What is Meditation - In Depth

For many people, meditation is perceived as something only for monks on mountains in the East. For others, it is a throwback to the swinging sixties era of hippy ‘love and peace’, accompanied by a reckless culture of anything goes. The truth, however, is that the word meditation is derived from the Latin ‘mederi’, meaning ‘to heal’..

Meditation can certainly be considered as a healing process – for the inner self, mentally and emotionally – with proven benefits to physical well-being. If we are wise enough to acknowledge our own negative thoughts and emotions (and for many of us these can be dominant aspects of our personality), and if we can acknowledge that stress is not a normal part of a fulfilling life, then we can reap many rewards from the regular practice of meditation and the gentle healing process which meditation provides.

One of the simplest definitions of meditation is ‘the right use of the mind’. The initial aim of meditation is not to deny our thoughts, but to become aware of our mind, gain mastery over our mental activity and generate the right quality of thoughts. In time, with practice, we will be able to slow down our thoughts and enter the inner space within our own consciousness where there is no conscious thought, only silence. Initially, however, this need not be our aim. We are more accustomed to thinking fast and often frenetic thoughts. Trying to stop thinking would be like slamming on the brakes of a car while doing 80 mph. We need to be patient with ourselves and give ourselves the time and space to slow down and find our natural inner rhythm.

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There are many approaches to meditation and methods of meditative practice available today. Each philosophy or style recognises the power and influence of the mind and many methods have the aim of mental mastery. Most employ contemplation and concentration exercises, often using objects such as flowers or candles, or perhaps sounds which move from a continuous tone into silence.

Other techniques involve the repetition of a mantra as the mental focus. While most approaches recommend that the body is still, some include meditation on the move and mindful walking. Inner Space meditation does not involve the use of external objects, physical postures or mantras. Rather, the two main aims are to restore the direct experience and awareness of the self as an inner being, and to recreate the subtle link with the Source. Through a gentle process of self-realisation and a reconnection with the Source, both the enlightenment and the transformation of the self take place.

If we took time to explore the real root causes of all forms of stress, we would find that both lazy and distorted thinking lies behind the various emotions that we find stressful. In most developed cultures, no one tells us that we are each responsible for our own thoughts and feelings. We miss learning the lesson of inner self responsibility which reminds us that we create our own stress in life by the way we perceive and respond to others and the world. Instead we are taught that others are responsible for what we think and feel. We then project our stress onto others under the illusion that ‘they’ are responsible for our suffering. No one teaches us ‘how’ to think. We are told only ‘what’ to think in terms of information, but not how to shape our own thoughts and feelings, nor how to draw on the innate wisdom and core values which can be found within the consciousness of every human being.

There is an opportunity to teach yourself to think right thoughts; thoughts which are connected to truth, beneficial to your own well-being and that bring a positive energy to those around you; thoughts which are relevant to the context in which you find yourself and thoughts which use all your energies in an economical way; thoughts which ensure that the outcome of any response we may create does not result in stressful emotions. When no one teaches us in our formal education systems that any mental or emotional discomfort comes from within our own consciousness it ensures that we fail to realise that any negative state of being is unnatural and a sign that our consciousness is ‘out of shape’.

Meditation seeks to allow our consciousness to return to its true, natural and original shape. This happens through a gradual increase in self-awareness, an awakening to who we really are, and the rediscovery of our natural inner resources of peace, power and love.

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Most of us spend a large part of our lives being aware of everyone and everything around us. This can easily have the effect of draining our energy without us realising it. Meditation is the art of cultivating self-awareness so you can become more skillful at using your energy - mental, emotional and physical – in ways which increase your inner resources, not deplete them. In many ways meditation is the art of self awareness.

Meditation can also be seen as an exploration of truth, the truth of who and what you really are. In that sense, you are like a scientist in the laboratory is your own consciousness – only you have access to the laboratory, and all your experiments can be top secret if you wish!

This is an invitation to enter the laboratory of your consciousness where you can quietly explore, experiment and experience what is true or not true for you.

The only caution is that if an insight or exercise does not appear to be having the expected effect, don’t be too hasty and throw the baby out with the bath water. Practice, persistence and patience were the prerequisite qualities when we learned to ride our first bike. The same applies with the inner exercise which meditation allows you to do. Practice and patience makes perfect.

