For nearly forty years Rev. Alan L. Pritz has trained in and taught Eastern disciplines. A meditation and hatha yoga teacher, interfaith minister, spiritual counselor/coach, institutional spirituality consultant and martial arts instructor, Rev. Pritz has spent years applying inner sciences to outer realities.
In 1997, he published Pocket Guide to Meditation, a 95-page overview of the meditation process as part of the spiritual journey. Now, the Twin Cities-based teacher has released Meditation as a Way of Life: Philosophy and Practice (Quest Books), a volume that is one of the most comprehensive guides ever published on meditation. The author, a student of the Indian yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, distills the teachings of many other spiritual traditions and religions, including Christianity, into an interfaith perspective that will appeal to all seekers of the Divine. Specific elements include the foundations of spiritual practice; the benefits of energy-building exercises, affirmations, and healthy lifestyle regimens; instructions in mantra practice and inner-sound meditation; techniques for effective prayer; and guidelines to measure inner practice.
Rev. Pritz spoke with The Edge about his new book, and about meditation as a way of life, from his home in South Minneapolis.
Thank you for sharing your time with us. I particularly liked reading your new book because I didn’t really know a lot of the ins and outs of how you started your practice.
Rev. Alan L. Pritz: Well, truth be told, there are some people who are memoir worthy. I don’t know that I am, but the context was basically that I call myself Joe ordinary — although I don’t know that anybody is ordinary, particularly if they are dedicating their lives to a spiritual practice and doing these things. While most people are enamored of tales that are truly enamorable, if that’s a word — people who seem to have aurora borealis kinds of experiences — here I’m just kind of the guy in the trenches who has dedicated his life in this way over time. There’s some value, I think, for people to see not everybody has to be a savant in these areas to benefit by them.
I have met and spoken and taken classes with teachers who have had pretty astounding peak experiences, but they don’t really dwell on them. In fact, many people who take their classes don’t even really know about them because that’s not what it’s really all about.
AP: Oftentimes people are looking for the spectacular. Everybody wants to go to Walgreens and become an enlightened being yesterday. Pull down some kind of paranormal phenomenon from the shelf and say, “Look at me, aren’t I special?!” And, the fact is that the spiritual path is not a Fourth of July fireworks — and benchmarks for growth are far more subtle.
I agree that usually people who have particular skill sets born of their superconscious realizations will not mention them, because that’s not the point. The spectacular is another form of spiritual materialism to detract a person from the real goal. Why wander around in the garden when your goal is to go to the castle?
You introduce your new book by saying that meditation is not a method to enhance health, boost creativity or reduce stress. You say that these may be by-products of meditation, but they are not what meditation is about. So, what is meditation about?
AP: There is always a need to define terms, and as such, my book is specifically rooted in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. It comes from a classical yogic perspective. In this sense, meditation is very much a spiritual practice. Very simply put, meditation is the science of learning how to reunite the soul with Spirit.
When I say science, it involves understanding the mechanics whereby consciousness and soul have basically descended into incarnate physical form and the very real ways that life force and consciousness can be raised once again to reunite into the omnipresence of Spirit and Source. That is the soul’s innate potential. For most folks, they simply abide on doing a prison term incarcerated, if you will, in a physical form.
Much like a giant oak tree is secretly held within an acorn, the soul’s potential is omnipresent and one with Spirit. The science of meditation is the process whereby the life force and consciousness are able to be controlled and directed within the physical and subtle bodies that comprise the human being, done in a skillful, artful manner such that these goals are ultimately reached.
You mention your tradition coming from Yogananda, and you also call meditation a science. Can you give people an idea of the length of time that has gone into refining this science?
AP: First of all, let me make a distinction or clarification that may be beneficial. Most people think of Yoga in one of two ways: either that it is Hinduism; or that it is the physical exercise system — Hatha yoga practiced in postures — that is so prevalent in society today. “Yoga” simply means reuniting of soul to Spirit. That is what it means.
Every particular spiritual practice — whether it is Christian, Hindu, Judaic, Bahai, whatever — has what are called exoteric, or outer, systems, and esoteric, or inner systems. The outer systems refer to rituals, doctrine and dogma. The inner systems refer to the spiritual components that bypass all kinds of religious formalities and are really about soul-to-Spirit relationship.
Yoga is the gift to the world that has arisen out of India and has been refined for millennia. I don’t know actually whether the earliest recorded images and references to yogic teaching date back 6,000 or 10,000 years, but it has been a long time in the works. What’s of value for people to understand is that the kinks have been worked out of the system when taught properly by somebody who, themselves, is a graduate of the process. Yogananda was a spiritually realized master, a graduate of the yogic sciences who was able to teach them, and demonstrate them from his own spiritual attainment.
