Healing Relationships with So Purkh

There is a special mantra in the Kundalini Yoga tradition called the So Purkh which Yogi Bhajan specifically recommended be used by women. The mantra’s purpose is to elevate a man. Many women in the tradition use the So Purkh to “manifest the divine” in the men in their lives. A So Purkh sadhana is 11 recitations of the mantra every day for 40 days.

It’s important to realize that a mantra, or a sadhana of this sort, is in no way a guarantee to manifest a specific outcome. Rather, this type of sadhana is a way of putting energy behind an intention. And the So Purkh is an interesting and unique practice because it’s intended to benefit someone else, whereas a majority of the other meditations within the tradition are intended for the person practicing.

A good friend of mine once reminded me at a difficult time that we don’t do spiritual practice to manifest specific outcomes in our lives. In other words, it isn’t penance. It’s not as if, once we’ve meditated enough, we’ll get the right job or spouse or something like that – we’re not earning our success.

Spiritual practice is a commitment to a specific way of being in the world. It’s not a results-oriented practice in the way we often think of being goal-oriented in this culture. If there is a goal in spiritual practice, it’s to remain graceful in the most challenging circumstances, to remain peaceful in the midst of chaos, and to be a radiant light in places of shadow and darkness.

So Purkh is a beautiful and powerful mantra. To discover it for yourself, listen to the SoPurkh on YouTube. I also recommend “Ask the Yogini: So Purkh” by Ramdesh Kaur.

The Summer Solstice Experience

Every summer Kundalini Yogis from around the world gather at Ram Das Puri in the Jemez Mountains near Espanola, New Mexico for a variety of intensive workshops and 3 days of White Tantric Yoga. They call this experience Summer Solstice.It is a transformative immersion opportunity. I have had the Summer Solstice experience twice since I began practicing Kundalini Yoga. Both times I described it afterward as one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Because Ram Das Puri is in the high desert, the weather covers some surprising extremes. It can be as warm as 90 degrees during the mid-day, and as cold as 40 degrees at night. Add to that the altitude of nearly 7,000 feet, the desert sun, the dust, the wind, and occasional torrential rains, and you have quite a climate experience! (Oh, and you will be camping, so don’t forget to bring your tent!)

A day at Summer Solstice begins at 3:45 with group sadhana (spiritual practice), followed by breakfast. Throughout the day, participants have a variety of yoga workshops to choose from. Meals are included in the registration fee and follow a special cleansing diet prescribed by Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga.

One of the most remarkable features of the Solstice experience is the intentional community. Everyone who attends participates by providing some special service as part of community-building. Being part of a group of up to 2000 like-minded people coming together to pursue a common intention is incredibly powerful. Add to that the sacred history of Ram Das Puri in the Native American tradition, and Summer Solstice is an incredible opportunity to deepen one’s spiritual practice and commitment.

I think that many times if we look back and are completely honest with ourselves, the times at which we were learning the most, and having the greatest chance of moving forward, of becoming most fully ourselves, are challenging times. Letting go of who we used to be can be difficult and painful. The degree to which we will experience pain and difficulty in that process depends upon the extent to which we cling to old ideas and beliefs which no longer serve the person we are becoming.

The dates for this year’s Summer Solstice are June 14-23, 2012. Service scholarships and financial aid are available.

Photos of Summer Solstice courtesy of Amarjot Singh.

Kirtan: Music and Mantra

Kirtan is a devotional practice that includes call-and-response chanting of mantras set to music. It could also be defined as prayer or meditation in the form of the names of the divine. The musical aspect of kirtan is slightly different from “singing” in the sense that the goal is not to be on key so much as it is to participate in the group sacred energy.

Kirtan is very much a participatory experience. One goes to kirtan not just to be an audience member, but to take part in the creation of sacred space through raising one’s voice (don’t worry, no one’s listening). The purpose is to create a sacred sound vibration, and to be immersed in the experience, to be moved (sometimes literally, as you will see in the video clips). As discussed in Meditation and the Monkey Mind, a mantra can be a helpful focal point – a place to return to over and over when distracted by stray thoughts.

If you’ve ever been to a great concert, you’ve probably experienced how the music can take you somewhere, outside of yourself. Kirtan combines this musical experience with the meditation/mantra experience. Meditation has an impact on your brain waves; it changes your brain chemistry. The easiest way to understand that change is to experience it.

