce the 11,000 municipal laws to 8,000. Even though in his mandate the number decreased, it doesn't seem that people's behavior has changed significantly. They still throw rubbish in the street and park in the wrong places. So much so, the so-called industry of fines has become an important source of the city's income. 
In essence,  progress has meant more laws, more judges and lawyers and yet more law-breakers and prisons. The pattern repeats. 

Many years ago I had just returned from a long trip overseas.  During my absence, the president had made a disastrous attempt to curb the country's rampant inflation, something I vaguely knew about. While visiting the south of Brazil, I was invited to participate in a live TV panel discussion about current affairs. Very quickly the subject became attack the president. When it came to my turn, without justifying what the president had done, I mentioned that I felt compassion for any leader in this chaotic world who tried to control what people do, when individually hardly anyone makes an effort to control their actions, let alone their minds. This more spiritual position was immediately jumped upon vehemently by the other panelists.  

Perhaps if someone early in our lives had taught us how to control our minds, all the chaos and the innumerable regulations that attempt to contain it would be much less. The problem is there are few candidates to teach us. Our elders hadn't learned this art either. Someone simply telling us no, or setting up rules and regulations was never a substitute for natural understanding and control of what to do and what not.
So we grow up with very flaccid mental and emotional muscles. Many who take up meditation claim that it doesn't work. They forget that, except for the lucky few, their minds have never really been working at an optimum. 

We learn to talk, walk, sing and even cook. No one has ever taught us how to think. Attention just flits around like bees in a field of flowers. We can be subject to up to 100,000 bits of mental flotsam and jetsam in one day*. Thoughts, sensations, memories, inspirations, ideas, feelings and desires all jostle for a prime position on the screen of our minds, as we observe the kaleidoscope that this lack of control produces of reality. Attempting to see things clearly through all these bits of our life floating around haphazardly is a permanent challenge. That's why sitting down, going inside only to come up against an uncontrolled mind, discourages many from meditation practice.

What to do? Learn to master the mind or just allow it to have its way? Is there a way to create an inner state in which control of the mind is a natural consequence?

In the next blog I will talk about this and also compare what is called mindfulness with more ancient forms of meditation.

* See a previous post: Think less, think better (1) - Learn to meditate

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Questions about the limited ego



Questions to help us understand and embrace our limited ego


1. Limited ego is the mediator or gatekeeper between my deep internal state of being and the external world.
Although the vibrational frequency of all signals that emerge from my deeper internal state may start out as positive, they lose power as they come their way through the limited ego filter/gatekeeper. Then I find myself unable to follow through on a pure, positive intention.
What do I have to do to relocate my sense of self in my deep internal state of being? How?
2. Limited ego creates a sense of identity on the basis of physical aspects such as nationality, culture, religion, gender, profession, possession, marital status, etc.
Even traces of a limited physical identity will keep me seeking a sense of accomplishment and pride on the basis of what I do and what I have. I will then find it difficult to think of myself as a child of God. The limited ego cannot really love itself so self-respect is continually undermined.
How can I fix myself in soul-consciousness as God's child?
3. Limited ego’s source of fulfilment is physical sensations.
An attraction to the temporary pleasures of the world is strengthened and reinforced by limited ego. Then I crave or rely on pleasure from worldly sources and the soul is unable to fulfil the spiritual craving underlying it. Limited ego stops me from havine an intense desire for spiritual development and using it to overcome my attraction to sense pleasures.
To what extent I have a burning desire for my spiritual development beyond the senses?
4. Limited ego constructs pride on the basis of acquired knowledge.
It believes that to KNOW is to BE, that ideals are reality. The limited ego builds castles on the basis of very little and expresses itself as subtle arrogance in my thoughts, attitudes, behaviours in relation to others. Then I am unable to have caring feelings for others (including service companions). I consider them less intelligent so I am unable to see how they can serve better than me because they have a spirit of love.
How much understanding and sense of charity do I have towards others whom I classify as having little intelligence, but however, have more spirit of service with love than me?
5. Limited ego prioritizes activities on the basis of a false scale of values.
So I am left having gained the world but losing my soul. The limited ego keeps me busy pursuing things that add no value to my divine development but convinces me they do. The limited ego shifts my perception of my environment so I see value in activities that reinforce ego.
How many things do I still do or chase that do not add value to my spiritual development?
6. Limited ego makes true things appear false and false things appear true.
The limited ego distorts everything I do to add emphasis/drama and make it more interesting or worthy of ignoring. I begin to live inside the story it creates and am unable to accurately discern what is real and false in my actual environment.
How real is my perception of my current surroundings?
7. Limited ego isolates me from others and maintains an illusion that I am separate.
This illusion allows the limited ego to judge and organize me and my life around things that interests it. Slowly I forget the natural beauty of the experience of the consciousness of ‘we’ or ‘us’ and dig an even deeper hole for myself to hide in.
When was the last time you were really in the consciousness of 'we'? How was it?
8. Limited ego creates a false sense of security in things that ultimately do not give me real support.
The limited ego creates dependences on people, possessions, and positions for my sense of well-being. The limited ego leads me to believe that I am indispensable or essential. Fear of losing things that I am dependent upon becomes a subtle limitation and produces many games.
If I lost all the things or people to which I feel dependent, I would still exist. How would be my experience?
9. Limited ego restricts and interferes with my spiritual development because it knows/suspects that this will ultimately lead to its extinction.
The limited ego convinces me to make excuses like ‘it’s human to make mistakes’. The limited ego creates doubts about the possibility of self-transformation and undermines my discipline.
What are the excuses (self-lies) that I frequently use so as not to make the necessary spiritual effort?
10. Limited ego has an enormous capacity for self-deception
It positions me as better or worse than I really am. This leads to blind spots in the way I behave and impact on others. The 'me' that lives inside my head gets out of sync with reality and refuses to believe that others see me in a way I am unable to see or reveal myself.
If I made a list of virtues that I naturally have and those that I need to improve, would they be the same list as those with whom I live and work closely?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Silent contemplation exercises


