Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - September 2013  

Meditation: What, Why and How

by Nina Johnson

This is a transcript of a talk given by Nina Johnson on 9th September 2013 at the Himalayan Yoga Meditation Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.  Nina is a disciple of Swami Rama and a mantra initiator.

I’m dying to tell you…There was a lot that I learned this time (in India) that I never really knew before. And maybe you know, but I’m going to back up and start with when this began…I meditated…honestly meditated for the first time in my life about a year ago and I’ve been at it since 1971. I said to Shivram that I can’t tell them this or they won’t do it, he said “tell em!”

Everyone is different, you need to know that…don’t think that “she lives in India, she’s a this or that and really has it all together”… I don’t. The first time I meditated, I mentioned this the last time (in Milwaukee), I was so thrilled. This time (back in India) it was 5 or 6 times (that I meditated), so I’m getting better. I’m not good yet, but I’m getting better; let’s put it that way.

The first time… I was in my room. I had done my practice, and I was sitting there. I talk to Swami (Rama) constantly, I never stop. All of sudden, immediately, I didn’t hear anything, couldn’t see anything, I was just gone. I thought “oh this is great!” I had no idea what was going on, but I was having a marvelous time. It felt like it lasted a long time, but I don’t think it was more than 15 or 20 minutes. Then I opened my eyes and I knew where I was, but I thought “what just happened”. I started to get up and was woozy. At that time I lived next to Shivram. I staggered into his room and said “Shivram something’s happened.” He said “what’s wrong,” and I told him what happened. He said “you meditated”. I said you’re kidding; he said NO. I had scoliosis, still do. My back is much improved. It’s why I started yoga, I had pain and no one could do much about it. He said the next time you do it, try to stay in it longer. I said “C’mon I don’t know how to get in it, but if I get in it, I’ll try to stay in it!”

So the first (topic for today’s lecture) is:

What is Meditation?

I know a lot of definitions for meditation. Swami Hari’s definition was very simple. He said “full consciousness, plus thoughtlessness”; that means you don’t think. Thoughts will come, but I’ll tell you what Shivrama told me to do, and most of the time I’m successful, but not always. I’m really a novice. I feel like I just got my mantra yesterday, but it’s been 42 years!

The more I talk the more I think you’re going to leave and never come back! But don’t be discouraged, I’m just telling you like it is. Anyway, What is Meditation? Swami Hari says full consciousness. You can’t be tired; you can’t be drugged. You have to be really with it.

What to do with thoughts? Shivrama said that even he has thoughts at times. Now he can get into Samadhi, and that’s another thing I want to tell you about, but on to thoughts. There were thoughts that I had that weren’t pleasant, that made me sad or upset, and I’d get into them and it would mess up my practice. Or they were joyful and I’d stray from what I was doing. But he said, “When a thought comes, witness it”. That was the word he used. He said don’t “watch” it…you watch a football game or soccer and in those games you get caught up, you get into it. But if you “witness” you’re cool. But… you cannot witness constantly until you’re enlightened…then you’re in lala land (bliss) and you don’t have any worries…but in the meantime, do it, and (don’t worry because) you can’t always. I can’t. When I can, I’m thrilled to death...and then that’s another thought, you see. But you’ve just got to do it.

All these questions about how to deepen your meditation…You just do it! The more you do it, it’s a habit. It’s like anything else. like smoking or eating too much…you get into it and you enjoy it. Like now, I don’t want to do this stuff (teaching). Swami said I’d be teaching until the day I die and this (teaching) is an intrusion on my practice, because sometimes I can do it (meditate) all day long. I just sat there, and it wasn’t hard. But over here (in the US), it’s nice, but it’s not as easy. So then after a time, the thoughts won’t come as rapidly. I’m not that good, I’m pretty good, I can go a little bit and really get into it, but then something happens and it throws me off. But… you see, people give up. You cannot give up. You have to keep doing it.

