Meditation is often referred to as the stilling of the mind. But what does that mean? How do you make your mind still? When I describe meditation, I often liken it to a moving train. Our thoughts are our thoughts – they will always be there. Coming and going, doing their thing. To cultivate a calm or still mind, think of your thoughts like a passing train. The train (thought) travels along. It stops at a station to allow passengers to enter or exit. Then without hesitation, it journeys on to the next stop. When a thought enters your mind, allow it to enter. Then just like it stops at a station and lets passengers off, allow your thought to exit. And then move on. Another thought will arise… and then do the same. Allow it to exist just as quickly as it entered. You see, when we hold onto a thought, we start building associations with it, to do lists and emotions all come along for the ride… we can begin with one thought and then get completely lost in it and not even remember what the initial thought was! But if we see ourselves as observers and watch the thought just pass us by, we avoid getting caught up in it. The mind stays focused and calm and we allow the next thought to enter and exit once again… Meditation is a practice. It is a discipline. It takes patience and perseverance to become better skilled at it. And no meditation is the same – one session will be different to the next. Also, teaching us to avoid attachment to a feeling or outcome. Can you sit still for 5 minutes and practice observing your thoughts – coming and going like a train passing by a station? What has your meditation experience been like?
A few months ago, we started our kids on Taekwondo lessons. My son wasn’t overly keen, but obliged. After a couple weeks, he started complaining and said he no longer wanted to go.
He said that Taekwondo lessons were his least favourite thing to do in the entire week (probably because it required the most discipline!). He was pretty firm about it and wanted to quit.
I told him that I respected his feelings about it but we won’t be quitting so soon. We will try it for a couple months and if he still hated it, we can find a different sport he would enjoy instead.
He reluctantly agreed.
So last weekend, out of the blue, my son says to me “Mum, I love Taekwondo. It’s growing on me.”
He didn’t say “like Taekwondo”. He said he “loves” it. Amazing!
We had a chat about how we may not instantly enjoy something and that the benefits may not seem evident right away but it’s always worth giving our best effort before deciding that this may not be for us.
He agreed and said he was glad that he stayed.
I couldn’t help but relate this to yoga (because hey, everything relates to yoga in my head 😄).
Some people come to their first yoga class and either love it or aren’t so sure about it. Some even really dislike it.
The ones who love it always come back.
The ones who aren’t so sure about it, either return to another class to work through their doubts or they’re never to be seen again.
I had a student a few months ago attend her first yoga class in my pregnancy yoga class. I could see she was struggling through it and it wasn’t quite what she expected.
She said she wasn’t sure about it but her gut told her that it’s good for her so she wants to give it an honest go.
She returned and continued to practice pregnancy yoga for months to follow.
Her posture changed.
Her attitude changed.
Her mindset about her upcoming birth experience changed.
She told me that the most powerful thing about the classes were the mindset challenges and topics that prepared her for birth.
I’m always so pleased when someone like this student persists even when the first class wasn’t exactly what she thought it would be.
Truth me told – I didn’t love my first yoga class!
But something inside me told me that I needed to return.
Sometimes things aren’t love at first sight.
Sometimes things aren’t easy to begin with and require work and discipline.
Do you quit something because it’s too hard or you don’t enjoy it first go?
Or do you give it a good honest attempt to see if it grows on you?
Meditation can be like that.
You most possibly may hate it at first.
But with practice it can certainly become something that you completely fall in love with!
Have you persisted in something in life that you didn’t enjoy at first but then turned out to love it?
Patricia, a dear friend of mine and an old colleague who I was privileged to have worked with in Sydney would often use the phrase:
Patricia’s faith in these words taught me so much about acceptance and relinquishing control.
Letting go sounds all good and well. But what does that mean exactly?
Let go of what?
And how exactly do we let go of something?
Do we need to let go of control?
How much do you want to be in control? Of future events or the way you want your life to be?
Or how you want your relationships to be or how you expect them to be?
It means letting go of the need to control our lives.
It means letting go of fear, anxiety, ego…
It means accepting the here and now for what it is. Removing this desire to constantly control situations.
Letting go also means being open to the possibility of something greater than yourself at work. The possibility of God. Or the divine.
Let God do what exactly?
Regardless of what God you believe in or if you don’t believe in God at all…. letting God simply means being open to the possibility that something greater than you is at work.
It means creating space for something to change…
And creating that space often means removing the need to control.
The first step, “Let go” simply means to remove yourself from having the need to control your future. Control every decision of every day.
“Let God” adds the layer of allowing something greater at work to show you the way.
Being receptive to the possibilities of the path you may need to take. The alternative choices you may need to make. Hearing the voice within when you give yourself room to hear that voice.
Letting God means that you’re open.
It means you’re receptive to something greater at work.
This is truly liberating!
Let go of control.
And let God do the work.
Sometimes we need to sit back and take a breather and listen to that inner voice. Is that God speaking to you?
Is it your inner wisdom?
What do you like to call that wise voice inside you?
Is it God?
Is it your inner wisdom?
Are we all sparks of the divine?
Or is God out there somewhere and removed from us? Or is God within you?
Some food for thought.
What are your thoughts?
My kids were playing around the yard today and were pretending to “save” each other from being stuck somewhere. It was all fun and games and they love taking turns to rescue each other.
