Articles by Amrit Desai
From the October 1989-January 1990 issue of The Kripalu Experience
There lies within each one of us an infinite source of wisdom, knowledge, strength, power, and bliss that holds the secret and essence of life. Though its presence is hardly ever suspected or experienced, this innermost core is the source of everything we are searching for. The purpose of meditation is to access this unrealized potential‹the self that lies behind thought processes.
Most of the time what we experience ourselves to be are our values, goals, dreams, and achievements, but the true self buried beneath the self-image remains undiscovered. In other words, the personality‹the mask that we have developed, reinforced, and identified with‹preoccupies our attention, distorts our perception, and acts as an obstruction keeping us from the limitless self within.
When a person has lost self-confidence and self-esteem, it may be healthy to reinforce the self-image, but in the spiritual search we are looking for the self that is behind all images. Meditation is a process of unveiling this self by disengaging the mind from its constant chatter and emotional entanglement.
When you first try to meditate, you come to recognize just how much mental disturbance exists. The mind seems to have a mind of its own! It is constantly wandering away when you attempt to focus your attention, or worse, it is taken over by whatever emotional drama you are experiencing.
When you see that, you could be discouraged about meditation. Here you¹ve decided to meditate in order to become calm, serene, and relaxed; and the moment you try it, you find every reason to become tense and upset.
The first thing to learn is how not to be disturbed about the disturbances‹how to encounter what comes up in a way that will keep you from getting entangled and reactive to that which you want to release.
Meditation, then, is a method of learning how to remain a witness to whatever you are experiencing at any given time‹not judging it or yourself, not trying to find the answer intellectually. Instead of jumping in with the mind, you simply watch your thoughts and emotions. That¹s meditation: watching, watching, watching. It is simple observation without interpretation, without analysis, and without value judgment.
Once you learn how not to react to whatever it is you are experiencing, you will progressively reduce the internal disturbance. But that¹s not as easy as it sounds because we all forget again and again and slip back into our mechanical habits of daydreaming and emotional entanglement.
Even though meditation brings many enchanting visions and experiences, its purpose is not excitement but inner transformation. The experiences are only landmarks of the inner transformation. The process taking place on a subtle plane makes changes on a deeper and more permanent level, and these changes are more significant than the experiences themselves.
That is why it is important to drop expectations or any attempt to repeat an experience. Even to try to analyze meditative experiences can become a distraction. Whatever meaning is revealed naturally is fine, but any attempt to analyze the meaning is returning to the intellectual, which is what you want to transcend.
Since meditation is about quieting the mind and withdrawing it from constant preoccupation with external affairs, people tend to assume that meditation will make them more withdrawn from the external world, inferring that meditation and activity are incompatible. The point is to withdraw the mind without becoming withdrawn from the world.
Actually, the clarity achieved through meditation brings success regardless of where you choose to apply it. In fact, if meditation does not help you to function more efficiently and effectively in whatever you do, then meditation does not serve much of a purpose. If you cannot preserve the insights and the centering gained during meditation in dealing with the practical situations of day-to-day living as well as your spiritual awakening, then such meditation is meaningless.
Ultimately, the focus of meditation is not on enhancing external achievement but on transformation. As we access the ultimate inner source, real solutions emerge that no external productivity can ever achieve.
Once concentration of mind and consciousness have been developed in meditation, it will reflect in daily life. Then life becomes a flow, rather than a torture of disciplines to be enforced through regimens and struggle. Spontaneity, freshness, and effortlessness accompany the expanding consciousness that becomes apparent through every expression.
As we progressively come in contact with the inner source, life becomes a more and more fulfilling experience. While no spiritual practice can bring about immediate results, the process of opening and moving towards your own inner being in and of itself makes every step of the way a deeply satisfying and fulfilling experience.
This article was in the May-October 1993 issue of The Kripalu Experience.
Gurudev, why is it so hard to do what¹s good for our health and well-being? Why do we again and again start a diet, or a yoga practice, or an exercise program and then drop it? Is it lack of will-power? Too many distractions? Other priorities?
