My spiritual journey on the path of meditation began without conscious awareness. While in elementary school, I had incapacitating dizzy spells. At night, alone in my room, I desperately sought ways to make the world stop spinning. Automatically and somewhat inexplicably, I found myself regulating the inflow and outflow of my breath. As I focused on my breathing, I felt calmer, less anxious, and to my great relief, the dreaded vertigo would slowly stop. Intuitively, I sensed that there was great power in this type of concentration, but it would be several years before I would really understand why.
Like many people in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I was introduced to the practice and theory of meditation through the books written by Alan Watts on Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophy and the book Autobiography of a Yogi written by Paramahansa Yogananda. The ongoing traumas of the Vietnam War and a changing spiritual milieu in the United States also led many of us to look for higher meaning and truth. During college at Northwestern University in the late ‘60s and in medical school at the University of Michigan in the early ‘70s, I explored several different approaches to meditation, including Zen and Tibetan Buddhism as well as Taoism and tai chi. Being Jewish, I also explored meditative approaches and more spiritually based practices of Judaism.
I found that the great philosophies and traditions of India particularly inspired me intellectually and pragmatically. There, the techniques of meditation were presented in a concise, systematic, and thorough way. During my psychiatry residency at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I studied with Swami Ajaya, a Western-born psychologist who wrote a clear and practical guide for meditation called Yoga Psychology. Later, in 1976, I met his teacher, Swami Rama, who was the spiritual guide of the Himalayan Institute. I was particularly interested in his scientific approach to meditation and how he had learned to exert great control over normally involuntary mental and physical functions.
I intensively studied meditation (as well as alternative and holistic medicine) with Swami Rama for several years near Chicago, Illinois. Swami Rama, who died in 1996, was an enigmatic and charismatic man who had great depth of knowledge and personal experience with meditation, which he readily shared with his students. Through my association with the Himalayan Institute, I learned that the knowledge gained from meditation and the power and influence derived from being a teacher of meditation need to be harnessed and directed carefully. I also learned that it is essential to trust one’s own inner meditation practice and not depend too heavily on the teacher as the most important guide to spiritual growth.
The techniques that Swami Rama imparted to me are the same practices that form the basis of my meditation today. This meditative tradition is based on the Eastern philosophies of Vedanta, Samkhya, and Tantra and has been continuously handed down from teacher to student for thousands of years. I have personally practiced all the techniques presented in these pages and have thoroughly studied the theory behind them. Zen and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and psychology have also influenced my meditation practice, especially in the application of mindfulness, compassion, and simplicity to everyday life. While in my own practice I often incorporate several Jewish meditation techniques, I have not discussed these in much depth in this book because they are associated with a specific religious tradition. The techniques associated with the above-mentioned Eastern traditions are universal and anyone can practice them, whether or not they follow a specific religion.
Meditation has been a source of inspiration and comfort for me over the years. I have experienced the wonders of the birth and growth of my children, Abe, Ethan, and Ari and meditation has helped me stay focused and present, always trying to provide them with love and moral guidance. After the death of our son Nathaniel in 1981 to SIDS, meditation gave me moments of refuge and peace during those sad, dark early days. I have experienced periods when my meditation seemed stagnant and also have had moments of great inspiration and creative insight. I have had experiences when my body would spontaneously assume different yoga postures and other times when I would automatically do advanced breathing exercises, indicating the activation and release of inner, latent energy within my body. I have also had visual and auditory experiences that I can only describe as inspiring, joyful, and at times blissful. I have also had to face conscious and unconscious anxieties and fears that sometimes arise during meditation. I have been consistent with my practice at times and have gotten discouraged or lazy and avoided meditation on occasion. Through it all, meditation has provided me with strength and courage to understand my past, enjoy the present, and prepare for the future.
There are several important people in my life who have closely shared my journey on the path of meditation. My wife, Jan, consistently encourages me and, at the same time, perceptively reminds me to check my ego at the door. Our children, Abe, Ethan, and Ari, are wonderful people whom I love dearly and who inspire me to be the best man I can be. My father, Jack, and his wife, Jackie, have always supported me even when our earlier ashram life seemed a bit strange to them. Rosanne Emanuele has been a close and valued friend and we have shared many hours discussing the intricacies and obstacles in our practices. My childhood friend, Rick Frires, M.D., continues to be a close and important confidant and we always enjoy comparing notes on our long and intersecting spiritual paths. Justin O’Brien has for many years been like a spiritual big brother, and in 1998 Jan and I joined him on a trip to India. There we taught meditation and holistic approaches to health care at a new medical school located in the foothills of the Himalayas, called the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust. This was our first time in India and we found the experience inspiring and exhilarating.
I would also like to acknowledge several people who assisted me in writing this book. I greatly appreciate the editorial help of Mary Gillis. Her careful, thoughtful, and critical perspectives were very important, especially in the areas of organization, style, and grammar. Jim Horton did a wonderful job on the illustrations. We spent many hours trying to get the chakra colors and geometric shapes precise. Pat Young, fellow soccer and baseball coach, was very helpful in solving some technical problems with the computer graphics. My lawyer and Qi Gong healer-colleague, Marty Kriegel, and I have shared many books, laughs, and abstract late-night discussions on the theory and practice of meditation. Marty helped me with several ideas especially the organizational structure of chapter 24, The Technique of Meditation. I also appreciate the help and support of my sister, Donna Chernin Kurit, a long-time professional journalist, who gave me several good suggestions in writing style and also provided some needed editorial insight. I would also like to thank my good friend, Greg Manteuffel, M.D. who encouraged me to adapt and use several ideas we developed and documented in our book written in 1984 called Health: A Holistic Approach.
I actually began writing this book by chance. While doing research for a meditation class I was teaching in the fall of 2000, I found there was quite a lot of information on meditation. I discovered, however, that the books written were often incomplete, used too much Sanskrit in their descriptions, or were not systematic enough in the practices of meditation. Often the actual techniques of meditation were not described in enough detail, leaving the reader with some theory but without the practical tools to establish a practice. For these reasons, I decided to write this book, detailing the meditation I use in my own practice, as well as teach to my students. I hope readers find this information useful in helping to understand the theory and principles of meditation and as a systematic guide to establishing a consistent and deep meditation practice.