Many of the meditation practices we receive from the yoga tradition invite us to go inward and inhabit our hearts in a profound way. The path inward is that of cherishing and being grateful. Dare to be intimate with life, find the courage to be tender, and move through this world in touch with the innermost soul. When we do this, our senses open up and drink in the mystery of creation.
Meditation makes my senses vibrantly alive, so I am in awe of existence. The intensity is hard to take. In this state of heightened appreciation, there is a sense of being continually stretched open, my heart stretched as if I am in a heart-yoga class. It is odd to think of gratitude as something almost painful, like the sweet pain-pleasure of extending in asana.
I’ll come in from surfing to see babies playing on the beach and dozens of 5-year old girls and boys boogie boarding in the shore break, laughing in the foam. It is a scene from heaven. I feel privileged just to witness it. The delight sends a flash of light through my entire being. I receive such a profound blessing in that moment that I wonder, have I done enough to give back to the world?
The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, a classic yoga meditation text, describes over a hundred practices for entering divine perception right here in the midst of daily life. This is one:
The senses declare an outrageous world —
Sounds and scents, ravishing colors and shapes,
Ever-changing skies, iridescent reflections —
All these beautiful surfaces
Decorating vibrant emptiness.
The god of love is courting you.
Every perception is an invitation into revelation.
Hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching —
Ways of knowing creation,
Transmissions of electric realization.
The deepest reality is always right here.
Encircled by splendor,
In the center of the sphere,
Meditate where the body thrills
To currents of intimate communion.
Follow your senses to the end and beyond —
Into the heart of space.
śikhipakṣaiś citrarūpair maṇḍalaiḥ śūnyapañcakam |
dhyāyato'nuttare śūnye praveśo hṛdaye bhavet || 32 ||
The Sanskrit here is like a chocolate cluster of improbable combinations, like bittersweet chocolate sprinkled with chili pepper and sea salt, wrapped around almonds, crispy rice, and cinnamon. The mind is boggled: how could these flavors possibly go together? As it melts in your mouth, wildly different tastes hit you. So take an easy breath and let these words with their rich clusters of meaning dissolve on your tongue.
Sikhi - the first word of this sutra, has wide semantic range: “A peacock. A name of Indra. The god of love.” Taking the hint, we see that the peacock is the national bird of India, a symbol of grace, pride, joy, and extravagant beauty; Indra is the god of the senses; and “The god of love” may refer to Krishna, who is depicted as having a peacock feather in his crown. The Hare Krishnas say peacocks are “evidence of the sublimely spiritual quality inherent within material beauty.” Peacock feathers are sometimes used in Shaktipat, a transmission of divine energy, from the teacher to the student, in the tradition of this text.
Citra - excellent, bright, clear, variegated, speckled, extraordinary appearance, the ether, sky, strange, wonderful, variety of color, picture, sketch; punning in the form of question and answer.
Rupa - outward appearance, phenomenon, color, shape, figure, dreamy or phantom shapes, loveliness, grace, beauty, splendor, nature, character, peculiarity, image, reflection, mode, manner, way, trace of; a show, play, drama, a remark made under particular circumstances when the action is at its height; a sound, word.
Mandala - circular, round, the path or orbit of a heavenly body, a halo around the sun or moon, a division or book of the Rig Veda.
Sunya - empty, void, hollow, desolate, deserted, vacant, vacuum, desert, space, heaven, atmosphere. Pancha - five. Refers to the five voids and the source of the five senses: gandha, smell; rasa, taste; rupa, vision; sparsa, touch; shabda, hearing.
Dhyana - meditation, thought, reflection.
Anuttare - follow to the end; the Supreme, the Absolute. The Highest Reality, both transcendental and immanent. In the tradition of this text, anuttara refers to “The Supreme heart of Shiva,” and Anuttara Shakti is the pulsation, the spanda, of the Highest Creative Consciousness.
Pravesha - entering, a place of entrance, a door, entrance on the stage, entrance of the sun into a sign of the zodiac, employment, use, income, intentness on an object, engaging closely in a pursuit or purpose, manner, method.
Hrdaya - (herd-aya) the heart (or region of the heart as the seat of feelings and sensations), soul, mind (as the center of mental operations); the heart or interior of the body, the heart or center or core or essence or best or dearest or most secret part of anything. True or divine knowledge, the veda. Science. Note the related word hrdya - being in the heart, inward, innermost, beloved, cherished, grateful, proceeding from or produced in the heart; a Vedic mantra.
Bhavet - becomes, representing a possibility, a hoped-for state, a potential, “It could become.” Bhava is “becoming, being, existing, turning or transition into, true condition, reality, manner of being, temperament, any state of mind or body, way of thinking or feeling, sentiment, intention, love, affection, attachment; the seat of the feelings or affections, heart, soul, mind; wanton sport, dalliance.”
Whew. Reading this glossary, even for the five hundredth time, just flattens me. How could anyone possibly pack so much meaning into thirty-two syllables, about fourteen seconds of chanting? Oversimplified, the instruction is “meditate on the five voids — the five voids that are the ultimate sources of the five senses. Follow them to the end, and enter the heart.” Reverse-engineering the sentence, we could say, “The Supreme Heart of I AM consciousness is right here, in the heavenly space inside of your senses.”
There are thousands of techniques here. Explore each and every one of your senses—hearing, touch, taste, smell, vision—individually and in combination. Find the hrdya, “that which captivates your heart,” in each sense, to make it interesting. Learn to follow each sense beyond itself into shunya - space, heaven.
Whatever your practice—pranayama, asana, mantra, visualizations, meditating on the chakras—follow your sensuous experience into the beyond, and be at home in the Heart of Space. An iridescent, shimmering beauty appears when you are perceiving spaciousness simultaneously with the sensuous, the transcendent with the immanent.
Hrdya is also the name of “an intoxicating drink made from honey or the blossoms of Bassia Latifolia,” (an Indian tropical tree.) This refers to the nourishing, delicious quality that arises in us as we practice gratefulness. The nectar of gratitude sustains us on our journey. There is also a blessing and a warning: hrdya is a a divine drunken quality that comes from living in the heart, a sober intoxication that emerges from seeing eternity shining through this fleeting moment.
This sutra is saying, “You want initiation? You are longing to experience the Grace of God? The feather of initiation is always touching your forehead. God is always here, inside your moment-by-moment experience, inviting you to receive the transmission of divine electricity that awakens you to live in your essence.”