Most would claim that Meditation, (commonly imagined as sitting silently, becoming aware of the present moment or of ones breath), brings about a greater sense of calmness, clarity, serenity, and contentment. A break from the incessant chatter of the unstoppable inner voice clanging around in our heads. This of course is absolutely true. And then, there are all the benefits to our health, like reduced blood pressure, stress release, increased oxygen levels… it’s a long list, and all of it good stuff.
But what happens when we leave the cushion? When we roll up our mat? When the commentary in our heads starts running again? We are back in our thoughts, anxieties, and judgments. How quickly we lose our serenity and sense of ‘one-ness’. How easily we return to business as usual. Here is where we could be missing the greatest benefit that Meditation actually has to offer.
Let’s use the analogy of going to the gym or doing yoga, martial arts, or whatever physical pursuit scratches our itch. We do our workout, our practice or exercise. During and just afterwards, we often feel a nice warm rush in our bodies. Our bloodstream is flooded with yummy dopamine and we’re glowing and maybe even a bit high. Great feeling, but we know that it is not this immediate ‘hit’ that motivates us to keep going. What really gets us to commit to our practice is an understanding that over time, we are building and training our muscles to feel stronger, our heart and lungs to be more effective, increasing our physical ability and developing our body to work at its optimum. Making it as capable as possible of handling what modern life throws at it. We know we will be more able to deal with unexpected physical stress and strains, we’ll have less aches and pains.
We can dance all night, and do…other things.. all night. We feel less fatigue, more awake, sharper and fitter. In short, we become healthier and have a better quality of life.
Applying this understanding to Meditation is what will give us the secret superpower that is almost always overlooked.
When we meditate on a daily or very regular basis, we are in fact strengthening our ‘presence muscle’. That is to say, we are building our capacity to become present and aware when we really need it most – not on the mat or cushion, but when our sore points, our vulnerable places, are triggered in our ‘normal’ day to day activities.
When all is smooth and wonderful in life, we are mostly content, happy and connected. But when the shit hits the fan, when we are triggered, by our parents, our partners, our children, friends or work colleagues, it is in these moments of ‘reaction’ that we ‘lose consciousness’.
This moment is where we snap. It’s where we defend, rationalise, attack, manipulate and either act ‘out’ in aggression, or act ‘in’ through passive anger, punishment or just total shut down. This is when we actually feel the sting of abandonment, resentment, envy and fear in real-time and space. This is where we damage ourselves and others.
Meditation’s greatest gift, is that it can train us to expand that moment. It allows us to stretch that nano-second of time, just as we are triggered, offering to us an extra split second of hard-won presence and awareness. A capacity built over time, as we cultivate our ability to witness our thoughts and emotions from a higher perspective.
This little gap, this fleeting blink of an eye, is where the practice of Meditation manifests its most profound benefit.
In that extra interval lies the greatest power available to us. The capacity to choose how we will deal with the rush of pain, fear or anger welling up inside. It gives us the capacity to slow down time, take a breath and allow the emotional charge to subside, so that we can make a conscious decision about how we want to respond. This shift enables us to move from automatic conflict, towards resolution. From judgement to compassion. From anger to forgiveness. From fear to love.
It should though be understood, that this fundamental ability, this knack, is by no means easy, nor is it always welcomed by those around us. When we develop this capacity, we become uniquely empowered, as we step out of ‘character’ and no longer follow the scripts that have been playing out in the theatre of our lives. Others who are used to being able to trigger and control us, are suddenly left having to deal with their own thoughts and feelings, because we are no longer playing along and feeding the fire. We have learned to take each moment, each criticism, each comment that once had us lashing out in desperation and rage, and see it for what it really is…someone else’s inner world, their reality, not ours. We no longer take it personally.
This does not mean that we are no longer capable of hearing a valid criticism or are unable to receive feedback about where we can change, learn and grow.
We can in fact, remain more receptive, more discerning and better placed to make a healthy judgement as to whether we take on, or dismiss what comes our way from others.
With less fire and smoke comes clearer vision and understanding.
In the coolness of presence, we respond from our deepest, true nature.
This is real inner power.
This is ‘spiritual fitness’.
This is the secret superpower of Meditation!
Last year was the 40th anniversary of my becoming a disciple of the Indian mystic Osho. I was a sprightly and happy ten-year old, living in London, going to school every day, playing football, riding my bike, eating sweets, winding up my big sister. What most kids my age did back in 1974. Our house was the definitive hippy sanctuary. Big kilims and rugs hanging on the walls, and covering the floors. Mattresses covered in Indian fabrics, with huge cushions to match and of course the odd bean bag. It was a cosy, clean and happy house.
