How One Underrated Trick Made Me a Better Meditator
In June 2019, everything was going well for me. The future of my startup was looking glamorous.
I was in Bangkok, attending conferences and meeting with people. I met investors, potential customers, founders, and friends. We were already incubated and were in talks to raise a round of funding to move to Berlin. The goal was to get clients and grow our business there.
But, with time, things started to get a little tense. Our existing and new investors had troubles with our cap table (equity split). Soon, I and my co-founder were stuck in between trying to mitigate the risk and saving the deal.
By August, what I dreaded had finally happened. The deal came to an end. We also had to part ways with our existing investors. The two of us were now alone to figure this out.
It was difficult to fathom since the event around which I had been planning my next 5–7 years had taken a wrong turn. At this point, it was getting difficult to cope up. Though we had some ideas on how to find new clients, it would still take a lot of time to build momentum.
A Place Called Ananda Sangha
I’ve been into self-help books and courses since I was 16 years old. I had also found Zen meditation techniques and tried hard to practice them regularly. While working on my startup, I tried my best to make time for meditation as I knew all the benefits that it could give me.
But somehow they never seemed achievable. Everything was always ‘out there’. My life apart from meditation was also not very spiritual. All my energy was on building my company. Sometimes I dreamt about a big company with employees. Other times I feared failure and crumbled like a kid. It was an emotional roller coaster.
This is when I read Autobiography of a Yogi. It was lying on my bookshelf for more than a year. I’d told myself that I’ll read it when the time was right. After all the business books were high on my priority list.
I did not understand much when I read it the first time. Like many others, I doubted a few things and was skeptical about others. But the chapter on Kriya Yoga stuck with me for a long time.
I started reading about Paramahansa Yogananda and his teachings. That led me to Ananda. From there I was curious to see if they have centers in New Delhi.
I found many centers in NCR, India, and was surprised that I never heard of them. Even more surprising was that the Ashram in Panscheel Park had a Basic Meditation Course coming up.
I made up my mind to attend it despite all the doubts I had. I did not tell anyone that I’m going to the class. I didn’t know what to expect and I wanted to avoid any questions from friends and family.
Little did I know that it was the path to Kriya which was one of my latent desires. I discovered that the class I had done was only the first level. There were three more levels one needs to complete to prepare for Kriya initiation.
There wasn’t a question about whether I’ll take those classes. The answer was a big yes!
I thought I had found something special, so I held tight.
Almost 9 months later, I received Kriya initiation (May 2020). As I sat down to reflect on my journey so far, I realized many ways in which my life has changed. In some ways, I can’t relate to myself a few months ago. The actions and behaviors of my old self are already seeming foreign.
Since then, I’ve realized the underrated secret known to all effective meditators — join a support group or a Sangha.
What Is a Sangha
Before diving into the benefits of joining one, let’s understand what a Sangha really is.
Thich Nhat Hanh explains that sangha is more than a community, it’s a deep spiritual practice.
A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness.
But joining a Sangha isn’t about abandoning our roles and functions as a human being. In fact, it’s a way to deepen our awareness of all things in life.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes wonderfully,
“Our civilization, our culture, has been characterized by individualism. The individual wants to be free from the society, from the family. The individual does not think he or she needs to take refuge in the family or in the society, and thinks that he or she can be happy without a sangha. That is why we do not have solidity, we do not have harmony, we do not have the communication that we so need.”
These individuals who often wander around don’t have roots. And without roots, no tree can absorb anything. Even if they practice for years, it’s difficult to make progress.
A sangha can help people heal and transform themselves so they can then transform the world. A spiritual community or a sangha isn’t a place for hiding from the difficulties of the world. It’s a place to restore your strength, your understanding, your compassion, your confidence. Without inner strength, how can you help anyone else?
When you allow yourself to be in a sangha the way a drop of water allows itself to be in a river, the energy of the sangha can penetrate into you, and transformation and healing will become possible.
Now that you understand what a Sangha is and how it helps us, here are specific ways it helped me and my practice.
Learn Proper Techniques
I have not tried a lot of meditation techniques. The only technique I tried before coming to the path of Kriya, was Zen meditation. I experimented with focusing on the breath, mindfulness, and quite a few here and there.
But, I could never stick with them for more than a week. I would hopelessly look for YouTube videos that could teach me proper meditation techniques that I’d actually enjoy doing. But most of them were lacking one aspect or the other.
When you start the journey of meditation, you also realize that it’s much more than the techniques. You cannot improve by techniques alone. It’s a lifestyle.
And there are certain principles that you need to know in order to live a life that supports your spiritual goals. That you cannot do by watching videos or taking online courses.
In every person’s life there comes a point when they need to learn proven techniques from a credible source.
Meditation is like any other skill but alas, people don’t treat it that way.
If you want to learn guitar, you may start by watching a few videos on the Internet but you can only go so far with that. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle but you don’t know where the pieces are. It can take years of scrounging to get the pieces and still, you’ll have no idea how to arrange them.
By finding a credible source, not only do you get a lot of pieces in one place but also learn how to join them correctly. Go to the source of knowledge and you’ll be surprised to see your progress.
It Pays To Have People To Talk To
The spiritual path is one of the most difficult things we can do in life. Unlike other things, it’s hard to know if you’re making progress.
You may go down the wrong road and realize that only after a few years have passed.
