MEDITATIONAL EXERCISES FOR GROUP WORK - FOR COURSE LEADERS

Can be adapted for individual guidance.

Prepared by Geoffrey Farthing

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A Resource for Group Leaders

The purpose of this online guide is to offer some suggestions for effective and safe exercises in concentration and meditation. It is mainly in the form of guidance to group leaders to provide them with material suitable for introductory courses. The material is at various levels, and is sufficient for some years. The course material and its procedures are classical and have been well tried and used by individuals and groups of all kinds. The course is primarily for beginners and elementary groups. It is in the form of a variety of exercises to get people used to meditational practice. It does not cater for the really accustomed, competent meditator - they will have discovered their own way into the inner worlds after possibly having had some individual guidance. This is a course for those who want preliminary help and stimulation to get them started on the great quest for self-knowledge and self-realization.


MEDITATION GUIDE - INTRODUCTION

The practice of spiritual development necessarily involves action, dual action:-

"Seek the way by retreating within"
"Seek the way by advancing boldly without"

Light on the Path

Concentration and meditation are the ways of retreating within. This is what we are concerned with in this course. Advancing boldly without is the necessary action the aspirant must make in the world. It gives open expression to what flows into him by his inward retreat. This flow through man should be noted. He must give out in some way what comes in. He must see the ways and make his own opportunities of doing this. He should not, however, be too anxious about this. His outward doing should be natural, spontaneous.

The inward retreat, or better, inward journey, is a positive progress. It is largely a matter of achieving control over ourselves physically and mentally. This must be done, to start with, for at least the period of the specific exercise we are doing. Later it should become habitual.

Meditation is a subject about which books sufficient to fill libraries have been written. Nearly all these contain not only instruction in the elements of meditation itself, but details of the personal disciplines commonly recommended to the would-be practitioner. These disciplines are physical and moral. The physical disciplines are designed to purify our bodies. In the doing, however, we exercise control of ourselves and this develops will, all important in any spiritual enterprise. The moral disciplines have far-reaching results. They affect the whole of our circumstances in life. They demand honesty of the highest degree, with others and with ourselves. They demand a right attitude in all relationships; kindness, consideration, helpfulness, gentleness, courtesy and altruism. Quite apart from meditation itself these disciplines are an undertaking in themselves affecting as they do our whole personal natures.

Meditation, to start with, is mind training, but mind training with a difference. It is not specifically a training of the memory or a training in logical thought but both of these may be beneficial side effects. It is training requiring concentration, that is, the ability to hold the mind to a given subject for prolonged periods. It is training in bringing attention to a focus of intense awareness. It is a means of enhancing consciousness. It leads to an extension of subjective activity, and eventually to the further development of the powers available to man. This last is in line with his evolutionary growth. Meditational exercise, however, hastens that growth. In the more advanced stages of inner growth a man makes actually available to himself those powers which are always available potentially to him through his ultimate direct kinship with Nature and all her inner powers. These powers are evidenced in the creative processes of nature in her cyclic activities of form building, involving the functioning of invisible forces and energies on the inner, to us subjective, realms of being. As ordinary members of society we are not concerned with this long term result of meditation, but it is as well to know the reaches of our practice and how it can and will lead to a state of power and consciousness, far beyond what we regard as normal, if we persevere and succeed in developing the necessary faculties. This transcendental state is not reached by most of us but with application we can enjoy enough of the intermediate benefits to make the practice very worth while.

The would-be meditator is offered, in the world literature on the subject, a wide variety of method varying from detailed instruction in hygiene, diet, posture, prayers (mantras), ceremonies including domestic rites, to concentration, visualization and even 'projection' exercises - to no 'method' at all. It has been said that he who can meditate needs no method at all. He does it without any regard as to how; he enters 'the silence'.

In the beginning, however, certain exercises facilitate the processes of inward working. First the body must not claim our attention, nor dissipate our energies wastefully. It must be under reasonable control. The various relevant parts of the common techniques ensure this. They also effect a quietening of emotions and of our normally restless mind. The conscious control of breathing is the most effective way of inducing bodily and inner quiet. It is normally required for only a relatively short period, a few minutes usually, at the start of each session.

