Safe and Sound

…sober and stable

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Sattva – spiritual essence, vitality, courage, existence… (long list!)

The simplest way to describe the sattvika nature is ‘pure’.  Every single one of us is born sattvik. Then the sanchita karma kicks in and determines whether we retain that or have to work through our vaasanas in the state of rajas or tamas. Regardless of our current state, if we are not already in a sattva-predominant nature, then we can make efforts to reach there.

What is sattva and why would we want to be it? The sattvika personality knows how to be still, how to be quiet. Sattva is cheerful and accepting, content and unperturbed. It can see the troubles of the world but does not carry them. It moves only when necessary, takes only what is required, seeks to return more than was taken. Sattva is capital ‘ell’ Love, it is compassion and able to provide a haven for the hurt and needy. Sattva is serene, watchful, has no desire beyond spiritual gain. Sattva is clear about what is “I” and what is not. It knows how to be in the world but not of it. There is detachment and clarity. We can all find a bit of the sattva within us at times, but to be classed as sattva personality, it needs to be instinctively present.

How do we work towards more sattva in our lives? Less careless living; instead, listening to uplifting music, reading fine literature and philosophy, films which carry a message of high human values. Embracing the quiet; appreciating nature, little moments with friends and family, learning to make appropriate boundaries between work and self-time, keeping better company. Taking up self-improvement; be prepared to self-assess without ego, spend time with ourselves to do that, watch for the excuses as to why not…

Then there is the diet;

  • These are foods that are nourishing, soothing and help sharpen the mind, making it more aware and active.
  • Sattvik foods are vegetarian and eaten in moderate amounts.
  • These are foods that are free of chemicals, preservatives, artificial colours and flavours.
  • Processed foods generally are to be avoided – these days, there is an argument for the use of frozen items and organic canned goods – but these should be used minimally.
  • Organic and fresh fruits and vegetables that have been grown and picked with love. More and more we can source our foods if we don’t grow them ourselves.
  • Whole grains, such as buckwheat, barley, rice.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Beans and lentils of the lighter variety; butter beans, broad beans, green beans, peas, moong dal, chana dal etc.
  • Dairy products like milk and ghee.
  • Oils mostly derived from plants; coconut, mustard, sunflower.
  • Foods that are not overly sweet; honey or sugar of minimal processing, such as jaggery.
  • Spices which are beneficial for the body and mind; turmeric, cardamom, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, cumin…

Many will read this and say ‘oh, that is the government standard for healthy living.’ Which is true, many countries now understand the need to eat better quality and less quantity and encourage their citizens to this… but the ayurvedic diet has been around for millennia. Nothing new under the sun!

To be sattvik is to walk upon the earth lightly, to be ahimsa. It is represented in the colour white, in which all colours unify.

white

Revved Up

…and raring to go

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Rajas – restlessness

In the post on the Gunas, there was a little array of meanings, the last of which was the capitalised ‘Virtue”. This pertains more specifically to today’s subject. The ‘trigunas’ are often spoken of in Vedanta. The three dominant qualities of the personality, also applied to certain things and their effects upon that personality. They are generally referred to in unison, ‘sattva-rajas-tamas’. Due to the flow of the alphabet, today we shall look at the middle of the three. Which is fine, because it is the one which the greater number of folk can identify with.

Let it be said at the outset that we all of us have all three qualities and in any given situation, from one day to the next, we can fluctuate to some degree with how they present. However, there will always be one of the three which is the primary quality of our life. This leads to our being described according to our dominating guna.

Rajas and Tamas may not necessarily be thought of as a virtue, particularly the latter. However, these temperaments are to be considered in relation to one’s karma, and anything which provides for our learning may be regarded as a virtue.

What, then, does it mean to be rajasic? The short-form translation gives a good point. It points to the personality who must always be doing something – or being seen to be always doing something. Without rajas as part of our makeup, nothing would get done. It’s the get-up-and-go virtue. In its positive aspects, it keeps us keeping on. Rajas needs to be active, and the most obvious activity is to work. Be that housework, career and employment, hobbies, volunteering, pioneering, planning… rajas is on the run. It likes to be involved and has a strong sense of duty. Some amount of rajas is necessary to be goal-oriented and fund the determination to reach that goal. Rajas is the acquisitive personality – what’s in it for ‘me’; acquire, build, retain. The leaders of the world will all have rajas dominance in their personality if they are to be successful.

