Thursday, December 25, 2008


I loved my time at the Monterey Institute.

Part of that, of course, was the loose structure of student life. In almost four years in the Navy, I shaved every weekday and not only never missed a day of work, but was never even late for a day of work. The pace of student life was just much more relaxed. As a bonus, I loved what I was studying: international trade, national security issues, economics. My mind was like a sponge in the way it soaked up information.

That summer (1996), I began studying Japanese at the Institute's summer language intensive -- five days a week of full-time Japanese immersion. I loved that, too, though the pace of instruction was brisk. From that point forward, language studies were an integral part of my coursework through the following fall and into the New Year.

I spent my second summer (1997) at the Institute just as I had my first: at the summer Japanese language intensive. As I had been doing for the past year, I memorized Kanji characters from flash cards as I walked over the hill to and from school each day. My only respite from study came at lunch time, when I got the chance to hit the gym and let my mind relax.

After working out, but before heading back to school, I usually stopped at a local deli -- Troia's Market -- for lunch. It was there, that summer, that I experienced a re-awakening.

I had just gotten my sandwich and stepped outside. As I began walking back to school, I felt a solid wall of joy permeating my consciousness. It seemed to emanate from my heart, forehead, and my surroundings at the same time.

Joy, perhaps, isn't the most precise description of what I felt that afternoon. Joy suggests happiness and what I felt that day was not mere happiness. Maybe bliss is a better word for it. In short, the flame had been re-kindled.

I've written before about how the psychic flame that had dominated my life in the Center had become like a pilot light thereafter -- always noticeable if I focused upon it, but never giving off any heat. Well, on that summer afternoon, to continue the metaphor, it was as if someone had turned up the gas. The pilot light did its job, the gas was ignited, and I felt warm.

What would this mean for my life going forward though?

My first inclination was to begin feeding the flame through meditation, and in that regard, I reverted back to the only meditation technique I'd ever known: meditating on Guru's photograph. I didn't have one though, so I dug through some old boxes until I found one of the few books by Guru that I still possessed. I flipped to the back inside pages, found Guru's picture there, and cut it out.

Then, for a few minutes before bed each night, I mentally prostrated myself before Guru and offered the burning flame of gratitude in my heart. The act was profound only in its simplicity.

I also began reacquainting myself with the spiritual classics of my youth: Swami Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi and M's The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. In fact, I ordered cassette tapes from the Vedanta Society of modern recordings of the same Bengali devotional songs once sung to and by Sri Ramakrishna himself. And on the weekends, I'd get up before dawn and meditate on the rocks at Lovers' Point in Pacific Grove. Once, I even meditated under a tree in a graveyard.

I was desperately seeking a new practice, but nothing I did was satisfactory until I began doing walking meditations. Guru had begun walking meditations in the last few years of my discipleship -- in the late 1980s or so. He'd be seated and we, the disciples, would form two lines -- boys and girls, respectively -- and then walk past him, sometimes many times, in a slow shuffle.

I don't know if the thought had occurred to me back then, but walking meditation forced the meditator to maintain some connection with the world. That innovation -- forcing the meditator to remain conscious of and be able to navigate his or her surroundings -- was significant. In terms of the ideas expressed in my post about Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, walking meditation seems to permit one to engage the properties of the right hemisphere of the brain, while still maintaining some connection with the logical, grounded left hemisphere of the brain.

In any event, at the time of my re-awakening, I wasn't in the Center and didn't have Guru to walk by. Instead, I developed my own practice and meditated upon myself as I walked to and from school each day. The technique I developed for myself turned out to be as powerful as it was simple: I began softly chanting the seed sounds or native mantras for each of the seven chakras, up and down the spine, in a circuit as I walked. (I've addressed some of these terms previously.)

I would begin at the crown of the head. Technically, some dispute whether or not the crown center is actually a chakra and I know of no seed sound for it, but Guru has suggested chanting "Supreme," his preferred term for the Divine. I always felt partial to the Indian term "Brahman" and chanted that instead. I chanted audibly, but just barely so. There was usually nobody around to hear me, but I didn't want to look like a nut.

For that first chakra, I pitched my voice low. Guru has said that the chakras are associated with the musical scale and I tried to account for this in my chanting.

Stepping up a note, I'd then focus upon my forehead and chant "Aum." Then with a higher pitch still, I'd focus on the base of my throat and chant "Ham" (with the "a" sounding like "ah"). Then on my heart center, I'd chant "Yam." Next, I'd focus on my belly button and chant "Ram." Then the groin, chanting "Vam." Finally, with a high pitched quiet voice like a pristine bell, I'd chant "Lam" while focused upon the base of my spine. Having descended the chakra ladder, I'd then climb back up, chanting each of the seed sounds again.

Like that, I'd complete two or three circuits on my morning walk to school each day. I'd then repeat the process on the way home after classes. Among other things, this new practice forced me, in a natural and spontaneous way, to incorporate the sensory world into my spiritual practice. It also had the side effect of getting me spiritually blitzed.

The final act of this synthetic movement was my weaning away from Guru's picture.

While my daily practice then consisted almost solely of chanting the seed sounds as I walked to and from school each day, for months after my re-awakening I continued to meditate upon Guru's picture each night before bed for a few minutes. The meditation consisted of nothing other than gratitude. I'd reflect upon the newly awakened flame within my heart and offer it silently to my Guru with gratitude.

As meaningful as the process was, however, looking at Guru's picture each night began to feel like a psychological crutch. It occurred to me that it was time to stand up on my own. It was with some trepidation, then, that I slid Guru's picture into a book for safekeeping after one last grateful bow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was so interesting to read your books. Thank you so much for all reminiscences about your Path years! So, how is your pracice now?