It had been already a year or so that the photographs of a bald, bearded, smiling Indian had come into this home. My mother was now going by the name of Leela instead of Lydia, since deciding to become a devotee of this chap with cute cheeks and a twinkling eye. I remember sitting and looking carefully at his small photo on the chest of drawers in her bedroom. Who was this Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh – this man, with his cutting, powerful, uncompromising eyes? I had seen the change in Leela, watching my mum become less stressed, less intense, more humorous, more relaxed, more…her.
One afternoon, sitting at home in our kitchen, I asked, “Mum, can children become sannyasins, could I become one?” She paused for a moment and replied, “I’ll find out”? I asked her to see if it was possible, saying I would quite like to have a new name. I thought it would be fun and different. She enquired and told me that we needed to write to the Ashram in India and send a photo. So we did just that. I found a photo and wrote a scribbly letter giving a little bit of info about myself. A few weeks later, I got a reply. I opened the envelope and read the short paragraph explaining my new name and what it meant to become a sannyasin. Hand written in the bottom right hand corner above a tangled flowing signature were three words – Swami Prem Divakar – ‘Sun of Love’.
I was something of a clandestine sannyasin for the first few years. I was still attending school in a uniform and occasionally wore my Mala of beads under my clothes. I was not ready to wear orange clothes (as was required of a sannyasin), around my school friends, it didn’t seem like a great idea.
In 1978, we left London for a Georgian mansion in the Suffolk countryside converted in to a commune. This was a time of mixed emotions for me but the summers were exciting, as huge crowds would arrive to do therapy groups and I loved helping in the kitchens and being part of the crew. I felt happiest when there was plenty of action and connection.
It was here one autumn evening that my sister and I were summoned to a ‘meeting’ with Leela and our Dad (who was now called Swami Neeraj). “We have an idea that we want to put to you” Leela began. “We want to go to India, to Poona to be with Bhagwan, and we know that this will mean taking you out of school”. “We want to try it for a year and then if you want to, we can return and you can pick up your studies again”. My sister (Who was now Anubhasha), and I were asked to go away and think it through. We left the room and went and sat in the big communal dining room alone. I was not a big fan of school but there were many elements of it that I enjoyed and being 14 years old was just about to start working towards exams. Bhasha on the other hand found school unbearable and hated having to go. She almost immediately said, “I want to go. I don’t care about school”. I felt a huge sense of excitement but also nervousness rising in me. “Ok, so we want to go then” I said.” “Yes, let’s tell mum and dad.” We marched straight back to Leela and Neeraj and told them how we felt.
The following February of ’79 we were on the Ashram in Poona and I was sitting in front of Bhagwan. He looked at me and asked how I was. “I’m happy to be here,” I said. He chuckled, “So do you want to work in the Ashram?” “I wondered if I could do some groups first” I asked. “Mm-hmm, no need for groups, you begin working and that will be your group”.
And so I spent the next two and a half years In India, working in the Ashram, doing everything from woodcraft and construction to bookbinding and even security. And every now and then I disappeared into the underbelly of ‘rebellious’ and somewhat debauched enclaves of Sannyasins, those who, while loving being around the master and the commune, also liked to party quite hard and led a more ’hedonistic’ lifestyle that being in India allowed. Eventually I headed for the freak parties of Goa and Kerala for extended periods (both astounding and growth-full adventures in themselves).
This period in India was one of the most surreal and intense phases of my entire life. It was at this time, as I came of age, that my experience of being around an enlightened master became a personal journey. This was when the magic started. I was exploring everything, inner and outer. Both Meditation, working in the Ashram among thousands of amazing joyous and inspired souls, but also, I began experimenting with mind-altering substances. I smoked hash-packed Chillums at sunset with Sadhus, in tiny temples on the banks of the Mula Mutha River, and then began exploring with LSD and magic mushrooms.
Although I was only 15 years old, my consciousness was expanding at an explosive pace. I grew into adulthood in an uninhibited and permissive environment. My sexuality blossomed as I ‘played’ with many beautiful bodies and energies.
This freedom, this level of deep connection and understanding between my peers and me was truly enchanted. I could feel myself maturing well beyond my years, as it was for all the other young people I was spending time with. It felt so alive, so real and so energising.
