Q: The world is so chaotic that I want to run away and isolate myself from all of it. It is so fast-paced that I rarely find time for my spiritual practice. How can I find peace in the midst of such chaos?

A: Seekers who try to reach their goal by isolating themselves from the world are constantly struggling. And I can guarantee that they will never attain freedom from the world, because no matter how fast you run, you cannot run away from yourself. There is no such thing as finding freedom from the world. Those who understand that freedom means to reach the core being and become established in one’s higher self—and that freedom does not mean running away from something—only such people attain the goal. The greatest challenges facing practitioners today are sloth, carelessness, and the conviction that they don’t have time. They aren’t willing to work for spiritual attainment, but instead just sit there and hope somebody else will give it to them.

There is no such thing as finding freedom from the world.

People want the highest, and they want it now. And that’s very good. But you always have to pay attention to the foundation. If you try to build a big structure without the proper foundation, the structure will collapse. People want to attain samadhi, but they don’t understand the value of attaining freedom from anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, and greed. Whatever they have, they don’t want to lose, and yet they want to have something very lofty—samadhi. These things don’t go together.

We all know the value of taking courses and doing lab work in order to become proficient in a field of knowledge. We also understand the value of experience. Whenever there’s an opening in a corporation for a particular job, one of the main qualifications is experience. But somehow many so-called spiritual seekers do not understand the value of taking the required courses, doing the lab work, or gaining experience before applying for samadhi. They immediately want to become a spiritual CEO and sit on a powerful chair called samadhi. And they want to do this without completing any basic courses, without any knowledge, understanding, or experience. The wisdom of common sense is missing here—everything requires some basic qualifications.

Sadhana, methodical systematic practice, supplies these basic qualifications. Every day, study a little bit, practice a little, be inspired to achieve samadhi, and keep preparing the foundation by learning how to draw the mind inward.

We sit down to meditate, intending to turn our attention inward with one-pointed focus, but the mind keeps wandering around. We bring the mind back and it wanders off again. How can we make the mind steady?

You have to remind yourself that meditation is important.

First, make a strong resolution that you are going to do it. You can do it. You will do it. This is called sankalpa, firm resolve. Then nurture your resolve by reminding yourself how precious life is and how carelessly you have been wasting it. You have already aimlessly wasted 30 or 40 years of your life. Whatever time is remaining must be used mindfully and wisely. Remind yourself: “The objects of the world about which I worry so much are simply means; they are not goals in themselves. Therefore, let me turn my mind inward and find and experience my own core being. And I’m going to do it!” This is called nurturing your sankalpa, nurturing your resolve.

Next, prioritize your life. What is really important? You have to remind yourself that meditation is important. This is normally missing—we have not yet understood that meditation is really something important. Because the mind has become extremely materially oriented, students often say things to me like: “I spend one hour working and I get $30. I sit in meditation and what do I get out of it? Just peace? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Unless you realize that being peaceful is good for you, you will not be inspired to become a peaceful person. You have to remind yourself how important it is to be peaceful. Do you want to live a life of fear? Anxiety? Insecurity? Do you want to be dependent on your sleeping pills? Do you want to be dependent on your therapist? Do you want to be dependent on your priests, pandits, churches, swamis, rabbis, and mosques? Or do you want to experience the freedom inside yourself that comes only from having a peaceful mind? Do you want to be a crazy person who is good at making a few bucks but who, before and after work, walks blindly without any purpose and meaning? You have to ask these questions in order to nurture your resolve. And once you do that, your resolution becomes quite strong and powerful.

Then, you have to find a living object on which to concentrate your mind. If the object of concentration is alive, that object will fill your meditation with life. Then when you withdraw your mind from the external world, immediately the mind finds this living focus to reside in.

Selecting an object for meditation is even more important than the process of meditation. If the object is not a spiritually enlivened, spiritually joyful object, then definitely the mind will slip away. That is why you need an experienced guide, one who knows which object is right and which is not right. The object of meditation cannot be selected randomly. An experienced teacher is one who is fully connected to the tradition; the tradition has been working for thousands of years to keep that object of meditation fully alive, so when it is passed on to a new meditator it begins to fill that meditator’s mind and heart with its own intrinsic joy and beauty. When the mind becomes focused on that object, the mind has less reason to run here and there.

So make your resolve, nurture your resolve, and then find the right object of meditation. The practice of meditation requires that you do it every day without interruption for a long period of time and with respect. You will not be able to do this unless the object has its own inherent virtue and beauty. A living object can breathe life into the process of meditation. The rest comes from your effort to complete the process of meditation.

More in this Series

Inner Quest: Seeker’s Q&A