Tilopa was a Tibetan yogi mystic and Marpa was his student. Marpa only had one student and that was Milarepa. Some of us remember Milarepa—he was a young man that could do black magic. His mother didn’t like her relatives and she asked him to burn their house down and he did. And then when he saw the light and realized you can’t do that, he decided to change everything. So when he met Marpa, he had him building all those houses. The poor guy …he (Marpa) had him building in the sun, and the sun is so hot. Sometimes when you’re in the shade it’s 102 (Fahrenheit) which means it’s 110 in the sun. So he built a house and just as it was about to be completed Marpa said, “You know what, I don’t think I want it here, I want it over there”. So he (Milarepa) took everything down and… he (Marpa) did this quite a few times… and finally Milarepa had enough and he left. Marpa had a wife…she gave him (Milarepa) food, bad food, really socking it to him, and when he realized it he finally left. She said (to Marpa) “he’s gone and I helped him go—he’s sick of building houses. He wants a spiritual teacher and all he’s doing is building houses.” And Marpa said “he only had one more house to build”. So see…you don’t quit, you just keep plugging along. You never know. You could be a brand new student…you could have a mantra for a week or month or year and be enlightened. It depends on your background, your karma and that sort of thing.  Tilopa said three things, “Do not with the body but relax”. They all say that, you have to relax. The second thing was “Close the mouth firmly and speak not”. Lastly, “Drop the mind and think not”. (Ha-ha…)  But there is a way…I can’t do it, I’m practicing it.

So that’s really what meditation is. It’s being totally with it…and you will have days when you’re very rested and you’ll be delighted at how the practice goes, and you get little peeks and perks as you go along.

So the next thing was:

Why do you Meditate?

Meditation is everyone’s birthright. We can all do it. It isn’t just for good people. Awful people can do it too.

But the trouble is, if you get off track…Hitler Hirohito, all those cruel murderers, if they get into all this bad stuff…then it’s much more difficult to get back on the track or on the path as they say.

So you want to watch that and be careful what you do because there’s always a chance (to get off track), but as long as you’re practicing with a mantra, or not, say you’re just sitting…you don’t need a mantra in the beginning.  People used to say (questioning why they’d want a mantra),” I don’t know Swami Rama”. I’d just say “Well, it’s up to you. You make the choice.” But a guru, a bona fide master, which is what He (Swami Rama) was, helps you as much as he can and then he says flat-out “I can’t do anymore”, and he will then guide you to your Guide. If you’re initiated in Swami Rama’s tradition, you’ll get what you want.

It’s strange, when Swami Hari died I asked him “are you going anywhere” and he’d say “no, no, no. I’m here.” And then he died the next month. They don’t always tell you the truth. But what it amounted to, he said “Don’t worry, the Path will show you the Path.” And it does.

But the reason why you want to practice meditation is…as a Christian, that’s how I was raised…in the Bible it says that we are made in the image and likeness of God. That doesn’t mean that He’s a person. He’s’ everything. Swami Rama used to say that God did not create the world, he manifested himself. So everything is God. A tree is God. Brother Lawrence said the same thing…you don’t have to go to church, you could worship trees. It’s whatever turns you on.

If a mantra is what you want…it’s a means. A mantra is a means, it is not the end.

Some writers I like make fun of mantras. They say “you could say ‘coca-cola, coca-cola, coca-cola’”. That’s not true. A mantra is a power. It’s a prayer. Swami Rama used to call it a compact prayer.

When Swami Hari used to come, he gave us a few tips on how to go forward. He said to me, “Don’t you ever graduate?” and I’d say “well, I’d like to”.

Swami (Rama) used to change my practice a lot, but then I was stuck after he left and then Swami Hari appeared. I did ask Swami Veda, but his path is different…he’s kind of the missionary and he needed to travel a lot…

But one day, I was hearing the mantra and it just went “mantra, mantra …” and I thought “where’d it go? What do I do now?” I just thought, well that’s it. I couldn’t relax into it because the mantra was gone, totally gone. Poor Ginny lived next to me and I said “tell Shivram I have to see him”. And he came down, and he said “now what kind of heavenly hit have you had?” And I said “a bad one, I lost the mantra”. “Oh that’s great,” he said “now other things will come” I said “do I tell the students that?” He said “tell them”. And I said “but they’re going to ask me what other things come?” He said “well, you could become more intuitive, and one thing leads into another” and sometimes day after day something new and different and better happens and he said that will keep on happening.

Now since I’ve been back I’ve had two good practices…there’s too much going on and its really nice to get away over there (India) to be quiet.

So I asked him and wrote this in my journal because I want you to get it and I botch things sometimes…he said “ultimately you will lose the mantra and other things happen, strong intuition” and in my case I know I had much more confidence.

Everything I used to talk about I read in a book. But now I’ve done this, and so I can say wholeheartedly that this has happened to me. Reading is good, but then you have to fool around with it and make it fit you.