Check out these popular Kirtan artists in concert on YouTube (3 very different styles):

Now that you’ve had an introduction to kirtan at home, come experience live kirtan with The Sacred Waters Kirtan Group at Unity Church in South Bend on Friday, March 23, at 7pm.

The 40-day Sadhana Challenge

“The highest sadhana is that your presence should remind people of God. What bigger and more powerful miracle than that can there be, that by your very presence you can invoke Godhood in people?” – Yogi Bhajan

Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga to the United States in the 1960s, recommended that all practitioners do sadhana, or daily spiritual practice, as a way of connecting with the infinite on a regular basis. Since Kundalini Yoga meditations have impact in as little as 3 minutes, sadhana need not be long in order to be effective.

The key is consistency. Yogi Bhajan said it takes 40 days to change or break a habit. So then 40 consecutive days is the minimum time period for any sadhana. Sadhana requires a basic level of discipline, while building a higher level of commitment in the practitioner.

A lot of people think that they need to study with a famous teacher or attend a retreat in a far-off exotic location to grow their spiritual practice. This is simply not the case. Real growth comes from an individual’s daily commitment to engaging in the practice. The most popular teacher, the most amazing retreat, will not be useful without that firm and grounded commitment to the practice day after day, whether sick or well, busy or bored.

Doing sadhana means maintaining that spark of the divine within you. It will change how you feel, how you see yourself, and how others see you. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. And if you need to see the evidence, check out How God Changes Your Brain, by Andrew Newberg, MD.

Photo of Yogi Bhajan © 2004 Gurumustuk Khalsa – www.sikhphotos.com

The White Tantric Yoga Experience

In the Kundalini Yoga tradition there is a special all-day meditation experience called “White Tantric Yoga.” (WTY)  It’s a partner meditation where hundreds of pairs sit facing each other in rows. The day consists of a series of meditations of varying lengths, generally 62 minutes or less, with breaks in between. WTY is designed to release blocks in the subconscious. The meditations typically include hand/body positions (mudra), eye focus, and sacred sound (mantra). In between the meditations, video clips of Yoga Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga, are shown in which he discusses the purpose and benefits of each meditation in that day’s program.

It’s probably worth mentioning here that WTY is not a sexual practice. The word tantra has become almost synonymous with sex, but it’s important to realize there are different types of tantra, not all of them sexual. While the meditation is done with a partner, it need not be someone you are romantically involved with, or even someone you know. Many people just show up at WTY and see who else shows up that they’d like to partner with for the day.

In my first WTY experience, the element that struck me most was the eye gazing. Many of the meditations were performed with the eyes open, looking directly into the partner’s eyes for 30-60 minutes at a stretch. It was a completely new experience for me. I’d never sustained that kind of eye contact before, even in my long-term romantic relationships – and my partner for the day was a complete stranger I’d met when I arrived at the workshop! At first, I found it uncomfortable, then I started to notice changes. I found I could see aspects of myself reflected in the other person, and I found that, in time, I was looking through that person, rather than at her.

So far in my Kundalini practice, I’ve completed 10 days of WTY. Every experience is different. Sometimes the day is intensely physical; sometimes it’s intensely emotional. Sometimes I wished it wouldn’t end, and other times I was ready to run out the door 2 minutes after we started (but I didn’t). That often depends on whatever I’m working through at the time, and whatever is triggered by the meditations in that day’s program.

WTY is a fantastic opportunity to move through blocks in your life. It’s offered in major cities in the United States and around the world. Chicago’s WTY is Saturday, April 21, 2012.

Meditation and the Monkey Mind, Part II: What the *@!# is wrong with me?!

In the beginning stages of meditation, it often seems like the mind is completely out of control. This is commonly referred to as “monkey mind.” In fact, it may seem like mental chatter gets worse during meditation. While there may be some truth in that, due to the nature of mind, mainly what’s happening is that we are turning up the volume, so to speak, on all the garbage that our minds are churning out at us on a regular basis. We are focusing in on it, noticing stories and recurring themes.

Sometimes those who are new to meditation feel very discouraged because they have difficulty maintaining focus for for than a few minutes. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to sit for short, manageable periods of time. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition in which I teach and practice, meditations are done for as little as three minutes. Even three minutes is long enough to begin to experience the benefits! You can build to longer times as you develop an increased ability to focus. The important thing is consistency and building a daily practice: meditation is a process.