What has to be watched, though, is that our rajasik nature doesn’t fall into egoism. The trouble with having to act in the world is that we can become attached to it and have expectations of results from our actions. Rajas can become domineering, bullying, demanding. It can have a sense of being always in the right and brook no opposition or countenance any possibility of a different point of view. Rajas can become inflexible and ‘kharu’.

Rajas is what most of us see in the transactional part of our lives. Without an element of tamas, the personality can become tiresome and overbearing. Without sattva tempering both those things, there can be no real compassion or softness, no stillness and quietness. Rajas is required to survive in the world, but if it is the dominant guna, the personality bearing it can become worn out, exhausted, sick, depressed. Rajasika-dominant personalities must take care of diet and rest and recreation to balance themselves. There will be a tendency for those of rajasik nature, to ‘live fast and play hard’. Their diet is likely to consist of items which boost and stimulate. Major components;

  • Meat
  • Alcohol and soda
  • Caffeine
  • Garlic and onion
  • Fried foods
  • Excess spices, including chilli
  • Pickles and brewed sauces
  • Refined sugars
  • Heavy pulses such as kidney beans, black and green lentils
  • Heavy vegetables such as potato, broccoli, turnip

None of these things is majorly problematic if one is in full interaction with work and exercise – but of course, it is the usual rule, that moderation is best. Even a sattvika person will take some rajasik foods when in need of a mental and physical boost  (though never meat or alcohol!) For rajas to be useful but not destroying, it needs to be balanced and the best way to do this is to encompass more of the sattva into life.

Rajas is represented by the colour red.

Red

Queued

…waiting your attention

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Kharu – cruel, harsh, foolish, desirous of improper or forbidden things (covetousness)‘kh’ is the closest to ‘q’ in Devanagari script.

 Why use such a word here? There can be a tendency, when discussing self-improvement methodologies and philosophy, to focus on the ‘up’. Positive affirmation and all that. That’s great and appropriate, but something I experienced when I committed fully to Vedantic practice was the bringing in of the negative.

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Whatchya say?

The swamis and sadhus can be most loving and supportive, but when they see that one is truly on the path, they will surprise one – nay, ambush! – in order that the grime and untouched corners of one’s being get properly cleaned. It can seem most harsh – (says the ego).

It is a simple fact known by all who have seriously attempted any form of self-development program, that the negatives have to be faced. Think housework; unless you take out the rubbish, the house will, eventually, start to stink and no amount of incense or proprietary perfumed sprays are going to cover it. Politically we can point to all the positives which have developed to create a society, but all too readily avert our eyes and minds from the battles with the dark side and the costs to some areas in order to benefit others. This can only go on for so long before it all becomes a festering mess.

We all have kharu in us but not all of us are able to recognise it and make amends for it. Even in the small day-to-day things; the harsh word to the loved one at the end of a tiring day, the silly joke that backfired on our colleagues, the jealousy we felt when someone else got something we wanted ourselves. You know it – sorry is the hardest word. To ask for forgiveness is, for many people, a submissive thing. It means quashing the ego and it can be almost impossible for some.

Forgiveness as such will be addressed a little more in a later post; but it is important to know that it exists and that it is an empowering thing – not just to ask for it, but also to give it. It greatly helps in overcoming the kharu. At all levels.

The whole world can seem to be driven by kharu. How to counteract it? As always, it comes back to the individual. Each must ensure that they are as clear and unobstructed in their personalities as it is possible to be. If that means coming face to face with the hard facts of who we are, so be it. Brushing things into a corner, pulling the curtains over the facts of history, only leads to the potential for ‘time bombs’. Almost without fail, life will find a way to shine the torch on those corners, to pull back the curtains, and if we have not prepared ourselves, it will hurt.

