In the summer of 2017, I came across Steve Jobs, the authorized, self-titled biography by Walter Isaacson. Up until that time, I had never read a book that big. The size of the book was formidable but to my surprise, Jobs’ life and Isaacson’s writing were quite captivating. Not only did I read the entire book but I also later read it five more times cover to cover.
The book was full of lessons for me and every page provided some insight into Jobs’ character. For the next two years, it served as a great source of inspiration. I even started my own business in an effort to follow in Jobs’ footsteps.
I was doing just fine…until 2019. That is when my company had a huge decline in investors and the whole thing came crashing down like a house of cards.
It was during this time that I was giving Jobs’ biography another read. This time though, my search did not end with just a reading of the book. I also hunted the internet for videos on Jobs. I looked for documentaries, talks, and quotes. I learned about so many more aspects of his life that the biography did not cover including (and most significantly) his talks and relationship with Kobun Chino, his spiritual advisor.
From this research, I became spiritually inspired and resolved to meditate every day. Unfortunately, I struggled to sit for even five minutes. Thank God I never gave up. I read books like Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and Cosmic Consciousness, books that Jobs also recommended. In hindsight, I wanted to see the world through his eyes. This is why I was vigorously trying to replicate what he had done but, thankfully, this did not include his diets and LSD!
Soon after that, I was at an airport bookstore and found the Autobiography of a Yogi staring me in the face. I decided to give it a shot – yet even then I kept that book on a shelf in my home for a very long time! 400+ pages about a yogi, eh? Not sure, I thought.
When I finally got around to reading it, I could not stop. I read the autobiography everywhere, anytime I had the opportunity. As soon as I finished the book, I researched Kriya Yoga because Yogananda said that Kriya Yoga was the great technique for Self-realization and the airplane route to God!
I was elated to find an Ananda center near my house. And lo! Their introductory course was coming up in two weeks! I secretly went to the center for a three-hour class on meditation, avoiding any skepticism from friends and family.
From there, I developed the habit of sitting for 15 minutes at least once a day.
The course progressed over the next year and I slowly increased my meditation time, adding another session in the evening. I tried my best to be the most diligent aspirant in my class!
Ten months after my first class and after ten months of training and practicing the techniques, I was finally initiated into Kriya Yoga. It was a turning point in my life.
Since then I have been consistently meditating for at least two hours a day split into two sessions. I also do longer meditations once a week and go on seclusion whenever it is possible.
In this article, I want to share some of the many changes that I have seen in my life since I started meditating.
By the practice of meditation, you will find that you are carrying within your heart a portable paradise. – Paramahansa Yogananda
When I feel stressed about difficult situations and heavy workloads, it is dramatically easier to deal with them. All I have to do is access that portable paradise.
The more I meditate, the more I find a bubble of joy encircling me and my dependence on outer sources of happiness decreases. Material things do not matter as much when you find this hidden gem in your soul.
Meditation has helped me to stay focused on being ‘even-minded and cheerful’ in all circumstances. That is the ultimate goal of every yogi!
Happiness in the Right Places
When you ask some people about happiness, they may talk about things like their favourite TV shows, sports team, work, food, shopping, etc. Meditators often come to realize that the pleasures of this material life give only momentary happiness and those moments of happiness are inevitably followed by pain and suffering.
We get trapped by these things because they feel pleasurable at the moment. The mind equates that momentary pleasure with a sense of happiness. What we fail to realize is that there is another way to experience happiness that is ever-lasting.
This is the path of yoga. Yogananda tells us that a touch of this enduring happiness is enough to produce dispassion for worldly pleasures.
If a person who has only ever eaten stale cheese is given good cheese, he loses his appetite for stale cheese altogether.
The more I meditate, the more I learn what the teachings instruct — to enjoy the things of this world with the joy of God. I know that my true happiness comes from Him, not from the shining objects of this world.
Seeing Life Impersonally
In the default state of existence, it seems like we are occupied with “I,” “me,” and “mine.” “I like this,” “I don’t like this,” “I’m angry,” etc.
Through meditation I started to become aware of the higher reality and truths – I am not the body, the mind, or your thoughts. I understand that I am just the observer and as long as I choose to remain in that watchful state, I can cruise through life more joyfully.
Instead of saying, “I’m angry” I now say (or think), “I’m feeling anger.” The first statement is a negative affirmation but the latter one frames anger as a tendency that can be fixed without over-identification with the emotional state.
Paramahansa Yogananda describes intuition as “the directly-perceiving faculty of the soul that at once knows the truth about everything, requiring no medium of sense experience or reason.” I think intuition can also be understood as a feeling that conveys true guidance, that we may often choose to not listen to.
For example, you may have an uneasy feeling when you meet a stranger that is significant — that feeling can be your intuition guiding you to not be with that person. I have found that meditation makes me calmer and it’s much easier to listen to this inner guidance when I need it.
Clear Sense of Purpose
Our goals and purpose in life to a large extent, are determined by our environment. “Environment is stronger than willpower,” Master said. The environment may show us a hundred different ways to seek happiness that keep us evermore trapped in delusion.
As I meditated regularly, I understood that my happiness came from within and not without. And if that’s the case, I am not dependent on outward circumstances for my happiness. I do not need a certain amount of money, a secure job, or possessions to feel happy.
I understand that the only thing worth working for then is Self-realization. When you know that you want God wholeheartedly, you become crystal clear about your purpose in life and what you need to do to achieve it.