This particular time, my daughter yelled out “Mummy, I saved myself!” and released herself from her “emergency”. She was so pleased with herself that she repeatedly “saved herself”, much to my son’s frustration 😀
It got me thinking how we all too often look to outside sources to help “save us” when we might be going through a rough time or seeking answers to a problem.
We may speak to a friend or family member for advice, jump on line and read other people’s experiences or we may seek counselling to help us through a challenging period. Whilst I definitely believe there is value in these avenues and would never suggest removing these networks from your life; I do think that in today’s times, we are too quick to do this before even looking within ourselves.
I am referring to tapping into our inner wisdom. The process of how we can, in fact, “save ourselves”.
In our modern-day technology and social media culture, we expect results instantly. And we all seem to be in a big hurry to resolve things quickly.
I all too often hear the phrase, “let it go” or “move on” when someone is talking about an issue they’re having. This kind of response often builds a culture of brushing things off and not dealing with the issue.
I have walked with dear friends who have experienced grief – the loss of a loved one, or a baby… real deep, traumatic stuff. And if you have experienced any kind of loss, you would know that it is tremendously difficult to see joy in life when you are grieving.
The griever can sometimes feel pressure to “move on” and feel normal again. But this is completely unrealistic.
It is much more beneficial to accept that grief is part of the process of healing. And there is no rush to actually “get over it” or move on.
The biggest thing though is that no one can “save us” from this grief, pain or circumstance. In fact, the healing needs to come from within…
How do you tap into this inner wisdom?
Through a regular yoga and meditation practice.
Through faith in something greater than yourself whether it is an understanding of God or simply an acute awareness that there is something greater than yourself at work in the universe (this is a whole other topic!).
We can continue to heal our daily hurts and our long-term hurts through a regular internal clean out. Yoga is called a practice for this reason. It is an ongoing process – an internal workout for the mind and soul.
By giving the mind time and space through the practice of focused silence, it has the opportunity to process what is happening on the inside. An opportunity to connect to something greater than yourself.
This process of daily internal-reflection is extremely powerful in transforming our lives.
Create room in your life for things to change. Take one step every day to create space in your life for silence, stillness…quiet.
We can “save ourselves” – heal our wounds, repair what feels broken, find what feels lost… we just need to hear what is inside of us.
Once the mind is silent… you can hear the voice within…
And yes, save yourself.
Last month, we covered the sixth limb of Ashtanga yoga – dharana (concentration). Now we are going to explore the seventh limb: Dhyana (meditation).
Just a reminder that the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:
- Yama (restraint)
- Niyama (observances)
- Asana (posture)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (absolute consciousness)
This month’s focus: DHYANA
The last three limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga are inward practices. The sixth limb, dharana (concentration) and the seventh limb, dhyana (meditation) are higher stages of the same discipline. Dharana is the concentration on a particular physical or spiritual centre and dhyana is a continuous meditation or deep thinking beyond the mind. Next month we look at Samadhi (absolute consciousness or union) which is the ultimate goal of yoga.
When practising dharana (concentration) we focus on a particular object or word/phrase. Dhyana is sustained concentration which we refer to as meditation. As we begin to have focused concentration, we progressively move inwards to a meditative state.
It is very difficult for a beginner to meditate for long periods of time. Asana (postures) is what we usually begin with when we begin yoga for the first time. We begin with the here and now – our body. We are familiar with the physical world. The body is tangible. We can feel it. So what better place to start. Once we work on the body through asana, the body becomes more supple and is able to sit comfortably for a sustained period of time. If the body is not comfortable, how can we hold a seated pose for meditation? With regular asana practice, we become more comfortable in our physical body, which leads to a more ready attitude towards meditation. For this reason, meditation is well practiced and well received by the body and mind at the end of an asana practice. Once you have calmed the body, calmed the mind… you are now ready to take your seat and just be. Simply be.
At first glance, yoga can look like acrobatics or gymnastics. However, it is within the asana practice that we learn many deep inward lessons that translate into our seated meditation practice. You can experience concentration and focus in your asana practice! When you focus your attention on your alignment, you are practicing dharana! As you become more experienced, your concentration becomes much easier and you find yourself ‘lost’ in the practice, where often times you come in and out of a pose and do it ‘without thinking’. This is dhyana. As you become more supple and experienced in the practice, your mind becomes at ease and you focus without strain.
Ashtanga yoga has often been described as a ‘moving meditation’. This has been my experience in the 11 years I have been practicing Ashtanga yoga. At first, I felt lost in the poses, trying to remember the sequence of postures and correct alignment. However after some time, the postures came more easily to me. I didn’t need to focus so hard on my alignment, because it just came with regular discipline and commitment. There are times I have practiced and been so ‘lost in the practice’ that I was uninterrupted by thought and felt like I was in a meditative state. I sometimes get half way through my practice and suddenly stop and think, ‘How did I get here?!”
As the mind repeats asana over and over, your yoga practice becomes second nature. The mind becomes so well trained, that eventually your mind will rest in the present moment. This is dhyana…meditation!
- When you practice asana, observe the mind… are your thoughts focusing on the pose, or is the mind wondering about the chores you have ahead of you?
- Where is your drishti (focused eye gaze) when you practice asana? Your eye gaze is vital in assisting the practitioner to remain focused. The mind goes with the eye…if you are looking at your neighbour…your thoughts will no doubt follow!
“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days and God came to me.” – Kabir (15th Century Indian Poet)