Sometimes, we are the bearers of truth in a situation which has been obfuscated with others’ interpretations of events or their investment in who they want us to be (versus who we are) and we then receive their kharu upon us. The hurt felt has to be measured against our ego; is there some truth in what they feed back to us? Is there anything worth the effort of correction? Are they totally missing the point and is it time to move on? Are they even directing cruelty specifically at us or are we, in our ego, taking it upon ourselves when it has nothing to do with us?!

It’s a complicated business, this becoming whole, congruent human beings. When faced with the aachaarya who keeps demanding ‘who are you?‘, it is only when we can face the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, warts, kharu and all, that we can respond even remotely close to who we actually are.

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Premed

…for Prayer

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Prem(an) – affection, fondness, joy, kindness, tender regard

Love – with the capital ‘ell’ – is the Universal Love, unconditional, unselfish, unstinting. It seeks no reward, no kudos, has no expectation of receipt. Preman is Pure Love and even in the worldly plain, holds no strings, makes no demands, states no ownership and is a bottomless well of compassion, affection and kindness.

To apply prem in our daily life, we need to be secure within ourselves and clear about our understanding of Love of the capital variety. It is a commodity which is often taken for granted. The mistake is to think it abundant. It is certainly freely available, but the ability to tap into it and work with it and live it… well, that takes some doing.

Even the noblest of people can get lost in the myriad other  connotations of love – seriously, check out that list, love in all forms but the Universal. The love which permeates the world in all sorts of guises and which can as often be nothing more than lust, jealousy, anger, greed and so on, all dressed up with a cherry on top to fool the unsuspecting and the needy.

Needy, yes. We all of us, every single one of us, wish to be loved – but what that is to us is as individual as ourselves. There is the expectation of something coming our way – even among the most giving of us. Indeed, almost certainly we all know of at least one person about whom it is said ‘they have such love to give’ but who seek attention through that love, or control, or drama… indeed ‘love’ is the most abundant emotion we have available to us and yet it is the most abused, misused and discarded.

In fact, for many, the idea that a Love which makes no request of them, which has no expectation that they can return it, is as alien as the atmosphere of Venus. They have learned that there is always a cost, a charge, for love and they expect to pay it. They can be suspicious of motives, be greatly in fear of it, and seek to second-guess the bearer of Love.

So demeaning has been the experience of love, by some, so sceptical have they become, that there is a refusal to believe such an Unadulterated Love can exist. This is beyond sad.

Those of us who can, who have seen, felt and experienced the capital ‘ell’ Love have a duty to vibrate and spread it to the world. In thoughts, words or deeds, whichever is appropriate and of which we are capable.

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There is room, though, to ask the Parent to listen, to cry in His Ear…

It is my Prayer, that all can come into the embrace of Prem, that all will feel its healing and be lifted. Please listen to the supplication.

 

OM…

…nipotent…

 

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A.U.M. The primordial sound. “O”rigin.

 मृ॒त्युरा॑सीद॒मृतं॒  तर्हि॒  रात्र्या॒ अह्न॑ आसीत्प्रके॒तः।

आनी॑दवा॒तं स्व॒धया॒ तदेकं॒ तस्मा॑द्धा॒न्यन्न प॒रः किञ्च॒नास॑॥२॥

Then there was neither death nor immortality

nor was there then the torch of night and day.

The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.

There was that One then, and there was no other.

को अ॒द्धा वे॑द॒  इ॒ह प्र वो॑च॒त्कुत॒ आजा॑ता॒ कुत॑ इ॒यं विसृ॑ष्टिः।

अ॒र्वाग्दे॒वा अ॒स्य वि॒सर्ज॑ने॒नाथा॒ को वे॑द॒ यत॑ आब॒भूव॑॥६॥

But, after all, who knows, and who can say

Whence it all came, and how creation happened?

The gods themselves are later than creation,

so who knows truly whence it has arisen?

