by Swami Krishnananda
Prolonged meditation carried on for several months may present certain difficulties which are usually known as the obstacles. The difficulties are varied in their nature. Any one of them can present itself at any time but usually what one feels after the lengthened period of concentration is some kind of discomfort in the body.
People who live in distant places like Uttarkashi, Gangotri or some remote corner of the world dissociated from human contact can feel a sort of distress, which they would like to suppress and ignore as if it is not there. The form which this distress will take at the outset may be a kind of physical illness. You will not feel quite fit after one year of meditation. Appetite will come down; you would not like to eat. Sometimes there will be sleeplessness, apart from pain in certain parts of the body. Principally, the trouble may come in the form of a stomach upset. You will not be able to digest any food; nothing will be attractive to your digestive system. You have to take some carminative mixture to absorb even a little diet. Although you were quite all right one year back, now you need help to digest even a piece of bread or a cup of milk. What is the reason? Why does physical illness come in when you go for deep meditation? The body feels that it is in an insecure situation. Somebody is interfering with it.
There are two kinds of security in the world: security due to entire dependence on certain forces which are supposed to protect the person, and security born out of one's own intrinsic strength. Our health, our sense of security, and feeling of comfort in the world is mostly dependent on external factors, conditioned by so many things in the world. If any of these factors is interfered with or removed from the field of action, you feel that you have lost something, indeed. The sense of losing a value is a distress in the mind, which will have an impact upon the body in such a manner that it will feel physical discomfort and illness of some kind. Even the pranas, the vital forces, will not cooperate properly, because they were secure earlier by depending on external factors. Now you want that you should be secure intrinsically by not depending on any external media.
Everyone resists change. If you introduce some change in the programme of life, it is resisted immediately. Everybody is against any kind of reformation, change, or instruction for something different from what is taking place now. If you start instructing the personality that what you are now is not all right (you will have to be something different), it resists the instruction, and then it presents a condition which is a type of illness.
Soldiers can fall sick a day before war takes place. Malingering is one of the features that we may have to face. The pranas are associated with the physical body in one way. When you concentrate the mind in meditation, the pressure you exert on the mind tells upon the prana also. This pressure which the prana feels is communicated to the entire physiological system. Any kind of pressure is an interference of some sort. The digestive system, muscles and nerves, all feel the ache. Even if you go for a massage for your well being, you will feel pain one or two days after the commencement of this treatment, though the pain is supposed to go by the treatment. You will start feeling more pain when the massage starts. It is an introductory feeling which cannot be avoided.
Therefore, to avoid this kind of difficulty of being sick physically, certain precautions have to be taken. You should not start abruptly any intense type of concentration without taking into consideration the consequences. For instance, in the sixth chapter of the Gita some warning is given to us: "Yoga is not for one who eats in excess; not also is Yoga for one who does not eat at all, who sleeps always or does not sleep at all. The Yoga, destroying sorrow, comes to him who is moderate in eating, recreation, activity, sleep and wakefulness."
Sometimes, in our enthusiasm for Yoga, we go to extremes. We start fasting, we observe mauna, we do not sleep, we stop the usual activities of life, and keep quiet somewhere, doing nothing. If a person who has been busy doing work in an office or an establishment for many years suddenly ceases from doing work totally and places himself somewhere far off in a temple or a forest or a retreat, the agitation that will follow from this kind of sudden and abrupt change of activity is something obvious.
Nothing should be cut off completely. Everything should be diminished slowly, gradually, stage by stage so that you will not know that any change is taking place at all. Even if an organisation wants to introduce some managemental change, they should not make a proclamation that from the next day onwards a change will follow. All will rise up in protestation. That is an unwise way of handling situations.
Everything should be done in such a way that it should not appear that you are doing it at all. It is said that the best governmental system is that whose existence is not felt by the people. You do not even know that there is a government; it is so beautifully running that you do not feel its presence. When you start feeling the pressure of a governmental system, it means it is like a disharmonious system impinging on your life. You resist it and are conscious of it always, as if hounds are around you, barking and threatening. When you are perfectly healthy, you will not know that there is a body. So buoyant, so light, so happy will you feel when the body is healthy. Perfectly healthy people do not feel that they have a body. When you begin to feel that there is a body, you may be sure that there is something wrong with its functioning.
A little work, a little performance of duty, some occupation, is good as a healthy measure to maintain the health of the body. Work is not an undesirable thing as many people imagine. Total disconnection from every kind of work is also a sort of unhealthy complaint. The Gita urges that without doing something, without some activity, one cannot exist even for a moment. If you do not do 'this' work, you will do 'another' kind of work. If God does not speak, the devil will start speaking. An idle brain is the devil's workshop. Do not imagine that when you are doing nothing, divinity is working through you. The other thing also may be at work, equally.
