Beyond the Relaxation Response (Part 2)

The particular genius of Dr. Benson (see Part One of this article for background) lies as much in his packaging and marketing approach as it does in the actual process. No matter the name of the method, the first two steps (discussed in Part One) and the physiological changes wrought by mastering them, are common to most Western meditation methods imported from the East and are found in every serious meditation method.

However, many teachers, including Dr. Benson, appear to gloss over or avoid one of the most challenging issues of all meditation methods — a two-step method or other — and that is the issue Dr. Benson identifies in his second step as "Passively disregarding interfering thoughts."

Sitting next to one another we are connected, yet separated

Down Time Is Self-Remembering Time

As opposed to the aforementioned "physical transformation processes" this process is defined by many, including Dr. Benson, as a passive process. He says so in the wording of his second step: "Passively disregarding interfering thoughts." It boils down to finding a means of quieting mental activity during meditation and, contrary to Dr. Benson, I believe the practitioner must take an active approach.

This uncontrolled mental activity has many names; one of the most colorful is Taoist expression: "the ten-thousand things." There are others like the inner dialogue, monkey mind, inner speech. All our crazy secret thoughts and schemes, our dialogs with ourselves stifle our daily lives and interfere not only with meditation, but with all our endeavors to realize our full potential.

But it is very difficult to control the mind directly; almost impossible to tell the mind to just "shut up" or try what Dr. Benson calls "passive disregarding." Once again, we need a kind of subterfuge or "handle" to stop the mind from running away. Each teacher has his own approach. Yet frequently, the discussion over the best approach devolves into acrimony. I recommend two approaches to "handling" the 10,000 things, i.e., "sidestepping" the mind completely by giving it something banal to do.

The first approach is letting the little voice in your head — what psychologists call “inner speech” — count your breaths to yourself as you breathe. So, in a series of four beats, you would count: On inhale, one-two-three-four; On hold, one-two-three-four; On exhale, one-two-three-four; On hold, one-two-three-four. Start over. Inhale-four, hold-four, exhale-four, hold-four. Start over. This activity occupies the mind just enough to forestall the 10,000 things. Some practitioners have even found that the counting drops away of its own accord after a while, and correct, unimpeded diaphragmatic breathing becomes second nature.

A second approach to counting entails walking, that is, timing the breath cycle over a given number of strides, always breathing through the nose, of course. So you would time one breath cycle over a series of steps, for example, inhale one breath over four steps, hold that breath for four steps, exhale that breath over four steps, hold over four steps. Start over. In this way, the activity of walking and counting occupies the mind even more than inner speech alone does; it compounds its efficacy, especially if the practitioner lets himself become mindful of the oneness of nature. The sights and sounds of nature come alive in him, thereby subduing materialistic entanglements.

Now for the third transformational step and the physical changes it produces. Adding this next step takes the meditation process "Beyond the Relaxation Response." And it involves implementing “the backward-flowing method.”

My familiarity with the “the backward-flowing method” stems from extensive first-hand experience with Taoist meditation, all detailed in my book Deciphering the Golden Flower One Secret at a Time. Written in narrative form, the book describes how I was given a copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower by a stranger in Paris during the early 1970s.

I was a bad actor at the time, so I put this book away for over a year. Then one day, as my life began to spin further out of control, I picked up the book and started reading it. Soon after, I began meditating. At first, I didn't understand the text. Slowly, however, I began to "figure out" what to do.

I became so involved in the meditation that I left Paris to live in a small village in the south of France. The experience was one day, one page at a time; I didn't know what to expect, had no idea there would be a dramatic outcome. I had never heard the word Kundalini. This was 1972. And Gopi Krishna's book wasn't available yet, not in my tiny French village, that is.

rue Principal, (Main Street) St. Jean, l'Herault, France

St. Jean, 1972 - The House Where JJ Practiced GFM

Page by page I worked my way through The Secret of the Golden Flower until one day, while meditating, I noticed something different in my breathing. In Deciphering the Golden Flower One Secret at a Time, I describe the moment thusly:

“Observing my breath as I sit one morning, I am aware that it has the property of direction. At each inhalation the hitherto imperceptible wind in my belly appears to eddy slightly at the bottom of my abdomen as it descends before taking an upward circular course. Or so it appears to me. Down the back, then up the front, in a circular motion.

