Asceticism and meditation

Is Asceticism Important to Meditation and Spiritual Growth?

Asceticism and meditationWhen we speak about purification in a spiritual context, extreme ideas often come to mind. Perhaps you have heard of asceticism. Asceticism is the to denying the physical body all comforts in the pursuit of greater spiritual joys through deeper experiences.

If you Google the term asceticism, you are likely to see pictures of emaciated people who use apparatus such as beds of nails or sleep deprivation tools to force greater and greater discomfort. This is more common in the Eastern countries where meditation is practiced.

I have been on this spiritual journey for close to 35 years and I have been taught by many Teachers. I did not feel a calling to give myself over to Buddhism, Hinduism or Taoism though I revered their teachings. I attended lectures and workshops in all these religions and always sought to take all I could and incorporate the lessons into my practice.

I was surprised that the Path that really captured my heart was that of Christian Mysticism. While this site and this post are not promotions of my personal faith, I want to share about this idea of extreme denial of pleasure and imposed suffering. And when I say imposed suffering, I am referring to those who whip themselves or lay down on painful surfaces as a way to discipline their bodies.

In a nutshell, it’s not for me and I don’t recommend it. I have discovered that greater spiritual experiences can in fact be induced from states of severe deprivation. You may also know of the sensory deprivation tanks that are popular in America. People lie naked in a tub of salt water that is meant to be at the precise temperature of the body. The room is pitch black and at best, the room is completely silent.

Once adjusted to environment, the lack of sensory stimuli can lead to deep relaxation. Certainly one will relax physically and having no stimuli can lead to some mental relaxation but tanks are by no means a guaranteed way to reach Nirvana. I have tried a handful of times and it was fine however what I have found regarding tanks is that they accentuate exactly where you are at in your spiritual progress.

When all is quiet and there is nothing to see or feel, one can’t help but focus inwardly. When focused inwardly, you’ll quickly see what your inner life is like and to what degree you can control your thoughts or emotions. Or not control them…

I read that Stephen Curry, the NBA star uses tank deprivation to visualize great success on the court. I believe it. But how many of us can afford to have an isolated room with all the necessary equipment in our house to slip into a tank each day?

Meditation can be a practice that allows you to develop your inner life DESPITE the stimuli of the environment. Having no stimuli accentuates your inner life but doesn’t do the work of getting it sorted out. Whether in a tank or in a chair, you’ll have to do the work at some point.

The same principle applies when it comes to denying yourself, whether it be denying food, sleep, liquid, or any pleasure. Denying food, water and sleep will send a message to your body and your body will try very hard to correct what is happening. In other words, if you impose starvation and other hardships, you will tend to artificially induce altered states and I am assuming (as I haven’t taken this TOO far) that spiritual experiences may occur as a result. The theory is that without the grounding elements of food, water and sleep, or flagellating yourself into pain, a being becomes more in tune with themselves as spiritual.

The idea is really about consciously denying the good feelings that come from eating well, sleeping deeply or being sexual etc. We deny those indulgences and focus intensely on experiencing our spiritual nature.

If this is calling to you, I would say investigate the process thoroughly and perhaps consult with a doctor who has an understanding of what you want to do. Most MDs in North America that don’t pursue any spiritual path are likely to warn you about the risks of extreme fasting and sleep deprivation.

I have been using fasting as part of my approach to health and spirituality for abut 30 years. I do water fasts for either 1 or 2 days each month. So nothing extreme. When I work with students and they begin fasting, it is much harder for them as they aren’t used to the emotions and sensations that even one day without food stirs up. A day or two without food is pretty harmless but you can bet your body, mind and emotions will fight against it.

Note that consciously fasting (by your own choice) is quite different than being denied food because you are imprisoned or mistreated. Willful participation, though difficult at times is a way to exercise discipline over the flesh body. I do it a day each month as a reminder to my body that the flesh does not rule my life. The health benefits to my system are a bonus.

If someone else denies you food and you are not consensual to the process, your emotions will be much more extreme. Obviously that sort of thing is illegal and has no spiritual component to it. Fasting is only going to produce a positive spiritual result if it is something you willing choose to do. Asceticism is the extreme version of consensual deprivation.

I have discovered that many people can get very attached to certain ideas when it comes to spirituality and for this reason I say, if you feel a strong pull to an asceticism, go for it with the caveat to be conscious of your health. It will do you no good spiritually to have heavenly experiences because of depriving your body only to realize you can hardly walk or have permanently harmed your organs in the process.

For me, asceticism not the path of transformation. I strongly feel that the body is amazing and has been given to each soul as a vehicle for expression. Life on Earth is meant to be a place to express spiritual beauty through the vehicle of matter. Denying the matter of your flesh doesn’t make sense to me. And besides, there are ways to develop oneself through meditation where you have deep spiritual experiences without going to these physical extremes.

