My Stage One was based on a path of meditation, so my observations are worded accordingly. I have touched on alternative disciplines, but as these are outside my personal experience I have only mentioned them in a very broad way.
In my case, Stage One lasted a number of years and I would call it the more “comfortable” part of the journey:
The onset of the transformation process — when the larva enters the cocoon, so to speak. BR
I found that, unlike Neo in The Matrix, by choosing the red pill of Siddha Yoga I noticed little or no immediate transforming effect. Existing reality didn’t suddenly fade to be replaced with another, which, if you have seen the movie is probably a good thing. Life continued much as it always had with not one rabbit hole in sight. You will most likely have found the same after your red pill choice.
Probably like me when starting your “self-improvement” journey, you will have set yourself a personal goal to give purpose to the formal discipline you are undertaking in whatever form that takes. This could be a goal on the everyday level, such as reducing stress, finding the perfect partner, improving confidence or beating depression or maybe it is aimed at the more esoteric such as wanting to achieve a spiritual goal of inner peace and stillness or even that big bang enlightenment moment.
Whatever you set as the motivator this initial period is most likely going to be one of settling in and learning the ropes. In my case, I found by joining an organised group such as Siddha Yoga this acclimatisation was easier because l was following in the footsteps of others and had the support of similar minded people. Books, courses and reference materials were available if required (not my strong point I have to say) and people were around to answer any questions that came up. This is not to say that in this more structured environment, our experiences will follow a pre-determined set of outcomes because they won’t. Each of us is unique and this process of self-development will take us on a journey that is at some level is specifically designed for our situation, although we may not know it at the time.
I call this first stage The Inner Journey because most practices aim to make an inner connection even if the disciplines taught involve external activities. Leaving aside the spiritual and taking a more grounded example, a sportsperson at a moment of peak excellence is tapping into the power contained within a state of total focus and concentration and those characteristics only exist when accessing an internal core of stillness and focus. The Inner Journey is the same. It is the process of turning inside ourselves using whatever form of practice that involves and working through the experiences that happen when we do. Our goal, recognised or not, is to realise a primary point within us, to touch a place of inner peace and stillness, to connect with a base of stability that we can use as a foundation for strength and sanity when we re-emerge and engage with the outside world.
We close our eyes in prayer, meditation, chanting, or contemplation or keep them open in whatever method we use and reach for a point that is beyond the everyday; a centre, an inner place – quiet, still, reflective, safe, and totally absorbing. In its extreme form thinking slows or stops and nothing exists outside of that moment. The me dissolves as a result and takes with it all the associated memories, stresses and worldly connections. It is why meditation in its pure form or any other discipline that requires us to be one-pointed in concentration can be so restful because we access a place internally where we can have a no-cost holiday from ourselves and our life dramas!
We then come out of that state, open our eyes, literally or figuratively, become me again and engage with the world by returning to our “normal” lives. Hopefully, we have kept a residual of that inner experience to help calm and balance the pressures of living and provide guidance. In this early stage of development, a duality is still created because we still live as the self as I have explained before. The subject (me) observes everything else (objects) and then processes this sensory input using the mind to determine our emotional and physical reactions.
In whatever form this Stage One period takes, whether it’s a discipline like meditation, yoga, mindfulness or something like Byron Katie’s “The Steps”, or a more traditional structure like Christianity, Buddhism or Islam, this more formal phase gives you a framework to start your journey based on our notion of how things are achieved in the world. We undertake activities (doing) and we eventually get to an outcome (the goal).
So, it doesn’t matter that we start out on our journey with our holy cards, gongs and bells, sacred books, and religious feelings. BR
I wrote at the beginning of this chapter that I felt this time was the more “comfortable” period of my journey. I say that because my analogy for Stage One is that when we join a personal development, spiritual or religious path, anything ranging from meditation to a church, it is a bit like getting on a bus where the price of a ticket is an adoption of the code of practice for that group. Once the ticket is issued the bus will transport you in air-conditioned comfort with a driver up front to set your course and steer you around the obstacles.
