Written by Richard Miller, PhD
Originally posted here.
Let your meditation practice take you places you never thought possible.
This article was featured in Yoga Journal as part of a meditation series by Richard Miller. This is his ninth in a series of 10 columns designed to help you create a lasting and impactful meditation practice.
In Yoga Theory, we are all innately connected to and not separate from a universal life force that can help us access feelings of lasting peace. But it’s also true that every object throughout the entire universe, including you, is unique. It’s natural, then, to think of yourself as separate from others. But to quantum physicists and yogis alike, you are not separate: You, and everything in the universe, are both unique and nonseparate. Everything is part of an interconnected, undivided wholeness that underlies the entire cosmos. This realization is perhaps the most powerful insight on the path of yogic meditation. Your sense of interconnected, undivided wholeness is hardwired into your nervous system. Whenever you separate from this feeling, your body sends you somatic messages, such as contractions in your gut or heart palpitations, that let you know that “something’s wrong.” These are messengers warning you to stop and take action to restore your innate sense of peace. Unfortunately, our ability to remain connected to this undivided wholeness is too often commandeered by our egos, which, by default, are designed to emphasize separateness. In this case, your ego can identify the feeling of something’s wrong,” and conclude that “something’s wrong with me.” When this occurs, you may become psychologically embroiled in trying to fix or change yourself, and not recognize that you’ve simply separated from your underlying wholeness.
Stages of meditation
Yogic meditation helps you re-remember your connection to the universe and recover a sense of peace, no matter your circumstances. The process of embodying your wholeness can unfold in four stages. First, take time to reflect upon each of these stages below, then practice the meditation that follows, which is designed to help you actualize the four stages.
1. Attend to what’s changing
If you make an effort to consciously notice sensations and emotions in your body, thoughts in your mind, and sounds within and around your body, you’ll soon discover that everything, within and around you, is constantly changing. You’ll also learn to respond, rather than react, to these changing perceptions. For instance, noticing discomfort in your lower back can remind you to get up and move, or to do your back exercises. And noticing mental irritation might lead you to realize that you’re either hungry or needing to set an appropriate boundary with a demanding person or stressful situation.
2. Realize yourself as an observer
Next, recognize that you are an observer of all you’re experiencing. As your capacity to observe grows, so too does your ability to maintain distance from, and perspective on, that which you’re observing. This helps you break free of conditioned reactions. Here, you’re learning to disentangle from your perceptions and to experience yourself as an observer. You’re also learning to shift your attention from observing with your physical eyes to observing from the “eyes of your heart.” By doing so, you grow your capacity to experience yourself as an openhearted and compassionate observing presence.
3. Recognize the self as ephemeral
In this next stage, notice how your sense of being a separate self is ephemeral. For instance, notice how you can be unaware of driving across a bridge until you reach the far side. Or how your sense of self is absent during dreamless sleep. The self is designed to arise when you need to feel separate for social or survival purposes. Consider how helpful it is to feel like a unique individual, with your own opinions, when participating in a political discussion. That said, forgetting your interconnected wholeness and feeling separate can lead to reactive conflict, as we see when political discussions become polarized. While the self function provides us with a sense of being unique, meditation helps us remember that we are, at the same time, always part of something bigger.
4. Be colorfast
Lastly, notice how all changing perceptions, including yourself as a separate self, are movements unfolding in awareness. During this stage of meditation, turn your attention away from changing phenomena and remain absorbed in being in a state of awareness. As you remain undistracted, absorption deepens and self-awareness itself eventually falls away, along with any sense of the self as separate. Here, you enter a dimension much like deep, dreamless sleep, resting as the undivided wholeness that is your essential nature. You are simply being. Repeatedly dissolving into essential nature for even a few moments during meditation is much like being immersed in a container of dye. Over time, with consistent meditation and repeated absorptions, you become colorfast as essential nature, incapable of being washed out, or disturbed, by inner or outer circumstances. You can forget your essential nature of interconnected, undivided wholeness, but it never go es away. It’s indestructible. It’s always whole, healthy, existing beyond space and time, perfect, and complete. Experiencing your wholeness enables you to recover a sense of unchanging and ever-present peace and well-being, even when facing your deepest fears. Here is a description of becoming colorfast from one of my students, Frank, a combat veteran: “Through yogic meditation, I now experience an unchanging peace that’s within me. I feel like a samurai warrior who knows the secret of who I truly am. Originally at the mercy of my PTSD, I now have the inner resource of well-being that helps me respond, rather than react, when old memories resurface. I believe that meditation saves my life every day.” As your capacity to embody your wholeness increases, you move through life with unchanging inner peace and well-being. Like Frank, you live from your wholeness, which enables you to resiliently navigate your way through life.
PRACTICE: EXPERIENCE YOUR WHOLENESS SETTLING IN
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. With your eyes open or gently closed, allow your senses to open to the sounds around you, the touch of air on your skin, the sensations where your body touches the surface that it’s resting on, and the feeling of being at ease throughout your entire body and mind. Bring attention to sensations in your forehead, eyes, ears, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, palms, torso, pelvis, hips, legs, and feet. Be equally aware of the front and back of your body, the left and right sides, the inside and outside. Welcome your entire body as a field of radiant sensation. Be aware of sensations, emotions, and thoughts that are arising. Take time to relate to them as messengers and recognize actions they’re asking you to take in your life.
Now, turn your attention to sensing yourself as the one who is aware of the changing movements that are present. Let go of attending to the changing movements and simply notice yourself as the one who is observing them. Feel yourself as an observer, observing all that’s changing. Shift attention from observing from your physical eyes to observing from the “eyes of your heart,” feeling yourself as an openhearted and compassionate observing presence.
Notice how the various movements of sensation, thinking, and emotion are all activities unfolding in awareness. Allow your attention to turn away from these changing movements into sensing and being awareness. Become absorbed in being awareness.
Notice how you’re aware of being awareness, how the feeling of being a self is present. Notice how this sense of self creates a subtle sense of separation between you as an observer and being awareness. Be more and more absorbed in being awareness, so that self-awareness and separation drop away.
As self-awareness inevitably returns, continue to feel yourself simply abiding as being, spacious and open simultaneously, every where and nowhere specific, beyond inside or outside even as inside and outside arise, and resting as you become interconnected, undivided wholeness.
Make this sense of being your inner resource, an unchanging and ever-present quality of peace and well-being you can access at a moment’s notice, whenever it’s needed.
Continue resting as unchanging well-being, experiencing your interconnected, undivided wholeness, until you feel ready to complete your practice of meditation. When you’re prepared to return to your everyday activities, affirm your intention to continue sensing unchanging well-being throughout your daily life—while you’re walking, talking, working, playing, resting, and sleeping. Continue to welcome and remember yourself as interconnected, undivided wholeness in every moment. Open your eyes and notice objects that are present, all the while welcoming the feeling of unchanging well-being and interconnected, undivided wholeness. As your body begins to move back into daily life, continue noticing the sense of unchanging well-being and wholeness as ever-present, no matter your circumstances.
Affirm your intention to remember your interconnected, undivided wholeness as an inner resource of unchanging peace and well-being throughout your daily activities. Then, one day, you may realize how wholeness and well-being are always with you—your allies for life—supporting you in every moment.
Richard Miller, PhD, is the founding president of the Integrative Restoration Institute (irest.us) and co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.