Change happens all around us. But when we resist change or don’t actively work to change our circumstances or perceptions, we risk feeling dull, apathetic, or dead. The late, great Rabbi Alan Lew in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation” wrote: “But what would happen if every time we did something we completely disapproved of, we opened our heart to heaven? What would happen if every time we felt an impulse we didn’t like, we acknowledged its Divine origin? This may be the only change we really need to undertake.” He goes on to say “The real change is in the way we perceive the world.”
Wise teachers and leaders know that change has got to be more than just for show. Change is an inside and outside job. So how does meditation help us make change that lasts? There are more theories than answers. Meditation allows us to access “beginner’s mind,” to see the world with fresh eyes, and to feel that “inner squirm,” as in “you know, I really have to stop eating like this.” When we listen inside, our own conscience, our wisest self shouts loudly, even if only in a whisper.
Sometimes we feel so uncomfortable sitting there, we just have to change something. We vow to do so to silence that prodding voice. Try this:
1. Breathe in and out, using any breathing technique you like.
2. Become still and silent as possible.
3. From the silence, ask: “What wants to change?” Wait for an answer–it can be verbal or non-verbal, a subtle image, sensation, or stirring.
4. Ask “How will my life be different if I make this change?” Feel it.
5. Contemplate how you will start. Are you a simple steps person, or do you prefer leaping over cliffs? Create a suitable plan of action. For instance, a radical diet may be too much, but you could give up eating bread for a week.
6. Build in pleasant rewards and positive reinforcement.
7. A little bit of change can go a long way. It doesn’t have to be hard or subject to the “I tried, I failed” syndrome. The change was your idea and subject to your approval. As you like, get support along the way to make real change work for you.
When I first let go of control in meditation, I was sitting in a large, darkened hall with over 500 people, inhaling thick clouds of incense, waiting expectantly for “the word” or “touch,” two ways the Master awakened our seemingly dormant “spiritual energy.” This was the way of Siddha Yoga meditation and other yoga lineages for thousands of years. Novices were assured that only a chosen few became masters, gurus, heads of the lineage, and authorized to initiate ready and willing seekers. There was nothing to fear, since the “Sadguru,” (perfect or super guru) in the front of the hall, was respected throughout India and gaining a following in the West. It was all strange to me, but I decided to give it a shot. So why was it so hard to let go of control in the meditation, including physical body identification and self- (as opposed to Self) Consciousness, and merge with the One All Pervasive Universal Consciousness? I was open-minded, curious, but somewhat cautious. I never went hang gliding, diving, or sped down a steep hill on a brakeless bike. So it took some time in and since that first meditation, to let go of control, fear, and all their permutations.
Letting go of control is so beneficial. Good things come when we are open and not wedded to our expectations. I’ve never gotten a job offer by making an elevator pitch, but I have had conversations in elevators that have led to jobs. I’m not dismissing good elevator pitches, as they are terrific focusing tools, if nothing else. But synchronicity happens when we let go of the script and plan, and get out and talk to people. We’ll bump into someone we haven’t seen in 20 years whose son went to camp with our niece, and someone lands a job, dog, doctor, apartment, friend or fiancé as a result. We’ll enjoy close encounters of a new kind over a cup of coffee in our ‘hood. What does this have to do with meditation? Because it is the concentrated practice of letting go and trusting that the Universe has our best interest at heart, and knows more than our figuring out brain does. We don’t have to do anything special. Here’s a simple way to start letting go in meditation:
- Set a timer for as long as you like. Sit or lie down in a comfortable posture.
- Breathe in through the nose and out through nose or lips. Become aware of your breath as it rises and falls and inhabits the particulars of your body. Is it feeling tight in your throat? Is it opening up and lengthening the spine?
- Ease into awareness beyond form; you are not your body or the breath breathing you, but a subtle energy that expands out in infinite directions.
- Let go as far as your imagination will take you and feel yourself float in the deep end of your consciousness and beyond.
- A great way to let go is in the relaxing yoga pose of Savasana, or corpse pose. Lie down on a mat or rug with your arms to the side, palms facing the sky. Place a pillow, folded blanket, or towel roll under your neck so it’s elevated above your chest. Optional: Place a bolster vertically under the neck. It should rest to the small of the back. You can let the knees rest outward on yoga blocks or pillows. Or, use bolster under your knees or just lay flat and bolster-free. Props will allow a natural arch to occur, deepening the flow of the breath, so experiment.
- Relax in this pose before returning to the boundaries of your perceptions and physical form and coming out of meditation. Savor a sense of peace and rest. What have you really let go of, other than tension, fatigue, or excessive thinking? What have you gained by letting go of control for a few minutes?
For more on letting go, especially in the face of job and work transitions, take my class at the JCC, 334 Amsterdam Ave., Tues. July 23 at 7pm. Call 646 505-5708 to register, or visit www.jccmanhattan.org. Or, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
People often ask me “What kind of meditation do you teach?” or “Do you teach ‘Mindfulness’ Meditation?” If they are roughly over 40 or 50, they might tell me how they once did TM. I am never satisfied with how I answer their reasonable questions, and don’t promise to do any better here. I teach time-weathered techniques that will help a person to meditate, based on what I’ve learned as well as on my own experiences during the golden decades of the “meditation revolution” and since then. But after that, your experience is your own and up to you. Eyes closed and sitting still are standard prerequisites, but walking eyes open in a park or garden can be too.
I started studying yoga to fulfill a P.E. requirement in college, before the Age of Branding (of meditation and yoga). Later, as a spiritual aspirant, I, like many peers, studied a bit of Eastern philosophy, Kabbalah, Iyengar Yoga, etc. My eclecticism was subject to whim and personal interest. Meditation steers us to our own unique practice that simply defies branding, even if we are loyal adherents to a particular Path. Meditation leads us inward to explore our unique make up, observe our own minds and detach from identifying with our thoughts. Your meditation is the kind of meditation you do, with the tools, techniques, or teachers you acquire along the way. Call it TM, Zen, Shmen, Mindful, and whatever you call it, keep it fresh and juicy!
For now, stop and take five meditative minutes. Clear your mind. Then wonder at life’s synchronicities—the phone call by “mistake” that leads to a promising job, the “inner voice” heard that urges you to do something “out of the blue” that turns out to be beneficial or avert a disaster. Be surprised. That being said, here’s a handle on it:
1.Repeat a mantra silently or out loud. A beautiful one is “Aham Brahmasmi,” “I am That,” “That” being the Unifying Principle, Oneness, the Field or the Self, etc.
2.Give the mind its moment to chatter and then stop it in its tracks with a question, such as “What was I thinking?” It’s like going down a hiking trail and realizing you’re on a dead end path. You simply change directions. Surprisingly, the perfect way unfolds soon as you let it.
We don’t need to call this practice “mindfulness,” “awareness” or by any other name, But if you like names, you can call it Minefield Meditation as in “we’re in the mines, mining and minding our own business.” We can choose (or “mine”) the light of present awareness over the dark of past regrets or future worries. We can take away what’s “mine” and be left with the “field,” both a goal and state of meditation. Dwell in the field before going back to the mines.
Celebrate freedom this July 4th weekend by freeing your mind and being open to surprise.