You cannot say by an enactment (as if from a Parliament) that 'these' are necessary things and 'others' are unnecessary things. There is no tabulation of these categories possible because at any moment of time something may look necessary and at another time it may look unnecessary. From moment to moment the necessities and non-necessities will present themselves in different proportions and intensities. Actually, Yoga practice is a moment-to-moment progressive move onward as a long journey that we undertake to a distant destination.
The complications of a physical nature like illness, etc., can be avoided by a proportionate conducting of oneself in activity, behaviour, diet, sleep, as well as social contact. Complete dissociation from society also will disturb the mind, because man is a social being. It is good to be independent of social contact but it is also dangerous to be dissociated from it in a morbid way. Wise precautions may be taken by a careful student.
Another reason that may bring about illness of the body and cause disturbance of the mind is suppression of desires. We had an in-depth analysis of these desires already, what kind of desires there are, how we can handle them, why they arise, what their nature is, etc. One can substitute a desire with something better, or sublimate it by God-thought, satsanga, etc., as one would deem proper. Physical illness should be avoided. Nothing can be worse than falling sick, having a headache, fever and lying down on the bed all day. Though nobody can be one hundred percent cautious always, some mistake may be there inadvertently some time, yet, as far as possible, by a trial-and-error method, you may guard yourself well. Some element of hygiene, cleanliness and neatness in dress, diet, occupation, etc., are to be taken notice of.
There is another difficulty sometimes that will present itself. You may feel dull and lethargic. You were enthusiastic in the beginning: "In this life itself I shall realise God!" With such determination you come and gird up your loins. For several months you go on doing meditation with great feeling in the mind. After one year's practice you may feel as if you are dozing, with tiredness, exhaustion, and the feeling of a need to postpone the programme for a future date.
In one of the sermons of Buddha, he says that there are many excuses for not doing anything: This is the rainy season, very damp, very sultry; we cannot go out when it is pouring. No proper place is there; everywhere it is wet. Let these rains stop. Then I shall sit and do meditation. And you are free from this boredom called meditation for another two months because it is the rainy season. Then afterwards, winter starts. It starts biting you: Oh, I thought winter is better; it does not matter. Winter is not so comfortable. When the cold winds are blowing I cannot take even a bath properly. This is not good. I made a mistake. When summer starts, I shall certainly sit and start renewed effort.
When summer dawns, it is again horrible. You cannot sit anywhere. It is all hot. Again you think you made a mistake and that when the rains commence again it will cool down and you can meditate then. This is what you are going on saying, like a debtor telling a creditor to come tomorrow, then tomorrow tell him to come after two days, after two days you would like to have another three days. There is no end to all this.
Why does lethargy arise in the mind? It is a trick played by the mind itself. It knows how to put a stop to your activities. If one method does not succeed, it will employ another method. There are other methods also which we shall see now.
"Are you not tired? Don't you want rest? How long will you go on sitting like this? Don't fall sick. Get up!" You hear this voice and do not know what to do. The remedy for this is not to listen to the voice as it comes, but understand that it is an undesirable message that is coming to hinder the progress on the path.
If you are really sick, that is a different matter. You have to take care of yourself by proper means. But if it is only a negative attitude of tamas that is operating inside and causing false fatigue and fake exhaustion, one should be vigilant. When you are doing no work, what kind of fatigue can be there? People do not do anything for days together, and then say they shall take rest. What kind of rest are you taking when you have done nothing? It is a kind of technology adopted by the mind to see that you should not progress spiritually. When tired, do not sit and meditate. Stand up for a while and move about in the verandah. Just stroll from this end to that end. When you are walking like that, the lethargy will pass away. Wash your face with a little cold water. Take a cup of tea if you like. Satisfy yourself, move about. When you are feeling better, sit and start meditation. You should never allow idleness to enter your mind.
Then a third technique can be employed by the mind. It may say, "The method that you are adopting for meditation is wrong. Do you know that it is an erroneous exercise that you are practising? Who initiated you?" "I took initiation from that Guru but he has not told me everything. I have some difficulties." Varieties of doubts can arise: "After all, is it possible for me to realise God in this birth? Who has seen God? Can you see one person in the world who can say that he has seen God or realised God? If that is the case, what is my fate? I am losing everything that I have in the world to pursue some will-o'-the-wisp, a phantasmagoria. I may have it or I may not have it; from the conditions prevailing in my mind, it looks like 'it is not for me'. It does not look that it is possible.
"All the joys of life I have cut off, and now nobody wants to talk to me; family members are annoyed with me. They do not like me and nothing comes from them. I have lost my job. One scripture says one thing and another scripture says another thing. 'Read the Bible,' some may say. 'Read the Gita, Upanishads,' say others. Which scripture am I going to follow? Even in the Gita one sloka says something and another sloka says another thing. 'Love me, do hard work, fight the battle of life,' it says. What is it actually that I am supposed to do? There is confusion everywhere. One verse of the Gita is contradicting another verse. You do not know what the Gita is saying finally. Let anyone say, after having read seven hundred verses of the Gita, what is the quintessence? You cannot understand! It is too much, and everything is a big jumble of instructions."