Today I heard from someone who discovered this blog by accident and has been enjoying my early posts. (The person is starting from the beginning, in 2004, and reading onwards.)
At the end of the email message I was asked a question.
Apart from generally saying hello, I thought I'd ask you something as well. You've been following the RSSB system quite a few years (quite a few decades, more like). You haven't found your "answer" there, as you've made clear in your blog : but I was wondering if you'd be comfortable sharing what, if anything, you've experienced in the course of your meditation as prescribed by them.
I ask because you seem to have invested a very great deal of time on this, so presumably at least the basics of anything there is to experience within that particular system you would have already had at least a glimpse of. With other traditions, your musings can be no more than ruminations and analyses, but you will have concrete, experiential things to say about that particular meditation technique. So, was it a big fat zero, nothing at all, or what?
Or, if you've already answered this question in one of your articles that I haven't yet read, perhaps you could just link to it in reply?
Well, after writing almost two thousand Church of the Churchless posts over the past decade, I have to use Google to find my musings about a particular subject, just as anyone else would. I did some searching via the Google box in the right sidebar and came up with a few pertinent posts.
In "Why I'm justified in complaining about Sant Mat" I wrote:
I was initiated in the spring of 1971. For over thirty years—until 2002 or so—I was damn near a model satsangi (disciple).
I never missed a day of meditation. Mostly it was for the full proscribed two and a half hours. Sometimes less. One and a half hours was a minimum, such as when my daughter needed after-work attention and I was working full time. I followed the other vows perfectly, aside from having a single drink at my ten year high school reunion, which was just too freaking weird to endure without a dose of alcohol.
So don't tell me that I can't complain about Sant Mat and Radha Soami Satsang Beas. I'm totally justified in doing so. Because I know more about this philosophy and this organization than most initiates. Not just book knowledge—direct experience also.
Or, lack of experience, when it comes to meditation. I'm typical in this regard. Over those three decades I talked with hundreds, maybe thousands, of RSSB meditators. Very few, perhaps none, had experienced what they were told to expect. Those flights to inner mystical regions and the meeting with their guru's radiant astral form.
With me, it wasn't for lack of effort. Again, I did everything right. And the results were wrong. Now, many of the faithful would say, "Brian, you expected too much, too soon." Give me a break.
Thirty years isn't too soon. A glimpse of the promised spiritual land isn't too much.
In "Q and A about me and Sant Mat" I wrote this in response to another question that I'd gotten:
(2) Why do you think you never had a spiritual experience despite 30 years of devoted meditation?
Like I've been saying in several posts lately, including here, I'm not sure what "spiritual" means anymore. I had plenty of experiences in meditation.
What I didn't have was the sort of out-of-body, astral projecting, soul-flying, blasts of cosmic light and sound experiences that the Radha Soami Satsang Beas version of Sant Mat tells disciples to expect in meditation.
A few days after I was initiated I heard loud bell sounds inside my head while I was meditating. These never came back. I've had other glimpses of inner light and hearings of inner sound, but these could be (and probably are) produced by the brain, not immaterial soul or spirit.
Over more than three decades I've talked with lots of fellow RSSB initiates about their experiences in meditation. More accurately, their lack thereof.
When these people spoke honestly and openly (which usually isn't done in the formal satsangs, or talks), I learned that my lack of mind-blowing meditation experiences was par for the course in Sant Mat.
So there you have it.
Naturally I had lots of experiences in meditation. It was impossible not to have them, since I was awake and aware for most of the 1.5 to 2.5 hours of meditation I did each day for over thirty years. (Yeah, I'd fall asleep occasionally.)
I feel like I gained a lot from all that meditating.
It was a mix of "mantra meditation" (repeating a word or words to concentrate the mind) and "open awareness" meditation (trying to be still, mentally and physically, and being aware of what passes through consciousness).
Thus even though Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) views its meditation technique as something special, actually it is very much in the meditation mainstream. Mantras and open awareness are used in many other meditative practices.
The RSSB meditation did focus on "going within," though, to a much greater extent than mindfulness practices do. That is, the initiate was supposed to direct his/her attention to the third eye, or eye center, which supposedly was a gateway to higher realms of consciousness.
Now my daily meditation usually involves more of a balanced approach.
I like to follow my breathing for part of the time, either counting breaths or simply being aware of my breathing body doing its thing. I also enjoy mantra meditation. Usually I choose different words than the Five Holy Names taught by RSSB, but for old time's sake I'll occasionally return to the mantra I repeated for so many years.
It's difficult for me to describe what I experienced during my RSSB meditation years. As noted before, I've sat for tens of thousands of hours in meditation. How is it possible to sum that up in a few words?
I laughed; I cried; I was joyful; I was sad; I was peaceful; I was restless; I felt at one with the cosmos; I felt alone. And so much more.
One of the key things I learned was the difference between what my conscious mind does, and what the rest of my mind does. Well, let me rephrase that, because I no longer believe there are two entities inside my head: me, and my mind.
There is just one: brain/mind, or whatever you want to call it.
I used to enjoy, and still do, the sensation of either repeating a mantra, or doing nothing, and being aware of what happens inside my head when the brain/mind aspect called "I" isn't trying to direct the show of consciousness.
As anyone who meditates knows (or anyone who is alive knows)... a lot happens.
The brain/mind, like an iceberg, consists of a whole lot more than our conscious awareness, will, intention, and such. Dualistic forms of meditation, which see a distinction between soul and mind, or pure consciousness and impure consciousness, consider those unintended goings-on to be a distraction. Non-dual forms of meditation, such as mindfulness and Zen, don't.
To them, as to me these days, what happens in the brain/mind is what is happening. To deny it is to deny reality. Thoughts come and go. So do emotions, perceptions, intuitions, and much else.
Thus whereas I used to believe that God and the guru were responsible for what happened within my consciousness when I wasn't trying to make anything happen, now I realize that the part of brain/mind outside of conscious awareness is responsible.
I still feel that I'm part of something much larger than myself. I just don't call it God, or divine. It is me. And the world, which really isn't different from me.