Gurudev: when we repeatedly go against our best intentions for ourselves, it is because of unconscious forces that simply take over our will. These forces show up as habits, reactions, fears, or continuous dependence upon what we¹re attracted to. So when we try to adopt new behaviors, it becomes very difficult to sustain our good intentions. Repeatedly, we get drawn back into self-indulgence. Our will-power is undermined, and we begin to lose self-confidence, self-respect, and faith in our own integrity.
I certainly know what you mean about the pull towards self-indulgence. What¹s that all about?
Self-indulgence is our attempt to dull the pain of a deep sense of alienation or isolation. This sense is pervasive in our culture. In fact, it is the foremost spiritual problem of our time. Because of the excessive value we have placed on personal freedom, we have separated and isolated ourselves from each other and from our common spiritual heritage. Community based on shared values has been replaced by self-seeking. The pursuit of personal achievement, power, success, material comforts, and pleasures has become our way of life.
Our deepest spiritual nature and purpose for living is fundamentally violated by isolation. So, it follows that almost every decision or choice that we make is driven by our need to overcome the pain of separation. We look to others to fill our emptiness. We look everywhere for approval, love, recognition, and acceptance. Individual self-seeking, instead of fostering independence, has actually created widespread co-dependence.
A lot has been written about co-dependence. How do you define it?
Co-dependence is a constant attempt to get from others what we feel is missing in ourselves. When we are co-dependent, we invariably have expectations of others. We make demands. But instead of dissolving alienation, this increases it.
For example, when I feel I need something from you, I will be afraid either of losing you or of your withholding what I want. So, I will try to control you. Naturally, then, you will resist me. Even if you give me what I demand, I will not be satisfied, because I will know that it did not come from your heart. Or I may bargain with you. Our spoken or unspoken agreement may be, "You give me what I want, and I¹ll give you what you want." But this does not bring either of us the deeper sense of unity we crave.
Because co-dependence cannot meet our true inner needs, we ongoingly suffer the pain of unfulfillment. To escape from this, we indulge in pleasures and distractions of every description‹food, sex, alcohol, drugs, excitements. Our freedom to pursue material prosperity and "happiness" turns into the freedom to destroy our health and well-being.
The freedom we value as our greatest blessing has become a curse?
Freedom without the consciousness to direct it means slavery to unconscious fears and desires. We may try again and again to give up our destructive habits. We resolve to stop smoking or give up alcohol or desserts. We embark on an exercise program. But how are we to be ongoingly successful in our efforts when we¹re unconscious of what impels us? And when the culture in which we live gives us no sustained, dependable support for change?
Company is stronger than will-power. When people around us are indulging in the habits we¹re trying to break, it is difficult to maintain our determination to change. It¹s like swimming upstream. And so, throughout our lives, we struggle with the same problems.
Co-creation provides the only lasting resolution to such problems.
What is co-creation?
Co-creation is the basic principle of nature by which life evolves and sustains itself. It¹s an expression of the principle that, by nature, we are all part of a greater whole, and that every whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Co-creation is found in all systems of nature‹whether it is in a cell, a body, or an ecosystem. In a true system, all parts are complementary, intimately related to each other; what happens to one part affects every other. No part goes off to "do its own thing," nor are any irrelevant or excluded. All are essential to the well-being of the whole.
Only human beings have the freedom to depart from co-creation. And this freedom‹to make our personal wants the focus of our lives‹has resulted in our lack of fulfillment and the rise of co-dependence.
Co-creation can resolve our basic sense of isolation and dependence; it can empower us to release our limiting and self-destructive habits. What we have been attempting on our own, without success, can be accomplished through the synergistic power of group co-creation.
How do we bring about co-creation?
For a group to become co-creative, rather than co-dependent, there are four basic requirements:
Commitment to a shared intention
Guidelines to support the intention
The practice of conscious awareness
The group¹s common, shared intention must be seen by every person as serving their own highest intention, their own best interest. Otherwise, they will begin to feel controlled by the group.
