Over the years I have run a number of long retreats, for students hoping to develop the higher stages of meditation. I have always tried to make the teachings and the experience that I have to share about meditation as freely available as I can . When I was being trained intensively by my teachers, the energetic approach to higher insight and concentration practices were extremely important to the progress I made . And so my meditation was only a part of a broader approach to my personal cultivation. Of equal importance during that time , was the energetic healing process, the purification of my body through diet and cleansing, the opening of my energy channels through chi kung, internal alchemy and breathwork, and the strengthening of my body through yoga postures as well as my meditation practice.
[groups_non_member group=”Registered”]When first my meditation developed my body was simply not fit, open and purified enough to manage the powerful energy that opened up within me as a by product of my intensive meditative training. On a number of occasions, I would have to go away into retreat for the purposes of strengthening my nerve system or purifying my chakra and energy body, or to cleanse by body physically. I also had to keep a very strict code of conduct, and it became obvious to me during my training, that if ever I wavered in my commitment to virtuous conduct and discipline, my meditation would waver, and in particular my concentration would lose its depth and stability to some degree.
[groups_member group=”Registered”]When first my meditation developed my body was simply not fit, open and purefied enough to manage the powerful energy that opened up within me as a by product of my intensive meditative training. On a number of occasions, I would have to go away into retreat for the purposes of strengthening my nerve system or purifying my chakra and energy body, or to cleanse by body physically. I also had to keep a very strict code of conduct, and it became obvious to me during my training, that if ever I wavered in my commitment to virtuous conduct and discipline, my meditation would waver, and in particular my concentration would lose its depth and stability to some degree.
These days, many people approach me asking for guidance in developing their meditation to a higher level. People are particularly interested in developing Samadhi, or Jhana. As long as their preliminary practice is sufficient and they have a solid foundation in the basic practices, I am in most cases willing to try to assist them. I offer instructions and guidance, but the one aspect that I feel few people pay sufficient attention to is the need for restraint in conduct and virtue with regards to their daily life. What is more, few are willing to make the effort to condition themselves physically in preparation. Although there are countless books available to us these days extolling the virtues of the awakened experience, and alluding to what it might entail, few teachers I feel highlight sufficiently, the absolute need for restraint, discipline and purity as a basis for higher spiritual practice. In many ways I feel this is a disservice to those seeking guidance, and in truth I am most likely also to blame for not making this point strongly enough. It is typical of our approach to spiritual training and practice these days, that we seek to strip it of anything that sounds like dogma, and of course, any insistence that we behave in a certain way simply because it is asked of us, of course sounds very much like dogma. But we should understand that these higher spiritual practices historically mark the end game in a long, often life long commitment to personal discipline and refinement of character.
So, if we have any aspiration towards personal awakening, we need to understand absolutely that the awakened experience is an expression of a totally purified mind. Even if we are not expecting to enter permanently into the awakened experience, we need to understand that to enter into it even for a brief time now and then requires the mind in that moment to be completely free from all impurities.
The word Arahant, which is the name given to one who has freed themselves from suffering without remainder , means ‘taintless.’ We need to understand that such rare human beings, freed themselves from suffering not because of coming to a certain view of the universe, or because they recognised certain principles at work within their lives, but because they removed all traces from their mind of any tendency or capacity to bring themselves or others to suffering. In short their minds were pure.
No awakened being reaches that state without purifying their minds of such things as restlessness, laziness, greed, aversion, and most importantly pride.
So it is important that we recognise that awakening does not simply involve recognising a capacity within us that may already be awake, but rather the removal from our minds, all mental habit patterns and tendencies that stop us from living consciously in such a state at all times.
So virtue, is the basis, the beginning, the middle and the end of the path to awakening. As is restraint and discipline. What is more, the currents of awareness that move through us in an awakened state are strong and powerful, particularly if we are going to enter completely into that state, and in order for that to happen our body, both physical and subtle, will need to be conditioned and prepared for this process.
And so it is simply not the case that seeking guidance and instructions on the meditative practices that lead to awakening is enough, even if we are taught well, learn well and practice diligently. The body and the mind need to be prepared, usually over a long period of time, if the practices and experience of awakening is to become embodied within us. This will involve a full spectrum approach to yogic training and disciplines, and not just time on the cushion, or listening to the teachers give discourses, or reading about it in books.
Life is about choices and it is almost always the case that we will have to give something up in order to gain something new that is important to us. We just can’t have everything. The life of the yogi is a simple life, of few needs. We need to be easy to serve and uncluttered by excessive worldly concerns of unnecessary material possessions.
Anyone who has it in their hearts to pursue the path out of suffering, should be wholeheartedly encouraged to do so, and I am fully supportive of anyone who is genuine in their aspirations. But please don’t think that it will be possible to carry along with you, the mass of conveniences and distractions we surround ourselves with these days in the modern life. Be willing to let go what you really do not need, so that you are able to realign your energy to your goal. And then understand that none of us are going to be close to the kind of condition physically energetically and mentally that will be required to succeed, when we first start out; which means we are going to have to be prepared to work at it. In the same way that no athlete reaches his potential without working at it, no aspiring yogi truly frees themselves from suffering without being willing to put forth great effort.
The process of awakening is a deep and profound transformation that comes about in us gradually as a result of deep inner and outer work. It is in the walking of the path that we find out what we are truly made of. It is while walking the path that we gradually transform ourselves, through a process of profound internal alchemy, as we gradually align ourselves with the current of the awakened experience itself.
So this may be the age of the meditation app, and mindfulness on the tube home at night, but understand that these practices have always in truth been for the purposes of opening us up so we can feel what it is to be totally alive and connected again. So if you are looking for more from your practice than a means by which to cope with stress in your life, if you are hoping, through the practice of refinement of character and spiritual discipline to experience the highest expression of yourselves, then it may well involve a more committed approach than that.
For those seriously interested in exploring meditation as part of a fully engaged approach to personal development, we are now offering long term retreats in a secluded and supported environment in the French Pyrenees, where I hope you will not just find the guidance you need but the encouragement and support to really progress with your practice.[/groups_member]