These are some exercises that I proposed for participants in a silence retreat in the Om Shanti Retreat Center outside Delhi, in March, 2016. They are based on the practice of Raja Yoga and they cover the most basic aspects. You will observe that the first step is very similar to what people call Mindfulness.
Practice the following exercises again and again, so the gradually you don't need to see the text, and they become recorded in you.

1. Centering in the present

Sit with your eyes slightly open. Become aware of the world around you. Listen to the sounds you can hear. Perceive the colors  and forms. Feel the air as you breathe in and out. Feel that you are in the center of 360° of activities around you. The past has finished and the future hasn't happened yet. You are literally in the present moment. The present is the only real time you have. Enjoy it for five minutes without thinking too much. Just have full attention on what is happening around you.

2. Centering in soul consciousness

Just as you are sitting on your seat physically, imagine a subtle seat behind the eyes, a few centimeters back from the spot between your brows. This is the seat where the  conscious energy or soul sits. All thoughts, feelings, desires and ideas, as well as sensations from the body come to this point to be processed. Sitting on this subtle seat you appreciate and decide about the direction you want to take. Spend a few minutes in this awareness of being the soul working through the physical body. Enjoy the sense of command this gives you.

3. In the center of your life

As a spiritual being, you are not only in the center of everything that is happening around you, but you are in the center of your life. There is a network of roles, relationships and responsibilities which spread out from you. You are connected through them to people, objects and situations. Just as the center of a circle doesn't move, you are still and calm in the center of your life and activities. As you become calm, this has an immediate effect on everything  that is connected to you. Without moving internally, enjoy serving your whole network with peaceful vibrations. Be aware that you are the creator of the reality of your life.

4. Experiencing your eternity

Become centered in the consciousness of being the soul in the body. Observe the  physical world around you without thinking too much. Observe the  present situations in which you find yourself, as if you are watching the scenes of a film. As a spiritual being going through a human experience, be aware that at some point in the past, you came into this physical body when it was  still in the womb of your mother. You were born, grew up, went through many experiences and now you are meditating on your true nature. At some point in the future, you, the soul will leave your body and continue on your journey.  This life then becomes a chapter of a book. You are the energy that gives life to the whole book and not just to this chapter. You are the conscious energy that continues. You have come from forever. You will continue forever. Because you do not have any size or physical dimension, nothing can destroy you. You are eternal. Stay in this consciousness for a few minutes.

5. The inner state of peace, love and happiness

When you are in a state of rest as described above, it has a chance to experience the deeper qualities which are innate in the soul. Become the detached observer and experience that when you are still, there is  natural peace, love and happiness. These are qualities which have always been in the soul. As we move from one life to the next (or one chapter to the next), many things are recorded on top of these original qualities. With time, you forget them. They become buried by the momentary desires and considerations. Since you have gone back to your inner center, you can now appreciate the difference between what you really are deeply and what you have become at this time in your life. Remain a few minutes in this deep state of spiritual enjoyment.

6. Connection with God, the Source of spiritual power

As a soul, you are not made of material energy. Your existence is in another dimension as well. There is a dimension of subtle light beyond this physical universe, that the different religious traditions call heaven, nirvana or simply, the home of souls. The one who we call God, Allah, Yahweh or Shiva also resides there. We try to connect up with that One in prayer. 
As you become centered in soul consciousness and aware of your innate qualities of peace, love and happiness, you gradually move away from the physical dimension and become a silent observer. Internally, you become aware of this dimension of light and come closer to that One who is like a subtle sun, radiating spiritual power. Mentally, visualize the meeting between the soul and God. Open yourself to receive the rays of that spiritual power. You will feel as if your battery is being recharged, that your love, peace and happiness are really being activated. Stay in that state of deep appreciation of your connection with the Source, for a few more minutes.

7. Relationships with God

That One, is not only the Source of spiritual power, but is also the essence of all relationships. Become centered in soul consciousness and  mentally connected with God as in the previous exercise.  Start a conversation with that One in any one of the relationships that you consider important. He is the Mother, Father, Teacher,  Guide, Friend, Beloved and so on.  imagine that the connection between you and God revolves around that relationship. Initiate and continue a conversation for as long as you want from your side as the child, student, follower, friend, lover and so on. Leave yourself open for the answers that come to you in the conversation. Remain in this loving interchange for a few minutes and come back recharged and ready to face the situations of your life.