Aurobindo … someone asked him “Do you believe in God?” and he said “no, I don’t believe” and they’d say “you don’t?” He’d say “No. I know god”. We’ve got it in here, the Self is what’s made in the image and likeness of God. And it’s (Self) supposed to be in the heart center--now that I don’t know--I have another place to concentrate, and now when I go there it goes to this place (the heart). I don’t quite understand that, but I’m accepting it.

I need to say, I don’t do much (in my practice); I don’t do at all what I used to do. Mantra’s gone and other things come in your mind, nice things. Shivram said to make it clear to the students that this happens only after a strong and intense and uninterrupted practice occurs. So don’t have your mantra for just a little while and expect that to happen. But Shivram said (even after mantra has gone) if you’re disturbed in some way the mantra will come, that there were 2 or 3 times that he was really disturbed and he said the mantra was right there so he said it’s not gone-gone, he said “we just learn more”.

Just like an onion, you’re just peeling it, you’re getting rid of some of the debris so that you have more room…some people say more room for God, but call it what you like…you’re emptying. That’s what meditation does. People talk about purging, cleansing, but meditation if you do it seriously, regularly, faithfully--it’s the purging. We’re purging every day when we do our practice.

When I teach a class, I tell the students the same thing Swami Rama told me: “Set up a time. Fix a time that’s convenient and stick to it. Don’t change the time.” Once Pandit Dabral was here and I said “Panditji, I missed my practice! It was at 6 and I didn’t get there til 6:30!” and he said, “don’t worry it’s 6 o’clock somewhere!” So don’t freak out and don’t not do it—don’t think oh I missed, I’ll do it tomorrow—that’s lethal. Even if you sit down and you don’t do this (nadi shodhanam) and you don’t keep head, neck and trunk straight but the mantra comes to mind and you’re just doing mantra, mantra, mantra--I don’t mean 2 or 3 times but 10 or 15 minutes--you showed up. And that’s all I ever did, I just showed up. Sometimes I was late and sometimes I was sick. I’m not boasting, I’m not sitting here like the Queen telling you how it is because I don’t know. I’m like you--I’m just full-time. And it gets to be fun.

Lots of times I’ve done it (my practice) when I felt like there were other things I should be doing instead. But anyone can do this.

 I don’t know what God thinks, I don’t even know what I think, but I think the idea was that, we are already enlightened. In other words, we’re not even seeking. But even Swami Rama would say “Be a seeker”, there’s no other word to say, but it’s there (inside) and all you have to do is find it. So we should do that. If you don’t want to get a mantra, that’s ok, I recommend it highly because…it’s my life right now.

Another great man I discovered, Mayanne gave me clipping, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. He said “A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly once your mind is quiet. As the sun on rising makes the world active, so does self-awareness affect the mind. In the light of calm and steady self-awareness, inner energies wake up and work miracles without any effort on your part.”

So we don’t really and truly have to do anything, you just show up and do your mantra. You can’t just not do anything.

Osho said at one of his retreats, “none of you in here can sit for 5 seconds without thinking something.” And I thought, I’ve been doing this for 42 years. I can do it … and I couldn’t because I was looking at the second hand of the clock… but, you can’t do it. Try it sometime, it can’t be done. But if you can manage to do your practice enough that you can go into real meditation once in a while then you’ve got something going for you.

So How to meditate?

Swami Rama always used to say, your head neck and trunk should be straight.  I know some students are like this (strenuously soldier-straight) and you can’t do that for 60 minutes so I always add “sit comfortably straight.”

And then there are breathing exercises. Swami Rama, when he wanted me to teach meditation I said, “Swami, I don’t know how to do it much less teach it.” And he said “Fix up!” He’d always say “Fix up something!” He said “Fix up something and bring it back next Thursday.”

It’s funny…when I teach in India, which isn’t often, but when I do, I skip karma, they know all about that,  and I skip reincarnation, they all know that, and that’s what I dwell on here because we don’t know anything about karma and reincarnation…it’s kind of funny in a way.

But you need to keep your back comfortably straight, and you need to know diaphragmatic breathing, because if you don’t then you do high-breathing and it makes you anxious, and then kapalabhati or bhastrika breathing to cleanse the lungs a bit…don’t do a lot… 5, 6, 7 of those…then nadi shodhanam, do the relaxation which we just did, and then you begin the mantra.