इ॒यं विसृ॑ष्टि॒र्यत॑ आब॒भूव॒ यदि॑ वा द॒धे यदि॑ वा॒ न।

यो अ॒स्याध्य॑क्षः पर॒मे व्यो॑म॒न्त्सो अ॒ङ्ग वे॑द॒ यदि॑ वा॒  वेद॑॥ ७॥

Whence all creation had its origin,

whether it was fashioned  or whether it was not,

He, who surveys it all from highest heaven,

He knows – or maybe even does not know.

( excerpts; Rg Veda 10;129)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 The same was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.

4 In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

(John 1 KJV)

All languages of the planet have a sound, and most have a graphic form (letter) for ‘a’. Sound is formed in the larynx and can only ever start with this expression. “A” represents the spark, the beginning. As sound moves through the mouth, it reverberates in the palate and becomes more of the ‘oo’ sound. This is the sustenance of sound, the continuation of the universe. As the sound exits the mouth, the lips close gently around and cut it off. The lips cause the sound of ‘mm’ and represent the destruction of that sound, leading into the fourth state, which is an apparent silence (turiiya), during which the inwards breath is taken for the renewal of sound to take place.

Made up of the movement of sound in the mouth, given three letters, the sound is homogenised as OM.

In Hindu philosophy, it is accepted that the Rsis of ancient times, in their enormous capacity for meditation, heard the sound of the universe, the reverberation of shrishti – that which we perceive as creation. In recent times, the ‘silence’ of the cosmos has been broken, as science catches up. The Rsis understood physics, the unseen particles which modulate, coagulate, create, remain, disintegrate and recycle. They understood the importance of sound in the process of generation.

There are many ways to view the power and substance of the cosmos. Many refer to That as ‘God’. It’s as good a word as any but comes with the inherent problem of keeping that power and substance separate from us. The majority of the population who subscribe to spiritual faith do so with a view of ‘God’ as something other (dvaitam/dualism). In what form is not relevant. The point is that it is challenging to comprehend a Formless, Immutable, Eternal Presence with which we are integrated. Our limited selves need the comfort of form and circumscribed function. Mankind, therefore, created the ‘gods later than creation’.

That, from which all this arose, had-has-will never have form. That which ‘breathed’ and created the first sound and, by default, vibration, set in motion this which we call creation. OM was the first sound, the opening word, and that word became ‘God’.

OM is still not That; it is only the breath of That. That sits in the turiiya, the silence beyond the breath. All this (us, world, cosmos) sits there also. The purpose of meditating upon the OM is to find our way to turiiya and then to moksha. Re/Union with the Self – Realisation of The One, (advaitam/non-dualism = singularity).

What’s that you say? Can’t do it? Fearful? All tosh?

No worries. I was there once. Secure in what I knew. Then came the time where what I knew couldn’t help me. The time comes when one is stripped so naked inside, the universe opens and swallows – and everything ‘known’ becomes nothing. As it says up top, the problem with ‘knowing’ is we block ourselves from growing. The jiiva, separated from That, keeps manifesting physical forms until it reconnects.  Thus it might, in one life, completely deny anything beyond the physical, what can be seen and touched. In another life, it may start to comprehend something a little more, but it will be ‘charismatic’ and filled with a level of dream and fantasy. Then there will be lives of seeking, but still missing the connections… then will come the life where all the dots get joined. All lives, all paths are valid to the jiiva on its journey back ‘ome.

OM waits for those ready to return. Even if they never knew they’d departed.

Do listen… OMandalaa

 

No, None

…and then less…

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Nididdhyaasana – profound and repeated meditation

Root verb is ‘dhyaan’ – to think, to contemplate. Dhyaanam is the simple act of sitting and doing the thinking and more correctly translated as ‘contemplation’. Nididdhyaasanam is doing this in a single-pointed and sustained way. It is almost exclusively used in conjunction with the intellectual steps which precede it and prepare the meditator.

  • Shravanam, which is to listen attentively, not merely hearing but receiving, acknowledging and processing.  One whose skill of shravanam is firm will be able to inculcate as the knowledge enters them and to begin already the second process.
  • Mananam is what follows. Having received a chunk of information, it is necessary to ponder upon it. Hold it up to the light of existing knowledge, assess it for what is new, and seek to integrate it. This may result in doubts and questions arising. These must be aired with the teacher and discussion is to be had so that the knowledge can adequately settle. (Vedanta doesn’t want blind belief, or sheep wishing all the time to be herded – no, it demands robust assessment and debate so that each student can ‘own’ the knowledge.)

