Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ask Asha: Escaping the Mental Prison of Doubt

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

As a deep, full-fledged doubter, fully aware of the fact that the doubter is often the most miserable of mortals (knowing that doesn’t change the doubt), I have decided to take up Swami Yukteswar's challenge to examine your thoughts for 24 hours to find proof of god. The problem is that he doesn’t really go into much more detail. How should I go about it so that I will get a true result. If nothing happens, I don’t want to be accused (by myself) of not having done it right.

James
from US

Answer


Dear James:

I admire your determination to follow Sri Yukteswar’s suggestion. I don’t think I can help you, however, because I draw a different meaning from that passage. For the sake of our readers, I’ll quote it in full. It is on page 130 of the original edition of Autobiography of a Yogi, in the chapter “Years in My Master’s Hermitage.”
My guru [Sri Yukteswar] ordinarily was gentle and affable to guests; his welcome was given with charming cordiality. Yet inveterate egotists sometimes suffered an invigorating shock. They confronted in Master either a frigid indifference or a formidable opposition: ice or iron! 
A noted chemist once crossed swords with Sri Yukteswar. The visitor would not admit the existence of God, inasmuch as science has devised no means of detecting Him. 
“So you have inexplicably failed to isolate the Supreme Power in your test tubes!” Master’s gaze was stern. “I recommend an unheard-of experiment. Examine your thoughts unremittingly for twenty-four hours. Then wonder no longer at God’s absence.” 
A celebrated pundit received a similar jolt. With ostentatious zeal, the scholar shook the ashram rafters with scriptural lore. Resounding passages poured from the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, the bhasyas of Shankara. 
“I am waiting to hear you,” Sri Yukteswar’s tone was inquiring, as though utter silence had reigned..... 
The passage goes on, but I am not going to quote it all. I only include the second incident to give support to my interpretation of the passage you are interested in.

It seems to me that what Sri Yukteswar is saying is that if the chemist watches his own thoughts for a day he will see that he himself never elevates his thinking to the realm where God exists, but spends all his mental energy on the mundane material plane. So, of course he believes God doesn’t exist.

In the next incident, too, Sri Yukteswar mocks someone so committed to his ego that there is no room for divine realization.

Because we are opposite in our interpretations, I read this section aloud to a group of long-time devotees gathered in our home. Most understood it the way I present it here, but some did agree with your interpretation, i.e., examine your thoughts and you will discover God.

In either case, there are no detailed instructions and I can’t think of anything more to recommend.

Perhaps if you simply do as he suggests and pay attention to your own mind for twenty-four hours, you will, as Sri Yukteswar says, see how you are creating your own doubts. Maybe that will be helpful. But I don’t think he is promising that at the end of the day you will be a believer. No such luck. There is no short-cut.

When an atheist once challenged Swamiji to give him some useful advice that didn’t include God, Swamiji suggested he define God simply as the highest potential he could imagine for himself, and then work to achieve that.

The problem you face is that your perception of reality is clouded by your doubts. Doubts not only cloud perception, they keep a person from taking constructive action. And if you never take constructive action, your consciousness will not change, and perception will remain clouded. It is a self-perpetuating cycle of misery.

I would suggest that you make no effort to resolve the bigger questions, but think only in terms of what can I do today, in this hour to expand my consciousness, to soften my heart, to help others. Don’t think about where this is leading but only the happiness right action can bring you in a moment-to-moment way.

If you do anything that helps you spiritually, that will help to clear your consciousness and clarify your perception, which, eventually, will help you overcome your doubts.

In Swamiji’s book, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, his commentary 4:40 deals with how the doubter can escape from his mental prison. I encourage you to read that section and do your best to follow his advice.

