Meet Susana, a YA from Los Angeles, California. Susana shares how choosing and memorizing passages has impacted and strengthened her practice.
A couple of days ago I was listening to Sri Easwaran’s talk #49 of the Thomas a Kempis series. About 30 minutes into the talk, he said something that really struck me. “In following the spiritual path occasionally we try to go on a detour . . . and the spiritual path unfortunately has a regular series of detours. Once we yield to a temptation, whether it is in indulging our self-will or indulging our senses, we’ve got to come back all that way . . . ” I understood in that moment that I have been on a detour for quite a while, and it’s time to start making my way back to the main road.
I must admit that is has been about half a year since I last memorized a passage. Looking back at when I started my practice of the eight-point program two years ago, Sri Easwaran’s words of “a hero at the start” seem an adequate description. I was ablaze with passion to change myself completely; currently I’m walking around with a low flame. In a way, though, I can see that this lack of enthusiasm in meditation is a manifestation of how well the eight-point program has worked for me, and has changed my life for the better (more on how that makes sense in a bit).
When I came across Sri Easwaran’s teachings, I was in deep turmoil. Life was devoid of meaning. I have always been an avid reader and books were my only consolation. One day my Dad brought home some books for me he had found out on the street. Someone who had moved away had left them in a free box, and my Dad thought I might appreciate them. Amidst many books, I found Sri Easwaran’s Classics of Indian Spirituality. The box set was brand new and unopened. The rest is history as they say. The Bhagavad Gita changed my life forever, and I began to cling to Sri Krishna for dear life.
It wasn’t until a few months later, after visiting easwaran.org, that I discovered that Sri Easwaran was not only a prolific writer on spirituality, but also a teacher of meditation. After taking the free online course on passage meditation, I immersed myself in the practice and his teachings. I started memorizing passages that were offered as a free resource on the site from all the spiritual traditions: Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, they all inspired me. But my goal was always to memorize the entire second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Since it had come into my life, I read that chapter every night before bed, but it took me many months to commit it to memory from the time I started making a true effort. I would write down one stanza at a time over and over again until I knew it and then so on with the next one. Then the next day I would write out all the verses I had already learned to keep them fresh in mind before I began working on a new one. I would also make an effort to read the chapter out loud every day, that way I would be learning the passage with all my senses.
A sample page from Susana's notebook where she repeatedly copies lines of passages until they're committed to memory.
Coincidentally, the day I knew I had finally embedded it in my heart was the morning of my 23rd birthday. And in that moment when I first used it for meditation, I was Arjuna laying down all my sorrows at the feet of my Beloved.
Arjuna: My will is paralyzed, and I am utterly confused. Tell me which is the better path for me. Let me be your disciple. I have fallen at your feet; give me instruction. What can overcome a sorrow that saps all my vitality?
As they stood between the two armies Sri Krishna smiled and replied to Arjuna, who had sunk into despair.
Sri Krishna: You speak sincerely but your sorrow has no cause.
That smile and that answer was all I needed.
After memorizing the second chapter of the Gita, I started searching for other passages which spoke directly to God, to the divine reality underlying all things. I also searched for really lengthy passages, ones that would keep me absorbed in conversation with the Lord for my whole meditation session. Of all the passages I have memorized, the ones I love most are the 12th chapter of the Gita, God Makes the Rivers to Flow, and Psalm 119: I Am the One Who Will Never Forget You. These passages captured my yearning to be in conversation with the divine unity, to understand my true nature and live according to it.
Psalm 119 is that last passage I have memorized and I have been alternating daily with all my old repertoire. Meditation has grown stale and even my conversations with Krishna sound rehearsed. And the turmoil that was so vivid at the beginning of my practice has begun to fade, and with it my urgency to realize God. And so we come back to the irony that because the eight-point program has made such a positive impact in my life, now that I feel “better”, I find myself more easily distracted by the world and all its flowery detours. And it is true, sorrow does make for a wonderful teacher because lately the pangs of separateness have been making themselves felt again, and I find myself hurrying quite a bit to get back to the main road.
I know that memorizing new passages will be a sure way to get me right back again. I personally don’t own God Makes the Rivers to Flow or Timeless Wisdom, but have found many beautiful passages posted on easwaran.org. This very YA blog has also been a great inspiration to me by reading their suggested passages posted every month. It is wonderful to think of all us YAs meditating on the same passage together in our respective corners of the world. I’m currently working on memorizing the passage for March, Great Life-Giving Spirit, from the Native American tradition. This passage means a lot to me because since last year, I have made an effort to ground myself in my indigenous Mexican roots by participating in a temazcalli (sweat lodge) ceremony every month. To begin the ceremony, we pay respect to the four directions, the heavens, Mother Earth, and lastly the human heart which is the center of our own universe. At the ceremony I feel so grounded in unity. It is a beautiful space where we all come together to pray for each other, sing and share stories. No matter what color, race, religion, or language you speak, all are welcome. That is where I go to find communion with my Beloved Krishna. By memorizing this passage, I seek to draw forth that divine feeling of unity I harness at the sweat into my daily life.
I have about a 20-minute interval in the morning before work in which I sit down, read the passage out loud, and start writing out stanzas until I memorize it bit by bit. This method always works for me and it is soothing too. It gives my day deeper meaning, and clears my head before my work begins. I hope to have it memorized and ready for meditation soon!
Susana's been working on memorizing "Great Life-Giving Spirit" in her notebook (right) and has found it really resonates as she explores her indigenous Mexican heritage through temazcalli, sweat lodge, ceremonies (left).