When you go to the extremes of asceticism, your body becomes practically unusable. That doesn’t make sense to me. The body is beautiful and amazing. Why would I want to starve it and seek to live in the spiritual realm while given the opportunity to live, create and thrive on the material plane.

Instead, I do teach that one must manage their indulgences and discipline themselves to levels of moderation. Extreme intakes of drugs, alcohol and unhealthy foods will block the spiritual channels as they are not life affirming. The body will have to work extra hard to recover and during that time, likely you won’t feel great.

Just think about when you are recovering from a hangover. It’s hard to meditate. Or if you overate, the belly is full and feels pressured. I have found that disciplining the flesh but taking good care of it means when I sit to meditate, I am fully available to my spiritual life. I can develop spiritually faster when I can concentrate better.

Floating off into the ethers because I am dying of starvation or haven’t slept in weeks is hardly a balanced approach to life, in my opinion.

Ego consciousness

What is the Ego?

Ego consciousnessMost people are familiar with the concept of the ego. But until you begin regularly meditating, you might not realize how much of your thinking and behaviors are influenced by the ego.

An easy way to think about the ego is that it exerts a pressure in wanting to emphasize our specialness, our individuality and separateness. Individuality certainly has its place as we all have unique souls and a unique set of experiences. However, the soul in us recognizes that all people are in essence the same. We all have basic needs of survival and acceptance.

When operating in soul consciousness, our awareness is that all people are connected. We are all brothers and sisters spiritually though have our own bodies. The body is said to be the temple where the soul resides. Obviously our bodies are separate but our souls are connected energetically. Ideally  the soul governs our consciousness, not the ego.

Because in the modern day era, soul consciousness is not widely taught, we have lost a sense of this higher consciousness. The ego consciousness is more concerned with physical and emotional survival as opposed to the soul which thrives on love and purpose. Without proper guidance, that quest for survival exceeds beyond just basic physical needs and begins to influence our social need for belongingness and importance.

An individual that is operating from the ego tends to behave in ways that accentuate their self-importance. This is because the ego is short-sighted and has determined that being perceived as important leads to a feeling of peace. It is true that temporarily, having one’s ego stroked will trigger positive emotions. But in the long run, this is not how inner peace is attained and sustained.

And so long as the ego is unchallenged, one’s life becomes a mad grab for the admiration and attention of others. Or it might be excessive attention from the gender you are most attracted to. Or from the status you receive in your career. These are outer sources of affirmation.  Receiving affirmation from others or from achievements is not inherently bad. What is problematic is if one’s self worth is determined by this attention. It sets a person up to be perpetually chasing more and more of that gratification.

If you feel you are under the influence of your ego more than your soul, you probably experience life as a roller coaster. This is because one day, everyone loves you and thinks your hot. Another day, they are critical of you and gossiping behind your back. And a third day, they barely even notice you.

Allowing the ego to govern your thought process means you become dependent on love and attention that is totally beyond your control. This can be a recipe for an emotionally turbulent life. So long as the ego is governing your mind and your decisions, you risk being very disappointed, or at times elated but elated temporarily until the high from the person’s attention or the most recent achievement fades.

The influence of the ego will lessen once you truly realize that the pursuit of ego gratification is a losing proposition.

Not the ego

While meditating, it can be a useful exercise to replay your prior day and identify to what degree your actions felt influenced by your ego. And when you identify those times, explore your emotional temperament.

Egos are often triggered by negative emotions. Once you can see the pattern, you can begin to replace it. Changing a habit involves awareness first, a decision to do something different and then a relentless persistence in implementing something new until it replaces the old habit.

The influence of the ego will lessen once you truly realize that the pursuit of ego gratification is a losing proposition. You get sporadic and unpredictable short term gains and constantly need to hustle to keep that energy flowing.

By contrast, the soul finds it’s strength within. There is a consciousness to the soul that KNOWS it is fine and unique. True, we all like to feel good within our social groups. There is nothing wrong with that.

In fact, the more you are in touch with your soul and acting from the awareness of your unique and true personality, generally the more praise and positive attention you receive. The difference is that the kind of attention your soul elicits doesn’t always line up with what your ego values.

Over time, you will see that chasing the desires that fulfill the ego will tire you out and are always fleeting. Pursuing a life that considers the desires of your soul will have tremendous meaning.

For simplicity sake, consider that your soul typically wants 2 things; love and purpose. Love represents the feminine need we all have, and purpose represents the masculine. If and when you can attain a good level of both, you will feel relaxed and your ego will hardly trouble you after that. I recommend meditation as a way to get there!

