How to Experience the Divine Presence
The 8 Aspects of God
A friend recently expressed discouragement with her lack of progress in meditation. “I never see God or the Masters in meditation,” she sighed with great disappointment.
Realizing that she must have felt something, I asked her what she experienced. “I feel some joy, sometimes peace, and often deep devotion,” she replied. In that one sentence she showed she had actually experienced God, by experiencing three of His attributes — joy, peace, and devotion.
Even Paramhansa Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi, after repeated experiences of samadhi (mystical union with God), asked his guru whether he had found God. Describing his guru’s response, he writes: “My guru was smiling. ‘I am sure you aren’t expecting a venerable Personage, adorning a throne in some antiseptic corner of the cosmos!’ Ever new joy is God.”
Swami Kriyananda defines meditation as “that level of absorption when one has an actual experience of God, or one of His attributes.” The Indian scriptures define those attributes as peace, calmness, light, sound, power, love, joy, and wisdom. The more consciously we tune into those qualities, the sooner we will reach our goal of union with Him.
Swami Kriyananda has said, “God first comes to the devotee as deep peace.” The first time I ever knew I was experiencing God’s presence was during a walk in the woods as a teenager. The peace I felt was so deep, so refreshing, so blissful, that it actually changed my life. Through divine grace (I believe), I knew that this was God, and so vowed from that moment on to spend my life seeking Him.
The next time you are in nature, consciously try to tune into its peace. Be aware of the stillness surrounding you. Meditate there and feel that all your thoughts, your worries, and your burdens are being stilled and cleansed in that peace. Expand your awareness until it includes the trees, the mountains, the birds, the wind. Become one with the stillness that surrounds you. Feel that you are that peace.
Swami Kriyananda offers a guided meditation to help us feel peace. Visualize a lake with many ripples. As your thoughts become still, see the ripples slowly subsiding. Then see the water becoming calmer and calmer, until the lake becomes perfectly still. Remember that this peace you feel is God.
Although similar to peace, calmness is a much more powerful and expansive aspect of God. Swami Kriyananda describes it as a dynamic awareness experienced when uplifted into superconsciousness.
The following practice, recommended by Swami Kriyananda, is very helpful in feeling the expansion of awareness that brings deep calmness. Each night mentally build a fire. Offer into this fire all your attachments, desires and responsibilities. Imagine that you could die during the night, and that you would like to leave this world completely free. This is the attitude we should take into meditation. When we have this level of freedom from worldly entanglements, we feel that expansive calmness.
Many saints have experienced God as a great light. When we meditate and see the light at the point between the eyebrows, we are seeing Him as light. As Christ reveals to us in Matthew 6:22, “The light of the body is the eye: therefore if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”
Many devotional chants we sing at Ananda ask God to come to us as light. The first two lines of my favorite are “When I awake I’ll see Thy face; When I awake I’ll see Thy light.”
Call to God as light. Spend time in meditation gazing intently and with deep devotion at the point between the eyebrows, and you will see and feel His response there. If you don’t see light in meditation, then visualize God’s light bathing you, purifying you, and freeing you. Visualizing God as light can draw that experience to you in meditation.
Swami Kriyananda tells us that the easiest of God’s attributes to become absorbed in is sound. The AUM technique of meditation, when practiced with concentration and devotion can take you all the way to God. Yogananda said that “When you actually hear this sound and feel the Cosmic Music spread through every particle of space, then you will know God, and you will know that you know God.”
I’ve also discovered that natural sounds can draw me into a meditative state. The next time you’re out in nature, listen to the sound of the wind in the trees, water bubbling in a creek, or the singing of the birds. If you listen to these sounds as if they are the AUM vibration (in fact, all sounds are aspects of AUM!), it will help you hear the AUM vibration in meditation.
Another aspect of God is power or energy. Practice Yogananda’s Energization Exercises and experience divine energy coursing through your body. Express that energy in selfless service. As Yogananda said, “Lest in sloth I lose Thee, I will find Thee in activity.” You can practice feeling God’s energy while you walk, garden, do yoga postures — any time you move.
Physical exercise is a very direct way to feel God’s energy flowing through your body and mind. I’ve learned that no matter how tired I am, if I go for a run I always have more energy afterwards. Whenever you strongly put out energy, you draw more energy from the surrounding cosmos.
Tuning in to God’s full power can be awe-inspiring, and even frightening. I was once struck by lightning and though physically unharmed, I was sent flying across the room and into a wall. The feeling of God’s power, expressed in that lightning, is one I’ll never forget. This kind of power, which comes with divine attunement, we see in the saints.
Love is the one quality of God that draws all of His attributes. Without devotion, we won’t draw God in any of His forms. Always begin your meditation with a devotional chant and pray deeply before practicing any of the meditation techniques.
My favorite practice is to end meditation by visualizing Yogananda’s eyes. When I gaze into them with love and devotion, I feel bathed in his unconditional love.
A particular affirmation helped me a lot in developing devotion. When I moved to Ananda, I was a hermit by nature. It was easy for me to feel God in nature, but difficult to see God in other people. To overcome this shortcoming, I used one of Yogananda’s affirmations: “I will radiate love and good will to others, that I might open a channel for God’s love to come to all.” With this powerful thought churning through my mind for a couple years, I discovered my heart opening more and more.
“Ever new joy is God.” We often think of joy as something to strive for. Swami Kriyananda tells us that when we live our life with joy, rather than waiting for it to come to us, then we’ve reached the goal. I’ve learned that if I give joy to someone else, then in that instant I feel more of God’s joy. Try it! Next time you’re feeling joyless, share what little joy you feel with someone, even if you can only manage a smile.
Wisdom is the last of the eight attributes of God. By wisdom is meant soul-knowledge, the understanding that life is a dream and nothing matters but love. This understanding comes not from the mind or the use of reason but by the development through meditation, of the soul’s intuitive power of knowing. There is a beautiful chant by Swami Shankara, “No Birth No Death,” that awakens this quality within us:
No birth, no death, no caste have I;
Father, mother, have I none.
I am He, I am He, blessed spirit I am He!
No mind, no intellect, no ego feeling;
Sky, nor earth, nor metals am I.
I am He, I am He, blessed spirit I am He!
Feeling a little wisdom or joy doesn’t mean that we’ve reached our goal of union with God. In fact, we’ve just begun. But to the extent that we are aware of these aspects and experience then in deep meditation, to that degree we know God.