An Introduction to Sumarah Meditation
Sumarah is a philosophy of life and a form of meditation that originally comes from Java, Indonesia.
The practice is based on developing sensitivity and acceptance through deep relaxation of body, feelings and mind. Its aim is to create inside our self the inner space and the silence necessary for the true self to manifest and to speak to us.
The word Sumarah means total surrender, a confident and conscious surrender of the ego to the universal self. The total surrender
is to Life.
Sumarah meditation is the main practice of a Javanese mystical group called Paguyuban Sumarah founded in Central Java (Indonesia) in the 30s.
Westerners started to be in contact with Sumarah in the early 70s and since then there has always been a certain affluence of them to the Sumarah meditation meetings in Java.
The Paguyuban Sumarah is a relatively small group, which at the moment counts about 6000 members. Even though it considers itself strictly a Indonesian organization, nevertheless its members support with sympathy and encouragement the development of Sumarah meditation in the West, believing that sumarah practice will eventually develop in the rest of the world in accordance with the needs and the cultural, social and political conditions of each country.
Most westerners going back to their countries after having met Sumarah kept going on with the practice of meditation and in certain cases small groups have spontaneously formed and since then regularly meet for meditation sessions. Besides that since 1995 there are also regular Sumarah retreats in different countries.
Sumarah is a form of meditation based on acceptance of what is. In Sumarah practice we start from the idea of our humanity, from the acceptance that we will never be perfect and that we will always make mistakes. It is taught that commitment is necessary, but excessive effort is most of the times nothing else than an other face of our ambition. In Sumarah meditation practice there are no fixed roles, like a specific way of breathing, a technique to help concentration, a specific position to hold while meditating. According to Sumarah, since life is continuous movement and reality changes all the time, we have to learn to know and respect what is there for us and in the same time not to get too attached to it. Sumarah does not offer solutions, does not promise salvation, does not guarantee success.
Sumarah meditation is mainly a way, an instrument of life, for life and in life, not an end in itself. The meditation is a tool that helps us arrive somewhere, but once we arrive, we eventually have to let go of the tool. As an Indian teacher once said to one of his disciples: "You came from Europe in a plane, then you took a train, and finally a taxi. Now you're here and you have left the plane at the airport, the train in the station, and the taxi on the street...haven't you?"
The practice of Sumarah doesn't teach isolation or avoiding worldly things as obstacles to the spirit or distracting enemies of the practice. On the contrary it teaches us to accept life in its totality, to immerse ourselves in it for good and bad.
The Javanese define life as "nothing more than a pause on the path to drink a cup of tea". Meditation is a precious instrument to help us stop and remember that it is indeed only a pause and only a cup of tea.
In essence, according to Sumarah, meditation is an instrument to help us walk in the world and through life in the best possible way.
This is why Sumarah likes to use the expression tapa rame, the 'noisy retreat', a way to learn to practice peace right in the middle of the battlefield and silence in the midst of noisy confusion.
In Sumarah much importance is given to being in the world and to being there conscious of our role, our mission in it. The privilege of existing in the world as human beings carries with it also the responsibility to use our time here in the best way possible. The apparent paradox of most spiritual paths of having to learn at the same time to accept what is and to struggle for change is very much part of Sumarah practice too. Acceptance is a basic idea of Javanese philosophy and it isn't considered a sign of passive resignation to fate, as it is in Western culture, the defeat of our capability. To the Javanese it is rather an indication of profound wisdom, as the mature choice of someone who has gained a sense of the Whole.
The practice of Sumarah divides into two aspects: the 'special' meditation and 'daily' meditation. Special meditation is called 'special' to distinguish it from the 'normality' of our busy daily life. It is the specific time in which we sit, relax and open to receive divine energy. It is an opportunity to exercise and let go of tensions and thoughts, a time to allow ourselves to become aware of our feelings, and to release those concepts that too often are an obstacle for the development our true self.
Sumarah has no precise rules for 'special' meditation. Although it is considered a good discipline to dedicate a little time to meditation every day, indeed it is left to the individual choice how much and how often to practice. It is considered important-though- to learn to recognise those moments of the day when one feels that it would be good to sit.
'Special' meditation may be individual or may take place in a group. Usually there is one person who acts as a guide (pamong) but in some groups this role passes to the different participants in turn. Most people find that 'special' meditation is easier and more intense practised in a group rather than alone. Every 'special' meditation has its own length, its own quality and particular flavour.
'Daily' meditation on the other hand is the attempt to maintain - during the various activities of the day- the state of relaxation and awareness achieved in 'special' meditation. In this way we learn to see the extraordinary quality of ordinary moments, and the ordinary quality of extraordinary moments. Normally between the special and the daily meditation there is a real chasm: the practice is exactly about reducing that gap.
One day a young woman who had been practising other types of meditation for years and had just arrived from India, asked the pamong: "During the practice of meditation we usually sit in a peaceful place, together with people who share our ideas and intentions. The atmosphere is conducive and usually there is a teacher present, or a guide who is older and further along in the practice of meditating. I believe that all these elements help us achieve concentration, relaxation, and inner peace. How can we achieve a similar condition in a noisy and chaotic place, among people who are competitive, where the atmosphere is polluted physically and psychologically?"
