Seven years ago, unexpectedly, I woke up one morning with a strong desire to meditate.
I’d thought meditation was a good idea for some time — but meditation was something that other people did. I’d tried it and it hadn’t worked out. But, here was this new feeling: “I must find God!”
This started my lifelong journey of meditation.
Meditate Without Fail
“Struggles of the battlefield pale to insignificance, when man first contends with inner enemies.”
— Paramhansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi
In the beginning of the spiritual path, it is good to dive as deeply as you can — you have an enthusiasm then, that, if put to good use, can serve you throughout the rest of your life.
Great! I would do the same. But it was harder than I thought.
First, I started having back problems. At times, I could only sit for 15 minutes at most. Then, there were other days that my mind was so resistant to meditation, it was all I could do to drag myself, literally crawling! (self-pityingly), to the chair in front of my altar, there to sit for a moment and finally flop over onto the floor.
I was determined to meditate at least some every day. This meant no vacations, no holidays, and no Sundays off. (Thinking back on this, I realize this absolute, unwavering method is not the route everyone takes to daily meditation, but it is what got me to a strong daily practice the fastest.) A funny realization is that I’d probably never been this consistent about anything else in my entire life.
And finally, strange to relate, my first meditations resulted in an unpleasant feeling of disorientation. (For at least a month, I couldn’t meditate at all: I read books of Paramhansa Yogananda’s instead.) There was a solution: Nayaswami Hriman guided me to meditate with my eyes open, in the beginning, and gave other suggestions, which in time cured the problems entirely.
But, in the beginning, I didn’t know that these problems had solutions: they all seemed like impossible challenges.
Back pain was a good example. Many meditators have experienced it — perhaps including yourself!
Once I moved to Ananda Village, over a year later, I went to see Dr. Peter Van Houten, an Ananda Minister and doctor at the local (award-winning) Sierra Family Medical Clinic. At this time, by one trick or another, though physical therapy, and perseverance, I was able to meditate for more than an hour at a time, but still felt limited by discomfort.
Dr. Peter offered some advice, and said this sort of thing is pretty normal — and that it usually goes away in “three to five years.”
The “three to five years” have since come and gone. And he was right! Now, it’s rare for any back pain to interfere with meditation. However, if you do have trouble with back pain, or any other medical issue, seeing a doctor is still probably the best first step to handling it.
As to the other challenge, the daily one of meditation itself — it became easier over time, and has been the most rewarding discipline of my life.
The Journey Continues
My favorite advice from that time period were quotes from Yogananda and Kriyananda like, “The only thing you have to do is never give up,” “The path is not really so difficult, if you but take it one step at a time,” and “A saint is a sinner who never gave up.”
Connecting regularly with Hriman, I continued to meditate and seek advice when I felt stuck, or was confused on some point. I owe a lot to the opportunity to have asked so many questions, and received such useful and kind guidance.
(If this appeals to you, and you don’t live near an Ananda center, you can email the Meditation Support hotline, or write in to Ask Ananda’s Experts. Coincidentally, Hriman often answers questions at the latter!)
Three months into my practice, I started taking classes at Ananda Sangha in Seattle, and began to meet fellow devotees. After a class on how to play the harmonium, Satyaki Brockschmidt, the teacher and author of The Harmonium Handbook, asked how long I’d been meditating.
“Three months,” I replied.
“Ah, those are the most difficult. Once you’re through those, you’re pretty well set.” Another man there agreed.
Hopeful words! Though I’ve had other struggles — some with meditation, some not — and also been blessed in many ways — including learning Kriya Yoga, and taking the vows of brahmacharya and discipleship — I don’t suppose any three months in my life have been so strikingly challenging or positive.
And here we are, several years later. Life is an adventure, isn’t it? Who can say with confidence what we’ll be doing even a year from now — and what new things we’ll have learned, or gained in that time?
Everyone’s challenges are different. We may face great tests, and reap great gains — usually they come hand in hand — but if we do, may we have the clear devotion that Swami Kriyananda did, when he said, during one of his own major battles:
“Divine Mother, you can take away everything, but you can never take away my love for you.”