There are probably as many reasons to learn meditation as there are people who take up this practice. Thankfully, there are also a multitude of approaches and techniques so each of us may find a practice that suits us best.
I will not try to speak of all of these possibilities, but simply share the essential elements of that practice which I myself know best both as a practitioner for over 35 years and as a teacher in the tantra yoga tradition. I came to the practice of meditation seeking a way out of the confines of my everyday mind, which I knew were limiting my understanding of life and my purpose here. I surely found this and more. That ‘more’ turned out to be the path to self-realization.
Yoga as a spiritual science incorporates a wide range of practices from yoga postures to chanting, dietary and ethical guidelines and more. All of these provide a foundation and support for the core practice of yoga meditation itself. In fact, the eight “limbs” of yoga practice begin with ethical principles by which to live one’s daily life and which were often, in ancient times, the focus of years of practice in order to perfect one’s character and lifestyle in preparation for the other “limbs”. The next include the preparation of the body and mind through asana and pranayama or yoga postures and breathing techniques. All of these supporting practices then facilitate the silent meditation practice which the final four limbs indicate.
The first of these is withdrawal. In order to ‘go beyond’, yoga meditation teaches us to go beyond the distractions of our day to day life by pulling back the field of awareness from the body, the realm of the senses , and also from the realm of the day to day mind comprised of memories and mundane thoughts.
Achieving this enables the next stage—concentration or the ability to focus the mind at will on our object of concentration. Yogis use mantra for this purpose. Not only is a yoga mantra an ancient Sanskrit word or phrase on which to focus the mind, but it also has a meaning and subtle vibration that uplifts consciousness by bringing it into harmony with the mantra and its meaning. So we use mantras with expansive, spiritual meaning.
The next limb is meditation itself. Through the process of concentration on a suitable mantra, we arrive at that unbroken flow of awareness of the ultimate Goal. We are very near in our experience of Ultimate Reality or Supreme Self.
And finally, we merge with that upon which we meditate. This final limb goes beyond practice. It is the final attainment of yoga which means “union”, union with the Self as that which we have always been and which is the heart and soul of the entire creation.
Thus yoga meditation is a journey home to our true self, to our Source which is the same in all beings. Once we know that oneness from our own experience, service to the Supreme is service to the whole world and we continue meditation as a service while we reach out with love and compassion to all others.
Tantra yoga, in particular, does not encourage us to withdraw from daily life in order to attain or preserve spiritual awareness and growth but rather to attain realization in the midst of life. For all of life is Divine and not to be shunned, but to be seen and served as a manifestation of that divine Reality itself.
Beth Wortzel is a yoga acharya or teacher offering individual mantra initiation and other teachings in the tantra yoga tradition. In addition to being a meditation teacher, she is a musician who, along with other members of Jaya, leads spiritual chanting or kiirtan regularly. In her other life, she is a psychotherapist at Harmonia Madison Center for Psychotherapy and has practiced there for almost 30 years.
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