Surprise
Meditation with the Radiance Sutras
By Dr Lorin Roche

Unless you live in a cave, life is full of surprises. Even meditation is full of surprises. In the relaxation of meditation, we are often presented with mini-movies of whatever we are stressed about, including traumatic events from the past and whatever we are gearing up to deal with in the future. You get a few minutes of restfulness and then suddenly you find yourself feeling agitated, excited, or jumpy as you re-live a moment of fear or worry. Everyone hates this and is convinced they have failed at meditation: “I just can’t do it! The thoughts won’t stop. I can’t sit still.”

In the
Radiance Sutras, a new translation of a classic yoga meditation text, the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Sutra 95 points out that any difficult moment can be used as a gateway to awakening:

At the beginning of a sneeze,
That weird tickling sensation,
An uncontrollable explosion of breath –
And a stunned, tingling feeling afterwards.

When afraid, alarm bells
Ringing in your body,
Hair standing on end.
Or when lost and confused,
Sighing in desperation.

The gnawing, light-headed feeling
As hunger comes on, turns ravenous,
Then the deep satisfaction after eating.

When transported with delight,
Running away from a fight,
Intensely curious or impatient.

Intensity awakens,
Wild attentiveness everywhere.
Ride the shockwave inward
To touch the Great Self,
The power from which you arise.


kṣutādyante bhaye śoke gahvare vā raṇād drute |
kutūhalekṣudhādyante brahmasattāmayī daśā || 118 ||

And the Karaoke version:

kshut–aadi–ante bhaye shoke gahvare vaa ranaat–drute
kutoohale kshudhaa–aadi–ante brahma–sattaa–mayee dashaa

Kshut - sneeze. Adi - beginning. Ante - end. Bhaya - fear, alarm, dread, apprehension, terror, dismay, danger, peril, distress. Soka - burning, hot, flame, sorrow, anguish, pain, trouble, grief. Gahvara - deep, impenetrable, confused in mind, a hiding place, thicket, wood, an impenetrable secret, riddle, a deep sigh. Rana - delight, joy, battle (as an object of delight), war, combat, fight, conflict, motion. Druta - speedy, run away, melted. Kutuhala - curiosity, interest in any extra-ordinary matter, eagerness, anything interesting, fun, surprising, wonderful, celebrated. Kshudh - hunger. Brahma - a priest, the one self-existent Spirit, the Absolute. Satta - existence, being, goodness. Maya - measuring, art, wisdom, supernatural power, creating illusions (said of Vishnu), one of the 9 shaktis or energies of Vishnu, compassion, sympathy. Dasa - the fringe of a garment, loose ends of any piece of cloth, skirt or hem, a wick, period of life, circumstances, the fate of people as influenced by the position of the planets, aspect or position of the planets at birth, the mind.

The Sanskrit here points to all kinds of terrifying, burning, painful, confusing, delightful, joyous, surprising and wonderful adventures. Right here, in the midst of your most intense challenge or desperate situation, when your mind has melted in shock or vital interest, is an opportunity to wake up to the One Self-Existing Spirit. In terms of yoga practice, the suggestion is, “Pay attention right at the beginning – in the very first instant (
adi) you notice something happening – all the way through the development of the crisis – to the end (anta), and you will sense something of Maya, the great art, the supernatural power, of the divine.”

Notice your cravings for intensity as well as serenity. When you go to movies, sporting events, opera, theater, concerts, and performances, aren’t you going there to drink in every moment and be thrilled and surprised? The mantra-like sounds that arise from the audience, Ahhhh and Ooooooh, are astonishing in themselves. If you read novels, watch television or Youtube, aren’t you following what captures your interest? Spiritual awakenings are not to be had only in the calmness of deep meditation. The combination of having a rich outer life, open to the wonders of the world, plus having access to deep meditation, is the gateway, the door to ecstasy, pointed to in this sutra.

If you think of meditation as “calming down,” and “slowing down,” you will miss out on a lot of what life is offering you. Any time we are quiet and relaxed, the body-mind system, the intelligent life-force we can call
pranashakti, will tend to review stressful events we have experienced. This will happen whether we are meditating, on vacation, falling asleep, in therapy, or on the massage table. You haven’t failed at meditation if you have a few minutes of relaxation and then are immersed in an intense movie made up of everything you are scared and excited about. It is the relaxation and ease that open the door to your inner life.

Here is a little secret, which you can memorize right now: meditation is a perfect place to savor your life. All of it. Every color (
raga), every feeling (bhava), and every fear (bhaya). When you feel serene and safe, the wisdom of your inner life automatically brings up whatever needs to be healed. When you relax, you let go of stress, and when you let go of stress, you re-live the stressful events. To the extent you feel safe in meditation, you will re-experience your traumas and victories as your inner wisdom tunes your body and soul to accept the sheer wildness of the universe in all its stunning diversity. This is what makes each meditation a surprising and unpredictable sequence of pleasure, pain, pleasure, pain, pleasure, as your practice massages the tension out of your body.

If you don’t know how to meditate, learn. When you find the style of meditation that suits your nature, it is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and those you love. You will know your style because you feel utterly at ease and at rest in yourself. This creates an inner serenity that lets you tolerate the surprises life tosses at you day by day.