…”Will free one from dire fears and colossal sufferings.”

Says the Bhagavad Gita. Blessed promise.

I recall first coming to meditation thirty-five years ago. I came because, no matter how hard I tried to get the details of my life arranged to remove stress and anxiety, it never lasted. And it seemed that the harder I tried, the worse things got.

A friend suggested that “what I was looking for, I would find inside myself.” Odd, but she was quite calm and relaxed with life, no matter what it threw at her, so I considered that she might know something worth investigating. In addition, I was struggling with what were increasingly becoming “dire fears,” and could feel “colossal sufferings” always looming just around the bend. I felt driven to find some solution.

She also suggested that I read Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda—which turned out to be a great idea! I couldn’t put it down, though I didn’t know what to do with much of what I read—many things remote from my personal experience to date, yet filled with joy and wisdom and wholeness.

First forays into meditation, guided by the teachings of Yogananda, would have been comical if they hadn’t been so layered with the intense need for respite from the churnings of my mind and mental habits.

Five minutes in stillness seemed an eternity.

I squirmed inwardly, if not always outwardly. I recall reaching 15 minutes and celebrating at how much progress I had made. I was stunned by the tricks of the mind that would arrive to distract me—such as, after just a few minutes of watching the breath, I would realize an immediate and somehow compelling need to make a telephone call to someone who I had comfortably not been in contact with for years. Right. And that was the least of the ruses.

I persisted because, right from the beginning, I began to feel something (often only after the meditation) which I realized was outside any experience I had ever been able to access, something precious. I would feel somehow calm(er), more relaxed. Nothing outwardly would have changed, but I was not as anxious or driven by my circumstances. I began to feel a joy that I could not tie to anything, yet which felt natural and deeply satisfying.

Learning on my own, through written lessons, was trying at best. It took enormous will to practice twice daily, though that was the strong encouragement (regularity, I read, was more important than length of time). Anything, and often everything, contrived to keep me otherwise engaged.

Seeking the Way

I studied clues for success—regularity, setting alarm clocks, creating a space for meditation alone, using special helps like wool blankets and different seating arrangements and on. All of these things helped, but I was still missing a critical element to the success I was seeking—a supportive environment.

I found that many of my friends didn’t understand my new activity, and if I didn’t develop friendships that enhanced and supported my efforts, I would easily slip into other patterns. I began to look for others who were exploring the inner life, who were struggling with the same issues (for, yes, everyone struggles to develop and sustain meditation much like the commitment to regular exercise) and finding similar benefits and joys.

Gradually, over time, my capacity to meditate began to develop into a regular rhythm that became ever more satisfying. The struggles began to diminish as the anxieties and restlessness of my mental habits began to change into broader experiences of connection with life. “Dire fears and colossal sufferings” began to disappear in the presence of inner peace and calmness, wisdom and understanding, and the capacity to choose patterns and behaviors that are more satisfying.

Thirty five years later, I can say that the promise of the Bhagavad Gita, discovered so many years ago, has proven to be more true than I ever could have hoped.