So it takes you about 15 minutes or 20 to get off the ground, but if you don’t have a lot of time and you can’t do it later, just sit there and remember the mantra--I can’t say that enough. It’s just doing it—that’s all—it’s just doing it every day 15 or 20 minutes without missing. One time Swami said out of the blue “you’re doing more meditation”. I didn’t know what I was doing then, and I don’t know what I’m doing now. I guess sometime, not next life…next life is ok but… I’ll know what I’m doing, but for now I’m just going along. So you sit to do mantra, and if you don’ want a mantra, just ask God for guidance. You want to know Him--that’s all it amounts to.

So what happens in meditation is nothing. You’re just sitting there and you’re not having thoughts--they will come no matter what but you just witness. In other words, don’t get caught up in it.

Believe it or not, sometimes you might see something or somebody…that’s not a good thing, but that’s happened to me a lot lately and I just look at it (the scene). Sometimes it’s somebody I know and sometimes I don’t know these people and things happen…I don’t know where they come from. Shivram said “you will in time.”

He said “have you ever heard of emptying?” You’re slowly emptying all this stuff…if you’re into reincarnation you realize that you bring all this stuff with you from past lives and…your mind is pure, everyone gets a clean mind and then they’re influenced by parents and teachers which is normal…but it’s not a good thing because then you’re very satisfied with where you are.

Swami (Rama) used to say, “be happy where you are but never be satisfied” because then, you’re stuck. So it’s difficult to lose old habits, but I’m telling you it’s do-able.

Now how does meditation help?

If you’re not doing it in a spiritual way, then it’s not much of a meditation. I was shocked when I heard how people would ask Swami (Rama), or Swami Hari or Shivram for a house or better job, or more money.

And there was a tremendous tsunami in Uttarakhand and this temple that’s been there for thousands of years was totally wiped out. There were 50 pilgrims in the temple. Now all the Pandits are saying that it was Mother Nature…they don’t say that was God because God is everything. People misunderstand and say they can do anything they want because life is a dream. No, Buddha never said that. Life is like a dream because we’re asleep. Osho used to say, “I’m here to wake you up.” So Mother Nature was furious with the pilgrims because they drove up (to the temple) in Cadillacs asking for more money. Everyone over there (India) is hungry, everyone where we are is emaciated, but to go to a holy place and pray for money is kind of…so they say in the papers that Mother Nature was angry with what they were doing with this temple. Like the temple in Tarkeshwar…they wanted to move it. That was the one that Swami (Rama) was supposed to have been in a lot. It was a pretty temple the first time I saw it. Now it’s all sort of modern and not what it was. They wanted to move it and they dug it up and there were all these snakes. The deeper they dug the more snakes they found so they just put it back where it belonged.

So how can meditation lead to Samadhi and enlightenment?

I’m sure some of you know this, but I did not. I was unsure about Samadhi…Shivram says after meditation comes Samadhi. As some of you know, there are many different kinds (of Samadhi)…with seed, without seed…I used to know all this but it’s too much for me, I’ve got enough on my plate at the moment. But Samadhi is something when you’ve been able to stay in meditation a long time…. according to my teacher at the moment, Swami (Rama) never got into this, no need because I wasn’t prepared…he (Shivram) said “You can be in that state all the time. When you’re in your room and you’re dusting or fixing food, try to stay in that state where you’re not disturbed.”

And I guess that’s what I do after I finish practice. I just like to sit there and it’s very comforting. You don’t have time to do that, I understand, but when you get the chance. Just don’t miss your practice.

So I was saying something about Swami (Rama) saying “you’re increasing your practice” and I was stumped. I thought, how does he know? Of course I didn’t know anything about all this…of course he knows. Someone once said to him “do you ever think about us?” and he said “if you think about me, I have to think about you”. So if you do your practice, it just happens. That’s just the way it is.

I want to tell you one other thing…

You know we talk about the 3 states: past, present, future. And I’ve heard all along that when you’re in the present you’re never really in the present. You’re thinking about the past or thinking how things would be in the future.

