April 20 Meditation - Hridaya 101
Updated: May 19
“There's a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, "Why on our hearts, and not in them?" The rabbi answered, "Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.” (Anne Lamott)
I know a lot of people have resistance to some of the religious wording of that, so I’m going to rephrase it: If you study the world, it will put wisdom on your heart. Only Life can but wisdom inside your heart, but study the world and when your heart breaks, the wisdom will fall inside.
Tonight I want to offer a more formal introduction to Hridaya Meditation, which is the lineage that I wish to share with you since it is the lineage that speaks most strongly to me. There are so many lineages and styles of meditation, and I think they’re all valuable in their own way. The key is finding the style that resonates with you, personally, and then sticking with it! And this last part is where I often fail, because I let my Gemini nature take over and make me into a dilettante, sampling all the different options but resisting consistency and commitment. I’ve done Vipasanna retreats, and mindfulness retreats, I’ve sat in Zen groups, I’ve practiced guided meditations, and mantra meditations, I take psychic meditation classes. They’re all valuable.
But Hridaya is my favorite. It comes from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, which is the non-dual branch of Hinduism. That’s not super important right now, but it means the core teaching is that all is one. Part of why I love Hridaya is because it incorporates several of the other styles that I’ve enjoyed: there’s a mindfulness element, and a Zen element, and discussion of the chakras. The word “Hridaya” means “sacred heart” or “spiritual heart”, and so our focus is on the heart chakra, which has been a meaningful theme throughout my life: the value and wisdom of the heart. This is unlike the value and wisdom of the mind, and so this style is a bit of a deviation from a standard mindfulness practice. I’m asking you to really connect with this truest part of you, your own sacred heart.
In Hridaya meditation, this connection is very specific: we focus on the space one finger breadth to the center of the center of the chest, right around where the sinoatrial node might be located, for you anatomy geeks. So we find this space, and we rest our consciousness here. We inhabit this part of our being, this part of our heart, as fully as we can. The more time you spend with your heart, the more it will open, and the more your heart opens, the more fully you will live. Your heart has all the wisdom and answers you seek. I don’t have those answers. The best I can do is lead you deeper within yourself.
We also focus on the breath, specifically focusing on a small pause at the top of the inhale and a small pause at the bottom of the exhale. In this pause, we find stillness, and stillness is deceptively rich. Ramana Maharishi, who is the founder of the Hridaya lineage, says, “All that is required to realize the Self is to be still.” It’s almost counterintuitive, using breath to find stillness, but that is our way in. Breath is a very common focus in meditation techniques, so this might actually be a better starting point for some of you. Simply stay with awareness of your breath. Simple, but not easy. Every time you notice your attention has left the breath, and maybe wandered to the mind, or to the outside world, gently bring yourself back to your breath. You might do this one hundred times in ten minutes, and that’s totally ok. That’s the practice: to continually reunite your consciousness with your breath, and through that unity, to find stillness.
Finally, the third element of Hridaya meditation, which I’ll cue for the first time tonight, is continually engaging a process of self-inquiry, by asking “Who am I?” This is really at the core of Hridaya meditation, and part of why I haven’t introduced it yet is because there’s a lot to unpack here. But for today I’ll just say that we are aiming to reveal our ultimate essence of who we are, which is the Spiritual Heart. I prefer a twist on this question, and instead I use the mantra, “I am”. If you prefer that, feel free to use these words as your self-inquiry. Who am I? I am. I am.
The real aim of all these practices is awareness. So as we sink into this meditation, if and when you get distracted, or you lose focus, then return to the awareness of your Sacred Heart, your breath, and this continual inquiry, “Who am I?” I am.
Find out more at https://hridaya-yoga.com/online-events-calendar/
All the Hemispheres
Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out
Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadow and shores and hills.
Open up to the Roof.
Make a new watermark on your excitement
Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
Upon our intimate assembly.
Change rooms in your mind for a day.
All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire
While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of