A few years ago my wife and I were invited to a dinner party with a few other couples. At one point during the evening, the conversation turned to meditation and other ideas broadly related to mysticism and yoga. People began discussing meditation, and after I made some remarks, someone asked me if I ever meditated. I said that I had been meditating for close to forty years. 

One woman dressed in purple pants, a crocheted sweater, prayer beads, and a necklace with a large crystal studied me from head to toe. My hair was cropped short, and I was wearing a business shirt and pants that wouldn’t be out of place in an office. 

“That’s funny—you don’t look like someone who would meditate,” she said.  

I find a lot of mystique still surrounds meditation and yoga in the West. Many people seem to believe that yogis should be distinguished by odd clothing and speech, and that they can’t possibly look or behave like normal people. In India, however, plenty of “normal” people meditate, and in many families, yogic practice is as much a part of daily life as bathing and eating. Self application and consistency are the essence of it. Clothing and fashion are irrelevant. 

It’s not reliable to make assumptions based on appearances in any area of life, and when it comes to meditation and yogic practice I’ve learned it’s especially not useful. Some of the most unlikely people can be effective yogis. My friend John would be a perfect example. When I met him at university in the 1980s, he had no interest in religion, no knowledge of mysticism, and no experience in meditation. Yet when I taught him to meditate for the first time, he showed that none of that mattered. 

It happened while we were working in Ottawa for the Canadian federal government as student interns in January 1987. One evening over a pub beer, my interest in meditation surfaced. John was curious and asked me what it was about. I described my own particular practice how it helped me. John became especially interested when I mentioned that meditation was good for calming anxiety and clearing the mind. Despite his handsome looks and powerful physique, he said that he often suffered a lack of confidence, and he would very much like to learn how to quiet his mind.   

“Could you show me how to meditate?” he asked. 

His question caught me off guard. It had never occurred to me that I might teach someone else how to meditate. Even after seven years of practice, I still considered myself a novice, and I was under the impression that I should be some kind of certified guru if I was going to pretend to teach anyone anything. I told him as much and he nodded in understanding. 

Then something stirred inside me. It didn’t feel right to leave him with nothing in his hands.

“You know, it’s probably okay if I teach you a little basic technique,” I said. “We would need a quiet time to do it, though. Evening would probably be best.”

His face lit up: “That sounds great!”

A couple of days later I rode the bus across town to John’s apartment after dinner. He made a pot of tea, we chatted for a few minutes, and after discussing some basic elements of the brand of pranayama that I practiced, we moved to the living room to begin the lesson. 

John had little furniture, so we had to sit on the floor. He asked if we needed to sit in lotus posture, with our legs and ankles twisted in the traditional yogic style, and I explained it wasn’t necessary. The most important thing was simply to sit comfortably upright. Lotus posture wasn’t easy for anyone who hadn’t practiced yoga extensively, including myself, so we simply sat cross-legged on cushions.   

John turned off the lights to ease the brightness. Now we could just manage to see each other in the dim illumination provided by the light from the street. 

I began to guide him through the simple hong-sau meditation technique. I asked him to close his eyes and place his attention at the point between the eyebrows, breathing from his belly and connecting his ingoing and outgoing breaths with the hong-sau mantra. I watched him for a moment to ensure that he had the basic technique, then I closed my eyes and began my own breathing. 

I quickly went into a deep meditative state. I found it surprisingly easy with John as I felt his receptivity to what we were doing. That was especially important.

I planned to keep our session short as I didn’t want his first meditation to be a crushing labor. I figured if he managed to focus for just a few minutes and catch even a brief glimpse of clarity, then that would be a good start. I opened my eyes after about ten minutes and looked at him in the dim light. 

“How do you feel?” I said. 

John was seated upright and very still. His eyes were closed, his jaw relaxed, his mouth slightly open. He opened his eyes. 

Suddenly he appeared startled. 

“Woooah,” he said, staring at me. 

“What is it?” I saw him scanning my head and shoulders. 

“This is incredible—”


“This might sound weird, but … there’s light all around you!”

I was surprised. 

“Really? What do you mean?” I could guess what he was seeing, but I didn’t want to assume anything. 