The road might get a bit rough in places, but in your own mind progress must be happening because you are still sitting on the bus with your nominated destination on the ticket you are holding. In some cases, the ride might well drop you at the front door of your expected endpoint, but it is only when you get out that you realise that the journey continues and you are now on the edge of the unknown without a bus, a decent map or GPS! This is what happened to me in Stage Two.
Maybe the Truth can be realised within an organised structure, but it is my belief that at some stage, you have to move beyond the words and teachings (“the holy cards, bells and gongs” that Bernadette talks about or the bus in my analogy) to eventually realise That, which lies behind all of the mind chatter. This is a process that can only be fully realised by direct experience. Intellectual theories feeding our mind’s endless hunger to understand everything and fit concepts into a neat philosophical framework can be useful as we progress on this journey, but the goal of this whole exercise is to become the Truth, not just read about it or explore it intellectually with our minds.
In my case, the rather vague understanding of the spiritual goal I was aiming for was based on a misconception that I have already written about. I thought that if I continued to follow the practices of meditation, chanting, being a nice person etc. at some wonderful and unexpected starburst moment “self-realisation” would explode into my life. It would bring with it all the benefits of that inner peace achieved in meditation but magnified and permanently incorporated into every waking moment. The huge added bonus would be the addition of all those good feelings, which we package together under the “happiness” label, the ultimate goal of all human beings. The end result in my mind (slightly exaggerated!) would still be a “Tony Eastmead”, a public servant working in Canberra (or preferably rich and retired), but I would be permanently living in a state of bliss that would allow me to engage in life happily and super effectively. I would become like one of those laughing Buddha statues, but a lot slimmer. I would still be me, but a contented me with smiles for everyone and a laugh for every occasion.
The problem with this scenario, even if you achieve everything I have described, including the big bang or even a small explosion of happiness flooding your life (and I never did), is that although you might think this is the final destination, in reality, you are actually only part the way along the path to the Truth! The process as I understand it through real-life experience demands that the affective (emotional) system be dissolved in its current controlling form, and the goal is not to selectively enhanced it by including the good stuff and excluding all the bad! What a huge disappointment. Understandably, I doubt this is a fact you will come across too often in the literature on this topic.
I spent years in Stage One starting with an enthusiastic period, which involved attending several Siddha Yoga public programmes each week, daily meditation, weekend retreats and a couple of periods living in an ashram (a meditation centre), one in America and one in India. I had some intense moments of inner reflection and became a proficient meditator; however, I never experienced any of the more colourful aspects that others describe, such as visions, dramatically altered states of consciousness, bliss or such. Mine seemed to be a more boring, but steady approach.
Looking back on this time I must have felt that I was achieving some positive outcomes otherwise I wouldn’t have continued in such a dedicated way. What I can say is that I never consciously felt that I reached some specific “limit” or inner goal of this part of the journey, a destination point of self-discovery like that described by Bernadette:
Once we come to the state of oneness, we can go no further with the inward journey. The divine centre is the innermost “point”, beyond which we cannot go at this time.
On a more mundane, but positive note, my overwhelming black depressions no longer appeared, but I was still susceptible to periods of being “down”. I don’t know if this improved outcome was as a result of the meditation practices or just me becoming older – who can tell?
After a number of years (I have absolutely no detailed memory of this period or any other) my more formal involvement with Siddha waned, although I still felt connected to the basic tenant of working towards some sort of awakening, however ill-defined that was. I mostly stopped going to public meetings and other group sessions but maintained an on again, off again schedule of personal meditation and a connection with my teacher Baba Muktananda and after his death his successor Swami Nityananda.
So as Stage One wound down I moved into the next, a period where I thought I had lost my way but maybe hadn’t. It’s where that inner journey bus-ride left me with the real hard work still to do, which was nothing less than the self-destruction of who I thought I was. I found it a bumpy ride so let’s see what it might look like with a brief detour to another topic – The Mantra.
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