Spiritual Teachers are rare but findable

Working with a Spiritual Teacher

Spiritual Teachers are rare but findableMy Teacher taught that without a working with a Spiritual Teacher, progress past a certain point is basically not possible. The primary reason is that humility is one of the most important virtues a spiritual seeker must embody.

Humility in this case means humbly receiving the guidance of a Spiritual Teacher, someone who you trust as having a clean agenda, allows you to see what you cannot see. This very aspect causes untold anguish for many genuine seekers. This can be because of past conflicts with authority figures. One has to allow their Spiritual Teacher to become a trusted authority.

There are many challenges to moving deeper within to deeper spiritual experiences. One big issue is not asking someone further along the path to validate their spiritual experiences. This gives rise to people making up their own progress and slipping farther away from the Truth.

Is it hard to work with a Spiritual Teacher? Yes, it is very hard to allow someone to see you in your most vulnerable state. Working with a Spiritual Teacher generally begins with finding someone who consistently carries the consciousness of integrity and love. Attending an occasional lecture may not be enough for someone to trust that a Spiritual Teacher is the real deal.

You have to spend as much time as you need to observe the Teacher to be as certain as you can be that he or she has pure motives. One could argue that no one has 100% purity of intent. I would say that is true. However if you are going to set your bar so high as to only allow the Buddha, Jesus or Confucius to teach you, you won’t develop that humility that is needed. I encourage you to trust someone at some point.

True, no matter how far along a Teacher is, they are still human and have flaws. And true as well that it’s not that easy to find a real Spiritual Teacher that you resonate with and that is available in your geographical area. However, I firmly believe that if you are dead set in your intention to grow spiritually, you can find a Teacher to guide you.

What is My Soul?

Soul: Your True Personality without the Coping Tools and Afflictions Caused by Past Wounding

intermediate meditation tips the heart mind connection

Soul is to be experienced. As with most things spiritual, books and discussion can only take you so far. Experience provides the foundation for real knowledge and wisdom. In this article, we will first discuss the characteristics of soul. This will help you distinguish between your soul and your mind, your soul and your heart and other aspects of your being governed by the soul.

How do you experience your soul?

Through meditation, you will identify the internal ‘Org Chart’ if you will. For those familiar with business models, an Organizational Chart refers to the hierarchy of power that governs the organization. Think of yourself as a being that would benefit from identifying who is governing your life.

The soul is one of two components of the Higher Self. Besides the soul, there is something the mystics refer to as the God Self. The God Self is not the soul but is the presence of the Divine given to every living human being. The presence of the Soul and Self is what distinguishes us from animals. You may be able to relate to the personality of animals but they don’t have souls the way humans do. A soul is capable of self reflection and has imagination to create.

Instinctual creatures lack these aspects. The easiest way to connect with your soul is to enter into meditation and first recognize the distinction between ‘you’ and your mind. The way to do this is to note how the mind strives to win your attention.

As you get quiet, you will notice that the mind is often presenting thoughts. Thoughts seem to emerge and create a certain pressure for you to acknowledge them and continue them. Through discipline and continual effort, you can begin to gain greater authority over the mind and reduce a lot of thought activity.

It may be helpful to think of this part of you that is trying to discipline the mind as your soul! In the Org Chart, the mind reports to the soul. In many people at the beginning of their spiritual journey, the mind has assumed authority over the soul which is a recipe for stress, anxiety and over thinking.

In a balanced person, the mind presents thoughts and the soul determines whether or not it wants to give attention to those thoughts. Let’s say you are in an important discussion with someone who is suffering and your mind flashes a thought, “I sure am hungry. What should we do about dinner?” Your soul will recognize the need to ignore that thought and be present for the person you are with.  At the appropriate time, the soul directs its focus back to your hunger and you decide what to do.

Another way to relate to the soul is as decision maker of your being. Imagine you were driving along and you saw a homeless person at the side of the road begging for money.

A homeless person begging

Your emotions might send a signal of irritation or obligation. Your mind might present thoughts about whether this person really is in need or will just use the money for drugs or liquor. Your mind and your emotions send their impressions but it is the soul that makes the final decision.

In this case, your soul might take in the inputs listed above but then feel a deeper compassion for the person. The soul can steer the mind and emotions to a different perspective and in short order you are considering stopping to give some spare change and offer a warm smile. The soul makes the decision after considering all these inputs.

Over time, the negativity of the mind loses its power over you. While those thoughts continue to be presented, the more developed soul recognizes the energy and makes a higher choice. This process happens most efficiently in meditation. You will come to identify as a soul based on the inputs you value (meaning your thoughts, feelings and emotions) and not simply accept every thought or emotion as true or helpful. Many of them are not helpful.

