Over the years mystics have debated whether there is a Self or not and some claim that the core experience is not the Self but the void or emptiness. When I look here and now to the core of my experience I discover my awareness. Awareness contains both understanding and feeling in their most basic forms: understanding that precedes specific thoughts, feeling that precedes specific emotions. There is also a sense of “I” that does not identify with my body or my life story, but with awareness itself. If you want to call this a void you can, but it is a feeling, conscious, Self-aware void. About a year after I began to meditate I had a significant experience. I was meditating one day in India when I began to feel myself levitating. I floated to the top of the room and hovered near the ceiling. I thought: “I am doing the Indian rope trick, I will be in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” I had no doubt that my whole body was floating in the air until I opened my eyes and looked down. Then I saw that my body was still sitting in meditation. So it wasn’t that my body was levitating, I had left my body. Whatever I was, was on the ceiling. I understood in that moment, by direct experience beyond any doubt, what is meant when the teachings say that you are not the body, you are the Self. In India the quest for the experience of the peace of the Self is given the generic term yoga. The term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj to “join” or “harness”. The English word “yoke” comes from the same root. The yoke was an important instrument in Vedic society since it controlled the horses which pulled the plough or the cart. In the Vedic mind there was a correspondence between joining the horse to the plough and joining the mind to the Self. Thus, yoga means “union”, the uniting of different aspects of a person in order to uplift him. Yoga encompasses techniques such as breathing exercises, chanting, service, and especially contemplation and meditation that bring about this union. In the West the term yoga is most often associated with the physical postures of hatha yoga. The term yoga has a much wider application. When I use the term I particularly refer to meditative practices which increase selfknowledge and connect us to the inner Self. A definition of yoga I like is: “Yoga is intelligent effort”. Yoga does imply effort. One school of thought claims that since the Self is always present no effort need be made to attain it. This is an attractive thought, but in practice it is nonsense and even harmful. The Self can be experienced spontaneously by grace, or by accident, but to stabilize in the Self, a consistent, intelligent and passionate effort must be made for a long time to realize it completely. Few become anchored in the Self when they first hear the teaching. Most of us have to go through a long practice of meditation and contemplation and make inner progress little by little, bit by bit. No amount of effort that goes in the wrong direction will attain the goal. We may run with courage, stamina and speed, but if we are going in the opposite direction we will not reach the finish line. There must be true insight and understanding. Meditation helps us understand ourselves and shows us in what direction our effort can be profitably harnessed.

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