Here I was, totally removed from the routine of my conventional childhood. Here, where every day was Saturday and every night was a new opportunity for wild and ecstatic connection, I fell in love, I fell in to joy, and I fell into myself. All under the guidance and energy of the master and his Buddhafield. Some deep but already ‘known’ part of me awoke during this time. Some dormant inner capacity was activated. One that has stayed with me all my life. It is impossible to articulate such a multidimensional experience. It is a desire to celebrate, to feel blissful, a movement towards gratitude, appreciation, intimacy and awareness. I was given the gift of a direct line to the present moment. To be meditative and alert to my being, no matter what circumstances arose in my life. I learned to spend time in the space in which my thoughts existed. To witness, to dis-identify.
My family departed India in the summer of 1981, soon after Bhagwan left to start the new Commune in America. At first it was not easy adjusting to life back in western civilization but the understanding and wisdom that I had learned allowed me to adapt, to integrate and to continue to grow and develop. As I moved into my twenties I travelled a lot and met and enjoyed being in communes with Sannyasins all over the world. A global network of fellow travellers that all had about them that knowing, that aroma of understanding. It was like having a huge tribe that I could ‘plug into’ at any time or place.
Around 1985, when all kinds of challenges around the commune were coming out, I lost my trust of the movement and also of the commune. In an ironic way, I had to drop sannyas to really ‘take it’. I needed to let go of my past conditioning and beliefs, of which there were many. I needed to begin creating my own life separate from Sannyas.
Bhagwan had now become ‘Osho’ and had returned to Pune, with a ‘rebooted’ commune. Having purged itself of a difficult period, it began again to flourish. But for me, Poona in the late 70’s would, and could not, ever be re-created. It was a new time and there had been too much trauma and disillusionment. I now felt and experienced the commune in a much more objective way. My relationship with Osho had grown up to become more of a grounded and dis-attached story. I never joined the commune again but visited the Ashram in 1989 for some weeks. One evening while lying on the marble wall of Krishna Gardens pond, listening to Osho speaking slowly, deeply, I heard the phrase, “right now, you are the most important people on the Earth”. My body sprung up to a sitting position like a spring uncoiled. “What”? I thought, “What does that mean”? I knew that he had said it in a context of us all being very present and being more conscious, but it had aroused an energy in me that took me to another level of reality about what it is to be a Sannyasin.
This idea of being ‘special’ or somehow ‘elite’ had been a big part of my early beliefs and conditioning. I knew then, that however much wisdom and teaching I could receive from this man, paradoxically, I would have to disagree with him before I could ever move toward my own Buddhahood. It even felt like that moment, that phrase was designed for that very purpose.
It was a moment of deep liberation for me and I felt myself welcoming the responsibility of being a light unto myself, of being my own master. But I also knew that without having spent all those decades in that atmosphere, in that fertile soil, I would never have developed to that moment of realisation.
As I moved through my late 20s and 30s, I began a period of some disconnection from Osho. Not in a defensive or resentful way, but life moved me toward a marriage that was to last for over 20 years, and to my greatest achievement in life, raising a family and being a father. This was always going to be a challenge. Marriage and parenthood is a mountainous forest of mixed emotion and experience for anyone – heaven and hell together. And so it was for me too.
But my early years and the continuing presence of Osho on the periphery of my life, worked like a magic box of tools, a set of spiritual spanners that I had learned to use to make the path so much more joyous and profound than could have ever been possible had I not developed those skills.
The most fundamental of those skills showed up whenever I looked in the mirror. I truly loved who I saw there looking back at me and that alone, gave me the capacity to love and accept others in all their imperfection. I was no saint and lost it many a time, but always, I knew I had a better alternative and mostly chose it. I didn’t have to take it personally. As long as I had the strength to own and own up to my shit, then I could expect and receive no less from those with whom I shared my life. A true inner power. Not a noisy, weak power of a screaming ego, but the warm, calm power of self-love and inner contentment. So now, in my 51st year, my middle age, I once more have Osho in my life. I meditate daily with my Mala of beads over my heart. At night I regularly drift off to sleep to his soporific tones, just as I did as a 10 year old in the darkened meditation rooms of North London.
As Osho said so many times, that when he was gone, he would grow into all of us. And I feel his consciousness in me. I feel the master in me – the awakening continues and my gratitude to him and the beautiful people that I have met through him will never die. Not even when this chapter ends and I move on to a new beginning. He, I, us, it, will always remain.