As you progress in your meditation practice, becoming more self aware and experiencing your own inner peace, you will also begin to see the unfolding of a factual story. It is a non-fictional narrative that makes Inner Space quite distinct from all other approaches to meditation and spiritual understanding, lifting it away from just another method of mental relaxation and into a deeper inner territory.

The combination of the narrative which is revealed within this course and practice of meditation sheds light on those age-old questions concerning the purpose, meaning and significance of both our individual and collective lives. That narrative comes later. First, it is necessary to understand and assimilate the essential insights into the self, and then begin the practise of meditation as the method to know and understand the self directly.

While resolving the essential questions of ‘Who am I, where am I, why am I here, where do I come from and where am I going?’, there is a good chance that you will gain many new insights into your own inner journey. However your meditation practice will likely create further spiritual questions.

This is a good sign, for in truth, in all things truly inner, the questions are often more important than the answers. If and when questions do come, take a moment to clarify each question and then let it go. Release it. Never struggle to find answers. In fact, never struggle. You’ll be surprised how quickly your sub-conscious will supply you with the insight and guidance appropriate to your needs.

All that you need to know, you already know, it’s just that you are not aware of it. Sometimes when attempting to complete a crossword puzzle you might mull over clues before giving up and going on to another question. Later in the day, while carrying out another activity, the word you were searching for will suddenly jump into your mind. You were not consciously looking for the answer, but the mind continued to do its own research on another level.

Meditation gently opens the treasure chest of your sub-conscious, giving you access to your own heart, the core of your consciousness, where your own wisdom lies in its completeness. It will speak to you directly, perhaps not at the most convenient times, probably when you are least distracted and able to recognise its call. One of its voices is called intuition. Our intuition loves meditation.

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We are all now aware of the ‘psychosomatic effect’, where many physical diseases are recognised, directly and indirectly, to have their roots in mental dis-ease (negative thinking). In its most basic practice, meditation is a way of ensuring that our mind creates only relaxed, calm, peaceful and positive thoughts.

This does not mean avoiding the challenges of modern life, which are not always peaceful and positive. However, it does mean that we can learn to eliminate any negative, disturbing thoughts and restore a positive inner mental environment, regardless of outer events and circumstances.

This is then the basis for building self-control, self-esteem and self-respect, which provide the foundation for appropriate assertiveness in our relationships. As we saw earlier the purpose of meditation is not to stop our thoughts, that would be unnatural at this stage, but to generate a positive flow of right thought, positive thought, based on an accurate understanding of ‘the self’.

The first step in learning to meditate is to relax both our body and our mind, and to free them from any distractions. When we make the distinction between mind and matter, body and soul, human and being, form and consciousness, we are intuitively making a distinction between two kinds of energy – physical (matter) and non-physical (inner self). Our bodies are made of the five elements of matter, which combine to make our physical form both visible and tangible. Our minds are non-physical energy, which produce intangible, invisible consciousness – thoughts, feelings and attitudes.

To understand this more clearly, consider the case of electricity: you know it exists because you can see the result in the form of an electric light, but you cannot see the actual electricity. In the same way the mind cannot be seen but the energy which comes through it directs the movement of the body.

The right relationship between mind and body is where the mind is the Captain and the body is the ship, following the Captain’s orders. Today, however, it is often the other way around. We are ruled by our physical senses, and our cultures are very focused on physical appearances and physical stimulation. The result is we have made our peace and happiness dependent on external, physical sources.

This can be disastrous because nothing outside is constant and reliable. If we do rely on any external situation or substances for our inner ‘feel good factor’, then greed, addiction and dependency are not far away, and inner peace and contentment are impossible. In short, our mind is disturbed. Unfortunately, our education and cultural conditioning teach us to reach outwards and not inwards to find love, peace and contentment, whereas almost all the ancient paths of wisdom remind us to turn our attention and awareness inside, where we will find that the peace, contentment and power that we seek have been present all along.

Meditation restores our awareness of peace and soul power within, reconnecting us with these states of being, allowing us to bring them out into our personality and, through our actions, into the world.

