Seven Secrets of Meditation, Part 5: Meditation Lifestyle
The development and deepening of our meditation does not depend only on the topics already discussed – sincerity, technique, aspiration, the grace which these attract – but also on the way in which other aspects of our lives impact on all these, help or hinder our development. Our meditation cannot exist in isolation from everything else that we do – it is supported, or conversely annulled by these things. This is the principle of holistics, the co-dependence of physical wellbeing, lifestyle habits, diet and exercise, the desires, thoughts and preoccupations that fill our mind – the mix of all these will have a considerable bearing on how quickly we can progress.
Consider first the physical body. If we are unwell, unfit, then simply sitting still in a chair to meditate will be difficult – discomfort, tiredness, restlessness will be serious obstacles and these negatives will flow into the mind as distraction, reluctance, impatience. The body can be a temple, filled with life force, health, wellbeing, prana – or a dungeon!
"The body is like a temple and the soul or inner reality is like the shrine inside the body-temple. If the temple does not have a shrine, then we cannot appreciate the temple. Again, if we do not keep the temple in good condition, then how can we take proper care of the shrine?"
Many spiritual paths, Sri Chinmoy's path especially, encourage physical excellence as a necessary foundation and starting point for any attempts to meditate, to achieve stillness in the mind and body. Hatha yoga also has this purpose, a rung in the ladder of self-development that cultivates suppleness, discipline, health – and through pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) focus and clarity in the mind. Any regular physical exercise greatly enhances our ability to meditate, removes blocked and trapped energies from mind and body and makes sitting in a composed and undistracted state quite effortless.
"If you value the shrine and everything else that is inside the temple, you will make sure that the temple is kept in good repair. Similarly, inside the body is the heart and soul. The shrine is within. We have to make the body a fit instrument to house the shrine; we have to keep the grounds of the temple in good condition if we care for what is inside the temple."
"We have the body and we have the soul. A spiritual person has to give equal importance to both [...] If someone does not get any exercise at all, then the physical will remain unlit, lethargic and a real hindrance to the aspirant. If the physical consciousness does not aspire, it will remain separated from the soul. Then rest assured, you will never be able to achieve perfection. The physical has to aspire in its own way to increase its capacity so that it can hold light. Then the physical will contribute to the spiritual and you will be able to aspire and manifest much more. So physical fitness and spirituality must go together."
Understanding this mutuality of mind and body is important, and good reason for those learning meditation to develop a fit and healthy body-temple.
Running (or jogging) is outstanding among the various fitness regimes in that it cultivates not only cardiovascular fitness and a calm mind but develops many inner qualities – aspiration/intensity/will-power/dynamism – that powerfully complement and promote the inner progress made in meditation. Sri Chinmoy's writings and insights about the relationship between running and spiritual blossoming are profoundly inspiring and likely to persuade even the most reluctant sceptic to head off to the nearest running shoe store.
"When it is a matter of running, all the members of the family – the body, vital, mind and heart – have to work together. It is like a family party. The head of the family has invited all of the family members to come and eat. Through running, the soul wants to offer a feast to all it's children. What running is doing is keeping the body, vital, mind and heart fit, so that the soul can get complete happiness. The soul is happy when it sees that all it's children have come to enjoy the feast."
"The body's capacity and the soul's capacity, the body's speed and the soul's speed go together. The outer running reminds us of something higher and deeper – the soul – which is running along Eternity's Road. Running and physical fitness help us both in our inner life of aspiration and in our outer life of activity."
For a more comprehensive discussion of this, go to Body-Mind-Spirit.
The Power to Change
For those undertaking a deeper commitment to meditation, gradually clearing away the unhelpful habits of our lifestyle will prove greatly rewarding. Smoking, drugs, alcohol for example all diminish our capacity to meditate, tilt the temple/dungeon balance unfavourably, subtract from all that we might become. It is helpful, irrespective of our age to feel young enough, open enough and free enough to still change, to believe that we have the power to choose what we will become – but to fossilize, to become addicted or attached to our bad habits to the extent that we are caught by them and have lost this power to change would be unfortunate.