I will pray for you.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ask Asha: Reacting to Others' Nervous Habits

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Dear Asha,

I feel very stressed whenever a person exhibits a nervous habit: foot tapping, gum chewing, hair twisting, nail biting, etc. Soon I will be visiting my son and daughter-in-law. I like my daughter-in-law but have difficulty being with her because she bites and chews on her nails most of the time, including while driving, walking, at restaurants, riding in the car, at home, etc. My strong reaction really interferes with being with her. I want to have a relationship with them both, but I dread going there because of my problem.

Do you have a suggestion for dealing with this? I don't seem to be able to handle it.

S.P.


Answer

Dear S.P.:

Whenever I find myself in the company of people who upset my inner peace, for whatever reason, I find if I can turn my attention away from own feelings, toward God and praying for them, I can change my attitude.

At the same time, because I am inwardly disturbed, connecting to God and getting my mind off myself is not always easy.

The solution came to me when surrounded by a group of beggars in India. For many reasons, it was not appropriate to empty my wallet into their outstretched hands. Among other reasons, I didn’t have enough rupees to satisfy all of them, and to give to some and not others would have made the situation even more chaotic.

Besides, I have to say frankly, even if they were needy, I didn’t like their consciousness and didn’t feel inspired to give them the money they were asking for.

Still, they were clearly unhappy, and I wanted to do something for them. Looking calmly into the eyes of those nearest to me, inwardly I prayed intently, “Divine Mother, bless us all.” The beggars had their reason to be agitated and I had mine. We all needed Divine Mother’s help. After just a few repetitions of this prayer, I could feel a divine peace descending on me and radiating through me to the beggars around me.

I wasn’t giving the beggars what they asked for, but I was giving them something they needed. They, too, calmed down and seemed to some extent satisfied.

Since then I have found this to be an ideal prayer in many circumstances. I use it when confronted by angry, homeless, or mentally deranged people, or anyone who makes demands of me that I am not able to satisfy.

Of course the power of the prayer depends on how sincerely and deeply I repeat it. I hope it is as effective for you as it has been for me.

Now, let us consider this from another angle. Why do you feel this way and is there anything you can do about it?

What if it were your son who had this nervous habit, not his wife? Would your love for him overcome your aversion to his mannerism? In other words, can you imagine loving someone so much that the habit wouldn’t bother you?

What if it was involuntary, a twitching that resulted from a stroke, for example? What if you developed such a disorder? How would you want your husband, your son, and your daughter-in-law to respond? And how would you feel if, instead of acceptance, they turned away from you?

Is your aversion to the habit itself, so that even if it were involuntary it would elicit from you the same strong reaction? Or is it judgmental, annoyance at what you consider to be weakness? Is your thought, “Why can’t she control herself?”

If it is the latter, isn’t it interesting that you can’t control yourself, but you are upset because she can’t control herself?

No one is saying that these are nice habits. They are unpleasant to be around and even worse for the person acting them out.

But there is a world of difference between observing impartially -- “Poor soul, so nervous all the time” -- and the kind of response you are describing.

What we judge in others is always a reflection of what we find distressing in ourselves. Our anger at our own weaknesses causes us to react intensely when we see the same weaknesses in others. Even though it makes no sense, we imagine that if we can expunge this quality in someone else it will also disappear from inside ourselves. Alas, it doesn’t work.

Perhaps you don’t have the specific manifestations that you speak of, but what do these habits represent to you?

A great deal is at stake here. Your poor daughter-in-law is not only driven by her inner compulsion to chew constantly on her fingernails, but she also has a mother-in-law who judges her for doing so. You dread visiting her. I suspect the feeling is mutual.

And how do you think that makes your son feel? And if his wife becomes so upset by your attitude toward her that he is forced to choose between his mother and his wife, who will he choose?

You say you can’t get rid of your reaction. I ask you, how much are you willing to risk in order to hold onto it? Perhaps you can use your helplessness in the face of this to create compassion and understanding for others who are also out of control.

Yes, it is difficult to overcome these deep-seated aversions. But God sent this woman and her annoying habit to you as a gift to help you grow spiritually. Your relationship with your son could also be at stake. If that doesn’t motivate you, what will? Sooner or later you will have to expand your heart and develop the compassion to accept others as they are. This seems like a good place to start.