Having resolved the learning, nididdhyaasanam will start to become a habit. There will be plenty sitting and attempting to focus the mind, but only once all doubts are quashed, once commitment becomes firm, once the desire to move beyond gross knowledge into the realm of direct experience is his or hers, can the contemplator genuinely become the meditator.

Where two or more thoughts rub together, thinking is taking place. This is contemplation. Only when the flow of thoughts is suspended can one be said to be meditating. This is the ‘transcendence’ of which much is spoken.

It is not ‘airy-fairy’.

It is not psychedelic.

It is not an altered perception.

It is not achieved by any means other than to work through one’s thoughts to the point where they can be left alone… the thinking will not be about the ironing in the other room, the meal that is to be cooked, the problem at work, this that or the other desire which arises. The thinking will be about the teachings of the Upanishads and about four key statements.

  • Consciousness Alone Is (प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म / prajnaanam Brahma)
  • That (Consciousness) You Are (तत्त्वम असि / tattvam asi)
  • Consciousness and (my)Self Are One and the Same (अयं आत्मा ब्रह्म / ayam aatmaa Brahma)
  • I Am Brahman (अहं  ब्रह्मास्मि / aham Brahmaasmi)

High-falutin stuff, you’re thinking? Yes, it has to be admitted that it is. However, no series of articles on Vedanta and its application in life would be complete without pointing to its higher levels.

When you are at school you are made aware, are you not, of the possibilities of where studies can take you? The chance of going to university might have seemed remote at one point, but then you might find that there is a real passion for one subject or other and you begin to pay more attention, more dedication. Gaining entry to the course of your choice, you discover that as much as you thought you knew, you actually know very little. Learning takes a different turn and more than ever you have to stay focused. What keeps you going is the knowledge that others have achieved the thing you are trying for and that you can too. Sometimes though, you need reminding when the going gets tough. You need to be shown the goal again so you can refocus.

Of course, not everyone wants a specialised, high-level standing. They just want to get on with life. That’s fine, but there is still a need to understand life to get the most out of it. There is a need to obtain a skill-set to support yourself.

We are talking about meditation in this post so, if you find the idea of transcending your mind just too far beyond, do at least consider contemplative activity which keeps you relaxed and focused. Not to escape the turmoil of life, but to help you deal with it better.

That’s a whole other counselling session peeps…

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Mumblemumblemumble

…what’s that you say?

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Mauna – silence.

Put your hands up (okay hit some keys in the comments box) all those who have experienced true silence.

Before you are too quick to come forward, perhaps you’ll allow me to expand. Almost without fail, all of you would have cast your minds around to recall when you last were somewhere that you felt was silent. It would most likely have been an environmental situation that came together for you to think, ‘oh how quiet it is here’.

In having that thought, you broke mauna. Oh yes, dear readers, the outside can be as silent as the vacuum of the cosmos, but the noise continues to rage within you!

Now, let’s try that again. Put your hands up…

That monkey mind ensures we know not the silence of the Spirit. It rages at us as we sit in contemplation, as we watch the sunset, as we try to sleep. We are a veritable cacophony within our bodies, minds and spirits. A large part of Eastern spiritual practice is based on attempts at connecting the jiiva with the Aatman, transcending the body and mind. It is one practice which has spread around the globe… more on the actual subject of meditation on Monday. Today, though, let us focus on the practice of silence.

To bring the mind into readiness for meditation-proper, it is necessary to exercise in the discipline expected of it. This is achieved by setting a daily saadhana, a period of time in which there will be no speaking and one minimises the noise input also. Mostly it is best to be undertaken on rising. Having completed morning prayers and devotions or exercises, resolve to not speak until you arrive at work, or by a specific time on the clock (9 am, say). In that time, it is not only about not speaking, but it is also about keeping the thoughts as quiet as possible. Thoughts rage most when there is stimulation for them such as radio, family, birds… you name it, the monkey will find some distraction and start raising a ruckus!