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In this first lesson, our aim is simply to restore the right relationship between our minds and our bodies. When you sit to meditate, choose the quietest place you can find, preferably in a room that you do not use very often. If this isn’t possible, sit where the familiar objects around you won’t distract your attention. If you can, set this place aside purely for the purpose of meditation. Start with 10 or 15 minutes. This will gradually lengthen with experience. Soft or subdued lighting will help as will some soft background music of your choice.

Relaxing into Meditation

  • Sit comfortably in your chosen meditation place.

  • Close your eyes and, for a minute or two, allow your body and mind to slow down by remaining still and quiet.

  • While keeping your eyes closed, take your attention to your toes.

  • Clench them tightly for a moment, then relax them.

  • Do this twice more.

  • Then consciously relax the muscles in your toes.

  • Work progressively, but slowly, up your body tensing and releasing and relaxing your calves, then your thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, arms, shoulders, back, hands, forearms, jaw, eyes and brow.

  • Be aware that your whole body is now relaxed in the chair and that all your attention is focused in the middle of the forehead.

  • Now, with your attention solely on your thoughts, let your thoughts float to the surface, then imagine them dissolving away.

  • Allow quietness to pervade your mind – as if you were listening to silence.

  • If any sensation or thoughts come to distract you, simply let them pass on through your mind.

  • Then return your attention to the quietness in your mind.

  • After a few minutes, bring your awareness back to the room and the here and now.

The above exercise is both easy to do, relaxing and energising, and easy to integrate into busy days. All you need are three or four minutes anywhere, any time (except in the car!). Note how you were consciously using your mind to relax your body. Once your body is relaxed, it allows you to provide your mind with positive, undivided attention. The more you practise this experience, the easier it becomes. Eventually you won’t need to work through your body, muscle by muscle – it will relax almost instantly with just one thought.

In our next meditation, we will focus on the quality or state of inner peace. This is a good beginning, especially if our life is often punctuated by frequent periods of upheaval or stress. There is an important principle that lies behind the success of meditation – where attention goes, energy flows; and where energy flows, things grow. As we ‘give’ our mental attention to the idea of peace, we water it with the energy of our consciousness; it grows from a thought into a deep feeling and the result is the experience of inner peace – our thoughts and feelings become PEACE FULL, and our words and actions then have a peaceful vibration behind them.

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Inner peace is not a passive or submissive state. It is a state of inner power and you will soon notice how much more creative you become as you learn to consciously calm your mind and take command of your inner world. Experiment with the thoughts below in your meditation, twice a day for the next week, perhaps exchanging peace for other qualities such as courage, honesty, love, patience, flexibility, or any other quality you would like to strengthen in yourself.

Gentle, but unobtrusive, background music may be played, as this helps to create a relaxed and light atmosphere. Position the text in front of you and read over the following words slowly and silently. Aim to experience and visualise the words in your mind so that you begin to feel what is being described. Once you have read them once or twice, you will be able to recall them with sufficient accuracy during the day.

Meditation 1 – Restoring Inner Peace

I imagine that nothing exists outside this room. I imagine that the room itself is now empty of any objects. There is nothing to distract me. I remove my awareness from my physical body and turn my attention inward. I become aware of many thoughts going through my mind. I become the silent observer of my own thoughts… watching each thought come… and then move on. Thoughts come… and then they pass… like clouds in the sky. As I witness my thoughts, they begin to slow down. I focus my attention on the idea of peace. A wave of peace gently washes over me, removing all restlessness and tension from my mind. There is just peace. In this moment, it is as if… I... am... peace. Peace… and quiet… and stillness - peace feels so natural. Like water that is fresh, still and clear, my mind is now calm and clear. I feel an easiness that is free of all tension. There is deep contentment within. I realise this is my most natural state of being. Having returned to my natural state of peace, I sit for a while, enjoying these feelings of calmness and serenity. I visualise a situation that I know I will soon face at work or at home. I see how I can maintain my state of inner peace and how it affects my thoughts and words. I can feel the power in my actions. I gently rehearse the scene and begin to see how the power of my inner peace is reflected back to me by those around me. With this feeling of total peace, I gently return my thoughts and awareness to this physical body, to this room.

