The way the Cosmos is made up and the way we are made up determines the design of the whole Spiritual Path, which is actually based on how the Cosmos functions and how we function in the Cosmos. That is the reason why the Spiritual Path is so difficult. If an easier process could have been arranged, I am sure the Teachers would have invented it by now. And that is because, to be able to invent something better, you would have to radically alter the way we function as embodied entities in the Cosmos.
As embodied entities we have to rely on the breath energy.
But from the instant that we are born and start breathing we are on the path of no hope and no return, because it is the actual breathing mechanism itself which is the problem. If we were constituted in a different way and did not have to use our breathing mechanism, the Spiritual Path would be radically easier. The problem, therefore, is that our breath current (Prāṇa), by necessity, cuts us off from reality (or limits our consciousness) because of the way the breath energy has to be transformed in the physical body itself.
When we are in the Astral World, that is, when we are sleeping or in a state of trance or when we are out of our physical body after we die or before we are born, we breathe in a different way. We do not breathe through a specialized breathing mechanism such as the physical breathing mechanism, but through the whole astral body. In other words, the astral life-force sweeps through us like the ocean passes through a fish as it breathes in and out. In the Astral World, therefore, because we breathe through our whole mechanism, reality for us is a hundred times greater than what we perceive here, where we use our physical breathing process.
In our mind body we also breathe through the whole mental body, but the breath current is even deeper and more internal. And in our Soul-Nature it is as if we are not even breathing at all, but simply absorbing the Universal Life around us and releasing it in a very spontaneous, natural way. Accordingly, the most limited mechanism is the physical body, with its specialized breathing mechanism. It is no wonder, therefore, that we cannot receive the Universal Light directly through our whole mechanism, merge into it, and experience the Ocean of Energy that is around us.
By nature we have to breathe.
Prākṛtī, Mother Nature, demands that we breathe. There is no escape from that fact. So the problem confronting the Sages was to find ways to neutralize Prāṇa, the breath current (without dying, of course), and recapture what was lost through the act of physical birth. They therefore invented Haṭha Yoga and its Prāṇāyāma breathing techniques, as well as mantra and mandalas — techniques of directly working on the breath current, aimed at neutralizing it. Once the physical breath is neutralized, we can connect to the astral breath current, then the mental breath current, and finally the Soul’s breath current. (The latter is called the “long current” or “long breath” because each lifetime is one breath; that is, when the Soul comes into incarnation, it breathes out, and when it returns to its Soul-Nature, it breathes in. What we call a human life, therefore, is simply one breath movement of the Soul.)
Success in meditation can therefore be measured by a single factor: how much your breath current has naturally decreased. The human breath current has a normal speed. In meditation you have to make your breath current abnormal, but you have to slow it down, not speed it up. The best way that the Sages discovered to do this is by focusing your attention on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. If you see a beautiful sunrise or something enchanting and you get absorbed into it, your breath current immediately stops. Naturally. And sometimes a fright is enough to concentrate your attention to such a degree that your breath stops. Again, naturally. So if you focus your attention in a spontaneous, natural way, your breath current will decrease and stop. At that moment Enlightenment becomes possible; at that moment your consciousness can be transferred to the higher reality.
So the secret to meditation is to neutralize your breath current in an innocent, simple way, slowing it down to such a point that your breathing stops. And then you will find that there is an inner breathing inside you, and you will begin to feel that inner breath current. Then you can attain Samādhi, or what the Yogīs call Turīya Pāda, the Fourth State of Consciousness. The first three states of consciousness—the wakeful consciousness, the dreaming consciousness, and the dreamless sleep consciousness—all depend on the breath current. Turīya Pāda does not depend on the outer breath; it is the state of Samādhi, the state of ecstasy or mystic trance. And the meditation process will slow your breath down to the point where you can break through into Samādhi naturally, just the way you slip out of your body when you go to sleep.
Enlightenment cannot be forced.
If you are an emotional type of person, you will not find meditation difficult. You will want to unite with the higher reality—to touch, taste, and feel it—so your devotion will give you the desire to meditate. If you are a mental person, you should understand the meditation process and why you are doing it, and then you also will find it enjoyable. Regardless of the type you are, however, meditation will give you a great opportunity to put yourself on a higher wave of Reality. Through the understanding you gain from meditation you will know that there is an infinite benefit waiting for you—as Jesus said, “a treasure hidden in the ground”—and that you have to dig up that treasure from the ground of your Inner Being, because you know its infinite value.
When you sit down to meditate, therefore, you are seeking Unity— or in religious terminology, God-Consciousness; in Yogic terminology, Self-Realization; in Buddhist terminology, Nirvāṇa; and in Chinese terminology, Tao. Whatever word you use, you are seeking an ultimate experience that you think is somewhere far out of your reach. This notion arises because of a compartmental way of thinking, since you do not realize that you are already in that ultimate condition. The function of meditation is to remove the blocks that prevent you from realizing that you are already in the ultimate condition that you are seeking. You are already in that ultimate condition because there is only one infinite continuum that contains no separate parts.
Excerpt from The Art of Meditation Pages 24 -27, 35, 37-38