"We can think of ourselves as two halves: imperfection is one half, and our sincere cry for perfection is the other half. One side is weakness, and the other side is strength. With our inner cry for perfection, let us run towards our destination and reach the illumination-shore."
The Role of a Vegetarian Diet
Many paths, my own included, recommend a vegetarian diet, since even the food that we eat has some measurable effect on the depth and subtlety of our meditation, the purity and stillness of the mind. Everything carries consciousness – the mild properties of vegetarian food induce a corresponding mildness in our own consciousness since what we eat – at least in the mind/body realm – in some measure shapes what we are.
"The vegetarian diet plays a most important role in the spiritual life. Purity is of paramount importance for an aspirant. This purity we must establish in the physical, the vital and the mental. When we eat meat and fish, the animal consciousness enters into us – our nerves become more agitated and restless, and this can interfere with our meditation. But the mild qualities of fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, help us to establish in our inner life as well as in our outer life, the qualities of sweetness, softness, simplicity and purity. So, if we are vegetarians, it helps our inner being to strengthen its own existence. Inwardly, we are praying and meditating; outwardly, the food we are taking from Mother Earth is helping us too, giving us not only energy but also aspiration."
"If one has aspiration, the vegetarian diet will help considerably: the body's purity will help one's inner aspiration to become more intense and more soulful. But again, if one is not a vegetarian, that does not mean that one will not make spiritual progress or will not be able to realise God."
This topic is elaborated upon in more detail in Conscious Living, a short feature encapsulating Sri Chinmoy own insights.
The above recommendations are not intended to sound disapproving or veering toward some moral high ground – they simply invite any serious practitioner of meditation to explore adjustments in their lifestyle that can be beneficial. The choice is always ours – and the true value of these suggestions is best discovered and tested in personal experience and our willingness to simply try. You be the judge.
Spiritual Books and Meditation Music
Just as the flow-on benefits of fitness, running and diet greatly enhance our ability to meditate and expedite the great journey of awakening, so too other positives can be explored. Some are simple and obvious – more spiritual music; immersing ourselves each day in reading about spirituality, about the lives and teachings of the masters, the inspirational accounts of others who have ventured along this self-discovering road before us. As the plant grows in the sunlight, the seeker's inner life is likewise nourished by the sunlight of spirituality – peaceful music, the literature of the realised masters, the still and silent haven of meditation itself. Simply increasing the daily percentage of our life devoted to these activities will greatly benefit us.
One way to effectively usher in some of these changes is to set weekly goals. Make up a daily goal setting chart, listing each day down the left column then across the top write down your specific targets – exercise, meditation (the morning one is most important but an additional evening meditation is very worthwhile), twenty minutes daily reading, no smoking/drinking (!), vegetarian diet… you choose! You will discover for yourself how very differently a week in which you meet these goals will feel to a normal week in which these resolutions do not feature. This very positive difference will encourage and inspire you about your own possibilities and make the notion of progress a palpable reality.
The deeper our meditation becomes, the more we can feel the guidance of our own real Self, the 'inner pilot' as Sri Chinmoy describes the soul. This inner wisdom tells us how to live in the outer world, what to do and not to do, what decisions are best – all the details of life are guided from within. Thus a lifestyle enabling this access to the soul through meditation is of incalculable value for it grants us great happiness – the soul's delight flows into everything that we are and do.
"Spirituality is a one-way road that leads you to your goal. Once you have embarked on your journey, you can't go back. The starting point is gone. Once evolution starts on any plane, you can't go back to the initial point. If you are consciously running toward the goal, then naturally you want to get there sooner than the soonest. If you want to run fast, faster, fastest, then you have to simplify your outer life, your life of confusion, your life of desire, your life of anxiety and worry. At the same time, you have to intensify your inner life, your life of aspiration, your life of dedication and illumination [...] At first you will see that the goal is right in front of you. Then you will feel that the goal is within you, and finally you will come to realise that not only is the goal within you, but you are the goal itself. Your own higher self is the goal that your lower self has been searching for."
(All quotations in this article are by Sri Chinmoy.)