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Lesson 366 - Suggestions for Under-Sensitive Meditators  (Audio)

AYP Plus Additions:
366.1 - Plateaus in Experience versus Under-Sensitivity to Practices

From: Yogani
Date: October 27, 2009

New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"

The first time we practice deep meditation with mantra, we are not sure what to expect. We may have heard many things about it the feelings of
deep inner silence some people say they experience in the very first session. And soon after energy experiences, visions, ecstasy, enlightenment, all in the first few days of practice! It is likely that some of the stories we hear are self-fulfilling expectations, perhaps even exaggerations of what is happening. Or maybe not. Who knows? In any case, whatever others are expecting or experiencing, it will not apply to us. Our experience is our experience, and it can't be measured on any other scale than what is happening in our own life. In other words, our experience is best viewed in relation to where we have been last week, last month, and last year. Not in relation to where anyone else is in their experience.

Sure, it is not a bad idea to have an idea about milestones, so we can make a better assessment about our practices and what is coming down the road (see Lesson 35). But it is not fruitful to be analyzing every hiccup in relation to everyone elses hiccups.

Sometimes people write after a few days or weeks of deep meditation to say that not much seems to happening. They sit, repeat the mantra for 20 minutes, rest, get up, and don't find their life to be much different than it was before. Sometimes people write after a few months or a year of deep meditation practice with the same statement: "Nothing is happening."

What are we to make of this? Why is it that some people don't notice much change in their daily life, while others are barely able to hang on with all the changes that are occurring, while doing the same twice-daily deep meditation practice?

We surveyed this in the previous lesson, looking at the broad landscape of sensitivity to deep meditation. Explaining the reasons exactly why there is a range of sensitivities in practitioners is much more difficult than just noticing that the range of sensitivities exists. It cannot be denied. What we do know is that the "matrix of obstructions" in our nervous system plays a key role in how practices may affect us, both while sitting and after we get up and go out into daily activity. Another word for that is "karma." We don't use that word with any sense of resignation. We know that the expression of karma can be transformed through spiritual practices (see Lesson 344). A primary tool for doing this is deep meditation.

For some of us who may seem to be under-sensitive to deep meditation, the matrix of our inner obstructions could be said to be more densely packed. By this we mean that there may be less space for awareness to ride the mantra into stillness, so going inward may be a bit slower. This is an entirely relative statement, because we are all "more densely packed" today than we will be a month or a year from now, assuming we are practicing deep meditation. It is the purpose of daily deep meditation to open up more space in our matrix of obstructions. Gradually, the space increases and the obstructions become less cluttered in our awareness as they dissolve. Our entire nature could be said to become less stiff and more infused with an openness. This is the rise of abiding inner silence. We may first notice this in daily activity as simply a bit more relaxation. Nothing spectacular is required. We might even become more aware of our negativity and "bad habits" for a time before things clear out enough for us to make some choices. Then we will relax a bit, and can move forward from there. It can happen like that.

It has been said that inner silence is our essential nature, and impurities/obstructions are only hiding it for now. It is like the clouds blocking the sun that is always present right behind. As the clouds are dispelled bit by bit, the sun, which has always been there, is seen more often and more clearly. In time, the sun (pure bliss consciousness) is found to be always there as a direct experience.

Regularity of Practice The Key to Long Term Progress

Way back in the beginning of the lessons we identified desire as the essential ingredient for undertaking and sustaining deep meditation and all other spiritual practices (see Lesson 12). Later on, we developed the role of desire further in our discussions on "bhakti," which is the steady flow of spiritual desire toward our chosen ideal. It is also called "devotion." All of which is to say, whether we are a beginner or an old hand in deep meditation, it is our ongoing desire that keeps us regular in our daily practice over the long term. So the key isn't whether our practice is producing quick results or not-so-quick results. The key is sustaining regular practice over the long term.

We have all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. The lesson is:  slow and steady will get there first.

That said, there are some things we can do that can optimize our progress, giving us a sense of forward motion, which can help motivate us to keep up our practice twice each day. If we are committed to doing that for as long as it takes, we can't miss. No matter what ones sensitivity to deep meditation may be, everyone must rely on consistent practice over time to produce the desired outcome. In that, the hare can take a few lessons from the tortoise.

Finer Points on the Technique of Deep Meditation

In some of us there may be a tendency to think the mantra on the surface during deep meditation. This would be holding on to a clear pronunciation and keeping a fixed pattern of repetition going. And perhaps also being intent about staying on the mantra, while being vigilant to not let any other thoughts get into the field of awareness. All of this could be described as "clunky" meditation. And it is in fact normal to go through this kind of clunkiness while settling in with the procedure of deep meditation.

For those of us who may be under-sensitive, this developmental stage of practice may tend to last longer, simply because more tightly packed inner obstructions are prone to hold the mind more on the surface. But this is not a serious problem. Everyone experiences it in the beginning of learning deep meditation, and often again when adding a mantra enhancement and other yoga practices later on. As we develop a clearer understanding of the finer points of the deep meditation process, we can move beyond the clunky stage. Then our meditations will be going naturally deeper and we can be confident that our practice is effective.