Groups may form with one specific intention, to deal with one area of dysfunction or distress in their lives, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and other 12-Step programs. At Kripalu Center, the primary intention for which people come together is personal growth and transformation. They are committed to recognizing and letting go of personal limitations and inhibitions.
Of course, intentions must be put into practice or they mean nothing.
For this, there must be a voluntary acceptance of guidelines adopted by the group. It is the support of the guidelines by every member of the group that creates the synergistic power of co-creation‹like the members of a rowing crew all pulling in the same direction. Everyone must recognize that unlimited freedom to do whatever they personally want actually undermines their highest intentions for themselves. Then they can accept guidelines as necessary for reaching where they want to go.
Let me give you an example. For members of Alcoholics Anonymous, the intention to remain sober would be constantly undermined if it were not for adherence to the fundamental principle of complete abstinence from alcohol, one day at a time.
Principles, guidelines‹these act like the banks of a river. They help to manage and control energy so that it goes in the right direction. Without them, a person¹s fears and weaknesses will continually interrupt his or her intention.
Yet even with guidelines, there will always be times when fears, desires, or the forces of habit threaten to disrupt the best of intentions. For true and lasting internal change, it is necessary to develop conscious awareness of the motivating force behind our actions. Without consciousness, we will lapse into co-dependence rather than grow into co-creation.
This makes sense, but how do we develop conscious awareness?
Between every impulse of desire and our reaction to it lies a tiny, momentary gap of time. What we do with that time is of utmost significance. When we are unconscious, we simply close the gap. For example, suppose we are tempted by a cookie. We either reach for it automatically or else berate ourselves for wanting the cookie and struggle to deny our impulse to indulge. In either case, we will remain unconscious of the motivating force behind our desire. With consciousness, which means non-judgmental awareness, we neither try to suppress the desire, nor do we compulsively act on it. We remain in the gap, simply experiencing what is happening internally, without being for or against it.
The key to widening the gap is to turn the attention from the mind to the body, to experience the energy of discomfort, of wanting, perhaps of disturbed breathing or muscle tension. Breathing, relaxing, and feeling the energy allows it to crest and release. The mind then becomes clear, enabling us to return to our intention. As consciousness develops, it becomes a self-regulating force, and we have less and less need for guidelines.
And, as we become more conscious, we begin to recognize that the path of selfless service enables us to break through our sense of isolation to create genuine community.
Through service, we align ourselves with the universal principle that we are all one, that when I serve the true needs of others, I am serving my own soul. Life is an echo chamber. I receive back what I give. As I experience this, I feel less and less need for reward or recognition. I begin to move beyond my personal fears, insecurities, and defenses, beyond my need to control, beyond my sense of alienation. I become progressively more open and loving. I feel a growing sense of harmony, of trust, and the joy of genuine fulfillment. And so, my need to indulge in escapes and distractions progressively diminishes.
Do you have to live in a community to experience the benefits of co-creation?
Communities are ideal, because you are daily surrounded by others with the same intention, practicing the same lifestyle.
But this is not possible for everyone. This doesn¹t mean that they can¹t practice co-creation. Over the years, many guests at Kripalu have been inspired to continue in their practice of the teachings and lifestyle they have learned here. They joined a Kripalu support group in their own town, or started one. And now the Kripalu International Network has been created to actively support these individuals and groups in becoming truly co-creative.
Co-creation is the answer to the deepest problems of our time‹personal, social, and ecological. All these problems are created by our painful separation from one another. So let us learn to live together in the spirit of unity, in the spirit of love. Let us learn that only in helping each other as one body, one planet, one creation will any of us realize the highest potential for which we were born.
This article appeared in the October 1985-March 1986 issue of The Kripalu Experience magazine.
Look around you. There are so many people who do not have peace of mind even after achieving great success in their lives and great material security. For years these people have looked forward to retirement, to having enough material wealth to experience freedom from worry. They dreamed that when they retired, they would have enough time and resources to really enjoy life.
