Poised For Bliss

Indian girl meditating

 When I first observed people sitting for meditation at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I felt a sense of awe and wonder.  I had never seen anything like it - people sitting for meditation with so much poise and composure. 

 I was impressed with the ability of the meditators to overcome restlessness by sitting with such serenity in a state of stillness.  I felt an overwhelming attraction and wondered if I might learn to sit as they did, collected, still and calm - poised for bliss.

 I knew in my bones when I beheld these serious meditation practitioners that what they were doing was something crucial and essential for my soul's well being. In some danger at that point of my life of falling into cynicism about spiritual things, I felt, in part, that learning to meditate would help me to recapture the states of wonder, innocence and expectancy that I used to feel as a child.

 As Alastair Sharp says: "If you take yourself back to your childhood, it is likely that there are precious times and places that you treasure because there you were able to be still and at peace with yourselfIn your favourite tree, by your own little stream, or staring into a winter fire after a warm bath, these times are often watersheds, precious to our sense of ourselves and our growing-up." (Alastair Sharp, Meditating with Children, Darshan magazine, #134, Nurturing Your World, 1998)

 Alastair's words truly capture something I have felt all my life - that my greatest moments have been when I've been able to be still!  In such moments I have sometimes felt a sense of being 'lost in wonder, love and praise.' My best moments have been when, in a state of 'aesthetic arrest,' my mind has stopped and I've entered a transcendent state of being.

Thus at long last, after years of frustration and disappointments as first a seminary student and then a Pastor, I had discovered through Siddha Yoga Meditation, a plethora of spiritual practices that could powerfully engage and transform the whole of my being. 

 New to Yoga, I brought with me an achingly starved soul. Years before, when I had arrived at theological seminary I had headed right away to the campus bookstore. Led by some kind of intuition that bore, I'm sure, no relation to my Baptist upbringing, I had purchased New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, How to Meditate by Lawrence LeShan and Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill. 

 At the age of 22, I had felt strangely and mysteriously led to those particular books that had called out to me from the table of a Baptist seminary bookstore! I recall the thrill I felt at finding them and eagerly ate them up! I somehow knew then that if there was to be any quality or depth to my ministry that it would depend on books such as these.

 What I've never been able to figure out was why those mystically oriented  books were there in that Seminary bookstore, since I was soon to find, much to my dismay, that there would be almost no relation at all to the deep yearnings that led to those books and the nearly empty void of seminary life.

 Thus, having been introduced to Siddha Yoga Meditation years later, there was finally, an accord, a match, between my spiritual yearnings and the practices of Siddha Yoga. It was a sweet homecoming. And how I longed to enter that space, zone, or dimension that the devotees of the meditation master, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, seemed to inhabit. Before long, I would enter that dimension of bliss as a regular practice. 

 Well, more than twenty years has passed since meeting the meditators.  Meditation is now a deeply ingrained habit. And it’s meaning more to me, not less, as time passes. 

 If I knew that a more powerful practice existed to calm the restless mind, and to gather the energy of soul, I would do it. As it is, the simple practice of sitting cross-legged with a straight spine while repeating a mantra prayerfully seems to me to be the best thing I can do to calm the mind, fire the soul and to find a certain, exquisite, lightness of being.

 Sitting for meditation always involves for me a shift from a heavy, burdened spirit to a light one. I sit at various times during the day or at night, poised for bliss and usually find it. I sit poised in the presence of God in my meditation practice and, because of what I've learned from meditation, I now as well, having returned to the Church, stand poised for bliss in God's presence weekly at the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  

 I meet people all the time who tell me that they never do anything like what I’ve just described - ever. Most do not appear even to care. It seems to them that a meditation practice is something strange or exotic, beyond their scope of interests and concerns. They say that they cannot imagine actually ever doing such a thing! Whereas I cannot imagine living without this kind of spiritual practice. For me, not to meditate would be to miss my life.  

 I am emphasizing a certain stance, or expectant attitude towards life and calling it being poised for bliss.  

 As a young boy, Sri Anirvan, a Hindu holy man, watched his parents begin every day poised for bliss through their meditation practice: “My father and my mother would rise very early in the morning, take their baths and sit side by side before a picture of their Guru. And they would meditate for a long time." 

