Q: I live in a house with 2 kids, a dog, and noisy neighbors. Even during the early morning hours it’s never quiet. How can I meditate when there’s a lot of noise?
Sally: Include the noise in your meditation. Here’s one way to do that. When you first sit, consciously open your senses so that you are aware of your whole experience in that moment – the feeling of your clothes against your body, the sensations in your limbs, the temperature of the breath as it comes in and out, the smells around you, the sounds. Think to yourself, “All this is within my awareness. It is a part of my experience.” Have the feeling that you are surrounded and bathed by the sounds. The more you stop resisting the noise, the less it will bother you. And of course, there are always earplugs!
Q: How can I stop thoughts from intruding in my meditation?
Sally: It’s not necessary to stop your thoughts. What is important is that the deeper mind, the Self beyond thoughts, has space to emerge. When you simply let your thoughts be there, and identify yourself as the observer, the witness of the thoughts, you are actually in contact with the deeper Self. The Self is always lurking in the background of your mind, as the ever-present observer of your thoughts and feelings. The moment you step back from thoughts and let yourself be the observer of them, you are in the Self. It takes practice, but as you practice, one day you simply get it: “Oh, I’m not the thinker; I’m the one who knows I’m thinking.” The knower has a quality of clarity and simplicity. It’s calm. Even a momentary experience of that calm knowing part of you is meditation.
Q: How do I know I’m really meditating?
Sally: If you’re in a meditation posture, with your spine as erect as possible, making the effort to turn your attention inside, you’re meditating. If you’re making the subtle effort to let go of thoughts, or to observe thoughts as they come up without getting engaged in them, you are meditating. If you are focusing your awareness toward the inner Self, you are meditating. There are two aspects of meditation. One is the state of being in meditation, which Swami Muktananda once defined as the experience of the peace and bliss surrounding the Self. The second is the process of meditating, which is what happens when we sit in a posture, focus inward, etc. The process is what we do in order to enter the state, and it is just as valid and important to engage in the process as it is to be in the state.
Periodically, you might want to evaluate your practice by asking yourself, “Do I experience a quieting of my thoughts during meditation? Do I find myself more centered during the day? Have I touched the inner presence, the Self in one form or another, during my practice?” These are some ways of checking up on the progress of your meditation. Be aware, however, that the results of your practice might not show up in meditation itself. Especially in the beginning, you might have relatively turgid or mentally active meditations, yet find that your dreams are full of light or love. Or you may experience more insight and equanimity on days when you’ve meditated. So, another way of checking into your practice is to notice how meditation practice affects the rest of your life.
Q: Sometimes in meditation I feel a lot of emotion, not all of it pleasant. Sometimes it intrudes during the day. Is this a sign that something is wrong?
Sally: On the contrary, it’s a sign that meditation is working at a deep level. One of the benefits of meditation is a process that some people call “samskaric burnoff.” Samskara is the Sanskrit word for the buried thoughts and feelings that are layered into our bodies and into our mental bodies. These hidden feelings and impressions are responsible for a lot of our pain and unconscious behavior – because, as psychologists know, that which is unconscious tends to rule us without our being aware of it. Meditation releases a powerful energy that can literally sweep out the rooms of our unconscious mind, releasing and carrying away these samskaras. So when emotions come up in meditation, it is usually a sign that this clearing process is happening. All that is necessary is that you watch them come up and try not to identify with them. As you meditate, over time, these emotions get released and transmuted.
The important thing for you, in the moment, is to make it ok for yourself to experience the feelings. One way is to work with your breath. When you feel an emotion come up, focus on your breath, simultaneously holding the emotion in your awareness. Let yourself feel what you feel, staying present with the feeling and with the breath. Then, let yourself gently breathe the emotion out with the breath. Without pushing your feelings away or in any way trying to force them to be different, but without getting involved in them, simply breathe the emotion out.
Q: What is the relationship of Kundalini to meditation?
Sally: Kundalini is the energy that empowers meditation, and makes it possible to go deep into your inner realm. When Kundalini is active, meditation begins to be a spontaneous experience. In other words, the deeper self begins to reveal itself to us, whether as a feeling of energy, or love, or stillness, as a vision, as a sensation of being moved by the energy in the body, and in many other ways. Kundalini can be awakened by a Guru. It can also awaken on its own, through our practice, or through contact with someone else whose Kundalini is awake. Many people who meditate seriously will experience manifestations of Kundalini awakening at some point in their practice. Its awakening is often described as the true beginning of our spiritual journey. Kundalini is a divine energy-it is the dynamic energy of the universal creative power, and it is also the true source of all creativity. It exists within every living creature as the life force. However, the yogic tradition says that only in human beings does it manifest its potential to give us spiritual experience.
If you feel manifestations of Kundalini energy in meditation, the first thing to remember is that it is YOUR OWN energy, working within you to open you to the spirit within. Be attentive to the manifestations of the energy. Let yourself open to them. Relate to the energy. Pray to it, or in some way acknowledge its benign intention. If it feels too strong, you can ask it to quiet down, to be more gentle. If you feel that you need guidance, you can begin with some of the books on Kundalini listed in the Resources section.