The answer came in the form of an ancient Javanese proverb: "If you want to find the light, go where the darkness is". It is good, probably even necessary to practice in peace and silence, among friends and in a conducive setting, especially at the beginning. But there are two dangers inherent in that type of practice: using meditation as an escape from reality every time things are not to our liking, and becoming too attached to an interior state which can easily degenerate into self gratification. On the contrary, practising where (apparently) there is no light, in difficult and unfavourable conditions, is excellent training, because after we have been in the dark for a while, we begin to see and appreciate even a tiny light. What is good for the ego is usually bad for the soul, and vice versa.
Last but not least we learn not to be surprised by the fact that meditation is not always a pleasant experience. It is a common mistake to think that 'meditating' means being at peace with ourselves and with the world, and in state of perfect bliss. Sometimes that does happen, the grace is given, but most of the time Sumarah meditation is a process of cleansing and facing the hidden parts of ourselves.
According to Sumarah, 'to be in meditation' means first of all being in a heightened state of consciousness, it means being relaxed physically, emotionally, and mentally, and diminishing the obstacles that normally come between us and our limited vision of ourselves and the reality around us.
It is not always pleasant to see reality. Nonetheless, 'seeing' is awareness.
Most often, when we sit down to meditate we are full of expectations, heavy with desires and hopes, and this by itself already prevents us from really relaxing. It is not easy to free ourselves from the ambition of becoming good meditators, and to relinquish our force of will. Most of us were brought up to believe that ambition and will power were necessary to succeed. We very quickly learn that in spiritual practice things are different.
The first step is to admit and to recognise our condition, and for this the most important tool is honesty. Often the truth takes us by surprise, shadows appear which we didn't know existed.
An inner condition of non-resistance and deep relaxation united with attention and openness are the indispensable requisites for both 'special' meditation and 'daily' meditation.
It isn't easy to describe what actually happens in a meditation session, as everyone who has done spiritual exercises very well knows. Indeed, even if the energy and the guide are one, everybody's experience is different, according to his or her needs and individual evolution. Sumarah meditation sessions can differ widely, and most of the times they are not what we expect. On the contrary, the touching and important moments inevitably seem to take us by surprise.
Perhaps the best way to give an idea of how a session of Sumarah unfolds is to describe one.
What follows comes from Laura's diary.
"This evening Pak Wondo [the pamong] was in one of his fiery moods, which I must admit I like a lot. The meditation unusually began almost right away, without many preliminaries. About five minutes after it began, I thought it was really a shame that I didn't have a tape recorder with me. Half a minute later Pak Wondo said: "This session should have been recorded".
Afterwards, this is approximately what he said:
"What counts here isn't the theory, but the practice. But be careful, practice doesn't just mean external actions. Contemplation and introspection are concerned also with internal actions that is to say with what cannot be seen only because we do not manifest it. To die is not a theoretical question, but rather something very practical.
Often people who practice meditation make the mistake of using it to solve the things that are wrong in their lives, the things they don't like, and the things that disturb them. Rather meditation is first of all an instrument for unveiling, opening, discerning. It creates space, lets in fresh air, cleanses and gradually purifies. In order for that to happen, we only have to admit what is wrong. We know what it is, truly we always do know. We have to have the courage to confess and to be honest with ourselves.
"Everything we do we are able to do because life has been given to us. A body without life is a corpse; life without a body is spirit.
"In Sumarah we have no sacred book. Our sacred book is Life, and yet all too often it is Life itself that we continue to forget.
"We forget, and we forget. That's why the practice is about remembering. There are different levels of remembering: the ultimate memory is pure memory, which means remembering Life. The Source is in us, we know it, but we have lost sight of it. We are in the habit of thanking fate (or God) when we receive something of secondary importance like fame, fortune, wealth, a family, and we forget the first gift of all which is given continuously, Life itself.
"It is important to come to feel and experience pure Life
"We forget many things. For example we forget to ask our 'tools' for forgiveness. Sometimes we remember to ask a friend or someone in the family for forgiveness, we ask it of God, but never of ourselves. We forget even that: ourselves, and this happens because we forget Life. We often speak about the things of our lives, our problems, work, relationships, our health; we speak about our ego, but never about our real self. The pure self is part of the big Life. We forget it again and again.
"Contemplation is very important. I, Wondo, always meditate and think about what is lacking in me. I wrap my being in meditation, as in a blanket. This, know it, brings joy. To remember the essence of life also brings joy. Death is not a theoretical question. I remember my father-in-law's death as lovely, nothing held back, no surprises, no sudden starts, just slow and gradual. He left his body softly, little by little, because he had never ceased remembering. "The practice of Sumarah meditation is not just to close your eyes; but to look into small things and find great ones. This is the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm.
"That's enough. Thank you. Respect your own time, try not to cut the process short, but return to daily meditation slowly, maintaining this interior state.