 "We had a small house; when the curtain was drawn back, I would stare at them from my bed. They sat motionless, so still! That stillness made me full of awe, and I thought: There must be something in that stillness. So, after a while, I began to imitate them and I felt:  Oh! so this is what they have!" (Sri Anirvan, cited by Lizelle Reymond in To Live Within, p.148) 

 What impacted this future holy man so deeply was simply to see his parents sitting quietly in stillness every morning. By doing absolutely nothing, in a sense, these parents were doing everything, simply by sitting there, quiet and still. As the little boy watched his Mom and Dad meditating, he began to feel the hope that if he, too, were to sit quietly and in stillness that he could share in their awesome state.     

One of the aspects of being poised for bliss that I would like to get across in this article is the importance of paying attention to posture.  

 Look around almost anywhere and you're not likely to behold people who are poised for bliss. It appears to be the case that many do not direct their attention in this way! Rather, many humanoids are slouched and shrunken as they sit. Many sit like vultures, their chins jutting upwards, their shoulders leaning forwards, their chests sunken - a way of sitting that creates compression and tightness in the lower back.

 What kind of conversations arise from groups of vultures like this sitting together? 

 There is a close connection between posture and whether our vital energies can flow upwards. There is a direct relationship between the way we 'carry' ourselves and the quality of our inner life. The way we 'hold' ourselves reveals what's going on inwardly.

 You can sit or stand elegantly and attentively or you can present as a restless, fidgety and distracted being. Simply by the way we move, people around us know what state we're in, whether we're present and mindful or 'somewhere else.' Since non-verbal behaviour is ninety-three percent of communication, nobody will be at a loss to figure out what kind of state we're in.        

 Sri Anirvan's teaching may be enormously helpful in this regard.  He says that there are three twists in our spine. He writes that there is a relation between our twisted, crooked spines and our corresponding twisted, crooked thinking! 

 To find bliss, he says, we need to straighten our spines! If we make it a regular practice to straighten our spines, our minds will be straightened out without having to go for expensive psychotherapy! 

 When we straighten up to sit, poised for bliss, we create the possibility that a certain dormant energy will have the chance naturally to begin to flow freely from the base of our spine up through the crown of the head. A certain light and warmth can be experienced, usually arising in the tailbone area, travelling up the spine and continuing out of the crown of our heads. This is a familiar experience to long time meditators.      

 Here are Sri Anirvan’s specific poised for bliss instructions: “Just sit straight.  Close your eyes and try to feel the spinal column as straight. Forget that it is not straight.  Imagine that it is straight! Gradually you will feel a lightness and also that heat is being generated. Your temperature rises. If on a winter night you sit erect outside in the cold, even if you shiver and whine like a puppy, you will feel heat being produced with you.”   

 Sri Anirvan continues: “To sit straight still and rigid, eyes closed, is to be living truly within. Deep concentration takes place. Go deeper into a vast calmness, a deep vital energy and an illumination. To sit straight is to think straight. You must sit straight, die straight, with no crookedness and no bending. Then you are open, waiting for eternity.” (p. 218 )  

 It is said, to make a comparison that, the rays of the sun are embedded in carbon and that upon experiencing tremendous pressure, the very arrangement of the carbon's atoms will change to produce a diamond. 

 Well, we, too, are like that carbon, initially unformed and shapeless, requiring a certain creative pressure in order to be transformed. 

 Thus if we, in like manner, become poised and focused, we will experience that  creative pressure. Energies that were dispersed everywhere will coalesce inwardly. The resulting experience of synergy will then lift us out of any dull, heavy state of inertia into the experience of an exquisite, diamond-like sense of being.   

 Sri Anirvan likens this experience of synergy to 'the birth of Christ in our inner being.' And surely, he says, if Christ’s presence is there in our hearts, there will be a sense of the crushing of 'heavy matter,' the crushing of all those things that burden and enslave us. 

As 'heavy matter' is crushed, we will be fashioned into God’s likeness and being, which is Light. 

 It's a simple point I'm making, but means so much - that whether you and I are poised for bliss or not, may well have everything to do with the quality, direction and final outcome of our lives.  


  Audio:  Antiphon: Hodie  Fontgombault monks