Divine Mother, bless us all.

Joy,
Nayaswami Asha


[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Request for Stories: Miracles and Answered Prayers

Dear Friends: 

Swamiji has asked me to do something that I can’t do unless you help me. 

Last spring, he started writing a book called, “Miracles and Answered Prayers.” Many of you responded to his request for stories.  

Just as he was leaving for Europe, he said he didn’t feel to write the book himself and asked me to write it instead. 

All the stories you sent to Swamiji I have, but there aren’t enough to make a book. I know the stories are there. Every one of us has experienced exactly what this book is about: God showing us His love and concern, sometimes in spectacular ways, sometimes with the quiet sweetness of His unmistakeable Presence. 

We love the spectacular stories: that is the “Miracles” part. The “Answered Prayers,” though, are in some ways even more important. We expect God to intervene, as Swamiji has said, when one’s life is at stake. What is so touching is when He steps in simply to make life sweeter. 

You may feel you want to keep those moments locked in your heart, but Swamiji seems to feel, in deciding to write this book, that it is time for us to share them.  

I like to put names on stories, but if you prefer, your story can be anonymous. Only I will know and I promise not to tell. 

The purpose of the hard times Master said are coming is to draw people back to God. A book of stories like the one we have to offer, could touch the hearts of many souls, and awaken many to God. 

Stories about our path and Gurus are fine. But all traditions and every context are welcome.  If you have friends or family with good stories, please have them call me, or gather their stories and pass them on. 

To give you an idea of what we are looking for, I’ve included a handful of stories.  

Most people find it easier to talk than to write. So send me your phone number and I’ll contact you. If you do write, please include lots of details, but it isn’t necessary to polish the writing. The book has a unified style and I have to edit every story to that flow.  

In about a month I am going to take a “writing retreat” and to make that work, I have to have lots of stories. So I need to hear from you NOW. 

Will you help? I would be so grateful. 

You can write to me at praver@anandapaloalto.org or call 650.941.1481.

In divine friendship,
Nayaswami Asha 


MIRACLES & ANSWERED PRAYERS 

#1 from Tyagini Maitreyi 

     My husband Michael and I are shifting house and home some 4700 miles from the Isle of Man to Pune, India, to be part of the Ananda Kriya Yoga community there. Naturally, this is an expensive move. When we arrive we will be working as volunteers, for at this point in the community's development there are no paid positions for us.  The only way to fund the travel, the shipping of belongings, the building of a residence, and perhaps years of living expenses, is to sell the house we live in now. 

      From the time we made the decision to move, I turned the whole thing over to Divine Mother. It was all too much to handle on my own. If we had intuited Her will correctly, I knew She would take care of everything. My fleeting thought was to sell the house privately (nothing lost in commissions), receive the asking price (no haggling with potential buyers), and being able to stay on some months after the sale (rent free would be ideal!).  

      I trusted absolutely and did not feel we even needed to advertise. Michael was less certain, and insisted we engage an agent. The advertisement had not even been finalized, let alone reached the gaze of the public, when a work colleague who knew we were leaving offered to buy the house privately -- no agent's fees -- for exactly what we were asking.  

      Even more amazing, except for a few photographs taken with our camera, he had not even seen the property. And as for our staying on for a few months after the sale?  "No problem", the buyer, said. And what about rent? "No need for it!" 

      Divine Mother engineers perfectly, and in ways that defy all reason! 

      I am humbled and a little ashamed that even unwittingly I might have begged favor of Her. Not that I feel unworthy of God's attention or Her gifts, but I know there are so many worse off than I.  

      Still, why would I think that God's abundance is limited, that if Divine Mother meets my needs that She cannot also meet the needs of others? How foolish! She is Infinite. Truly, this human mind cannot fathom the greatness of Her love.  

      The sweetest gift of all is that through Her generosity I now know without a doubt that all paths are open and India will be our home.
 
