Innumerable books exist in this world, thick volumes that line the shelves of libraries and run the lengths of their walls, that expound in detail on any topic that one could ever think of, dream of, wish to learn more about. I’ve often felt—especially in those first moments of arrival in a particularly grand or well-stocked library—a sense of mingled awe and overwhelm. Here, presented to me in a single, stunning panorama, was more knowledge than I would ever know what to do with.
The sages of ancient India have used the Sanskrit word vidyāranya in their scriptures. It means “forest of knowledge.” The imagery in this phrase feels relevant to use in reference to the knowledge held in books—the pages upon pages of theory and exposition. For all its beauty and mystery, this is a forest that one could easily get lost in. It can be hard to know what of this knowledge to focus on, and how to translate it into some sort of useful, practical application in one's life.
The knowledge imparted on the Siddha Yoga path is as vast and varied as what one may find in a hundred libraries. Gurumayi has said, in fact, that Siddha Yoga sadhana is “a universe unto itself.” The practices—the means for learning more about oneself and one's Self—are numerous. We have chanting and meditation, seva and mantra repetition. We have darshan, dakshina, and the study and recitation of scriptural texts. We have reading, studying, and journaling—as well as reflection, contemplation, and assimilation. We practice silence. We practice worship. We participate in satsang and in the incomparable experience that is the Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensive.
The list I've just given is far from exhaustive; however, it provides a picture of the depth and breadth of wisdom available on this path. I would venture to say, moreover, that each of these practices and forms of study is itself a whole universe. We glean infinite wisdom—about how to live, how to be, how to embody the virtues in our day-to-day life—through regular engagement with even just one of them.
For this reason, perhaps, many Siddha Yogis have wondered what practice they should be directing their attention to. I recall hearing people ask during darshans with Gurumayi and in question-and-answer sessions with Siddha Yoga meditation teachers: “Is there one Siddha Yoga practice that is perfect for me to do right now?”
It is invaluable, a blessing beyond compare (and, to some degree, beyond comprehension), to have a living Guru—and one who gives such clear direction for our sadhana. Time and again, Gurumayi has imparted to us the specific teachings and practices that we would do well to focus on at a particular time. And at this time, in this stage of our sadhana, we have the incredible good fortune to receive “Gurumayi's Guidance,” and to make this our collective focus of study and practice.
The six practices of “Gurumayi's Guidance” that are currently available on the Siddha Yoga path website are self-explanatory; they do not require further instruction or elaboration for you to practice them and enjoy their benefits. That being said, many of you who have engaged in Siddha Yoga sadhana will have heard Gurumayi teach about the importance of probing more deeply into what it is that we're doing and why we are doing it. I'll therefore be sharing with you some ideas, recommendations, and general musings for you to consider as you practice “Gurumayi's Guidance.” These may in turn spark your own ideas, your own inspired thoughts about how best to embrace the practices of “Gurumayi's Guidance,” and thereby gain even more from your Siddha Yoga sadhana.
To briefly recap, “Gurumayi's Guidance” consists of the following six practices:
- Peace of Mind: a visualization of the primordial sound AUM, along with humming and singing of AUM
- Fortitude of Heart: an exercise in undulating the merudanda (the spinal column) and practice of merudanda mudra
- Soundness of Body: an invitation to revisit how you step upon the earth—namely, by becoming more conscious of how you place your feet, and by synchronizing your steps with the mantra Om Namah Shivaya
- Awake with Prana: an activation of the prana, the life force, through laughter, and practice of prana mudra
- Assurance in Being: a practice of ganesha mudra and synchronization of this mudra with your breath
- Gladness of Spirit: a visualization of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether), combined with breathing, singing or humming AUM, and learning mantras associated with each of the elements
My observation has been that whenever Gurumayi has taught us a particular practice—whether that is a dharana, a visualization, or a physical exercise meant to support us to strengthen our bodies and quiet our minds—her intent has been for the practice to be accessible to everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. In terms of physical ability, this includes people who are athletes and hatha yoga practitioners, as well as those whose bodies are less agile, who are looking to strengthen their bodies in whatever way they can. More broadly, “everyone” encompasses believers and nonbelievers, young people and seniors, and people belonging to any of a number of cultural and religious traditions.