"Something clicks. I remember the words ‘backward-flowing method’ in The Secret of the Golden Flower. Words I'd passed over a hundred times, never having a clue as to what they meant, never imagining they might be important. I break off to look for the passage. In two quick flips, I‘ve located the text, ‘At this time one works at the energy with the purpose of making it flow backward and rise, flow down to fall like the upward spinning of the sun-wheel…in this way one succeeds in bringing the true energy to its original place. This is the backward-flowing method.’”

Yes, diaphragmatic breathing is the key to stabilizing heart rate, but the key to causing the energy to flow upward to the brain is the ‘backward-flowing method.’ Again it works like pump-priming, that is, reversing the direction of the breath begins the process of drawing distilled seminal fluid (cervical fluid in the case of a woman) up the spinal column. This passage from my book describes what happened after I reversed my breath:

“I visualize a plumb-line and close my eyes half-way. I command the breath to change direction and it obeys. I am elated at receiving confirmation from the book. What I don’t yet realize is that this is the last time I will direct the meditation process. From now on I am on automatic pilot. I remember the words of Ram Dass: At first, you do it; later, it does you. Action to attain non-action.

”For a week I observe my breath circulate in the opposite direction without noticing any effect. I go back to my uninspired routine: walking, cooking, meditating. Then, two weeks later, about the length of time it takes the backward-flowing process to become permanent, there’s something new. On the day in question, I feel a sensation at the base of my spine like the cracking of a small egg and the spilling out of its contents. For the next month, I observe the fluid-like contents of the egg trickle out of its reservoir and slowly begin to climb my spine. What is this fluid? I can’t describe it exactly. It seems to emanate from the base of the spine and press upward. Each time I sit to meditate it has risen a half an inch higher.”

I believe — and I discuss it in detail in my book — that The Secret of the Golden Flower contains the safest, most reliable method of taking one's meditation practice beyond the Relaxation Response, so much so that I have modernized it into a method for contemporary practitioners. I call it Golden Flower Meditation or GFM. Of course, there are many methods; it's impossible to know them all; some, it seems, are very close to GFM.

Now the ‘backward-flowing method’ may be the key to arousing kundalini. But it’s a big step to consider because there’s no turning back. I got confirmation of this fact first hand, for shortly after I willed my breath to change directions, the Kundalini activation process began. Yes, there were glitches, but overall using The Secret of the Golden Flower to activate my Kundalini has been a restorative process — physically, mentally, psychically, spiritually. And I believe it can be so for others.

When I met with him in Kashmir during the summer of 1977, Gopi Krishna termed my experience, “One of the most far-reaching, permanent Kundalini awakenings I’ve encountered. Rare, very rare, indeed.”

The Backward-Flowing Method, The Secret of the Golden Flower (Routledge & Kegan Paul)

The Backward-Flowing Method, The Secret of the Golden Flower (Routledge & Kegan Paul)

I ascribe the positive results I achieved in activating the restorative powers of Kundalini to the “backward-flowing” technique in The Secret of the Golden Flower.

Adding this one extra step to the two-step Relaxation Response process awakens the hidden powers of Kundalini and primes the body for restoration, renewal, higher consciousness and an explosion induced by a flood of psychic fuel into the nervous system. So I prescribe a three-step transformational process:

  1. The development of systematic diaphragmatic breathing.
  2. The use of diaphragmatic breathing to control heart rate.
  3. The moment you detect the property of movement, change the direction of your breath — the backward-flowing method.

The transformations that results from employing the “backward-flowing method” — the secret techniques in ancient Taoist texts that I ultimately deciphered and practiced — were used by the ancients for reliable Kundalini arousal.

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