Posture plays some part but provided our backs are straight and vertical (usually not horizontal as would be the case lying down), it seems that for beginners and relative beginners, other details of posture are not important, providing we are not uncomfortable to the point of distraction.

The point about technique is to learn it until it becomes second nature and then forget it. One of the most important things is not to be self-conscious about it. All our attention is needed for the job in hand, and the most important thing is the nature of the job in hand. We have said that this is to obtain control of mind to enable us eventually to transcend it, in consciousness. To understand the process we must have regard to the theosophical teaching on the dual nature of the mind. There is the so-called 'personal' mind, the lower aspects, and the so-called 'individual' mind, the higher aspects. The former is our everyday mind but the latter is our spiritual or divine mind, the seat of our Ego. Between the two there is said to be the Antahkarana, which in the undeveloped man is a barrier but in the spiritually developed man is a bridge between the two aspects, lower and higher, of our really one Mind principle. This bridge must be built before the higher aspects of Mind become available to us, in consciousness. We then enter an order of consciousness altogether different from our normal personal one.

The creation of this bridge is achieved by a) living as far as we can the 'ethical' life and b) by disassociating ourselves in consciousness from our lower mind's accustomed modes of operation. To do this we have somehow, by practice, to discover 'our self' as 'that' which knows, which senses or can be aware of what is going on in the mind. 'That' is not possible of meaningful description. It is that which remains as 'pure consciousness', the final subject, when all objects of awareness are transcended. It is the ultimate watcher regardless of anything it might watch (even our thoughts or feelings about it!). We know quite definitely when we have achieved this. As beginners we are identified with and use only our lower minds. From that point of view the 'watcher' can only be an idea, however lofty or single it may be conceived to be. We cannot KNOW the watcher, we can only be it when we are free of our lower mind.

The lower aspects of Mind relate, as we have said, to the 'personal' man. The control and use of the mind is an aspect, probably the principal one, of the overall control of the personality. As a would-be meditator the gaining of this control is our prime task.

There are three aspects to this phase: 1) Control, 2) Conditioning and deconditioning, and 3) the use of Imagination. The order here is relevant.

1)   Control

Some aptitude in this is obviously essential. But there is a great paradox in this phase. It is that the mind has to be brought under control until it will do what we want it to do for as long as we want. If we do not want it to think or do anything of its own 'volition', it will not. This is the state of the quiet mind. Paradoxically, however, it is not to be rendered inoperative, i.e. reduced to a static, dead state. This we can do by a kind of 'locking' process which stops internal (mental) activity and produces inner quiet, but this is a negative, unfruitful state in which we can stay indefinitely under the impression that we are meditating. We are, in fact, doing nothing except perhaps having a quiet rest. The Masters have referred to this as 'mere quietism', and it is conducive to sleep.

2)    Conditioning and Deconditioning

These two processes go together. Here is another paradox. The process of conditioning is one of life- experience by way of what we have been taught, rules of conduct, and so on, creating our habitual thought patterns and automatic emotional reactions, our prejudices and preconceptions. All these 'cabin and confine' our Free Spirit. They are the elements of character which form the numerous "I's" of our very complex personalities.

The deconditioning process is by way of the injecting into the mind of 'right knowledge', as the Buddha calls it, for the mind to work on. This latter material is essentially of two kinds, both covering an exceedingly wide range; the first is informative giving correct ideas about the nature of Nature and its processes and laws, and so about ourselves; the second is by way of aphorisms, expressions of Wisdom, and of a devotional character. The first kind gives us an essential understanding and confidence, allowing us slowly to relinquish those substitutes for understanding and knowledge, i.e. our opinions, views and beliefs, which so many cherish to their cost. The second kind works almost subconsciously by invoking response from the higher levels of our being (Higher Mind) of which normally, and directly, we are unaware. The response, however, grows as Antahkarana is developed. This inculcates true, not blind, faith. We are beginning to know we have a 'higher Self'. We are beginning to make the essential inner contact for Self-realization, the end result of all meditation and spiritual aspiration, and to become integrated whole Beings.