For the majority of us, it is virtually impossible to achieve environmental silence. Even if we live in the countryside, there will be weather creating whispers, the birds start to yell, the insects will rustle! The trick is to then draw within oneself and place all that is external at a distance and shut it off with the mind. Keep the mind busy on silencing the exterior, and it starts to forget making its own noise.

Concentrate on the noises within the body. Don’t hear them? Listen again. There… Hear it? The rush of pressure in the ears, the gurgle of digestion, the throb of the blood in your veins, the air in the lungs. Listen for these things. Focus on quietening these sounds now.

If you do this much exercise in mauna, you will already feel the benefit of inner balance. There is a tranquillity in ordering the world to be quiet, in settling down the movements of the body.

Keep at it. Prepare. Listen. Listen. Listen… Become ready…

Log It

…make your mark

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Lekhyaarudha – committed to writing

This being the thirteenth, and therefore the half-way post of the A – Z ‘monthathon’, it is perhaps fitting I chose this word. Purely for the act of committing so much to writing thus far and with the promise of more to complete the set! However, as this series is about self-development and spiritual (philosophical if you prefer that term) intention, then you will surmise that there is a little more to explore.

At surface value, the word tells us that we are taking a story or concept and giving it an external expression. Writing is a gift of communication that only the human species utilises. Other animals use scent trails to communicate with others they may never see or meet, but the human critter alone can create patterns that can be read and understood through countless years and centuries. It is not just the patterns themselves, but the sounds attached to them which create the mental picture within us that conveys the essence contained within the writing. Yes, it will come down to images in the end! It is impossible, for example, to read the word ‘writing’ and not have first the sound of it enter our minds and then a mental image of a page with lots of rhythmic patterns on it!

Any who choose to commit their thoughts to the blank page will know that it takes some effort. Beyond that effort, there may also be some level of courage required. Courage? Indeed. Talking aloud is one thing. It is done in the presence of others where one can immediately gauge the response to what has been said and there can be interaction and an expansion of the thoughts according to that immediate environment.

Writing those same thoughts down, however, is done in isolation. Then there is the perception that once it is committed to the page and has been published (regardless of the format), that the words are set, unchangeable. Depending on the medium, any response will be delayed to some greater or lesser degree. Any counter-response is that much more demanding, as it has to try and erase any misinterpretation or misunderstanding which may arise. Writing, by its very process, ought to give space to the writer to formulate their thoughts, to edit their words and to ensure that they are giving the best they can in that moment. However, modern written communication channels have tended to erode this quality and sacrificed it to quantity!

There are endless reasons to commit to writing; here, though, our purpose is Higher Calling. Back on track, then, with the self-evolvement through writing… a Sanskrit technique used for focus and devotion is ‘likhiita jaapa’. Repeated writing. With this, the writer takes a blank page and a favourite pen and finds a place to sit in peace in order to focus only on that page and the process of writing. A word or phrase is taken up for concentration. For example, ‘May There Be Focus’, or ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’, or ‘Jaya Shri Ram’… the word or phrase needs to be something which raises the internal ‘vibration’. Carefully, deliberately, the pen is placed upon the page and the first phrase is formed. It should be done with full attention to the flow of the pen, the pencraft itself. There should be no hurry. Then it gets repeated until the page is filled.

At the end, you may be surprised to find that a pattern has developed from the whole, as well as within the completed page. Once focus and concentration are coming more naturally in this process, it is possible to start playing with it, forming pictures with your calligraphy – but at no time lose the focus of the pen touching the paper, the ink flowing. Do not be tempted to side-track and begin doodling or changing pens for colour. This is not an art project. It is an exercise in full focus, dedication to task and commitment.

The benefit which will be felt with dedicated use of this technique is a mind which feels more still, more single-pointed and ready to think about other matters with a raised attention. If this benefit is not being felt, the exercise is not receiving the focus it deserves.

Have you the commitment to commit to writing?

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