What would you want everyone on the planet to know about Yogananda and why has he inspired you so?
AP: That’s a good question. Everybody’s spiritual journey is very personal — between them and God. It’s kind of like if you have dated a number of people, in time you find somebody who is right for you, and that is exciting.
In this particular case, it is very difficult to find somebody of the spiritual level and caliber of a Jesus, a Buddha, and what I consider to be a Yogananda, somebody who has climbed the summit of spiritual attainment. People who are very knowledgeable and influential in the world today in terms of spiritual teaching and familiarity will pretty uniformly cite Yogananda as being a seminal influence in their journey. His book, Autobiography of a Yogi, set the gold standard for people who are being introduced to what a true spiritual master of the Yogic tradition looks like. It shares an exquisite amount of information.
From my particular framework, Yogananda stands as a teacher to provide a level of insight into the sciences of life force and consciousness, yogic sciences, and how they can be applied to people regardless of their religious traditions at a time in the world’s evolution when this kind of rapid growth and change in the spiritual evolutionary process is before us. Clearly, there are a number of teachers, great historically and otherwise. One of the values of Yogananda is that he taught in the West for 32 years. He spoke to the Western audience with the mindset to appreciate their need to know the science behind things, why they work, what the goal is, why these things are of value and relevant, and how they achieve just what they set out to do. Yogananda was a very articulate person who provided a wealth of information that is otherwise obscured and teachings made very relevant for the modern era.
What role does meditation play in the awakening process?
AP: That’s kind of like asking what role does water play in growing a garden. The term “awakening” really refers to people becoming more aware of themselves, what life is about, and how they fit into the bigger picture of meaning of life. Meditation directs people into becoming aware that life is a spiritual journey. As people begin to see that and understand that, they are also asking classic questions about their place in the world and they’re beginning to get in touch with themselves as being souls, as opposed to just being bodies.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, said we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. As people become more clear to this concept and begin awakening to life as being more than just a big, old mystery where you work, eat, have a family and die, meditation becomes the singularly most important vehicle where people are able to turn their attention towards Spirit within themselves as the doorway to grasp Spirit everywhere.
It’s comparable to the New Testament telling us, “Seek the Kingdom within.” That’s what meditation is. It’s the doorway to the mysteries of Spirit and self — and this is an internal journey.
Human beings are multifaceted beings. We have a physical body, but we also have spiritual bodies. When the mind is concentrated outside in the world, consciousness is fixed in the most dense or material aspect of creation. The mind and consciousness have to be withdrawn. Meditation is the science of how to focus one’s attention, consciousness, and subsequently, life force so that the more subtle realms of existence of one’s self and the universe itself become manifest.
What effect will somebody who begins the process of meditation and commits to it notice in their lives?
AP: I tell people that it’s like if you light a fire and you see a big bonfire across the street and you say, “Yummy, yummy, I’ll want me some of that.” As you start walking across the street, you’ll find that as you get closer to the fire you begin to feel its effects. There is greater light, there is greater warmth. As a person turns within, with meditation, what they are effectively doing is approaching Spirit that is encapsulated within themselves. The nature of Spirit is love, joy, peace, wisdom, power and calmness, and these qualities will begin to manifest more to the individual. Even early beginners will begin to feel that they are less anxious, they are obviously more peaceful, less easily ruffled by life around them.
There are qualities of understanding the world around you that need to be wed to the practice in order to make it a full well-balanced integrated approach. It is not uncommon for people to notice that their relationships with people improve. They feel a spontaneous joy that has no particular basis in an outer cause, as well as feelings of love, peacefulness, a sense of awe or increasing wonder about the nature of existence. These are very early indicators of the results of a meditation practice.
How has the practice of meditation evolved in your life?
AP: Great question. What I find is that there is a quality of refinement in my practice that continues to simply refine my understanding and my experience of all these things in which I have immersed myself.
Sometimes you see somebody who seems like they are a very advanced practitioner of something. You can get a sense of that, because when you’re with them you feel a certain calmness or they just emanate a sweetness. It’s like a crock-pot dish that is becoming more and more ready to be served. What I found with myself is that these are realities that sometimes, as soon as I close my eyes and I go within, I find myself lifted and absorbed into a state that very significantly impacts my interaction with the world, the words I speak, whom I’m with, and what I’m doing. I’m very much internally changed by virtue of the experience — and my dance with life has become deeper, richer and sweeter, and hopefully of greater service to people by virtue of my knowledge and capacity to share it.