When I compare my life before and after meditation, I realize that the old me had no idea that there is a higher level of awareness waiting for me. What are the actual benefits of becoming more conscious? Why should I care? And what the heck does raising your consciousness mean anyway? For all I knew then, higher awareness was restricted to monks, nuns, saints, and sages.
Yet, doing meditation practices not only gave me more happiness but also shifted my day-to-day life for the better. When awareness rises, perception expands. I began to notice things that I had never noticed before…
Driving, doing laundry, taking a walk, washing the utensils, entering data into a spreadsheet, drying out clothes, and many other usually boring tasks were not so mundane anymore. I found joy in just being and doing. Nothing seemed boring.
Energy and Concentration
Swami Kriyananda often said that the two keys to success in any field are energy and concentration. This simple but overlooked truth contains such practical wisdom. Every problem I face now nearly disappears when I face it with a high level of energy.
Concentration is equally important if you don’t want to waste most of your energy. After following the path of Kriya I have been able to develop and increase my concentration and energy.
I use the Energization Exercises multiple times a day to recharge myself whenever needed. My regular practice of meditation and techniques like Hong-Sau have trained my mind for ever-deeper concentration.
The deep power of concentration that comes through daily meditation enables a person to resolve an issue in minutes, perhaps, where otherwise he might have fretted over it for weeks. –Swami Kriyananda
When Yogananda returned after his sojourn in the Himalayas, he asked his Guru, “Master, I must have disappointed you by my abrupt departure from my duties here. I thought you might be angry with me.”
“No, of course not! Wrath springs only from thwarted desires,” said the Master.
Anger emerges out of our desire to control others and to do what we want them to do. I often assumed as a child an irritated and angry mood. While I learned to control it as I grew older, the demon of anger never left me completely.
I have learned with the help of meditation to be calmer. I realize now that my anger was only the result of my expectations from others.
Anger often springs from a desire to ‘make things right’ in others or the world. This tendency, as righteous as it may seem, ends up robbing us of our peace of mind. There are many things wrong in this world for one person to correct but I have learned to try to remain inwardly calm.
Instead of anger, more and more I feel a stronger kinship with everyone. My love is far from perfect but even a little sliver of that love cannot help but suggest that we are all connected. In this way, anger soon gets transformed into love, empathy, and compassion. It gets harder and harder to get angry at someone for anything. We are able to see everyone as our brothers and sisters walking the path to God.
Research shows that meditation activates the prefrontal cortex (intellect, planning, decision-making, etc) and reduces the activity in your amygdala (fear, emotions, temptations, etc). Meditation can help us to make better decisions by strengthening our intellect and regulating emotions.
In a popular TED talk, Judson Brewer narrated the story of how meditation helped heavy smokers finally quit.
Every habit, he says, follows a pattern: trigger, behaviour, reward. That’s how our brains know what to do the next time we’re in a similar situation. If you came out of a bad meeting and find refuge in a cigarette, the resulting stress from the meeting was your trigger, the behaviour was reaching for a cigarette, and the reward was smoking that cigarette.
The next time this happens, the brain will tell you — “Hey, remember last time you had a bad meeting? What did you do? It was dope! Let’s do that again.”
So how did these smokers break their habit? They cultivated awareness through meditation.
We all have bad habits — some are trivial, others consequential. At any rate, meditation helps us to not indulge in destructive habits. Master says the joy of meditation is beyond comparison to worldly pleasures. Thus, with the bubble of joy ever expanding in our hearts, the pull of maya weakens making it easier to rise Godward.
Meditation has helped me to overcome some of the bad habits and tendencies that I struggled to overcome. If you have a superior source of happiness – one that comes with no future regrets and conditions, why wouldn’t you take it?
So many relationships in life seem to be based on superficial realities like flattery, physical attraction, or mental similarities. Often these relationships are transactional — “What’s in it for me?” Alas, my life was also made up of such friendships. Interestingly, I came to understand the true meaning of friendships and relationships only after coming on this path.
Those who love God like to spend time with others who love Him. When I spent time with old friends who did not understand these realities, it felt like an obligation because I had stopped relating to their way of life and we increasingly grew apart.
I lost friendships but on the other hand, I was given the gift of a spiritual family where friendships were forged in God and loving service and divine friendship were the highest priority.
Moreover, being in the company of fellow seekers improved all of my other relationships in life by making me understand the value of selfless love and devotion to the presence of God in everyone.
Desire to Find God
I was brought up in a Hindu family and grew up seeing photos and statues of Gods and Goddesses all around. This seemingly idol-worship made me believe that God was somewhere out there, sitting in the heavens, judging us for our actions.
All this changed for the better when I started meditating and came onto the spiritual path. I finally understood that God was not sitting up there but is ever-present in our own being. We are all made in His image.
God is Satchitananda — ever-conscious, ever-existing, and ever-new Bliss. I came to understand that all the idols that personify His different aspects are just aspirational ideals for us to reach. Ultimately, our job is to climb our own inner ladder of awareness.
I started judging every action in my life in binary terms — will this bring me closer or lead me away from God. My hunger to find Him was awakened. My only goal in life became disentangling the traps of delusion and moving towards Self-realization.
I was fortunate to feel and observe these changes in my life. I am sure you too have seen or will see these changes with your meditation practices.
If you have not meditated regularly, I hope this article will help you to start, resume, or deepen your practice.
Joy to you!