What is meditation? By my definition, it’s any practice, technique or trick that quiets the mind and allows one to just BE. The goal of meditation is to experience at least a taste of pure bliss. This level of cosmic consciousness is described by a multitude of labels in different spiritual traditions including: Enlightenment, satori (a glimpse of enlightenment), one taste or the non-dual state, samadhi, moksha, heaven or nirvana, Satchitananda─pure truth, consciousness, bliss─being one with the Tao─and many more.
When clients ask which meditation will work optimally for them, I always say: “Go for your bliss.If you don’t get a taste of inner stillness─and you don’t enjoy the process of getting to this taste─then keep searching until you do.” That’s what I did!
My first introduction to meditation came when I was eighteen. My stepfather, who went on yearly silent retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemane, (Thomas Merton’s home), had a library of spiritual books. He shared with me his favorite: The Miracle of Mindfulness, by the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. And while it took me well over a decade to begin to grasp the simple but not necessarily easy concepts in this mindfulness primer, it has remained one of my favorites─as have all the writings of Hanh to this day.
During my early and mid-twenties I read spiritual and psychic books voraciously, ever-seeking my true path. From all of Edgar Cayce and the Seth books, to all of Ram Dass, Alan Watts and that trickster, Rajneesh, among multitudes of others, I was on fire with an urgency to not waste a moment of my life’s journey on anything that didn’t resonate with deep meaning.
My twenties was also a time of many scenic side-trips─that is before I got on the main track with the Saturn return cycle that heralded in my thirties. All my grazing at the smorgasbord of possible spiritual paths didn’t stop me from simultaneously indulging in hedonistic tendencies─”well honed from many past-lives of second chakra development.
This meant that, while I was engaging in my karmic desire rut of sex, drugs, and rare meat on the bone, I was also trying to experience all my senses and emotions as mindfully as I was capable of. (A detailed saga of my escapades in this area can be found in my memoir, Cosmic Sugar, The Amorous Adventures of a Modern Mystic, under the pen name, Leela Jones.)
When I was twenty-eight, I cleaned up my act somewhat through a commitment to sobriety and seriously developing my psychic gifts. At this time, I also chose to make peace of mind my primary goal in life. Not surprisingly, shortly thereafter I found Tantra─a spiritual path that was perfect for me.
In the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (by Paul Reps), in the chapter called “Centering” there is the “Vigyana Bhairava Tantra” which is translated as “techniques for going beyond apparent consciousness.” When I read this,I knew I’d found what I’d been seeking. In this 5000 year-old Sanskrit text, there are 112 meditation techniques for 112 different personality types as told by Shiva to Shakti, while in loving embrace. And when I read the one that said: “If you want to be happy, see all the world as a juggling show, a picture show.” (In other words, from the witness perspective, see all as Leela, Cosmic Play) I had no doubt that I was home.
Then when I read discourses on these 112 techniques in The Book of the Secrets─Volume I-V, (by Osho, aka Rajneesh), I was literally in heaven, I was so blissed-out! Osho called the Tantric path “Indulgence with awareness.” The idea that these ancient techniques from India─considered the foundation for many of the meditations that came much later in Buddhism, Zen, and Dzogchen, to name a few─had enough practices to keep me busy for lifetimes, still feels like the spiritual mother-lode.
Around the same time, I read Lao Tzu’s The Way of Life, (translated by Witter Bynner), which is the foundation text of Taoism. With this, I knew I had found an adjunct philosophy and way of being in the world that synergistically combined with Tantra to form the ideal customized vehicle for my inner journey.
Both of these paths encouraged embracing everything as part of the Divine, or the Tao. There is no repression of the senses, the desires, or the emotions─but rather techniques for accepting and working with All parts of being and life itself as the vehicle of awakening. Over the years, these Tantric techniques, in addition to mindfulness and Taoist practices, have become the spiritual toolkit I use for myself and for assisting clients in finding the optimal practices for them.
By the time I hit my early thirties, with a few years of sobriety under my belt and no more pot smoke to anesthetize me, I became very aware that my predominate default emotional tone was what I called “metaphysical angst” more commonly known as free-floating anxiety. This meant that while my externals could all be just fine, my internals were emotionally anything but. So, with peace of mind as my goal, I made a commitment to very mindfully dissolve this fear every time it arose and replace it with faith in the Divine plan. I did this for almost a year, sometimes dozens of times a day and, by the end of that year, this anxiety had unwound completely and I haven’t felt it since. The miracle of mindfulness indeed!
During my mid-thirties, after reading Hanh’s Transformation and Healing, I experimented even more deeply with the emotions. All one summer, during a time when all my externals were stable, I sat in my garden for hours each day. I witnessed the arising and falling away of the full range of emotions─from sorrow to joy─from weeping to laughter─and back again. I realized viscerally that I was powerless over my emotions arising─they were just karmic impressions unwinding, (called samskaras in Sanskrit). I experienced allowing them to arise and flow away in the mindstream of the river of life.