But when retirement comes, and they have all the luxury, material resources and time to enjoy life to the fullest, what happens? The cherished dream turns into a nightmare for many of them. Their freedom becomes the worst form of punishment. They are totally unable to enjoy it because they do not possess the missing ingredient‹peace of mind.
Peace of Mind, Now
This does not mean that you should give up all concern for material security for yourself and your family. Not at all. Simply recognize that external security will never bring you the lasting peace of mind that you seek. Ask yourself "What is the true meaning of security to me? Is it simply external success and material prosperity? Or does it also concern my state of mind? My physical health? My emotional well-being? Is it for the future, or is it for now as well?" When you have the answers to these questions, ask one more: "Do I need to change my life, or my attitude, to provide myself with the peace of mind I seek‹right now?"
Peace of mind, like restlessness and dissatisfaction, is a habit. It is either nurtured or destroyed by how you live each day, each moment, of your life. It comes from within you, not from external objects or events. Because it is an attitude, it can be cultivated. Because it is a habit, it can be acquired through constant repetition and practice.
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools available to human beings in their search for lasting peace of mind. Meditation helps on two levels. First, it helps you to go within and find in the peaceful depths of your being, the answers to all your questions and searching. Second, it brings balance and clarity to your mind and strength to your will. These qualities enable you to transform your old habits of restlessness and tension into new patterns of health-giving peace and self-fulfillment.
Emptying the Mind to Receive Wisdom
Meditation is the process of emptying the mind so that it can receive universal wisdom, peace and love, which paradoxically are already there, deep within you, waiting to be contacted. In meditation you begin to dissolve your restlessness, your intense likes and dislikes, your attachments and your fears. You no longer see life in terms of opposites to be sought or avoided. Ultimately, when it is mastered, meditation becomes a spontaneously-experienced state of thought-free stillness and ecstasy. But in order to reach that very high level, specific techniques must be practiced to tame the restless mind, which has had a lifetime of unfettered activity.
All meditation techniques have one common goal: to help you achieve the stillness of mind that will allow you to make deep contact with your own inner source of wisdom, peace and fulfillment.
Kripalu Yoga Meditation-in-Motion
There are many different types and techniques of meditation. Each one is suitable to a certain temperament and level of spiritual development. Classical seated meditation, known as Raja Yoga, is usually practiced after a certain level of physical skills in Hatha Yoga postures has been attained. Kripalu Yoga is different from both of these practices, yet combines the benefits of both. It also eliminates the drawbacks they sometimes hold for Westerners. It has been my privilege to originate and develop Kripalu Yoga as a technique especially suited to the Western temperament.
In Kripalu Yoga, the body movements themselves are the focus of concentration. Specific ways of moving and breathing keep your mind totally concentrated on the movements you are performing. A deeply meditative state results‹one that is attained almost effortlessly. Kripalu Yoga leads you in five stages from the level of simple concentration to the transcendent stage in which both meditation and movement are spontaneous. At this level you experience an intense awareness of the divine nature of prana, the inner life-force, and a deep sense of inner peace, contentment and fulfillment.
The regular practice of meditation will bring profound and far-reaching benefits to your life, no matter what your age or background. You will first begin to experience a level of physical relaxation and inner peace that you have never known before, a peace which continues long after the period of actual meditation is over. Your mind will become clearer, more focused, more powerful, enabling you to make decisions and take action with greater ease than ever before. Your creativity and intuitive powers will be awakened. You will find yourself gaining the ability to remain calm even in the midst of stressful and conflicting situations. As a result of this increased calmness, you will experience a greater ability to accept yourself as you are. You will find that you also accept other people as they are. Your interpersonal relationships will thus become more successful and harmonious.
All these benefits will come from the regular practice of short periods of meditation. Kripalu Yoga¹s "meditation-in-motion" is the ideal form of meditation for those interested in holistic health, because it works with the whole person‹body, mind and spirit. It is holistic meditation.