It’s also not always beautiful like most people think it is. People think meditation is about burning incense, closing your eyes, playing audio on an app, and then forgetting about the world.
That’s not meditation. That’s escapism.
Real meditation is active. It’s not a passive process where you close your eyes and let things happen. Of course, you can do that. But don’t be surprised if you don’t see any results.
While it’s important to maintain a sense of detachment from the results of your practice, you need small moments of encouragement to ensure that you’re going in the right direction.
Else, you’ll quit the whole thing, thinking it doesn’t work.
This is where the role of a community and a teacher comes into place. When you face such problems you can talk to people who’ve gone through similar issues and solved them.
Rest assured, you’ll always find someone who has gone through the same thing as you.
Instead of quitting you can solve your problems by talking to the right people.
You’ll have doubts, bad days, uncontrollable thoughts, and pitfalls along the way. These are all serious buzzkills. But if you have the support of a community and your teachers, you can wither any storm.
Which brings me to my next point.
Accountability Skyrockets Your Progress
Accountability is the dirty little secret for making any habit stick. Whether it’s working out, eating right, putting your shoes away, or meditation. It works wonders.
When you learn meditation on your own (from a book/online), you have to exert a lot of willpower to continue your practice. This is difficult for most people. I sure struggled a lot with this.
Why? Because chances are, no one around you is meditating. And if none of your friends are, then it’s easy to follow suit.
Being a part of a community comes with accountability. When others around you are meditating, you’re subconsciously triggered to do the same.
I often get competitive in such cases, which may be a good or bad thing. I try to be the best in the group that I’m a part of. If you’re like me, the competitive spirit can push you to establish the meditation habit in the early days.
Another reason this can work is guilt. When your community gathers and people talk about their meditation, what will you say if you aren’t practicing? This feeling of being left out from the pack will push you to stick with the habit until it becomes automatic.
In any case, joining a community is a great way to enforce accountability.
I distinctly remember the first day I went for my meditation class at Ananda Sangha. The prasad (a devotional offering made to a god, typically consisting of food that is later shared among devotees) was being served. Someone greeted me at the entrance and encouraged me to enjoy the prasad with other devotees.
When I went to the gathering, all I could see was happiness. A smile on every face.
When I go to business networking events, I’m sometimes scared to approach some people. The expression on their face isn’t very inviting.
But here, it felt like home.
The magnetism and aura were so uplifting that I automatically started smiling. Instantly I knew that I would be coming here again — perhaps for a long time.
According to James Fowlers and Nicholas Christaki’s research from their related book Connected, habits spread with network effects.
If your friend’s friend’s friend who lives thousands of miles away gains weight, you’re likely to gain weight, even if you’re not in the same city.
This works the other way round as well. If that distant, unrelated friend loses weight, you’re more likely to lose weight too.
Why? Because their standards are set in a way that enforces a particular behavior. If your friend’s friend’s friend believes that eating a burger every day is fine, then this belief will make its way into your mind as well.
Gradually, you fill your mind with the wrong beliefs even though you didn’t know about it. This of course works in the opposite way as well.
If you have spiritual friends and family members, you’ll pick up on their beliefs and mannerisms eventually.
In other words, you’re mixing with people that have a similar magnetism that you want to develop.
When an unmagnetized iron bar is bought close to the magnet, it starts developing its own polarity and magnetism
Think of yourself as an unmagnetized iron bar. The kind of magnet you mix with will determine your magnetism as well.
This is another wonderful reason to join a Sangha. It will not only fill you with spiritual magnetism but also help to fight the negative influences in your life that try to pull you away from meditation.
You live across a great restaurant. The food smells great, the staff is kind, and the prices are all right. They cook your favorite cuisines, just like your mom did.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go there, except one — you aren’t hungry. No matter how great the restaurant is, you’ll never step in if you don’t want to eat.
Devotion in meditation is that hunger. Devotion can be to God, to your practice, to a higher reality, and so on. In any case, it helps you stick to the practice for years.
The difference between success and failure in every case is hunger. The one who wants it more will make more efforts and thus come out victorious.
When I read Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda used words like ‘God’ and ‘Divine Mother’ as freely as his breath flowed. His devotion to God and his Guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, was deeply inspiring.
But I did not have the slightest idea about how to work on developing devotion. As I learned more from my teachers and worked on myself, I started to develop a longing for God that wasn’t there before.
Sri Yukteswar said that we cannot take one step on the path without the “natural love of the heart.” Had I not worked on that, I would have been stuck trying to reach God using my will alone.
What’s the first quality that comes to mind when you think of a saint? Love. Love is the answer. And until you have the love, longing, and desire, you’ll not stick to your practices.
Your sangha will inspire you in similar ways. When you see people who are living great lives as a result of their practice, you’ll develop a desire to be like them. This will ignite inside you the devotion and hunger necessary to make spiritual progress.
Find Your Sangha Today
I found my community in Ananda Sangha. They have worldwide centers in the U.S, Europe, and India. Here’s a list of all their centers around the world.
If that doesn’t work for you, don’t fret. You can attend their online programs just as easily. Or else, find any local meetup or online group to help with your practice. Google is your best friend here.
Another suggestion is to look for teachers that inspire you and find the groups practicing their teachings.
How you find one doesn’t matter. What matters is you do take action. Because the investment in finding a group will not only keep you on track but also indicate the seriousness of your practice to yourself.
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