It’s important to realize that you don’t need to stop your mind in order to meditate. The process of surrendering to whatever arises, moment by moment, in meditation, is what creates a set of circumstances in which the mind can be at rest. Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga, said, “It is not meditation that stops the mind. It is the surrender of the mind to the soul, and the soul to Truth. It is when you prefer the word of Truth to the word of your own intellect.”

It’s common to notice a lot of so-called negative thoughts and emotions: anger, selfishness, jealousy, fear, self-righteousness, and the like. Meditation prompts us to ask the question, “Who am I?” Am I my thoughts? Am I my beliefs? My experiences? Am I my emotions? Swami Bodhananda, of the Vedic tradition, says, we are “sat chit ananda,” pure bliss, and that meditation can help us connect with an awareness of that which we truly are. In other words, the rest is just a distraction.

One of the most important benefits of meditation is that it clears garbage from the subconscious mind. By garbage I mean the chatter or “commotion” that goes on at a level we are not consciously aware of, the stories and false beliefs that have an impact on the way we behave in the world. Meditation is like a shower for the subconscious.

Meditation also gives the practitioner an opportunity to develop mental clarity and inner peace which facilitates the dissolution of habitual ways of being which may no longer serve the highest good. As we develop a greater ability to observe ourselves in our practice and our daily lives, we may notice these small changes. For example, one way in which the change may enter our awareness is by creating a gap between a situation that we find challenging and our urge to react to it out of our habitual programming. Meditation can, over time, give us the tools to respond differently to the challenges we face.

Meditation and the Monkey Mind

I can’t tell you how often people say to me, “I’ve tried to meditate but I just can’t.” When I ask why not, the answer is usually something like, “Well, I just can’t stop thinking.” It seems like the real issue here is not that all these people can’t meditate, but that there is some inaccuracy in the popular definition of meditation, some fundamental misconception about what people actually “do” in meditation. In this post, I’d like to dispel some myths about meditation as well as provide a more accurate explanation not only of what meditation is, but of what the practical benefits are.

First, it’s important to understand that saying “I practice meditation” is about as specific as saying “I practice yoga.” There are about as many different types of meditation as there are styles of yoga; thus, there are a number of vastly different practices which people commonly refer to as “meditation.” One of my first pop culture images of meditation (still my favorite) was Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl.

Chanting “Om” , as in the video clip, is one type of meditation using a mantra. Mantras are sacred sounds or prayers which help focus the mind; there are a wide variety of mantras, some short and some long, in different languages and traditions. A similar practice, which uses vowel sounds as opposed to words, is often called toning. The practice of chanting mantras or toning does several things: first, it creates a sound wave, a powerful vibration which can affect the physical being; second, it creates a focal point, which is useful for letting go of stray thoughts; third, chanting activates energy channels (or nadis) through the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Many practitioners use a mala (string of beads) as a way of counting repetitions of the mantra. In that sense, meditating with a mantra has some similarity to the Catholic practice of praying the rosary. (By the way, incense is not required.)

Some meditation practices are silent. Either they do not include a mantra, or the mantra may be repeated internally as a way of focusing the mind. Meditation practices which do not use a mantra often have some other focal point, such as a candle flame. Other practices use the breath, or a particular breathing pattern, as the focal point. Still other practices use a concept or intention as a focal point. There are also some traditions that use movement as meditation (such as walking meditation, for example).

The point of meditation, so to speak, is to develop observational awareness, to cultivate the inner observer. Sometimes this is called “mindfulness.” You might be happy to learn it is not necessary to stop thinking in order to meditate. It is only necessary to be patient with yourself, to cultivate your ability to focus, and to engage in the process of training your mind. To that end, a couple of techniques may prove useful to the novice:

  • Regard thoughts during meditation as clouds in the sky, passing with the breeze. Or as cars on the highway, passing by your field of vision. Notice them, but do not become attached to them. Do not try to follow them, or be angry with them for being there.
  • Develop an attitude of loving-kindness toward yourself. It is almost like training a puppy. Certainly, you will lose focus and you may wander off after stray thoughts. It is only important to bring your focus back each and every time you are aware that you have wandered off, without judging or berating yourself. Consistent correction and patience are key.

The practice of meditation also seeks to develop a present moment orientation, discussed in popular books such as Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now which was featured on Oprah. This can be tremendously empowering, as so many of us sacrifice our energy and sometimes our very well-being to ruminating on the past or giving free rein to our anxieties about the many uncertainties of the future.

More about this topic in part II of this post.