Because our minds are so habituated to effort and striving, it may be difficult for many of us, even after years of practice, to simply let go. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has provided uniquely simple and profound guidance on how to free the mind from effort. The following points are really an elaboration of his three “Golden Keys to Meditation” – I want nothing, I do nothing, I am nothing, which directly address the core issues that keep our minds active during meditation.
A note of caution to our readers:
The natural temptation after reading this article may be to “apply” the tips. However, you would be best served by taking them very lightly. Just read them and then forget them when the time comes to meditate! Otherwise, effort will creep in, and by now you are well aware that meditation only happens when there is a cessation of all effort. Please feel free to discard whatever you don’t understand or don’t resonate with.
# 1 Become aware of the difference between observing and identifying with thoughts and feelings
Notice from your own direct experience how identifying with thoughts is accompanied by a sense of contraction. Observe also that the witnessing or observing space (Sakshi Bhava), where you’re aware of the flow of thought without fixating on the content of it, brings with it a sense of freedom and expansion. That expansion takes you deeper into the Self without any doing, and this is one of the keys to effortless meditation. However, don’t try to be the witness. Awareness is not something you do—it happens naturally when you let go of all doing. Keeping your prana high through pranayama and a sattvic lifestyle is essential to being able to effortlessly be in the witness space during meditation.
# 2 Be effortless without effort!
You may feel you have grasped the understanding that meditation is completely effortless, but have you really? Consider this: if you want anything from your meditation, if you are subtly seeking some experience, or if you want to be in a different place than the one you're in currently when you start your meditation, you are using effort. Wanting leads to doing, and this means effort. Of course you can't try to be effortless! What is the solution? Just notice your efforts, without trying to get rid of them. Where are you noticing the effort from? A space of effortlessness. Just that noticing is sufficient.
For those practicing Sahaj Samadhi meditation, effort can come through linking the mantra with the breath, attempting to mentally pronounce the mantra clearly (it can be just a faint vibration), counting the number of times you’ve used the mantra, using the mantra excessively to try and to get rid of something unpleasant, or to try to “get somewhere”.
Notice the habitual tendency of the mind to reject this moment, and to use effort in a quest for an imagined better future moment. Meditation is being unconditionally with what is. Recognize that meditation is not a journey (implying time) from where you are to an imagined better place. It is a complete letting go into this moment.
Seek the guidance of your Sahaj teacher if you are in doubt about any of these points.
# 3 Be totally neutral with respect to whatever arises during meditation
Don’t fight the mind and don’t feed the mind. If you resist thoughts, you are simply adding another layer of agitation to what is already there.
If you consciously continue to plan or daydream, you are no longer meditating. Don’t beat yourself up for planning or daydreaming without awareness. However, when you become aware of it and you have a choice of continuing with it or going back to your meditation, always choose the latter. If some insight or brilliant idea comes while meditating, know that it will still be there afterwards without you trying to remember it. Be disinterested in any thoughts or plans that come up in meditation.
Don't be besotted by exotic experiences in meditation. Be the witness to whatever passes through consciousness, be it lights, bliss states, visions, pleasant or unpleasant sensations, or strong emotions. Know that most of these phenomena are an effect of the release of impressions. Their presence or absence is not important. Let them come and go without craving or aversion. Or, if craving or aversion comes up, just notice that and relax.
Every emotion is accompanied by a strong sensation in the body. If unpleasant emotions arise, don’t try to get rid of them with the mantra (if doing Sahaj Samadhi meditation). In meditation, we don’t try to get rid of anything. If an emotion or sensation is so strong that it would be a strain to meditate, just be with the emotion as a sensation. If you allow it to be there without resistance, it will dissipate. After it has diminished in intensity, you can take the mantra effortlessly and relax.
The same applies to any especially strong sensation that may or may not be related to an emotion. Be very clear before you start to meditate that for the duration of this meditation you are going to drop all your activities and responsibilities completely. If you are meditating with the phone on beside you, you are unlikely to have a profound meditation experience. Being half in and half out simply won’t work.
Be willing to renounce the world completely for twenty minutes twice a day! Only then will your meditations consistently deepen.
You may feel like getting up before the 20 minutes has elapsed, and your mind may come up with some quite plausible reasons for doing so. The desire to end your meditation prematurely is likely to be a result of some gross stresses being released. So if the urge to get up is overwhelming, instead of giving in to it or trying to continue to meditate, just sit with that urge. You may notice that it transforms and you end up settling quite deeply.
# 4 Let go of all the labels you place on yourself (“I am nothing”)
Most of us have many concepts about ourselves. The mental noise generated by these concepts, which are often in conflict, is a major hindrance to meditation. Be willing to drop all those concepts that always relate to a false “me”, fabricated by thought. Feel the freedom of being “No Thing”—the spacious awareness in which all “things” appear.
# 5 Accept your mind the way it is
Maybe you have done all you can to prepare for your meditation but still your mind is reeling in thought. Just as you have been advised on your Art of Living Part 1 course to accept people and situations as they are, also accept your mind as it is without judgment. Just do some pranayama and sit and be with what is happening as best you can, knowing that the Master’s Grace is taking care of everything. Know that in every meditation, no matter how active the mind is, some purification is happening, and be grateful that you’re on the path.
DOWNLOAD THE E-BOOK FOR COMPLETE INFORMATION ON ALL PRE-MEDITATION TIPS for experienced meditators like you.
Inspired by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's wisdom talks
Written by Chris Dale