“It’s like this fuzzy white halo all around your head and shoulders,” he said. Then he squinted. “It’s thickest around your head.” 

“Hey, that’s cool.” I shifted a bit to adjust my seat. 

“Woah!” John said again. “It moves with you when you move!” 

“Interesting—you must be looking at my aura.”   


“My body’s energy field.” 

He gave me a puzzled look. “What do you mean?” 

I had to think a moment.

“Do you ever feel positive and negative vibes from people?” 

“Yeah, sure.” 

“That’s the aura. It’s the body’s energy field. You can feel it as vibrations or you can see it as light. You’re seeing my aura.” 

I sensed he was seeing the smallest portion, representing my etheric body, but I didn’t want to get into that level of detail.  

“Really? Are you serious?” John’s eyes grew big as saucers. “That’s amazing!” 

He wanted to know how it was possible to see auras. 

I explained that as meditation enhanced our sensory awareness, it made it possible for us to see and feel the subtle energies of other people. Apart from seeing auras around people, we might also feel their vibratory energy as being pleasant or threatening, happy or sad, and the like. 

“I’ve felt those things with different people, for sure,” said John. 

“If you have a natural sensitivity towards auras and vibrations, and I suspect you do, then you will certainly find yourself feeling these things,” I said. 

“How can we feel energy with our bodies, or our minds, or whatever it is?”    

“It might sound weird, but basically your consciousness is part of an energy field that is much bigger than your body,” I said. “Each of us is just one little piece of consciousness within that larger Consciousness. 

“It’s like quantum physics and non-locality. Basically, your consciousness isn’t located in one place—or we can say it’s located in one place, but it’s also located in all places at the same time—and it’s connected to all things through the larger superconscious, including each other. If you tune into the superconscious through meditation, you can start to perceive all sorts of subtler energies and vibrations around you. Does that make any sense? I’m not sure I’m explaining it well.” 

John nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, sort of. I think I know what you mean.” 

“Here’s another way to understand it. You know the structure of an atom? With a nucleus and a bunch of electrons orbiting around it?”

“Yeah, sure.” 

“Well, there’s a vast amount of space between the nucleus and the electrons. In fact, there’s so much space that we can basically say that atoms are made of space. Atoms are more a relationship of space and energy than they are an assemblage of matter. Do you know what I mean?” 

Again, John nodded. “Sure.”   

“Well, if atoms are mostly space, or essentially non-material, then you and I are also non-material, and so is everything surrounding us. Everyone and everything is basically an expression of energy, and the energy is expressed in different localized forms that we call Jim, John, chair, house, pancake, oatmeal, and all the rest. In reality it’s all quantum soup existing as one continuous whole, but we perceive it through our physical senses as a series of separate objects or separate phenomena. It’s a trick of the human mind. However, when we meditate, we can sometimes access another level of perception that allows us to see and feel the vibratory energy working behind everything.”  

I stopped at this point to highlight the difficulty of describing it with words. It had to be experienced directly, and yogic meditation was one of the most effective ways to do it. 

John still wore an expression of wonderment. 

“So you liked the experience?” I said. 

“Yes! Absolutely! I feel so …,” he paused for a moment, “I feel so happy.” 

“Good!” I exclaimed. “That makes me happy!” I laughed. 

We got up from our seats and returned to the kitchen. We made another pot of tea, chatted a little more about meditation, then I left for home. 

On the bus, I had to reflect. In my years meditating, I had been out of my body, seen visions, and had all kinds of minor mystical experiences. But I had studied under an Eastern teacher and already practiced for several years. How was John seeing my aura after his first meditation? He knew essentially nothing about yogic practice. Could it be that easy? 

I saw John again a few days later and he was radiantly happy. He said that he had started meditating on his own, and he was already feeling calmer and more confident each day. 

That’s when I realized how simple yogic practice could be. There was no need to be immersed in Eastern teaching to experience yogic perception. John had no experience in meditation, but here he was, seeing auras, after just a few minutes and a few days of earnest practice.  

I had always been uncomfortable with the mystique that people attributed to meditation and yoga. For me, this was proof that there was no place for it.

 © James Andrew Grove

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