In your book, you encourage readers to commit to a long-term relationship with Spirit. I thought to myself, “Isn’t that like making a commitment to yourself, to your true nature?” What do you find prevents most people from making this commitment?
AP: First of all, I think that you’re right, that this is about making a commitment to yourself, because in your truest nature, you are Spirit. We all are. I think that there has to be a readiness. People have to feel the value in doing this, and then they have to be willing to pay the price. You don’t get something for nothing.
In this day and age when you walk around and you see people on their various cellphones and devices, everybody has got such instant gratification needs and scattered minds. The concept of just being still and dedicating yourself twice a day to a practice is something that many people are just not willing to embrace. There is a pandemic of restlessness.
People simply need to become ready for this kind of thing and then embrace what is needed to make it happen. I like to use relationships as an example. Once two people have been dating for a while, the couple may find value in the relationship that they really want to invest in, so they have to make choices to move their connection from a superficial to a more meaningful one. Corresponding choices in time and energy come to play as people choose to align their lives and orbit around that which is important to them: a person, a spiritual practice, there is no difference.
The greatest obstacle to people embracing meditation as a way of life may be a lack of awareness in knowing that this is such a potently powerful thing that could benefit them on so many levels. So there is a lack of access to quality information. I know that sounds perhaps absurd, because there are so many meditation teachers out there, but frankly when I hear people talk about meditation, it sounds to me like they have been given a book or they have had a community ed class. They have not had a very good training or an understanding of the basics.
Would you say that the expansion of technology is actually thwarting our collective return to our inner selves?
AP: That’s a great question. I would say that the world is a very powerful magnet and it has a lot of toys to draw people’s attention outside the self — the soul and the spiritual essence of the being. The world provides vehicles for people’s innate tendency to be materially fixated and do it with more bells and whistles. People now have more toys at their disposal — and the nature of the world is, frankly, to keep people engaged in the world.
Folks need to understand that what they’re looking for ultimately is not going to come from a toy. It’s going to come from within them, and this is part of the processes of discernment and discrimination. It goes along with learning and applying a practice.
Why is finding a quality meditation teacher important in the process — or can we do it on our own?
AP: I think it’s always important, regardless of what a person is learning, to get the best quality information available. Otherwise, whether you’re studying economics or something more esoteric, the blind are leading the blind. It is a bad math equation. It’s very important that people wind up getting quality information from sources that truly know from their experience what they are talking about.
At first, folks lack discrimination and discernment born from experience. The tendency is to find books or teachers that seem to resonate with them. Usually the process is such that people waste a lot of time in byways and pathways that don’t ultimately serve them, or it leads people to refine their process and discover teachers who are better. If a person can find a better teacher right away, great. Books and written material can serve a valuable part of the learning curve.
Ultimately, I hold dear the personal relationship, such that you can have a connection with somebody over Skype, but it does not take the place of being present with somebody. People can learn a lot through books and correspondence lessons, but there is a certain element that really comes down to the energies that are transferred individually. Even if it is just once a year that people can connect with somebody and have a fine attunement process, that can really serve them. There are support systems, but it’s important to get good sources and good information, and if possible, connect with an individual who is a good representative of the path in which you’re choosing to participate.
What is the inward teacher you write about?
AP: The inward teacher refers to the intuitive power of the soul. This is a delicate dance for people, because in spiritual practice what you have oftentimes is the ego warring with the soul. There is a rough core of egotism in individuals. Part of the dynamic of the spiritual practice is the battle between these forces within us. The whole Bhagavad Gita is a metaphor and allegory of the battle between soul and ego, and every spiritual path has that. You can’t be in the world, and of God, mamman versus Spirit. The ego is very canny and it likes to come up with lots of different excuses to justify its likes and dislikes. People have the capacity to justify usually anything that they want. You want to have children, you’ll justify having children. If you don’t want to have children, you’ll justify not having any. All that stuff tends to be of the ego.
The inner teacher, in this case, is the soul, which is uncompromising in its relationship with truth. One of the powers of the soul is pure and perfect intuition — the power to discern the truth without the intermediary shift of the senses. There is not a rationalizing process. It is simply the soul’s power to know the truth and to know it directly. When a person becomes more refined in a spiritual practice, they are able to tap this intuitional guidance directly; until such time, oftentimes their insight is murky. While the inner teacher is a very real thing, it also requires time to cultivate and wisdom to know when you’ve got it and when you are not quite there.
What role does community play in the path to self-realization?
AP: Community can be a wonderful support for people, because there is a synergy involved with like-minded people that energetically enhances each individual’s practice that is co-participating with community.
