Have you ever asked yourself this question? If so, welcome to the club!
Whenever we are trying to reach a goal or destination, we want to see signs along the way that we are headed in the right direction. We generally want to know that we are making progress so that we can be encouraged and remain motivated. Otherwise, the logical mind asks, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?”
You can assure yourself that your meditation does indeed have a goal and a destination and that every time you sit to practice, you move closer towards that goal.
The goal of meditation is Self-Realization
“Self-realization is the knowing in all parts of body, mind, and soul that you are now in possession of the kingdom of God; that you do not have to pray that it come to you; that God’s omnipresence is your omnipresence; and that all that you need to do is improve your knowing.”
—Paramhansa Yogananda, The Essence of Self-Realization
Meditation is one of the most ambitious and valuable activities that we can possibly engage in. Signs of progress and encouragement may evade us if we do not know where or how to look. If we accept the mission of acquiring Self-realization when we initiate the practice of meditation, it becomes a sacred commitment. We are, in essence, answering the soul’s call to connect with the Higher Self and with God’s Infinite Peace, Joy, and Love.
Meditation is not in any way a passive activity.
Meditation is not in any way a passive activity. However, if we do not recognize the signs of our progress, we may become passive, complacent or even discouraged. In our meditation practice, it is important to note that we are never stagnant or standing still. In meditation and in life, we are either moving forward or slipping backward but never are we immobile. Life itself gives us feedback about the gains we are making such as good grades, a job promotion, friends, children, etc. — but in meditation, our gains and benefits may not be so concrete or easy to recognize.
The way we reach the goal of our meditation practice is with patience, daily practice, and step-by-step striving. Every day we must expend some effort to make and sustain that connection with the divine that meditation provides for us, as we move through the ups and downs of daily life, working to spiritualize every and all aspects of our lives.
How can we know we are making progress toward Self-Realization?
Yogananda’s definition of Self-realization above references the pure, unclouded awareness of oneness with God. In order to know something, we must first be aware of it. Meditation awakens and refines our awareness of His presence. Our souls love to meditate and our souls are the spark of God that glows in each one of us.
Each one of us also has an ego. The ego is defined as the soul identified with the body. We need the ego in order to act in this world but the ego thinks that it is in charge. It has opinions, attachments, likes and dislikes, and definitions — none of which is the true nature of the soul.
It is the little ego that resists meditation.
When we meditate and connect at the soul level, the ego is finally “put in its place.” It becomes the servant (as it was meant to be) rather than the master, but the ego strongly resists. After all, it is the little ego that resists meditation. We definitely would not be wise in letting the ego be the judge of whether or not we are getting anywhere with meditation because the ego is invested in making us think that we are NOT getting anywhere.
“We are manifestations of the Infinite; there is no other reality. When we shrink our awareness down to the little ego we suffer. When we expand our awareness to embrace a greater reality, we find fulfillment.”
Another definition we could use for meditation is remembrance. Meditation is remembering who you are in Truth. Meditate with positive, loving remembrance and expectation. Essentially, every time you sit to meditate you are making progress. Meditate and expect to experience God’s presence in one or more of His eight aspects in your practice and in your daily life. These are…
Joy, Peace, Calmness, Power, Wisdom,
Light, Love, Peace and Sound
Swami Kriyananda recorded Yogananda’s words about these aspects in his book The Essence of Self-Realization. You might find it helpful to make one of these qualities a focus for your meditation. If you feel a response, allow your awareness of this quality to expand beyond the limited vessel of your mind into the Infinite. Here is an excerpt from this chapter.
There are eight aspects in which God can be experienced: Light, Sound, Peace, Calmness, Love, Joy, Wisdom, and Power.
To experience Him as Light during meditation brings calmness to the mind, purifying it and giving it clarity. The more deeply one contemplates the inner light, the more one perceives all things as made of that light.
To experience God as Sound is to commune with the Holy Ghost, or Aum, the Cosmic Vibration. When you are immersed in Aum, nothing can touch you. Aum raises the mind above the delusions of human existence, into the pure skies of divine consciousness.
Peace is an early meditative experience. Peace, like a weightless waterfall, cleanses the mind of all anxiety and care, bestowing heavenly relief.
Calmness is another divine experience. This aspect of God is more dynamic and more powerful than that of Peace. Calmness gives the devotee power to overcome all the obstacles in his life. Even in human affairs, the person who can remain calm under all circumstances is invincible.
Love is another aspect of God—not personal love, but Love infinite. Those who live in ego-consciousness think of impersonal love as cold and abstract. But divine love is all-absorbing, and infinitely comforting. It is impersonal only in the sense that it is utterly untainted by selfish desire. The unity one finds in divine love is possible only to the soul. It cannot be experienced by the ego.
Divine joy is like millions of earthly joys crushed into one.
Joy is another aspect of God. Divine joy is like millions of earthly joys crushed into one. The quest for human happiness is like looking around for a candle while sitting out of doors in the sun. Divine joy surrounds us eternally, yet people look to mere things for their happiness. Mostly, all they find is relief from emotional or physical pain. But divine joy is the blazing Reality. Before it, earthly joys are but shadows.
Wisdom is intuitive insight, not intellectual understanding. The difference between human and divine wisdom is that the human mind comes at things indirectly, from without. The scientist, for example, investigates the atom objectively. But the yogi becomes the atom. Divine perception is always from within. From within alone can a thing be understood in its true essence.