#2 from Manisha

      The decision to walk home late that night did not, at first, seem like a foolish one. It was only a mile to the lodge where I was staying, down a quiet rural road on a ridge top outside of Assisi, Italy.  There was no traffic at this hour, and no bad characters to fear. I had come to Assisi to "walk in the footsteps of St. Francis" and while I didn't know for sure that he had followed the path I was on, it was certain he had gone on foot, as I was now doing. 

      For a while, the reflected glow from the Temple I had just left was enough to light my way. But the farther I walked, the darker it became. There were only a few houses in the area, and everyone seemed to have gone to bed. The sky was heavily overcast with no hint of moon or stars. Soon I could just barely make out the line where the pavement met the gravel shoulder.  

      I began to feel nervous. To still my beating heart, I sang quietly to myself, "Sri Yogananda, guide to inner freedom, steal into my heart of hearts. Banish my delusion."  

      Surrounded by that song, I felt less anxious, until it occurred to me that in this blackness, I wouldn't be able to see the narrow driveway that led to the lodge. I could walk right past it and never know.  

      Just then, off to the right, I saw a firefly. I stopped to watch. I had never seen fireflies before arriving in Assisi a few days earlier. St. Francis had special reverence for God in Nature, so it seemed appropriate that I should meet these magical creatures for the first time here. 

      The firefly passed in front of me and then hovered on my left. In the faint glow of his luminous body, I saw the entrance to the driveway.  

      He stayed with me all the way to the door of the lodge, then flitted away. Just as I stepped inside and closed the double doors behind me, a torrential rain began to fall.
 
#3 from Parvati

      Looking back over sixty-some years of life, it is obvious that the reason I incarnated had only a little to do with my birth family. I don't have any siblings. It was just my mother and father, a few close relatives, and me.  

      In my mid-twenties I found my spiritual family and moved into the Ananda community. "Honor thy father and thy mother" is good advice, and I did my best to follow it, keeping in touch and visiting them a few times a year.  

      Fortunately, my parents seemed to accept the distance between us and never asked me to choose between them and my spiritual path. I'm glad they didn't, because in this life, I could not have chosen them.  

      After my father died, my mother naturally needed more support from me. Within a few years, her health had declined to the point where I had to move her closer to me. Visiting her nearly every day, taking her shopping and to see her doctors was not a hardship.  

      In fact, more of a friendship grew between us than we'd ever had before. She even expressed interest in learning how to meditate! That in itself was a miracle. Not that we ever got far with it, but it was amazing that she even asked. 

      Then her health really went downhill. She was so set against moving into a care facility of any kind that for the first time it occurred to me, "I might have to leave the ashram and take care of her."

 "Is this what You want?" I asked Divine Mother. 

      I had to go deep inside before I could say sincerely and with joy, "If so, I will do it." 

      Four days later, easily and peacefully, my mother left her body.
 
#4 from Soma 

      My fear of pools of water has been so intense and so irrational that when I was a child, even the sight of the toilet bowl would cause my heart to race. I refused to go swimming, and did my best to avoid even the sight of an ocean, lake, or pond. 

      When my meditation teacher once encouraged me to, "Visualize an infinite sea," my visualization turned into a nightmare. Huge waves in the shape of monsters crashed over me, dragging me down into a black, roiling sea.  

      "This is obviously a tragic memory from a previous incarnation," the teacher said when I told her what happened. "Forget the ocean!" she advised. "Visualize instead an infinite expanse of clear blue sky."  

      Sky worked great and I continued to progress in my meditation practice and my life as a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. When the chance came to go on pilgrimage to America to visit the places where he had lived, I signed up right away, even though I was concerned about a few stops on the itinerary,  "Lake Shrine," for example, and the "Seaside Hermitage," in Encinitas, California. 

      The trip was everything I hoped it would be. To meditate by the crypt where my Guru's body is buried, to see his shoes reverently placed by the edge of the bed where he slept was pure bliss. 