3)    The Use of Imagination

This is the most difficult of our mind exercises or functions to explain in the context of meditation. First we must use what image-making faculty we may have. It is in this area, however, that we may run into the dangers of the illusory world of self-created images, its denizens and their environment. The safety practice here is positivity. We decide what we shall imagine, in what areas we shall work, and keep the mind to it until it does what we will. This is one reason for ordinary visualization exercises, e.g. imagining oneself in pleasant gardens, etc., not being recommended.

One of the functions of spiritual training, of which meditation is an aspect, is the 'cultivation' of the personality, the ordinary person. Most of us have paid, and do pay, little attention to this. We behave spontaneously according to our 'natures' and have to take the consequences. We dissipate our energies, we 'react' to hints, insults, etc. Our thought-emotion processes are mixed up, we do rash things, and so on, and there is no 'single' health in us. Imagination is the strong tool we can use in meditation to review these weaknesses and then to envisage wiser more virtuous behaviour in the various relationships and circumstances in which we are likely to find ourselves. Conscious behaviour has two aspects: a) negative, the control one (thou shalt not), and b) positive, the active one (thou shalt).

There is a further function of imagination to be cultivated. It is a paradoxical one in the light of what we have said about positive control, and that is the faculty of allowing it to work on its own, spontaneously but within bounds which we set. This is the area of interior perceptivity and of spontaneous creativity, whence come our 'original' thoughts or promptings to right action. The process is one of allowing our stilled lower mind to be impressed by the higher. For many of us this is all we can know of our higher mind or self in the ordinary way, and that only after years of effort. Used in this way the imagination is a kind of fluid link between the opening up of the way between the two aspects of Mind (Antahkarana).

Meditation is the way into spirituality (mysticism) and occultism proper. The exercises used in this course are based on the foregoing considerations. The journey within is a journey into the depths of our inner or subjective being - with our own awareness or consciousness as the concentrated centre of activity. It is, in the ultimate, an exploration of BEING (Universal Being) in terms of our own Being, (Inner or Higher Self). The hallmark of true spirituality is impersonality.

Students should however, be quite clear that the Self does not speak in words, or even visions, although these may be experienced and some may be spiritually significant. It speaks in silence. Its influence is in changes in our nature, and in our actions. These become 'right'; they have the assent of our whole being. The dictates of conscience now influence our understanding and sympathy. It simplifies our lives, or at any rate our attitude to them. As we progress we mature in a way much to be desired. This is spiritual development proper. On the way we may have experience of, and develop, powers (particularly psychic vision) which may seem strange and wonderful. We are warned strongly that these are not spiritual in themselves, and they are not specifically to be cultivated. Such experiences should be noted as mere incidents on the way of progress.

There are three main elements to meditational practice:

1) Relaxation, of body and mind
2) Concentration, control of the mind
3) Elevation of Consciousness (Right knowledge & Inspiration)

The following exercises fall into these categories.

Students should be encouraged to practise their concentration and meditation exercises between sessions and to read the standard books on the subject. Those who want to start taking their training seriously are recommended to read books like Wallace Slater's 'Raja Yoga, A Simplified and Practical Course', and Ernest Wood's 'Concentration'. For inspiration and the elevation of consciousness, books like H.P.B.'s Birthday Book 'Gems from the East', The Bhagavad Gita, The Voice of the Silence, Light on the Path, Viveka Chudamani, etc. are recommended for regular reading. This is important, even essential, for the elevation of consciousness. It is in the inspiration we get from such books that our efforts at spiritual development come 'alive'; through them we make a responsive contact with the Cosmic Powers, the Great Beings, the authors of our Being.

Some Significant Aphorisms

'Knowledge is superior to blind action, meditation to mere knowledge, renunciation of the fruit of action to meditation, and where there is renunciation peace will follow.'

Bhagavad Gita, ch. 12, v 12

 

'Verily, those who surrender their actions to Me, who muse on Me, worship Me and meditate on Me alone with no thought save of Me,
'O Arjuna! I rescue them quickly from the ocean of life and death, for their minds are fixed on Me.'

Bhagavad Gita, ch. 12, v 6

 

'Without concentration, O Mighty Man! renunciation is difficult. But the sage who is always meditating on the Divine, before long shall attain the Absolute.'