For some people, it is useful to give the specific quality of inner peace an inner image on which to contemplate. For example, peace may be a flat, calm lake. For a meditation on flexibility, perhaps a reed swaying in the wind will help. The secret is not to get stuck on the image, but to use it to evoke certain feelings and then to acknowledge that the quality, on which you started your meditation, is now your state of being.

Practise the above for about ten minutes at least twice a day. The best times are in the morning before the day starts and then once again in the evening.

Who am I?

Rediscovering the true identity and nature of the self

Amnesia is the medical condition where there is a sudden and total loss of memory. Not only does the person not recognise those people involved in their life, including the closest family members, they don’t even remember their own identity. On learning of someone suffering from this sudden affliction, most of us have probably experienced a sense of gratitude that it has never happened to us.

And yet, from a purely spiritual point of view, that is exactly what has happened to us all. The only difference is that we are not aware that we have completely forgotten who we are. It’s only when we stop and ask ourselves: ‘Who am I?’ (and stay with the question) that we discover how we flit between self concepts and definitions that inadequately describe our true identity.

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Encounters with strangers in social settings also illustrate our ignorance of who we are. A series of questions demonstrates that we are eager to find a label or a box into which to fit a new acquaintance. The opening conversation is peppered with the standard questions: ‘What do you do?’ and ‘Where do you come from? (or questions of a similar nature, depending on the culture/country where you happen to be) which allow us to identify the other by their vocation and their location, if not their nation, or some other socially accepted norm. Identity is mistakenly based on what you do and where you were born and includes other unspoken labels or boxes such as gender, wealth, looks, sports team, beliefs, race, etc.

By the time the ‘getting to know you’ phase is over, we have the other person neatly wrapped up in a set of labels which gives us the feeling of ‘now I know who they are’. And if we were self aware in that moment, we might notice that as we label others so we are labelling and categorising ourselves.

Each label then becomes our identity, depending on where we are, who we are with or what we are doing. If we stand back for a moment and reflect on our experience, we might find that none of these labels are truly what we are. The moment we fall into the trap of thinking we are what we do, where we come from or our status in life, we create feelings of insecurity and there is a sense of vulnerability.

This is what happens. If we say we are what we do, then the moment someone criticises our work, perhaps our paintings or drawings if we are a painter or an architect, then we generate anger and fear towards that person. Why? Because we perceive the criticism to be a personal attack. As a result, we build a wall, a defensive barrier, and our behaviour becomes defensive and protective. This is how many people live their lives. It is called perpetual insecurity, and it drains our self esteem. Similarly, when we identify with what we do, let’s say it is our position of managing director at work: when we return home in the evening, unless we consciously release the role of managing director, we may find ourselves trying to be a managing director to our family when they obviously need a father or a mother or a wife or husband.

The same happens when we base our sense of identity on our country of physical birth; we become nationalistic and generate fear and animosity towards the people of other nations, even if only in subtle ways. The two main sources of conflict in the world are between people who identify with their belief systems (religion) or the colour of their skin (race). In all these examples we are simply identifying with a label.

We make this mistake even at the level of beliefs. We are not our beliefs. Our beliefs come and go, we can change them at will, they can be as impermanent as the clothes we wear if we so decide. If we were to take a few moments to explore human conflict, we might find that all anger and fear, and all the interpersonal and international wars to which they lead, have their roots in this amnesia of the soul. It is simply our forgotten sense of our true self identity, or mistakenly identifying with what we are not.

If we were to ask ourselves the question: ‘From all the labels we place on ourselves and use to define ourselves, which one is the real me, the real person - which one truly describes me?’, which one would it be? In response to this question, many people say: ‘They are all me - there is a little bit of them all in me.’ Essentially we can call this the first sign of an identity crisis. It also means we are all in an identity crisis.

We are all suffering from a sever case of ‘mistaken identity’. It’s just that this dis-ease is so common that we think it’s normal. We even identify with personality types and say to ourself , ‘yes I am like that’…’I’m a bit if a worrier’…’I’m the passive aggressive type’…’I’m a loner’. Out of habit, we have come to believe that we are the accumulation or acquisition of certain personality traits or characteristics, and this prevents us seeing and knowing the real self, the true self.