      When the Encinitas day arrived, my devotional ardor carried me, without conscious thought, right to the high cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean where he often meditated. Closing my eyes, I was transported into a deep experience of his living presence. A long time later (or so it seemed), I opened my eyes and gazed calmly out at the sea in front of me. 

      My lifelong fear was gone.
 
#5 from Richard 

      My head and arms were hanging out the car window, the way a dog likes to ride with his snout into the wind.  I was about five years old in the era before children were strapped into car seats.  

      It was a curvy road and every time we went around a bend, I was tossed back and forth, squealing with delight.  My father's best friend, "Uncle Mac," was driving.  Dad was sitting next to him. 

      Even though my head was outside the car and the wind was blowing in my face, I distinctly heard a voice say, "Go see what your father and Uncle Mac are doing." It wasn't a thought; it was a voice. Although I couldn't remember when I had heard it before, the voice was familiar to me, and it didn't seem odd that it was speaking now. 

      "Okay," I said, pulling my head in and flopping my arms over the center back of the front seat. 

      In that instant, the door I had been leaning against swung open.  Uncle Mac immediately pulled over. In stunned silence we contemplated how close we had come to tragedy.
#6 from Maghi 

      We were speeding down the freeway in the far left lane, heading back to Los Angeles after a week at Ananda Village. My husband Vasanta was driving; two friends were in the back seat. 

      Suddenly, without forethought, I said,  "Let's stop for coffee!" Vasanta is a coffee gourmet and had made converts of us, so the immediate "Yes!" from all present was no surprise. 

      Still, I had barely finished my sentence before Vasanta crossed three lanes of traffic and started down the exit ramp. The moment we were safely off the freeway, the transmission seized up, stalling the engine and cutting off power to the brakes and steering. Fortunately, there was no traffic and the car coasted safely to a stop --right in front of Starbucks! 

      If Vasanta had hesitated even a few seconds, we would have still been on the freeway when he lost control of the car.  

      I don't think any church uses coffee during the communion service but for us it will always be holy beverage!  
  
#7 from Richard 

      We entered the freeway at the same time as our friends, but rush hour traffic soon separated us. In an attempt to keep Eugene's car in sight, I moved over to the fourth lane on the far left. Soon I spotted him about a quarter of a mile ahead, one lane to the right.  

      There were three car lengths of open space behind him so I sped up to 85mph to move into the gap.  As I came abreast of the car trailing his, I let up on the accelerator knowing that momentum alone would place me safely just where I wanted to be.  

      Before turning the wheel I checked the distances again. There was plenty of space behind Eugene, and in the rear view mirror I could see the trailing car already fading out of my peripheral vision. All clear.   

      I turned the wheel about two degrees to the right and felt the beginning of a smooth fade into the next lane.  At the same moment I glanced into the right side view mirror. A pair of eyes, like a hunted animal cornered in a hollow log, stared back at me.  

      A fast-moving motorcyclist was heading for the same spot I was about to occupy. I was in the process of turning; we were milliseconds from impact. No time even to alert my wife in the passenger seat next to me. Death was at our side.  

      In that instant, the steering wheel came to a hard stop, as if at the end of its turning radius. My eyes were fixed on the eyes of the motorcyclist reflected in the mirror, but now I could also see his silhouette outside the passenger window as the air around us began to fracture, like ripples on water, wrapping itself around the front of the car and pushing it back into the left lane.  

      The motorcyclist turned his body slightly as he pulled into the lane in front of me, our eyes still locked together. Silently we acknowledged that we had been miraculously spared. Then he turned his head away, sped off down the freeway, and I never saw him again.   