Learn more about How the Soul Can Govern your Life by Practicing Meditation

reducing the ego's influence

How Your Egotistical Nature Slows Down Your Spiritual Progress

The ego is mysterious. It has an agenda to help the individual survive. The ego is an inherent part of each human being. Then why is egotistical behavior so problematic?

Let’s consider the whole person. Assume the idea that the human being is a soul (permanent) that resides in a flesh body (temporary) and contained in the package, each person is given a mind and a system of feelings and emotions. In addition, other factors are at play including a desire nature (stimulated according to our wants), a will (a force of action based on our decisions) a conscience (an internal gauge of knowing right from wrong) and an ego (?).

I have discovered that egotistical behavior becomes active when we are at risk of being perceived in ways that are incongruent to how we see ourselves. If a person thinks of you for example as being stupid, but you think you are smart, your ego wants to right that wrong.

Or let’s say someone you know is achieving something that you would like to achieve. You have a fear that this person will be perceived as better than you (incongruent with your own view). Your ego tries to fix this by equaling or surpassing that person. Egotistical!

The ego might be a factor in the spouse you choose because you see that person as a reflection of the level of person you think you are. You, or at least the part of you that is driven by ego, wants to make sure the person you marry reflects the level at which you see yourself. This could be regarding looks, income, status, intelligence, education, family pedigree etc…

When the ego is active in influencing your thoughts and actions, you will be taken off your spiritual path for the simple reason that the soul does not have a motivation to be perceived as ‘great’. While the ego is trying to pump you up in the eyes of other people, the soul is waiting patiently to get back to productive work.

The soul in its pure state is just fine as it is. True, we may want to grow, improve our skills, achieve things that benefit humanity, our families and even our own lives. But the soul does not need recognition the way the ego does.

I have had people attend my classes and propose that while driven by egotistical factors is not always ideal, many great things can be achieved because the person was motivated by the ego. To me, this implies that unless the ego was activated and the person was trying to improve how others see them, then no progress would have occurred.

I disagree. The soul is motivated to realize it’s full potential. And yes, ego as a motivator can inspire a person to work real hard and achieve greatness. What I am proposing is that if the end sought is recognition and glory, then there will be pain and disappointment when that adulation wears off.

In contrast, the soul in you is fine as it is. And yet, it seeks to express, grow and give glory to life (or God). The soul does not need the credit for it’s greatness because the soul did not create itself. In fact, when greatness is achieved and the motivation is pure (based in soul) there is the elation of Spirit regardless of who notices.

And ironically, those motivated in this way often do receive a lot of outer adulation because of their modesty and humility.

When the ego is active, fear and self-centeredness are also active and these energies will run in conflict to the Spirit which is love. Some progress may be possible but the motivation would be corrupt.

To have a pure motivation, the soul needs to be engaged.

Spiritual Path

What is a Spiritual Path?

Lectures, workshops and books are wonderful but deep transformation is a process. We call it a spiritual path because you commit to a journey and just start your walk. It doesn’t matter in which faith you feel called for there are many roads that lead to spiritual liberation.

A spiritual path is a process that provides teaching, direction, emotional support, a chance to have one’s ego greatly reduced in influence and ultimately real transformation. The transformation comes through the devotion and discipline of the individual walking the path.

A spiritual path always involves a spiritual teacher as well. The teacher represents the one who has walked further along the path. The Teacher doesn’t claim that they have finished the path however at certain points, students can become teachers when that authority is given.

I have never heard of a real spiritual teacher NOT include meditation as part of spiritual training. The reason is that an initiate who wants to explore the mysteries of the spiritual realms must be able to navigate inwardly. Spiritual experiences are accessed by going within.

Why do people seek out a spiritual path? The reason people want a spiritual path is that it is very difficult to see your way to clearly progress when it comes to navigating the mind, the ego and your emotional wounding. People need the objective guidance of a teacher to help them sift through their own beliefs and limitations.

The number one thing to look for in a teacher who presents a path is love. Granted, one may not know what real love is if they are looking for a teacher that is always affectionate and encouraging.

A loving teacher balances the encouragement and soft guidance with the austere and direct teaching that can sometimes chafe against the ego. We will discuss how to identify a loving teacher in another post. For now, spend time getting to know a teacher and getting a feel for their motivation.

Real teachers who have been transformed and have love in their hearts want the students to progress. They don’t clamor for followers. They don’t use students sexually nor do they demand large sums of money.

If you want to know what is possible as a soul, you’ll need to find a spiritual path and a teacher that you respect and trust. This is when you stop being a spiritual seeker and you accept that you have found something. Commit to following the guidance of the teacher and see where things go. This is what it means to be a spiritual student.

The path will lead you into greater states of enlightenment and this is amazing. Along the way, there will be discomfort as your old habits are examined and laid to rest. As we were always taught, get comfortable with being uncomfortable! In time, the new you will relax and rejoice.