Since then, I’ve been very conscious that I don’t need to pin my emotional states on external people, places, or things─or their comings or goings. But rather, I’m always aware that my emotions are internal formations first, and while I may have no control over externals, I do have power over what I choose to do with my emotions once they arise. I can either: repress, express them appropriately or not or, optimally, just witness them dissolve, as I did in my garden.
By age thirty-five, after doing a number of Zen retreats and yoga classes, I came to the conclusion that I received more benefit walking mindfully in nature than anything involving just sitting or static poses, especially in group settings, which I found distracting. At this time in my development, because of the speed of my monkey-mind, I still needed practices that predominately involved movement. I also knew it was time for me to start integrating my Taoist philosophy by grounding my body to the earth more through mind/body practices. In the Taoist tradition there are five forms of meditation: lying down, sitting, standing, moving, and sexual─so all levels of my nature would be covered.
For three years, I studied with a fire-method Taoist teacher doing spontaneous healing standing chi gung, which I loved but, unfortunately, wasn’t what I needed. Isn’t that often the way? These fire-method practices were not insulating my finely-tuned nervous system and psychic circuitry or giving me the grounding wire I needed to the earth, but rather fraying my wiring even further.
Then I discovered water-method chi gung, tai chi and meditation─which is much gentler and slower in its effects. Because it doesn’t push, shake or pack chi─but rather allows it to move through the body with the intent of the mind, it was exactly what I needed.
I proceeded to study in this lineage for over ten years, with one main teacher for retreats, and some of his senior students for weekly classes (up to five hours a week), and then through my late forties with another Taoist teacher for some more advanced practices involving self-healing.
This brings me up to the years from 2001-2005, during which I integrating all the Taoist practices I had learned by doing them daily, sometimes for hours at a time─out in nature whenever possible.
By 2005, at the age of fifty-two, I was more grounded and stable than ever before through my daily sadhana─both Taoist and Tantric. As a major relationship was just ending, I felt it was time to be seriously open to finding my next spiritual teacher. I found a Naada Master from India who specialized in chanting sacred mantras, opening the chakras, and offered purification retreats to accelerate one’s development. I felt like I had hit the trifecta and then some.
For almost four years, I channeled all my energies into moving to the next level of my evolution. I got up at dawn to meditate and chant mantras, went to weekly classes, bi-monthly private sessions for tuning and opening the chakras, bi-yearly purification retreats, as well as summer and winter retreats, and finally a mind-blowing three-week spiritual pilgrimage to India.
By the spring of 2009, all of this concentrated spiritual work really began to pay off and I felt empowered to “own my own inner guru,” as my teacher described it. Since then, although I’ve unwound studying with him directly, I took all I’d learned from him and integrated it into the spiritual practices that I’m doing now.
So what do my daily meditations look like these days?
While I must admit that I don’t do a dawn practice everyday anymore (although it is the most powerful time to meditate), I’m still committed to doing it on the mornings after the New Moon and Full Moon every month. Instead, I try to do a sunset meditation daily, which is the second most powerful time to meditate.
My main practice in the morning before breakfast involves a minimum of a twenty-minute standing chi gung practice followed by a ten-to-twenty minute sitting practice. During the sitting, I start with some mantra chanting and then, if needed, to quiet the mind, I go up the chakras, visualizing each one and saying internally:
1. I am not this body (following each with “neti-neti”─meaning “not this-not that” in Sanskrit)
2. I am not my senses, desires, or gender.
3. I am not my roles or functions.
4. I am not my emotions, compassion, or desire for service
5. I am not my words, creations, or channel for these.
6. I am not my thoughts, philosophies or witness of these.
7. I am that I am: pure being/consciousness/bliss absolute.
After this, with the intent of my mind, I further dissolve down into the earth all the levels of chakra identity I have just detached from. By now, my mind is silent and I can just sit. The breath slows and sometimes stops. I AM pure being. No thoughts. Bliss spontaneously arises. And that’s how I like to start my day!
In the afternoon I do some yoga, chi gung and tai chi and, as mentioned, some sitting at sunset and then, just before bed, I enjoy doing my favorite chi gung practice, called “Gods Playing in the Clouds.” On nights of the New Moon or Full Moon, and especially at eclipses, solstices and equinoxes─I do Taoist meditation far into the night.
While it might appear that my journey has been long and, at times, circuitous to get to where I am now,from experience I know that the journey is infinite, just as new levels of awareness arising are infinite as well. And, knowing this, I can just relax and enjoy the trip!
