While meditation, by its nature, is a time spent apart from the concerns of daily living, there are numerous ways that the changes brought about by meditation can be applied to our outward lives. Among the most important areas that can be improved are relationships, work, and health.
Little else in life brings us as much joy or as much pain as our relationships with others. We are constantly seeking fulfillment through friends, co-workers, and spouses or significant others. Yet most of the “choices” we make in our relationships are conditioned by individual past tendencies operating on a subconscious level, and by the magnetism of the cultural environment in which we live. Most of the time we react rather than act. Meditation centers us, strengthens our powers of discrimination, and reduces our vulnerability to the hidden persuaders of society. Through meditation we are able to become a cause rather than an effect. This is especially helpful for improving relationships. Ideally, we should become aware of ourselves and others primarily as souls, rather than just bodies and personalities. This realization needs to be gained first through deep meditation, in which it is possible to experience our own deeper nature. It is then relatively easy to transfer that expanded awareness to others. When we begin to relate in this way, profound changes can happen in the way we see others and in how they respond to us. Instead of demanding, even subconsciously, that they fulfill our “needs,” we can rest in the inner fulfillment and contentment that we experience in a meditative state. Thus cooperation replaces competition, and the joy of mutual giving replaces the tension of reciprocating demands. A great sense of relaxation comes as we realize that relationships are given to us primarily to help us learn and grow, especially in our ability to accept and to love. Relationships lived in this manner hold the promise of deep fulfillment. The marriage vows we take at Ananda end with:
May our love grow ever deeper, purer, more expansive, until, in our perfected love, we find the perfect love of God.
There is a technique that can be done in meditation for attracting the right life partner. After you have achieved a state of deep calmness, concentrate at the spiritual eye and send out a soul call to God to send you an ideal partner. Don’t concentrate at all on physical appearance, but only on the soul qualities. Now send out strong energy in the form of magnetism to attract a companion with qualities ideally suited to you and your journey. As your concentration and energy level become more intense, the power of magnetism will increase. Eventually, if the magnetism is strong enough, this “soul call” will find a responsive chord in someone else, and you will be drawn together.
This technique can be used not only to draw a loved one, but also to draw opportunities in other areas of your life. Once, during the Depression, Paramhansa Yogananda gave a public talk about using this power to find work. He told his listeners (many of whom were out of work) that if he didn’t have a job, he would concentrate at the spiritual eye and “churn the ether” until the universe gave him one.
In both these examples, the power of magnetism is paramount. Meditation helps us increase our magnetism in two ways: quantitative and qualitative. The power of an electromagnet depends on the strength of the flow of electricity through a wire. The same is true of the flow of energy in our minds. When we are no longer dissipating our energy by scattered thinking, the power of intention that flows through focused consciousness can become, literally, infinite. As the power of our thoughts increase, so does their power of magnetic attraction.
This works, unfortunately, in both positive and negative directions. We have all seen unfortunate examples of charismatic, but misguided, leaders and dictators, able to persuade others to their way of thinking.
Meditation also helps us expand and harmonize our sympathies and thereby channel our increased magnetism in more positive directions. One of the best things we can do with our life is to become a positive force in the world, to be filled with love, joy, and compassion, and eager to nurture others. Merely asking the question, “What would God want me to do in this situation?” can profoundly improve our lives and the lives of others.
If you meditate with a partner or loved one, you might try this visualization in order to increase the love and harmony between you. Toward the end of your meditation, start with the same visualization on expanding light that you learned earlier. As the light begins to expand beyond your body, see it surrounding and infusing your partner. Hold him or her in this light until it fills every cell, every emotion, and every thought. Let the light join your auras together. If there is any difficulty or tension between you, let the light dissolve it until there are no more shadows. This same technique can be done at a distance connecting you and others with a harmonizing energy.
If there is someone who is trying to harm you, it will only aid his agenda if you return negative energy. Instead, send a flow of light. If the negative energy coming to you is strong, you can help to block it by visualizing a cross of light deflecting the darkness, or a protective circle of light surrounding your body.
Work would be a lot more pleasant if it were seen as an opportunity for self-expression and growth, as a kind of meditation in action. One branch of yoga, called karma yoga, is described as “action without any desire for the fruits of the action.” How different this is from the typical modern job so often fraught with boredom, clock watching, office politics, and tension between workers and management.
Here is a revealing question: if you did not have to work for economic reasons, would you continue in your present job? Would you continue to work at all? If the answer is “no” to the first question, there is something wrong with your job. If it is “no” to both, then more probably your attitude toward work is the problem.
Work is better seen in terms of what we can give to it rather than what we get from it, in terms of personal growth rather than personal reward. Some years ago at Ananda we were rebuilding houses that had been burnt in the devastating forest fire I mentioned earlier. Everyone was pitching in, and consequently we had people on the carpentry crews who could be described, charitably, as less than qualified.
One day as we broke for lunch, the crew was discouraged because we were actually further behind than when we started the day. The head carpenter on the project gave us all encouragement and a chuckle by saying, “Well, let’s remember, we’re not building houses. We’re building character.”
In addition to improving our attitudes, the techniques we’ve learned for meditation can be carried over into the workplace. In fact, the three stages of meditation — relaxation, concentration, and expansion — can also be applied to the workplace. The same techniques that we use to relax before meditating can be applied, in a modified form, while at work. Good posture, deep breathing, and gentle stretching will help you stay physically relaxed. Pausing for a few moments to close your eyes and watch the breath will immediately get you centered and concentrated again. When circumstances permit, a short meditation at lunchtime can be enormously helpful. Staying centered will help you be expansive and creative in your work, making work a way to grow, rather than a boring necessity.