Lets look at the several key symptoms of clunkiness mentioned above, with pointers on how to get beyond them:

  • Clear pronunciation of mantra While we may be inclined to hold a clear pronunciation of the mantra "I AM" (AYAM), the procedure of deep meditation facilitates the gradual refinement of the mantra to become very faint and fuzzy, and disappearing into stillness. When we realize we are off the mantra, we can pick it up again where we left off, which may be at a very refined level. Going all the way back to a clear pronunciation is not desirable if we can naturally pick it up at a more refined level. When we have a choice between a clearer pronunciation or a fainter and fuzzier pronunciation, favor the latter.
  • Fixed pattern of repetition In the beginning we may feel obligated to keep a fixed pattern of repetition of the mantra. As with allowing the refinement of pronunciation of the mantra, the pattern of repetition is allowed to change however it may. So, while we may begin our sitting with a fairly regular pattern of repetition, as the mantra refines, that pattern may change and blend into stillness in a way that could not be called a repetition at all. It can be just a faint feeling of the mantra being there with no pattern of repetition. At some point we will realize we are off it, and we can easily come back to that faint feeling of the mantra again without the requirement for any particular pattern of repetition.
  • Keeping other thoughts out Thoughts are a normal part of deep meditation and we do not have to worry about them being there or not. If we fight thoughts, try to do anything with them, we will reduce the effectiveness of our meditation. When thoughts come, we just easily favor the thought of the mantra. There can be thoughts with the mantra, or not. It does not matter. We are not in charge of thoughts in deep meditation. We are only in charge of the simple procedure of favoring the mantra when we realize we are not on it, at whatever level of mind we happen to be during our session.

These are key symptoms that may be present if we feel we are not progressing as we would like with deep meditation, and how we can move beyond them. For full instructions on deep meditation, review the series of instructions beginning in Lesson 13.

The essential point to grasp in approaching deep meditation is that it is not about structuring anything in the mind. It is just the opposite. In fact, if we are putting too much structure into the process, we could get a headache or other symptoms of strain, which we call "forcing the mantra." We gain in deep meditation by losing the mantra (again and again), not by hanging on to it. That is the secret. If we take care of that in our daily sittings, everything else will take care of itself in due course.

If we are inclined to analyze our thoughts or the process of deep meditation during our session, the procedure is to regard this like any other thought, and ease back to the mantra. There is plenty of time for analysis after our meditation session is over. If the analysis keeps going on while we are favoring the mantra, this is also good practice, as long as we are easily favoring the mantra whenever we realize we are off it. Anything can be going on in the mind while we are meditating. Good meditation is not determined by what is going on. It is determined by what we are favoring when we have a choice, and that is the mantra.

At times we might feel that we are in a sort of day dream during deep meditation, not perceiving ourselves to be going deep. One minute we are thinking the mantra, and then after some time, we realize we have been thinking something else for a while. Or maybe we are thinking the mantra, and then we realize almost immediately we are thinking something else. In either case, we did not notice the mantra refining, becoming faint and fuzzy, or whatever. We just know that one minute we have been thinking the mantra, and then we realize we are thinking something else. No sensation of "going in." This is normal meditation also, and we can feel confident we are in correct practice if we are easily picking up the mantra again each time we realize we have gone off it. We have no obligation to be consciously refining the mantra. It is not something we can supervise. The more we supervise, the less we are meditating. Purification and opening are occurring as we keep repeating the process of picking up the mantra whenever we realize we have gone off it. The thoughts that come are associated with the purification and opening, so we can be glad to see them, and then easily favor the mantra, repeating the cycle again. Whenever we realize we have gone off the mantra, that means the mantra has refined and disappeared in stillness, whether we have had a clear experience of it or not. This is good meditation.

As our inner matrix of obstructions gradually relaxes with twice-daily practice of deep meditation, we will eventually notice our practice relaxing. There will be less clunkiness and more space between our thoughts. We may notice this relaxation and spaciousness creeping into daily living also. Perhaps those close to us will notice first. It all goes together. This is the process of cultivating abiding inner silence in life.

For us, it is enough to know that we are meditating correctly, allowing whatever comes in our sittings, easily favoring the mantra at whatever level we find ourselves in any given moment. With confidence in our daily practice, it will not matter if we subjectively perceive ourselves to be going fast or slow. So much of that is illusion anyway. As long as we keep walking, we will reach our destination sooner or later. It is a process of realizing that our destination has been with us all the time.

Adding Activities and Practices for more Penetration

One of the advantages of being "under-sensitive" is that we have more leeway for taking on more spiritual activities and practices, assuming we have the bhakti (spiritual desire) inspiring us to do so. The presence of bhakti alone is a strong indicator of spiritual progress taking place. If such progress is not noticed much, then it is surely going on underneath the veneer of our matrix of obstructions. With bhakti expressing as desire and a willingness to act, the light is already shining through, for bhakti is divine desire radiating from within us. Not only will bhakti keep us going in daily practices, but it will be participating directly in loosening the obstructions within us.

