by Joseph Rex Kerrick
I’ve gotten some requests to recommend spiritual practices, and to tell about my own. I’ll start at step one on the journey of a thousand light-years: here’s a beginner’s-stage How to Meditate.
A second essential practice is breath-control. Here’s another meditation tutorial, this one highlighting breathing technique: Ananda: Learn to Meditate
The third most basic practice is mindfulness. At that link is a good introduction to it from a politically problematic source, irrelevant to the matter at hand. Here’s a page with more detailed information about mindlfulness from a spiritual perspective, and here’s a more secular version from Psychology Today.
I once practiced Gurdjieff’s version of mindfulness, which is a little more advanced and hence more beneficial if done well. It’s called self-remembering, and the aim is simply to sustain conscious awareness of yourself and whatever you’re doing, thinking, looking at, talking about, etc., as continuously as possible. If you can go longer than thirty seconds, you’re getting good! It’s enormously difficult, and therefore an excellent way to exercise the ol’ mental muscles. The idea is to focus on the fact that “I am here”, to remember that you are you and are present in whatever activity or non-activity you happen to be engaged in. The next layer of the theory behind it is that every human has not just one but many ‘I’s, innumerable personae that constantly shift around and take over the mechanism at the slightest change in external circumstance. Self-remembering is the first step toward unification of the Self.
In recent years the praxes that turn out to be what I need come into my life not through conscious intent and deliberate research & such, but through sheer synchronicity. One such was called Antakharana, which I later learned is actually a broader term that someone had used as a convenient label for the practice. It involves visualizing the divine light coming down from above into your chakras one at a time ~ not directly but in a triangular path to points horizontally in front of each chakra. The specific purpose is to make and increase your contact with higher benevolent entities, and if I had had any wild expectations of such a thing, it has vastly exceeded them. This was no doubt helped by some embellishments I made, chanting the names of the planetary deities and other Gods of Thule during each influx of the light.
A few months after starting Antakharana I connected with a yogini on a religious forum, and continued it on Facebook. She referred me to a video of her teacher demonstrating a simple but very potent breathing exercise which she swore had brought her the supreme enlightenment. I tried it, and sure enough it got highly mind-blowing very fast. I told her: hey, it worked, I got enlightened too! She was gratified to hear that, but of course I know that the path goes ever on, and for every supreme enlightenment there’s an even better one further along… like what’s been happening since I added the Wonder Breath to my praxis. (The relevant part of the linked video ends at 3:18, when the instructor says: “That’s everything. You’ve just got the whole story there.” But he didn’t mention an important item, which is that you should do the exercise for a seven-minute stretch once every day.)
In a forum I followed last year a few people talked about how they took a martial approach to spiritual discipline, some (but not all) of them in connection with actual martial arts practice. The emphasis was on sheer willpower, like the man who said he wished to “wage war against my passions, the lower elements of myself, my weaknesses, bad habits, and so on in an attempt to attain self-mastery”. I affirmed the value of this yang mode of dealing with the challenge, and then added a constructive criticism as follows:
For me, and for countless people throughout history, connecting with the divine brings an inflowing of grace, light, and benevolence from beyond ourselves, a power separate from our own will which can make an immediate impact on the challenges. We can’t live without willpower, but it has its limits. The first critical question is: WHO is doing the willing? From a psychological perspective, each of us has not just one but many different “selves”, a whole slew of personae, each with its own agenda; the human being is a smorgasbord of constantly-shifting drives, whims, and desires. The kind of willpower described here is actually a process of an alpha-type persona, or a contingent of them, imposing its will on the other personae, whipping them into line, shoving the lazy ones out of the way, and burying all the other personae that aren’t in line with the dominant agenda. Such a process can be very effective for accomplishing limited goals, but the biggest danger is revealed by the commonplace name for the pragmatic league of sub-selves that runs the organism: the EGO.
And anyway, what happens when you expend all your force to break out of your vicious cycle, and fail? This is the classic catalyst, the traditional tipping-point at which an individual opens to divine grace. The fundamentalist formula for Christian conversion is the recognition that “I can’t do it by myself ~ Jesus, I surrender, come into my heart!” Likewise Vishnu, Allah, Shiva, and the innumerable Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism.
In esoteric terms, the Divine Presence becomes a Solar Ego, a True Self, that not only has the power to will but to know WHAT to will ~ to know what actions and accomplishments will truly serve your own spiritual development as well as the good of others. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Arjuna was able to lay waste his enemies on the battlefield because he had surrendered to the divinity of Krishna, whose omnipotent force filled the limbs of the warrior and radiated through his sword.
Spiritual surrender, called Bhakti by the Hindus, does not contravene the assertive methods, but rather complements them; the surrender to divine grace is the yin method. In a well-balanced person, the two modes work hand-in-hand. Go as far as you can on your own steam, but don’t be afraid to give it up to God.