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ask Asha: My Boyfriend Is Skeptical

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Dear Asha,

I feel drawn to Yogananda’s teachings and I want to thank you for sharing them so lucidly in your sermons. My question involves some tension that my interest in and involvement with Ananda has introduced between my long-term boyfriend and I. He was raised Catholic, and although no longer observant, he still views other beliefs with a strong dose of skepticism and maybe even sinfulness. Because these teachings are new to me, I have trouble articulating them as well as I would like so it is hard to explain to him why I am so excited about it. Although he does not outright object to my interest in Ananda and wants me to be happy, I can’t help but feel that he thinks of it as silliness that I will (hopefully) grow out of. I want to deepen my spiritual life and my involvement with Ananda, but I love him and intend to spend my life with him. How can I strengthen both relationships without compromising either of them?

Thank you for any advice you could offer.

H.

Answer

Dear H:

Your question is “How can I strengthen both relationships...?” but the first question is “Can you strengthen both...?”

You speak of him as your “long-term boyfriend”? How many life changes have you been through together? What is the basis of your compatibility? Do you share core values? Apparently spirituality is not one you share.

Has your interest in Ananda revealed to you for the first time his narrow mindedness about spiritual matters, or have you always known it but it didn’t matter until now?

Whether it will matter in the long haul, depends on how spiritually intent you are, and how persistent he is in his skepticism. Right now, spirituality happens only away from home. He knows about it, but it isn’t right in his face. What will happen if you want to start meditating? If every morning and night, you want to sit before an altar and commune with God? How will your boyfriend feel about that? And if he doesn’t like it, will you do it anyway?

So much is unknown. None of us can predict the future.

So what I suggest is that you adhere to a principle that is followed at Ananda and has served us well, both individually, and as a community. “Where there is dharma there is victory.” Dharma means “right action,” or more exactly, “that action which leads to greater awareness,” especially awareness of the divine within. “Victory” means the triumph of light over darkness, of happiness over sorrow.

In other words, fulfillment comes when you adhere to high principles. Yes, loving your boyfriend is also a high principle, but if it comes to a choice, loving God is higher. If in the name of loving your boyfriend you give up loving God, you are not likely to find the fulfillment you seek in either relationship. Jesus put it simply, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”

But I get ahead of myself. But then, so are you, because you can see the road ahead. And if your interest in a spiritual life doesn’t prove to be mere “silliness” as your boyfriend hopes, and something you will “grow out” of, what then? You have a right to be concerned.

Oops, we are doing it again, getting ahead of ourselves.

If you love your boyfriend and he is a good man, give him a chance to expand his consciousness, too, and, even if he doesn’t embrace Ananda himself, he may be so pleased by how happy it makes you, that he will accept your interest in it. In the meantime, “Where there is dharma there is victory.” The only way to bring about a positive future is do your dharma now.

As for explaining Ananda to him, I would suggest you not try too hard. Self-realization is quite subtle, and at the beginning is as much about feeling as concepts. In the face of his skepticism I suspect the clarity of feeling evaporates and the words don’t reflect much of what you mean to say. Even people who have been on the path for years have trouble explaining it to an unreceptive person.

Be light-hearted about your inability to explain. Be the first to say, “Wow, that doesn’t sound very sensible, does it? I guess I don’t have that concept clear yet.” And if he makes objections or points out obvious contradictions in what you are saying, don’t be defensive. Say, “That’s a good point. I’ll keep it in mind.” Don’t declare a commitment to Ananda beyond what is sincere. Say, “It is really interesting and helping me now. I’ll take it a step at a time and see where it leads.”

I have one more thing to say, that I am a little hesitant to bring up, but I feel the need to warn you. You may already have heard me refer to the fact that for more than a decade starting in 1990 Ananda was involved in a huge and complicated lawsuit, two actually, but they were really the same event. We were sued; we didn’t take action against anyone else. In the end, as you can see, we emerged unscathed. In fact, happy, strong, flourishing.

But in the course of those lawsuits Ananda and Swami Kriyananda and various others of us were vilified, often “under penalty of perjury.” Many of those accusations still float around on the internet. If your boyfriend becomes really concerned about what you are doing, he is likely to find them and present them to you as “proof” that Ananda is not a good idea.