So who or what are we really? In truth, the answer is simple, because the illusion is simple. We make a very simple mistake, which is passed on from generation to generation. We confuse two things, body and inner self or role and identity. We identify with the the body we occupy and the roles we play and then depend on our body and our roles for our source of self esteem and self worth.

If we can see the truth in Shakespeare’s perception that all the world is a stage, and all men and women merely players, with many parts to play, we would see that we play many roles but we are not the roles. The self is not the role, the self/soul is the actor the body is the costume. We are all simply actors and each day is filled with many scenes.There is the scene of the lounge at home, the office, the political gathering, the passport control desk at the airport, the supermarket, the football stadium, etc.

Each scene requires us to play a different and appropriate role and then, as soon as the scene is over, to drop that role and move on to the next scene. Many people feel they have to play so many different and sometimes opposing roles that they no longer know what sort of person they are.

Others get stuck in one role and cannot understand why they have the feeling that life has them ‘boxed in’.

Real freedom comes with enlightenment, and the first enlightenment is the understanding that we are simply actors, and the physical body which we animate is our costume. While the many scenes of life and the many roles we play come and go, we remain. While thoughts and feelings come and go, we remain. Here at the centre of ourselves is the real I - the conscious, self aware being, within this physical costume called the human form. Even our body comes and goes, but we remain.

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And so… What am I?

Life is essentially an interplay between two energies - the physical, non-living energy of matter and the living energy of the self or consciousness or soul. The living energy of the soul or self has awareness of its own existence (self-awareness) - we think, judge, decide, remember and desire, but we are not our thoughts, our judgements or desires. Whereas the non-living energy of the material body does not do this. The body, with its five senses, is animated by the soul or self, and it is the instrument, temple and vehicle of the soul.

The Great Mistake

From the moment we are born, we are taught to identify with our physical form. We learn to label and compartmentalise others by their form. These false identities lead to a false awareness of ourselves, including boy, girl, man, woman, teacher, engineer, French, British, black, white, Christian, Muslim, etc. When we limit the consciousness of ourselves to a label or compartment, we become protective and defensive of our category. Insecurity becomes our companion, and fear and anger become the currency of our relationships.

Furthermore, if we only identify with our body, we become tense and preoccupied by its shape, looks and age. This encourages us to create the habit of comparison, which easily and frequently results in a loss of self-esteem. Real beauty has little to do with our body. We intuitively know this but, in the face of our cultural conditioning and the pressures of modern society, we go along with the prevailing illusion that beauty is what we see in the bathroom mirror in the morning.

This ‘misplaced identity’ is the great mistake we all make. In truth, the real, original, eternal identity of the self is not based on our body, actions or place of birth, but on our essence as the inner being or soul.

"It is not that I have a soul somewhere in my body,

I am a soul and I animate this body

You are also a soul."

Our Real Form and Location

The inner self is a small point of pure, light energy, conscious and self-aware, whose eternal and true nature is peaceful and full of love. Located above and behind the eyes, we receive information about the world through the five senses of our body and the brain. (If you find this hard to understand, just ask yourself quite naturally: ‘Where do I do my thinking?’ The chances are that, if asked to point to where your thinking takes place, you would point to an area somewhere in the middle of your forehead.) The brain is like the computer and we (the souls) are the operators.

Inner Self and Role are Different

Good actors can play any role. They will play their roles to the best of their ability, but will never actually think: ‘I am Romeo’ or ‘I am Juliet.’ However involved they are with their roles, at the end of the performance, they will take off their costumes and resume their true identities. So…

Whatever role I, the inner self or soul, am required to play, I maintain my true self awareness, my true identity as a soul - a living, eternal being.

The body is simply my temporary, physical costume through which I can create and play as many roles as I wish.

Our Inner Possessions

Just as our true identity is one of self, so our true nature is ‘of the inner self or soul’. The innate characteristics or attributes of the soul are peace, love, truth, happiness and power. These attributes are ever present within us: they never leave us, and they are as eternal as the soul itself.

However, we lose awareness of their presence within when we fall under the spell of the illusion that we are what we see in the mirror (physical form), what we do (profession), where we come from (race or nationality) or what we have (possessions). When our sense of self is based on any of these things, we live in perpetual, sometimes subtle, fear because all these things change: they come and go, and we have no control - where there is fear there cannot be peace, love or contentment.