Power, finally, is that aspect of God which creates and runs the universe. Imagine what power it took to bring the galaxies into existence! Masters manifest some of that power in their lives. The expression, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” describes only one side of Jesus’ nature. The other side was revealed in the power with which he drove the money- changers from the temple. Just think what magnetism it took to combat single-handedly all those men, entrenched as they were in habits and desires that had been sanctioned by ancient custom!
Meditate with relaxation. Use your positive and high expectations to help you refocus the wandering mind as often as needed. Meditate with your will linked to God’s will on your behalf. Use that will to focus your concentration at the spiritual eye, the point between the eyebrows.
There is no need to be judgmental about the fact that the mind wanders. You only need to be determined to notice and bring it back, every few seconds if necessary. The neural connections in our brain physically change to support our determined effort to focus.
Build a habit of concentration. Put your brain on a training schedule to improve concentration! Yogananda advised that we keep our focus at the spiritual eye not only during meditation but also during our daily activities.
BUT Is it possible to speed things up?
Doubt is the great enemy of Self-realization. It clouds our consciousness and reduces the flow of energy we need to go deep in meditation. It also dampens our heart’s desire for God and our enthusiasm for meditation. Replace doubt with positive expectations. Remember and be aware. Meditation has the power to change every aspect of your life. Our spiritual practice should not be confined to the meditation room.
When I contemplated the question of whether or not meditation was working for me, I decided to make a list of reflective questions. At first, I thought the list would be short but as I got going with it, the list grew until it covered so many aspects and components of my life.
Doubt is the great enemy of Self-realization.
The very act of making the list lifted me out of self-criticism and judgmental attitudes into an encouraging lightness and openness about meditation. Reflecting in this way awakened my awareness of how Divine Presence, once invited into our lives through spiritual practice helps to change, encourage, and uplift us.
I suggest that making such a list periodically for yourself when you want to strengthen your meditative efforts and monitor your practice. Work on your list at times when you feel inward and reflective, especially immediately after meditation. At that time you are able to better touch and feel your soul nature.
Here is a sample list of questions to help you get started. Add to the list, revise it, or create your own list.
Since I started practicing meditation…
- Do I have an increased sense of peace or calmness or joy throughout the day?
- Do problems bother me less than they used to?
- Am I less attached to having things “my way” and is it easier to flow with change?
- Do I feel a sense of purpose behind what I am given to do each day?
- Do I feel an increased connection and harmony with my family, friends, and coworkers?
- Do I have a sense of connection to something higher?
- Do I have an increased flow of creativity that seems to come from a higher source?
- Do I have increased vitality and energy?
- Am I starting to look forward to my meditation practice and if I miss meditation, do I notice the difference?
As you read through this list or make your own, notice which questions resonate the most with you and which ones have evolved over time.
Yogananda explained that progress along the spiritual path is 25% our effort, 25% the Guru’s effort on our behalf, and 50% the grace of God. Our 25% requires 100% from us and our heart and devotion are central to our efforts. Meditation supports our partnership with the Divine. Every time we reach up a hand, the Divine extends two to us.
Receptivity: Engaging the Heart
Receptivity is the next step we need to take after developing our awareness. We need to engage the heart and be receptive to the presence of the Divine in our lives. I hinted at it earlier in the suggestion to meditate with “loving expectation.”
Meditation is not a business transaction or a mere set of procedures. It is a partnership with the Divine. Techniques done mechanically, without love or devotion may inhibit our receptivity. When we meditate and throughout our day, we should offer our loving efforts to God at the spiritual eye and receive His presence in our hearts. Our heart’s desire for the Divine’s presence must be there.
Ultimately, we will all reach the point of recognition that behind all of our worldly desires is the longing for true happiness that can only be found through our connection with God. There is a beautiful Bengali chant, Door of My Heart, that Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda chanted often which fans this longing for God’s presence in our lives.
Door of my heart, open wide I keep for Thee.
Wilt Thou come, wilt Thou come? Just for once come to me.
Will my days fly away without seeing Thee, my Lord?
Night and day, night and day, I look for Thee night and day.
The ego’s clouds of indifference and attachment will be wiped away through our dedicated practice of meditation. It is truly a circle of joy: the more we open our hearts to the higher realities, the more God can come in; and the more God’s presence floods into our hearts, the more He can change us through His grace.
Meditation Practice is a Marathon Event
The practice of meditation is a long-distance run. We must train and practice accordingly to build our strength and capacity. Our meditation practice is a marathon event that requires courage, endurance, and persistence. The winner of a marathon FINISHES the race. In order to win that race, he or she cannot “faint along the way” or give up. If there is a fall or stumble, the tenacious runner gets up quickly and continues the race. Sometimes the runner sprints, walks or crawls but they never give up. The race for Self-realization must be run. It is the soul’s destiny. God himself is cheering us on.
God himself is cheering us on.
Watch the progress of your meditation practice through the eyes of God and your guru, if you have one. They see only your soul’s potential and not the ego’s limitations. You should see yourself as they do.
Many blessings for your meditation practice and in your life.
Nayaswami Mukti is an Ananda Minister and long-time resident of Ananda Village. She leads and facilitates meditation and spiritual life programs at The Expanding Light Retreat. She is also a key member of the Ananda Music Ministry.