Just because something is on the internet, of course, does not mean it is true! We have posted a full refutation, but if this comes up between you and your boyfriend, you may find it helpful to talk to some of the people at Ananda who lived through all of that and can help you sort it out.

Sorry to have to bring that up. But if he becomes concerned about you, it is so likely that this will happen that I thought I should warn you.

In the meantime, let us pray that all of these concerns are baseless, and that you will in fact be able to “strengthen both relationships without compromising either of them.”

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ask Asha: Meditation Reveals States of Consciousness

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Hi, I am new to meditation and when ever i sit for it and concentrate of my breath after some time i feel like my breathe is getting shorter for one sec and it gets my immediate attention, and i will lose my concentration. If i continue to meditate for more than 10 min i feel very sleepy. I am so sad. Even when i sit stright my back also pains.. All these disturbing my concentration. Please help me in right direction.

Thanks,
B
From Malaysia

Answer

Dear B,

Meditation does not create states of consciousness — it reveals them, both positive and negative. In other words, meditation increases our awareness of what is already there.

Bliss is already there as our own deepest reality. But so also are many other habitual states of consciousness that we may or may not have noticed before.

I have found over the years that what comes up to distract me in meditation may also be the positive fruit of my meditation. Not the distraction itself, but the fact that I become aware of attitudes, conditions, and mental habits within me that I was unaware of before I started meditating.

Once when I was teaching a beginning meditation class, every one of the dozen or so people there reported some major obstacle to being able to meditate. They included sleepiness, physical pain, fear, sadness, anxiety that they weren’t doing it right, and so on.

In all cases, these turned out to be areas in each person’s life that needed attention. Meditation had made them aware. Which is, when you think about, the point of meditation: to increase our awareness.

When you climb to the top of a mountain, your progress is usually not straight up. You reach the highest peak by first traveling across smaller peaks and the valleys between them.

From even a small peak, you can look down into a valley on the other side, one you didn’t even know was there — until you climbed to the top of the hill in front of you.

What I am saying, in other words, is that nothing is going wrong.

You are just learning how to meditate.

As for your breath, having it slow down or shorten is not uncommon. Breath is related to your state of consciousness.

Your efforts to meditate are taking you into unexplored realms. The extreme shortness of breath can be a subconscious tensing in response to the unfamiliar.

The solution is simple: if your short breath, or any other distraction breaks your concentration, as soon as you can, calmly bring your concentration back to whatever technique you are using. Don’t waste energy feeling sad or distressed. That just increases the distraction.

(I presume you are using Hong-Sau or other of the Ananda teachniques. If you have not yet learned them, I suggest that you do so.)

As for pain in your back, most people find the effort to sit still reveals how tense we are most of the time. The Energization Exercises can help, also yoga postures.

You can also begin your meditation practice with some of the tense and relax exercises taught in beginning meditation courses. Again, if you haven’t yet started a systematic study, I suggest that you do. These exercises can be repeated in the middle of meditation as needed.

You also may need to experiment with various ways of sitting. You make no mention of how you are sitting so I can’t respond specifically.

There are so many choices of cushions, kneeling benches, chairs with and without footstools, wedge pillows, back rests, etc. The most important thing is to find something that works. Keep experimenting until you do.

As for being sleepy, this, too, is a common response to the unfamiliar effort of concentrating inwardly. If it sets in right at the 10-minute mark, then plan in advance to convert to healing prayers, affirmations, chanting — either inwardly or out loud — for a few minutes until you feel energetic again.

Be creative. Meditation is both a science and an art. It is far better to change the program slightly than to have to give up after only 10 minutes each time.

Consider it an interesting challenge rather than a defeat.

Like finding a comfortable way to sit, experiment until you can consistently get yourself over the 10-minute hump.

You’ll be surprised that if you respond with determination your subconscious will soon admit defeat and cooperate with your meditation instead of trying as it does now to coax you away from it with sleep.

Pray to God and Gurus to help you.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]
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