Last month we shared an interview with the BMCM Press and Editorial Team about the new edition of Passage Meditation that will be released on September 13th. The team shared that the new edition will have over 30% new material including questions and answers from retreats and talks. The questions range from short and practical to searching. This week we are sharing excerpts from the Q&A section of the new edition of Passage Meditation which is currently available for pre-order.
Excerpt from the Q&A section on Meditation:
Could you say more about signs of progress?
First and foremost, you will begin to consider the joy of others a little more important than your own. That will probably begin with your family and friends and then extend to your co-workers, but generally your sense of separateness from those around you will be less and less, so you identify with each of them more easily. And that will rub off on them too.
Secondly, your senses will gradually come more and more under your control. As you begin to look upon your body as a vehicle of loving service, for example, your motivation for eating will become very different.
What about during meditation itself?
I can give you a few little hints as to the signs of absorption. One of the earliest is that your senses slowly close down. You become so completely absorbed in the inspirational passage that there are no sounds, no distractions. As Teresa of Avila says, all the bees of the senses have come back to their hive and are sitting there quietly making honey. Sounds, though there may be a dim awareness of them, will seem at first as if they are coming from far, far away. Eventually you will not be aware of them at all.
Other physical sensations, too, will cease to impinge on your consciousness. All this will be like writing on water; these distractions will not have any effect at all. You enter a stage of what I can only call quiet intoxication, in which the body feels almost as if it were not there. This is the beginning of the loss of body-consciousness: the burden of the body seems to have been lifted; the weight of the ego has been laid down.
Second, as you get absorbed, you are no longer dealing with distractions or with the problem of sleep in meditation. Where you used to fall asleep, now you’ve learned that the very wave of sleep that used to overcome you can be ridden down into deeper consciousness just as a surfer does. When you see a wave of sleep coming from the depths of your consciousness, instead of lowering your head and succumbing, you can jump on the wave of sleep and keep awake, concentrated on the inspirational passage. Then you find that you’re not on the same old level of awareness; you have changed to a deeper level.
Incidentally, this conquest of sleep doesn’t come suddenly or by magic. There is a very difficult phase where at times, in spite of your best intentions, you fall asleep in meditation and are not even aware that you have fallen asleep. The way to break out of that stage is not during meditation only, but during the rest of the day. You go about being alert about your senses, not yielding to their tantalizing call. You look for opportunities to turn your back on self-will and repeat the mantram more; you become more particular about what you do before you fall asleep at night. This kind of vigilance will enable you to break through not only the last stages of the sleeping problem, but many of the other problematic stages as meditation deepens.
Third, the inspirational passage slows down greatly, but the theme is still clear and the connection is still intact. Please make sure, when the inspirational passage slows down like this, that you’re able to keep the connection intact! Otherwise, meditation has not slowed down; it has stopped, leaving you in Alice’s Wonderland.
This is a very poor attempt at explaining what cannot really be explained, but these are some of the signs that absorption is slowly beginning. But make sure that you don’t let go of the inspirational passage, and that during the day you follow all these disciplines with sustained enthusiasm: repetition of the mantram, training the senses, and particularly, opening your awareness to the people around and not letting self-will or selfishness come in the way.
Excerpt from the Q&A on the Mantram:
Is there a difference between “mantram” and “mantra,” as it is usually spelled?
They are the same word. Mantram is the neuter form, and that is the traditional way that kind of noun has been taught in India for thousands of years. In modern linguistics, the form used is masculine, mantra. There is no difference at all, but since mantra has become so common in phrases like the “Wall Street mantra,” I prefer to keep to the form I learned as a child.
You say that we should choose our own mantram, but that it should be one from your recommended list. Could you explain why that is?
Usually we receive the mantram from our teacher. In many of the Indian traditions, this is a secret between the teacher and the student. You are not supposed to tell anyone what your mantram is. Some people respond to that, and I have no quarrel with it whatever. But I belong to another tradition, which I call the tradition of the open hand: I say, “These are the great mantrams; you choose.” I like the intelligent cooperation of the student, and I try to help those who come to me to make a wise choice. The mantram still comes from me, but you can make your own choice.
In choosing, however, please don’t go by whether it sounds nice or it “feels right.” That is not the issue. Has it been honored by time, practiced by millions? Does your teacher give it? There are certain requirements for a mantram of which most people are not aware. That is why I limit the mantrams in my books to a very few chosen ones that can always be trusted because they are universal, applicable to all countries and to all people. They come to us already surcharged with energy.
Excerpts from the Q&A sections on Slowing Down and One-Pointed Attention:
I worry that if I slow down, I won’t get as much done.
Slowing down and one-pointed attention work together. Going slow doesn’t mean achieving little. If your concentration is one-pointed, going slow means achieving much. It is essential in this connection not to confuse slowness with sloth, which breeds procrastination and general inefficiency. In slowing down, attend meticulously to details, giving the very best you are capable of even to the smallest undertaking.
Somehow, in our modern civilization, we have acquired the idea that the mind is working best when it runs at top speed. Yet a racing mind lacks time even to finish a thought, let alone to check on its quality. When we slow down the mind, we work better at everything we do. Not only is the quality of our work better, we are actually able to get more done.
I’m still not sure I see the point of this. Why do you attach so much importance to slowing down?
Even to see life, we need to go slow. To enjoy life, we need to go slow. To understand people, to understand situations, to arrive at considered conclusions and to make wise decisions — for all of these, we need time. And this is just what is impossible in a speeded-up civilization; there is no time for anything.
Could you explain how one-pointedness can help in conflicts?
The person who can give undivided attention when others are being unpleasant is a real peacemaker. Slowly he or she can disarm the hostile person simply by listening without hostility, with complete and loving attention.
When you see opposition, do not get afraid. Look upon tough opposition as a challenge to test your inner growth—to see if your capacities have grown so that through patience, courtesy, and the depth of your conviction, you can win over your opponent into a fast friend.
But all this takes time, and it takes the capacity to concentrate. You have to be willing to develop these skills, which is the purpose of slowing down and one-pointed attention.
How does a one-pointed mind help with our interpersonal problems in general?
Many problems that we take for granted are not really necessary; they arise from attention getting distracted and caught without our consent.
For example, all of us are familiar with the toll negative memories can take. When they come up, they simply won’t let us alone. They claim our attention, and dwelling on them only makes them stronger. The mind gets upset until finally the body begins to suffer. But if you can turn attention away, just as you do in meditation, the memory will gradually lose its emotional charge. The memory itself is not lost; it simply loses its compulsive hold on you.
Again, when a friend has offended you, it is not your friend that causes the agitation; it is dwelling on what happened. Attention is caught, and the mind cannot stop thinking about it. When you go to the theater, you can’t pay attention to the film. When you go to bed, you can’t stop thinking about what happened, so you toss and turn all night. Dwelling on resentment or hostility or any other negative emotion magnifies it; the answer is to turn attention away.
Happiness comes when we forget ourselves, and misery when we can’t think about anybody else. This is essentially a problem of attention getting trapped. One of the greatest benefits of meditation is that it releases the precious faculty of redirecting our love and attention from our little selves so it can flow towards other people. It’s an exhilarating experience, because most of us have no idea of the capacity for love we have imprisoned.