Some people in Amsterdam brought a (iPad to SRIVERM) watching Eckhart Tolle. He (Tolle) gave the most wonderful speech explaining the present. He talked about surrendering to the moment. And I’ve heard that but he really…the whole talk was about that and I was glued to that screen. What he said, in a nutshell, was that…you don’t have to be a Christian to believe the story he was about to tell…he said it’s all about surrender. He said, when you think of Christ and what he had to do and what he did, it was just a surrender to the moment. He just gave in to the moment. That was what he came to do, and he knew it, so he did it and he did it lovingly. He knew they (those that killed him) didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t get it. Here he was…a Jew that went to the synagogue and told the rabbis they were all wrong. What do you do with someone like that? You get rid of them! At the time they asked him, “are you a king?” and he said “yes, but my kingdom is within.” And so they killed him. So he (Tolle) said the whole thing about the crucifixion is a surrender. When you think of him being nailed to the cross he was like this (chest, arms and palms open)…not “I give up”, but “I surrender to the moment”. Tolle said, we never really do that. Even if you have a pleasant thought you can’t keep it. We’re always concerned about the future. But you need to be here and accepting anything—no matter what comes you accept it.

And I’m trying hard to do that, but I catch myself…I was a wife, a mother, a scout-leader…you plan. But don’t plan…you can’t just go along “I surrender” and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea…no one that was ever truly enlightened as I understand it just sat there. They all worked, the Buddha knocked himself out. Ramakrishna killed the Divine Mother…he didn’t really but the yogis said “kill her, you’re stuck there! Take the sword and stab her!”, and he said “kill her with a sword? I don’t have a sword!” and they said “you don’t have the Divine Mother there either! Just make it up!” and he did and was enlightened. So you don’t just sit down and do nothing. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.

But he (Tolle) said, just think of the present as a form. Form to me seemed rigid…I like situation. This is the situation that’s happening at the moment. So I added to Tolle. I did think… the universe as such is constantly moving--it’s not still, it’s always moving. So whatever comes to you…good, bad or indifferent… isn’t permanent.

The only thing that’s really permanent is God. And these are promises that he’s given us. They’re not empty. Shivram said it’s not like when we promise something to someone; it’s a permanent thing with God. So I thought, ok it’s always moving…the trees move, the grass grows, and it’ll pass. It’s like you’re watching slides--you’ll get another situation (and then another). But if you surrender to the situation and you don’t fight it and you’re not uptight about it--I’m talking to me as well as you, and I confess I can’t do it all the time. It’s easier over there because there’s nothing I have to do. I walk, I do some Joints & Glands, but that’s it.

But that’s all I have to say unless you have any questions. These are the highlights. I think I’ve given you the big ones.

As I told you last time, there is a way to overcome pain. I don’t know how it happens so I can’t go on about it but I did talk to Swami (Rama). I told you, my back hurts a lot and often. Other times it’s perfectly alright. I woke up the other morning and my back hurt and I had a headache and I said “Swami, I’m supposed to be in my seat and I’m dying. If you could just give me a push, because I don’t want to miss (my practice).” The mornings are the best--it’s quiet and the right time. So I sat in my seat and after a time, it just faded like my mantra. Instead of a thud (head pounding) killing me, it was like when you’re at a dentist and you have Novocain--you know something is going on but you’re not distracted. So I sat there as long as I wanted to and it was very nice. When I got out of my meditative “mood”, you might say, it came back, but that’s ok, I didn’t mind then.
So we have a class starting if you’d like to learn to meditate in our fashion.

Thank you all for coming, I pray to the Divinity in you.

Just show up, that’s all you have to do…hang in there, in Revelation it says “in due time you’ll reap if you faint not.” I’m beginning to reap, but I’m getting faint too (jokingly). So thank you.

Editor’s Note:

Nina Johnson is the founder and Director Emeritus of the Himalayan Yoga Meditation Center, formerly called The Yoga Society, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.  Nina has been teaching classes in Milwaukee for over 40 years. With the blessings of H.H. Sri Swami Rama, Nina has trained and initiated hundreds of students.
Nina began studying yoga in 1965 at the downtown YWCA. When her teacher retired, Nina was chosen as her successor. In the spring of 1971, she met Swami Rama during one of his first visits to the United States. Soon after their first meeting, Nina was initiated by Swami Rama and asked to open a center for Himalayan yoga and meditation in Milwaukee.  The Center opened in 1971 and began offering classes in this tradition.  In 1974, Swami Rama instructed Nina to begin giving mantras on his behalf.

Nina now lives in the village of Malethi, in Uttaranchal, India, the site of SRIVERM (Swami Rama Institute of Vocational Education and Research, Malethi), a project started by Nina’s teacher Swami Hariharananda.   Nina returns to Milwaukee twice a year and continues to teach and initiate new students into the Himalayan Yoga Meditation tradition.

Some videos of Nina are on YouTube (click on title to watch):