Meet Logan, a YA living in Fort Worth, Texas. Logan shares some tips and stories about a day-to-day issue in YA life – training the senses.
I’ve been practicing Eknath Easwaran’s eight-point program of passage
meditation for five years now, and I must say, while I’m lifetimes away from
perfect, I do feel that I’m lucky to be a bit “ahead of the game” when it comes
to the fifth point, training the senses.
When I say that I’m ahead of the game, I mean that I have no moderate to serious addictions to anything, no debilitating dependences on drugs, alcohol, television, internet, or ice cream. I’m pretty health-conscious. Some credit should go to my parents for my good upbringing (nurture), and some to my genetics (nature) but probably most to karma/God/fortune/however you want to word it. But just because I’m a little ahead of the game, doesn’t mean I’m not in the game. And what a challenging game it is!
Training the senses may well be the most “disliked” of all the eight points. I mean, who wants to face their unhealthy desires in combat, let alone acknowledge they exist? It can be embarrassing, disheartening, maddening, frustrating, and annoying. Fortunately, passage meditation is not a practice of asceticism or complete renunciation, but a “come as you are” party, as Easwaran liked to say. It gives us the tools to gradually achieve our highest ideals, no matter where we begin in our lives. So, instead of getting totally upset about the mistakes we make and giving up on change, the eight-point program allows us to take baby steps, acknowledging our shortcomings, then learning from them, working with them, and being creative to overcome them. Sometimes we fall back a few steps, but that should not dishearten us either, only remind us to be patient with ourselves.
I’ve heard some anecdotes from long-time passage meditators saying that after beginning their practice, certain unhealthy habits and desires (such as cigarette smoking) just sort of faded away, almost without their realizing it. To put it one way, through a dedicated practice of passage meditation, our unhealthy desires are transformed into healthy desires. The problem is not necessarily the action itself, but the desire to do the action. As it says in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, “You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”
Now, to perhaps be more practical, more real world, here are some personal anecdotes.
Say it’s Thanksgiving. It is a well-known fact that holidays lead to overeating. You don’t want to overeat. You know what’s going to happen if you do: stomach pain, indigestion, fatigue, more frequent trips to the restroom; no one desires these things. But you do desire to have more and more of that delicious food in your mouth. What is one to do? I try to catch myself in the midst of this desire, to interrupt my stream of thought (it doesn’t always work, but we keep on trying!) and insert some mantrams right in between them, create a traffic jam, as it were, employ point number three, and slow down. If possible, I remove the temptation (“lead us not into temptation…”), move away from the dinner table, perhaps join my uncle in the living room where he is watching football (I have no interest in football, so I’m not in danger of over indulging myself in the living room), or better yet, go for a walk with some cousins. If the temptation is removed or avoided long enough, often the desire fades away.
Logan's meditation corner, complete with dog tail (lower left corner)!
Now, say you’re in college. Or that you’re married to someone whose job requires that you attend many social gatherings, most frequently, cocktail parties. In both cases, alcohol makes quite a few appearances. I was never much of a drinker myself, opting to go to bed early rather than attending the typical college party, so the temptation, the desire, in this case, was for the most part, not a big issue. If it were to be present, the same actions described above relating to overeating would apply. However, say you feel compelled to drink, socially, to fit in, to make those around you more comfortable (or occasionally, just for the heck of it). This is often the case for me at the aforementioned social gatherings – cocktail parties. At such times, it is in a way my “duty” to impress people, to entertain them, to be amusing, charming, etc. and, of course, to make them feel comfortable by following the norm. The norm is to drink alcohol, mostly vodka around here for some reason. Luckily, vodka is clear! Guess what else is clear? Water! I often fake a cocktail, requesting a sparkling water in a cocktail glass (sometimes I do have one, but that’s usually quite enough for me). In the context of college (or some situation where beer is more prevalent), I have been known to drink one beer (out of a brown bottle) and fill it back up with water after that.
I know, I know, this may seem deceitful, but in some cases explaining my spiritual decisions is impractical. There is a time and place, but, unfortunately, that time and place is usually not in Texas at a fancy opera cocktail party or at a loud college frat house, whatever the case may be. And of course, if it does come up, you can combine training the senses with putting others first– you can always be the designated driver!
And then there’s drugs. Drugs may be desirable for a variety of reasons, more reasons than there are drugs. College campuses are one place that many drugs may be found, but their allure is certainly not limited to students. Some people use them to escape from some negative emotion or situation; however, this type of escape is quite temporary and when reality has returned the problem is still present. Others use them for purely recreational purposes, but this may lead to a dependence on drugs to have fun, or at the very least cause unnecessary agitation of the mind, whether positive or negative, making meditation and one-pointed attention more difficult. Still others, the curious type, just want to find out what they’re like. Or maybe they are even spiritually curious, wondering what delving into the subconscious is like, as in the case of psychedelic drugs. This same curiosity, however, may also prompt them to try meditation, a much safer, more stable way to break through the surface of consciousness.
Whatever the case, whatever combination of desires lead to doing drugs, another desire can gradually begin to trump them. As in the Bhagavad Gita, “Though aspirants abstain from sense pleasures, they will still crave for them. These cravings will all disappear when they see the Lord of Love.” From my own experience, as I have continued to practice passage meditation over the past five years, my desire to go deeper in meditation, my desire to strengthen my sadhana and my desire to put others first (or you could say, my desire to see the Lord of Love) have increased while my desire to indulge in drugs (or overeating, or eating unhealthily, or…) has begun to decrease. This does not happen overnight (unfortunately), but healthy desires can be cultivated through the sustained practice of passage meditation. It’s quite remarkable, really, to see it happening in one’s own life, or in the life of someone you know.
Logan (center) visiting YAs in Northern California after attending a weeklong passage meditation retreat.
I’ll let Sri Easwaran wrap this up with some words from Volume I of The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, page 119.
“What is required for a long time is our conscious effort, our sustained discipline, in restraining the senses. Gradually these noxious weeds of sense craving will begin to wither away if we do not yield to them. Even though the desires may arise in the mind, if we subject the senses to an external discipline, the desires will gradually cease to agitate our minds through the practice of meditation. . . In samadhi, when we see the Lord, the source of all joy, then we do not need any other source of pleasure. . . In samadhi, Sri Krishna says, we become complete; all the vacancies are filled, and there is no more craving.”