The nature of the world is that we are engaged with all kinds of different influences, including school, business, TV, books, etc., and the energetic exchange of our environment has a very powerful effect on our consciousness.
When a person realizes that and starts choosing environmental influences consciously and aligns accordingly with community that is spiritually focused and in alignment with the path you are choosing, it is energetically very strengthening. It helps to serve as a safeguard, kind of like a fence protecting you from predatory kinds of external influences, keeping you on the path and fortifying the results of one’s spiritual practice from being in this synergetic situation. People benefit from having community in their life. They also need to keep a singular practice, as well.
What is it like for you, the teacher of meditation from the Yogananda tradition, in this particular culture you find yourself in now?
AP: What I find is that it is a delicate dance to not proselytize, because I’m opposed to proselytizing. Yogananda is my spiritual master and, yet, the principles and practices are universally applicable.
I cherish each person’s soul freedom to align themselves with Spirit in a way that is right for them, while at the same time understanding that the teachings I have at my disposal can help people. So, the delicate thing for me is very simply to be able to language and apply things for people in meaningful ways that are relevant for them without it seeming as though I am just being a kind of a platform for Yogananda, per se. If people want to pursue Yogananda, that’s great. I just don’t want that to be perceived as a covert agenda on my end.
The other piece that is a bit challenging for me is that there is a lot of crap out there that people don’t really know about. I have been doing things for 40 years and have a fair amount of familiarity with the whole spectrum of what is out there. Most people have not necessarily had the same bandwidth of experience. It becomes important to not have them feel judged or challenged if they happen to be at a different place than I am. All I can do is offer alternatives, ways of viewing something, so that they can see that perhaps there is more to the picture than what they have been aware of before.
And the last thing is, quite honestly, dedication. A lot of times people are flirting with spirituality. There is a lot of lip service to it, but not necessarily the buy-in and dedication that is really required to make something work. There have been times when people have just loved me as a teacher and they wanted to work with me, but that only went so far until there was discipline that came up for them — or when I ask them to examine and question some of their cherished beliefs and prior principles that they really like. All of a sudden, the spiritual practice becomes a matter of convenience. Quality dedication to a path and practice is not something that everybody has.
And, it’s understandable, growing up in a culture that emphasizes speed over long-term commitment, for anything.
AP: Sure. This is a quick-fix society. People want things quickly, and there is also a quality of entitlement, too, that seems to manifest. Folks think somehow they are owed these things simply because they have decided to spend some time and turn their attention to home. If they don’t get the results they want in the kind of time frame that they think it should be, then oops, it must not work or they need something new. Also, people have a tendency to be infatuated with change. They can become thrill seekers addicted to the kind of buzz that comes along with a new personality or a new presentation, rather than recognizing the value in something that is true and deep.
You wrote A Pocket Guide to Meditation and now you have written Meditation as a Way of Life. What led to this second book and do you plan on writing more in the future?
AP: The first one was written in 1997, and it was an intentionally brief, succinct book produced to convey fundamentals in a manner that would not be overwhelming to a Western audience. The new book is a more substantive book with a far greater amount of context, additional technique, and hopefully a more personally meaningful set of stories and information that make it applicable to readers. It’s a heartier meal with more on the plate for people to ingest and really take to heart. The reason I wrote it is because fundamentally I’m a teacher, and it’s not always possible to hold big seminars. I’m not Deepak Chopra or Oprah Winfrey. I’m not going to fill an auditorium, whereas a quality piece about the subject can still serve as a teaching tool.
I also wanted write a book that I felt was a legacy. If I were to reincarnate and look for a quality piece of work I could single out from a variety of meditation books on the shelf that could really serve me accurately, the way I know people need to be served now, I wanted to produce that product. That’s what I offer with Meditation is a Way of Life: Philosophy and Practice. I think it’s that good. In terms of going forward with other books, this new book frankly has been a lengthy pregnancy and difficult delivery, and I’m not in a hurry to get on to what’s next. Not until or if I feel inwardly nudged to do so.
Thank you for sharing information about your book and your experiences of meditation. Is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t spoken about?
AP: I guess the only other thing that I would mention is that I have a business practice as a spiritual counselor, guide, meditation teacher and coach, and I make myself available for people who are interested in having one-on-one training with a person such as myself who can help them with their journey. I also offer and facilitate a Sunday morning meditation service in the Minneapolis area that is just supported by donations. People do not need experience. I facilitate the whole thing. My personal practice with people is a much deeper opportunity for people to work and to benefit themselves with this kind of facilitated practice that I can provide them.
For more information on Rev. Alan L. Pritz, visit www.Awake-In-Life.com or call 612.721.4100.