So, any kind of activity that promotes our divine desire will be beneficial. Much can be gained by attending regular spiritual gatherings, group meditations, retreats, etc. It can also be helpful to attend lectures and events with reputable spiritual teachers. It is possible for such activities to stimulate steps forward in our progress, which in turn translate into openings in our daily life. If we are active on our spiritual quest both while on the meditation seat and while off it, we will find an extra boost. As it says in the Bible, "Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will open." So keep knocking.

It is also suggested to take on additional AYP practices as presented in the lessons. Spinal breathing pranayama can greatly enhance the power of our deep meditation sessions, so that is the first addition recommended. But only when we feel stable in our deep meditation. Stability may not seem to be an issue if we consider ourselves to be under-sensitive to meditation, but we should at least be clear about the finer points of our practice as discussed above. We will be wise to be getting settled in one practice at a time. The last thing we need is a clunky meditation session preceded by a clunky spinal breathing pranayama session. So, give the finer points of deep meditation some time to sink in, develop some confidence in daily practice, and then go for the spinal breathing pranayama, which will also take some getting used to. The finer points of spinal breathing are also largely about letting go of too much mental structure, and allowing the practice to refine naturally. When we are moving into the finer points of both spinal breathing and deep meditation, we will be loosening those inner obstructions with the combined effect of two industrial strength spiritual tools.

Going beyond these two key practices is at our option. It will, again, depend on our bhakti. If we go into asanas, mudras and bandhas, this will be on the energy side. The only caution there is to not overdo it in the hope of achieving a big energy breakthrough. We surely might, and then we could find ourselves flung to the other side of the sensitivity bell curve, and having to deal with too much energy moving. It can happen quite suddenly. So be sure to self-pace, taking into consideration the delayed effects of all practices. Just because we are under-sensitive does not mean we can't overdo and end up in difficulties. So always heed the self-pacing guidelines in the lessons.

We also have the option to move into samyama, self-inquiry and service activities. Generally, for these, some rising inner silence will be the prerequisite for fruitful practice. Interestingly, while we may not notice much stillness inside, if we are strongly motivated to engage in these practices, it is an indicator that at least some abiding inner silence is there. If we are drawn to such activities, we may or may not find a smooth engagement in them. If not, we will be wise to back off rather than force the situation. The suggestion is to do what comes naturally.

Mantra enhancements are also built into the AYP lessons. These are additional syllables added to the mantra that slow down the mantra refinement process, while creating a wider sweep through the matrix of obstructions in the mind and nervous system. It is important that we be smooth with our meditation and are experiencing refined manifestations of our mantra before enhancing it. Otherwise, we might feel like we have hit a brick wall with a longer mantra. That is the ultimate in clunkiness. So, like other practices in the AYP system, the mantra enhancements depend on certain prerequisites for best effectiveness. We find this out soon enough if we get a step or two ahead of ourselves. No harm done. We just self-pace back to our previous stable practice and bide our time.

As the saying goes, "By the yard, life is hard. By the inch, its a cinch."

Self-Acceptance and Our Assured Awakening

Whether we perceive ourselves to be flying along in our spiritual progress, or moving very slowly, the most important factor will always be our acceptance of who we are and what we are doing in our life. If we know we are doing our best each day, we can leave the results to posterity. There is no spiritual experience or lack of one that can define our happiness. Real enlightenment is far beyond all experiences, yet it lives in the midst of the ups and downs of everyday life too.

There is something sacred about people who are solid and clear about what they are doing each day. Many who may consider themselves as being under-sensitive to deep meditation possess this gift the gift of steadiness. Enlightenment is not defined by those who are jumping up and down with kundalini, having all the drama that others might envy. That is a side show. For the most part, those who are in it know that the energy is just scenery. Those who don't realize that energy is scenery face greater obstacles than the under-sensitive meditator. There is no greater obstacle to enlightenment than a self-infatuated mind.

We are all traveling the path in our own way and in our own time. If we are able to accept our path and carry on prudently with whatever practices we have chosen, day after day and year after year, our awakening is assured. Indeed, acceptance is a sign of spiritual progress. Not passive acceptance, but active acceptance. We have also called it active surrender.

And if we find ourselves getting upset because we notice our same old bad habits happening again, stop and ponder a minute. Did we notice our old habits so much before? Could it be that our rising inner silence is giving us a clearer picture of how we have lived our life? The witness can cause us the pain of seeing. And in our seeing, we will be inspired to adjust our conduct. We will see that we can transform our raw emotions into positive bhakti. And we will see that we can inquire about our thoughts, questioning the truth of them with more clarity than we ever did before. The fact that we are becoming more sensitive to our condition is a sign of rising inner silence, and we are in a better position than ever before to do something about it.

If we keep meditating twice every day, being mindful of the finer points of practice, and taking advantage of the wide range spiritual resources at our disposal, we will find change occurring in our life. If we don't notice right away, surely others will notice benefits. With patience and persistence we will continue ahead. It is the same for all of us. Inner silence is rising everywhere.

The guru is in you.

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Note: For detailed instructions on deep meditation procedure, see the Deep Meditation book.  For detailed instructions on building a balanced practice routine with self-pacing, see the Eight Limbs of Yoga book. Also see AYP Plus.

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