Bhagavad Gita, ch. 5, v 6

 

'Meditating on the Divine, having faith in the Divine, concentrating on the Divine, and losing themselves in the Divine, their sins dissolved in wisdom, they go whence there is no return.'

Bhagavad Gita, ch. 5, v 17

 

'Right discrimination is not in him who cannot concentrate. Without concentration there cannot be meditation; he who cannot meditate must not expect peace; and without peace, how can anyone expect happiness?'

Bhagavad Gita, ch. 2, v 66


MEDITATION GUIDE - NOTES FOR LEADERS

1) Leaders should be familiar with the rationale of meditation as outlined in the Introduction and be aware of at least some of the numerous techniques that are taught. Knowledge of the more popular books on the subject, e.g. those by Ernest Wood, Christmas Humphreys, Mouni Sadhu, Wallace Slater, A. Gardner, etc., establishes confidence and helps to make sessions more effective.

Leaders should also be in sympathy with the group they are leading, if possible by meeting the members of the group before and outside the sessions.

2) Leaders must be familiar with the form and content of the sessions they are to lead. Instructions or meditational material merely read to the group as the exercises proceed, come over 'dead'. This does not mean that notes and other written material cannot be used but the leader should be familiar with them, and have got their meaning and feeling beforehand.
Selections from the material to comprise a session must be made, learned and rehearsed before sessions.

Do not try to put too much into a session. Go slowly - take time. No meditation exercise can be rushed, some take a long time.

3) The exercises are divided into three main categories:

i)   1st Stage, Introductory.
ii)  2nd Stage, Intermediate.
iii) 3rd Stage, More Advanced Practice.

4) The material is in six groups as follows:-

Group I Preliminaries and Closure

This is detailed instruction in traditional preliminary practices at the start and at the end of every session.

They include assuming a right posture, relaxing, and breathing to quieten the body, and to settle emotions and thoughts, leading into a comfortable, quiet, relaxed, concentrated and meditative state. At the end of the session there is the return to awareness of one's body and normal surroundings.

Distracting chatter both before and after sessions should be discouraged.

Group II Concentration

This comprises practice in concentration a) on physical (real) objects, b) on remembered impressions of real objects, and c) on imaginary things or situations including abstracts, e.g. qualities of things, attributes of character, etc.

Group III 'Classical'

Meditation material on:

(a) one's body, emotions, thoughts and one's relation-ship to them;

(b) the elements of character, our personal defects and deficiencies;

(c) the nature of existing things, the classical Elements, etc., e.g. Earth, Water, Air, Fire;

(d) one's self, the Self, awareness, consciousness itself and the nature of subjective being.

Group IV. Theosophical (Information)

Material on the fundamental theosophical teachings: Unity, Law, Evolution, the nature of Nature, on Power and Energy, Spirit and Matter, Time and Space; and all this in relation to ourselves.

Group V Devotional and Mystical

This is material of the devotional (bhakti) kind wherein one attempts to sense the close kinship of oneself with the other Beings comprising Cosmos and all that is. It also includes material illustrative of and prompting us to right action (karma). One attempts to sense the inter-dependence and the inter-relatedness of everyone and everything in the Universe (what affects one affects all), and the effect of the workings of the law in personal individual matters.

Group VI Consciousness Raising

While inevitably there is consciousness-raising material in Group V, a few items more specifically so have been collected together into Group VI. They are elevating passages from the scriptures of the world; material for guidance, instruction and inspiration; the example of the saints, the enlightened ones.

5) The above material constitutes the content of the sessions and should be selected as appropriate to the group and time available. Some of the sentences or passages in Groups V and VI may be read as material for thinking on between sessions. It is helpful to prepare hand-out sheets for this purpose.

Important: Leaders must familiarize themselves with what they are going to put to the group before each session, i.e. the arrangement of material and its content.

6) Students attending the Introductory 1st Stage sessions should, if they wish, be allowed into the 2nd Stage Intermediate sessions. There is generally no significant difference between the Stages, especially when students have become familiar with the techniques.

It is suggested that no student should do more than two twenty minute sessions of any kind consecutively.