This is the first thing, therefore, to keep in mind about “Gurumayi's Guidance.” There are no restrictions on who may do these practices, learn from them, and experience and assimilate the benefits into their lives.
In that vein: while the instructions for a given practice may specify doing it standing, sitting, or lying down, you are welcome to make adjustments based on what is possible and comfortable for you. For example, if a practice calls for standing and you are not able to stand for an extended period of time (or at all), you may do it while sitting down. You may also do any of these practices—or any specific part of them—mentally, by visualizing the different movements and mudras that Gurumayi describes. You will still reap the benefits of the practice, as visualization is an incredibly powerful tool for recalibrating both your physical body and your inner being.
When you are doing these practices the first few times, you will want to set aside several minutes to become familiar with the instructions and learn how to follow them. You may also want to give yourself time to study the image that accompanies each practice. The images have been designed at Gurumayi's direction, and they relate closely to the content of the practices.
Also in relation to timing, it is best to do these practices when your mind and body are most likely to be receptive to the instructions. It's not advisable to do them, for example, when you've just eaten or when you've drunk a lot of water. You may have difficulty doing some of the physical movements if you are feeling full.
As you do the practices with regularity, you will find that the memory of them becomes embedded in your tissues and muscles, and that they require less time to do. You might even start to do parts of the practices throughout your day—for example, repeating the mantra as you walk, or clasping your hands in ganesha mudra while you are sitting at your desk at work or school, deep in thought. And you may find that the practices of “Gurumayi's Guidance” come to your aid when you most need them—that your body instinctively does the movements and mudras you've learned when you're in a challenging situation and could benefit from an extra bit of strength, or that your breath says to you, a whisper underneath the wind: “Take my help. I'm here, I'm here.”
To further support you in gaining maximal benefit from these practices, Gurumayi has given the following instructions, which are in the form of an acronym that spells the word CANON:
Choose one practice to focus on at a time,
and set aside time over the course of a few days to work with it.
Acclimate yourself to the practice. Befriend this practice.
Embrace it with the entirety of your being.
Neutralize the voice of your inner critic.
Don't let your judgments of yourself stop you from continuing your practice.
Give yourself the privilege of doing the practice as many times as you wish.
Observe any insights you gain from your practice,
and jot them down in your journal.
Narrate the story of your practice and its fruits,
and share that story with others.
One reason I like this acronym so much is that the word canon fits perfectly in this context. Canon can refer to a principle or a body of principles, an accepted way of doing things so as to achieve a desired outcome. Certainly, these directions from Gurumayi for how to do the practices are an incredibly valuable set of principles. Beyond that, however, canon is a wonderfully apt term for characterizing the practices themselves.
This is because “Gurumayi's Guidance” is eminently canonical; it is a primer, a set of guiding principles, for how to be present in your body, get the most out of your spiritual practices, and live more fully and vibrantly in this world. Your practice of meditation, of chanting and reciting scriptural texts, will be all the more easeful as a result of the physical and emotional strength you build. Your attention span, your ability to concentrate, will increase and improve as a result of the sustained attention you give to these practices. (Since these are your Guru's words, I imagine that you, like me, are more likely to make the effort to focus on them than on activities that are less immediately enticing.) You will become more aware of the capacity of your lungs to hold and release air, of your feet to feel every dip and curve and groove of the earth beneath them, of your spine to at once yield to your wishes and provide steady, unfailing support.
Some years ago, after a satsang in which Gurumayi had led everyone through physical movements in preparation for spiritual practice, a Siddha Yogi shared with Gurumayi that she had been surprised to learn that her ribcage could move! As the ribcage is made of bone, she hadn't ever considered that to be possible. Like this Siddha Yogi, as you practice “Gurumayi's Guidance,” you too will discover with growing wonderment what your being can do. In ways both seen and unseen, your whole body will benefit from these practices. Your mind will benefit, and your thoughts and emotions will more naturally incline toward the positive. Gurumayi says: “Doing these practices will make you love yourself.”