People make a mistake when they try to separate their experience at work from their spiritual aspirations. A much more integrated life can be ours if we try to infuse our day-to-day activities with the same consciousness we gain from meditation. The law of karma says that life reflects back to us the same attitudes and qualities that we express. Love others, and life will give you abundant love in return. To have friends, be a friend. The best way to find fulfillment from your work is not to worry about what you are getting, but rather what you are giving. And, the fastest path to self-fulfillment is to entirely forget about yourself and to see that you are part of a beautiful and vast web of life.
Paramhansa Yogananda said that the root cause of illness is the conflict between the soul and the ego: the soul trying to draw us toward an awareness of our unity with God, and the ego trying to convince us that we are separate individuals. The subconscious tension created by this opposition produces blockages in the flow of life-force, and ultimately, disease. Good health results from a strong unobstructed flow of life-force to all areas of the body; while illness, moods, apathy — in fact, all negative states — are symptoms of a conflict or blockage of the life-force. One of the great benefits of meditation is a gradual freedom from these conflicts as we achieve an integration of our consciousness. We are then free to experience our natural state of vibrant health and energy.
This is not to say that there are no physical causes for disease, for certainly there are. Rather, we should recognize that physical symptoms usually have their root cause in consciousness or habit patterns. At Ananda we have developed a system called Ananda Radiant Health Training. This system recognizes that illnesses, especially chronic illnesses, are multi-layered.
Basically, there are four levels: physical, energetic, mental/emotional, and spiritual. The “Total Health System” gives specific practices and techniques to regain control on each of these levels.
On the physical level there are three areas that can, when properly controlled, bring the system back into a state of balance. These are: proper diet, proper exercise, and toxin-free living. By bringing these three into balance, we can greatly affect our health, longevity, and quality of life. There is an enormous amount of material available about physical health, being not only an important goal, but also a national obsession. Yet, the basic principles are both very simple and very powerful.
Eat a diet composed mainly of fresh vegetables, fruits and natural grains, with some legumes, nuts, and milk products.
A vegetarian diet is best, but if meat is eaten it should be used sparingly and consist primarily of fish or fowl. Keep away from sugar and overly processed food, and avoid overeating. Fasting one day each week is one of the best and easiest ways to maintain a healthy body. But, don’t become a fanatic — balance your diet and then forget it.
A simple exercise routine will pay back many times its cost in time and effort. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day. Any exercise that makes you breathe hard will be enormously helpful. Aerobic exercise unleashes a process of better circulation, cellular cleansing, weight control, and glandular rebalancing, which helps on both physical and mental levels. For most, the best basic exercise is simply walking. But anything you enjoy is the best choice for you. Yoga postures are not only a good physical exercise, but have the added benefits of giving improved flexibility and balancing your life-force. Some weight-bearing or isometric exercise is also important, especially for bone density. This is another good reason to learn and practice the Energization Exercises.
Finally, on a physical level, avoid introducing toxins into your system. The three worst habits, and best to eliminate, are the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Any of these will not only take years off your life, but will also greatly reduce the quality of life. There is so much information available about this subject that virtually everyone knows that these three habits are self-destructive. It is not easy to overcome them, but meditation can be a great aid in making healthy lifestyle changes.
On the second level of energy, we must recognize the importance of prana. Our health is good when our life-force is balanced and strong, but illness results if it is weak, out of balance, or blocked. Many Oriental disciplines such as Ayurveda and acupuncture work with these subtle currents. The flow of prana can be increased by certain techniques (several are given in this book) that help us consciously enhance and direct these currents in the body. Paramhansa Yogananda devised a set of exercises, called Energization Exercises, which help bring the flow of prana under our conscious control, and send it to various parts of the body to re-vitalize them.
A second factor is our willingness on conscious or subconscious levels, which acts as a master switch. Energy is blocked when we say “no,” but flows freely when we say “yes.” To feel energetic, learn to say, “Yes!” to life. We will return to the question of life-force in the next section, but for now let’s continue with the four layers that produce radiant health.
The third is the mental/emotional level. Our thoughts and emotions are controlled to a surprising extent by habitual patterns. Evolution has made the mind exquisitely proficient at perceiving, evaluating, and reacting to stimuli from the senses. This process of sensory perception, recognition, and reaction takes place constantly, as long as we are awake. But two people can perceive and react to the same input in surprisingly different ways — differences that are largely dependant on the attitudes and tendencies that we have developed.
Daily thoughts and behaviors are like radio programs that repeat over and over with slight variations, like music on your favorite station. Normally, our mental radio turns off only when we sleep at night. Most people have little control over what plays through their minds, but when we change underlying attitudes, like tuning into a new station — we can radically transform our mental and emotional programming. There are two very effective techniques for changing underlying patterns: affirmation and visualization.
Finally, the spiritual level influences our entire viewpoint. We have a sort of spiritual “specific gravity,” determined not by religion but by our natural state of expansion or contraction. One might define spiritual maturity as the ability to identify with ever-wider circles of consciousness. People come into this world with an inherent “specific gravity” that ranges from dark, selfish, and contractive to joyful, compassionate, and expansive. Earlier we noted the beneficial changes that take place in the brains and physiology of people who meditate. Changing our brainwave patterns through meditation is the best way to raise our specific gravity. Meditation is the supreme tool for producing a sense of radiant health on physical, energetic, and emotional levels.