This is why consciousness of the body, and all material things related to it, is the root of all our fears, and in turn is the basis of all forms of stress.

Meditation corrects the great mistake we all make by restoring the awareness of our self as a soul, a tiny point of radiant light. Practised over a period of time, this awareness naturally leads to an experience of our true nature: a deep inner peace and contentment that is not dependent on anything physical.

This is known as consciousness of the soul or soul consciousness. As we become more aware of ourselves as a soul, the one who is performing each action through the body, we gain greater control over our thoughts, feelings, words and actions. The natural consciousness of our self as a peaceful being then fills all our actions: our desire for peace of mind is fulfilled from inside and not outside.

As you begin your meditation to think about your true identity and remind yourself of who you are as the eternal and imperishable soul. Create thoughts about the self as a soul, and about your original qualities of the self. If your thoughts wander away, gently bring them back and refocus.

The simplest true thought about yourself is the phrase: ‘I am a peaceful soul.’ As you contemplate and concentrate on this thought, it becomes a real experience. This is what is meant by self realisation: it happens at the moment you see and experience that all your learned identities (based on what you do, what you believe or where you physically come from) are all illusions and are replaced by the experience of the truth about yourself - you are a soul occupying a physical body. When you actually experience this, it can then be said that you are in the consciousness of the soul or soul consciousness.

Image: Matteo Di Iorio / Unsplash

When you are truly conscious of the self as soul, you realise that you have nothing to lose. You will gradually understand that everything external cannot be possessed and therefor lost, and you know that you already have the peacefulness, feelings of love and wisdom that you seek. These are the innate and eternal qualities of every soul and while you may lose your awareness of them due to body consciousness they can never be taken from you. You also realise that you cannot control any other person or external event. However, you can influence them according to your own thoughts, attitudes and behaviour, which only you can control.

Seven Stages of Meditation to achieve Self Realisation

Meditation is the bridge between the theory of who we are and the experience of who we are. There are seven key stages or steps in the process:

  • Relax your body.

  • Withdraw your attention from everything around you, including your body.

  • Affirm your identity as the inner self or soul, and your nature as innately peaceful and full of love, using your thoughts.

  • Contemplate the knowledge of yourself as the inner self or soul, a point of light energy.

  • Concentrate attention on yourself as a peaceful, loving being.

  • Experience yourself as a soul and acknowledge deep feelings of inner peace.

  • Maintain, without force, consciousness of yourself as a soul even while in action and interaction with others.

Meditation 2 – Realisation of the Self

I sit comfortably and consciously relax my body. I bring all my attention up through my body to a point in the middle of my forehead just above and behind the eyes. This is where I, the inner self, I the soul, reside in this body. I am not this body, I am the one who animates it. I am the driver and this body is my vehicle. I am not my eyes and ears - they are my windows onto the world. I am the dweller, looking out through my windows. I concentrate my attention on myself. I ignore any wandering thoughts or distractions. I begin to experience myself as I really am - a tiny point of concentrated energy that is conscious and self-aware. I am also aware that I am radiating energy. I am a being of light, radiating light. I am the light that is consciousness. I am the eternal, imperishable light that is the soul. I contemplate myself as a point, of radiant, sparkling light. And I experience the freedom and the peace that wells up inside as I realise who and what I really am. I am now in the consciousness of the inner self, my original and true consciousness. Without force, I maintain that consciousness for as long as I can. When I feel ready, I gently return my thoughts to my physical body, bringing with me a sense of inner contentment. I am a peaceful soul.

When you finish your meditation, take a moment to reflect on what you have experienced; note how your inner vibration and perhaps your mood has changed. This validation of your experience helps you to appreciate and value what you are gaining through meditation.

Practise this meditation twice a day, for ten minutes each time. Sometimes the effects of meditation can be delayed.

You may not feel particularly concentrated, peaceful or aware of yourself as the inner self when you are trying to meditate. It may be a couple of hours later when you are suddenly overcome by a wave of inner peace or deep contentment. The delayed fruits of meditation are often the sweetest.

Extract. Author: Mike George, ‘In the Light of Meditation

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