In hindsight, (which is always 20/20), I can see that my relationship with the Divine through spiritual practices has very similar patterns to my romantic relationships with men. By nature, I seem to be a serial monogamist, with occasional grazing in between major love bonds. After I made a conscious commitment in my forties to make my relationship with Source the primary one in my life, my similar dynamic with men and the Divine became even clearer.
I saw that once the majority of spiritual gains have been made and there are rapidly diminishing returns on staying with one technique, path, relationship, or teacher─I move on. My priority is always on accelerating my growth optimally and not resting too long in the known, safe or comfortable as it breeds stagnation. And, if I pretend to forget, the Higher Forces always push me out of any nest that has become too cozy.
The key is to retain and utilize what I’ve already learned─just as in my heart-bond relationships, even once they’re over within linear space and time─the lessons continue to integrate and the heart remains open.
I used to joke that zazen was about as appropriate for most people as committed monogamy and/or marriage for life was. I figured that these paths were optimal for maybe 1-2% of the population.
But, since I hit my fifties, after decades of a mix of moving and sitting meditations, my monkey mind is finally quiet most of the time and I can just sit and BE in shakshi─the Witness.
Therefore, I would like to rephrase my former humorous appraisal and say instead that perhaps silent sitting practices─whether zazen, vipassana, shin-ne, Taoist meditation, or any other─are appropriate, whatever age, once the monkey mind is calm enough to benefit rather than just rebel. And, of course, they’re a good fit if it’s your natural karmic predisposition to enjoy silent sitting from many past lives as a good monk─rather than a rebellious one like me.
Given my inner nature, I have a feeling that, while I may ultimately end up on one spiritual path primarily, it will be one uniquely suited for me─which no well-traveled path could ever possibly be. So, I continue to take what I can use, leave the rest and focus on building momentum, balanced with periods, sometimes years or decades, of stabilizing new practices. And, of course, always cultivating gratitude for lessons learned from all paths, teachers and relationships.
In closing, I hope in sharing my journey as a seeker, it will allow you to own your own unique path of awakening.
Finally, I’m enclosing some of my favorite mantras.
There are many sources for mantras─teachers, books, websites and cds─as there are literally millions─but the Biij (seed) mantras are considered the most impactful. In addition, our faith and devotion to the meaning of what we’re chanting─doesn’t just still our monkey mind in the inner silence after the chanting─but can open us up to accelerate our karmic unwinding and spiritual progress.
Also, before chanting mantras, it’s important to learn proper pronunciation and breathe through your nose first for the maximum effect. You can check out this website: SANATANSOCIETY.ORG─for some audio samples. And there are several very good books on mantras by Thomas Ashley-Farrand.
AUM is considered the most powerful mantra─as, in Sanskrit, it is thought to be the original sound that created the Universe.
To become a servant of the Divine:
Om sri rama jaya rama jaya jaya rama
Mastering the elements/siddhas:
Om Namaha Shivaya
For removal of obstacles to abundance:
Om Lakshmi Ganapatayei Namaha
Om Suryaya Namaha
Om Hroom Adyitaya Namaha
Short form Gayatri:
Om bhur bhuvaha swaha
Om tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yonaha prachodayat
To be a true teacher:
Om shreem hreem kleem glown drahm dattaya namaha
Biij mantra for Krishna (2nd and 6th chakras):
Om Kling Krishnaya Namaha
My current favorites:
Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha
Biij mantra to Ganeesh─for removal of obstacles
Om Kring Kalikaya Namaha
Biij mantra to Kali
And, last but not least, here is my default mantra for any occasion in this lifetime, given to me very early on by my channels:
There is no time, there is no space, I AM in the Eternal Now.
In closing, here’s another of my favorite practices:
PRANAYAMA WITH VISUALIZATION PRACTICE:
This meditation utilizes the alternate nostril breathing technique from yoga called pranayama combined with the following visualization:
I. Inhaling through my left nostril, while holding closed my right, I visualize taking in all the baggage that I am ready to transmute from my past.
II. After my inhale, holding my breath with both nostrils closed, I experience time stop, as that part of my Self which is unchanging transmutes and distills from my past that which is essential for my growth and illumination.
III. Exhaling through my right nostril, while holding closed my left, I send this illuminated energy out into new future probabilities, untainted from any past preconceptions.
IV. Breathing in through my right nostril, I transmute any old preconceived future probabilities through the awareness of my Higher Self as I hold my breath.
V. Breathing out through my left nostril, I exhale and release the old probabilities.
VI. Breathing in through both nostrils, I experience that which is eternal and unchanging as I tap into the Divine programming of the Universe.
VII. Breathing out, I experience becoming One with the Co-creative Forces in a space that transcends linear time.
I close this practice by sitting and breathing in a replenishing place of Being in Source that transcends the ephemeral play of the Earth Plane while simultaneously being fully engaged in my role in it . . . and smiling.