7) Students should assemble five minutes before their sessions. It would be as well if their leader met and talked to them during this time. After a session it is desirable for students, particularly those in the Introductory sessions to gather together with the leader to talk amongst themselves or with their leader. Any problems that arise, or criticisms of the material or the conduct of the session, can then be dealt with, and any faults in the conducting or suggestions for improving the content or conduct of the sessions carefully noted. The leader cannot always know how his instruction is being received. It has been found that there is real value in dealing formally with these points after the sessions before the group breaks up.

8) Leaders should always be alert to what they are asking the group to do. They must stay 'en rapport' with it, and also watch the time so as to give rests and changes of exercise according to the prearranged programme.

9) Leaders must give their instructions to the group clearly, confidently and allow time for the carrying out of the instruction. Instructions or material should usually be repeated, at proper intervals, especially in the longer exercises. This is really judicious prompting.

In giving out material or reading it, speak distinctly but not forcedly and above all audibly. Do not give out more than the group can easily assimilate at a time. Be imaginative and help your group. You can only do this well after having done much group meditation yourself.

10) Tell the group at the start what the session will comprise - e.g. 10 mins. Preliminaries, 1 min. Rest, 5 mins. Classical, 1 min. Rest, 5 mins. Devotional, then Closure.

At the end of each exercise, except the preliminaries, say "Finish with that exercise"; allow a little time for the group to do this, then say "Rest for one minute, just make no effort, keep your position and remain silent but relaxed". When students are familiar with this command, just say "Rest for one minute" or just "Rest", but do not forget to bring the previous exercise to a close first.

11) Composition of Sessions. A specimen composition, with times for each exercise, is given for a typical 1st Stage session and for early and later 2nd Stage sessions on pp 12 and 13.

It is recommended that a programme of sessions, at least as a general scheme, be used, with the exercise times as shown (see diagram on p 14) for the first 15 sessions. This programme introduces a change, starting at about session 8, from two to three exercises per session (apart from Preliminaries), thereby increasing the time for each exercise. The actual session for the change may depend on the number of new students recruited. Longer exercises are generally for the more practised students; less practised ones may lose concentration and do nothing effectually.

For a second series of 15 sessions, assuming new people join the course, the allocation of time to the various exercises for the 1st Stage should be retained, as shown on page 12. For a second series of 2nd Stage sessions, and assuming practised students are joining, the allocation of time can be as for the later sessions shown in the second table on page 13. However if new students keep joining the course, it will hardly be possible to use the longer exercises. The variation in the time allotted to the exercises and their content will depend on the competence of the group to keep concentrating. The leader must see that unprompted periods do not get too long. He can determine this by questioning members of the group after sessions. All that is said here is for guidance only. There are no hard and fast rules.

In general it will be found that an optimum time for a session is 20 to 25 minutes but with practised students this can extend to 30 minutes or even more. An indication that sessions are becoming too long is when fidgeting starts.

These remarks cannot apply to the short 'meditation' periods at Summer Schools, etc. because there is insufficient time. The common practice of reading a suitable passage or setting a theme to think about is adequate. These short periods only set a mood or create an atmosphere.

12) Selection of Material. This is at the discretion of the leader but it is recommended that it is made from the Group material provided with this Course, at any rate for the first 15 sessions of the 1st and 2nd Stages.

If the leader elects to use his discretion as to material, familiar, concrete or ordinary subjective material should be chosen for the earlier sessions. The more unfamiliar and really abstract material should be left to later sessions.

The allocation of time between Groups I and II as given on the tables should generally be adhered to, but as between Groups III to VI there is no relative importance. Sessions should be planned so that during the course a reasonably equal amount of each Group material is used. In using some of the Group III (Classical) material, do a series of 3 or 4 sessions consecutively: in each of 3 successive sessions one on the body, one on emotion, one on thought; or 4 sessions on the Elements, one on Earth, one on Water, one on Air and one on Fire. In preparing a session a balance between the material from the Groups should be aimed at.

Where a number of leaders team up to lead a course they should arrange their selections of material, so as not to repeat the same exercises too often, unless this is done on purpose and the group informed.

13) Leaders must be careful not to assume the role of instructors, teachers or gurus, and students should be discouraged from regarding them as such.