Meditation- according to Swami Rama- is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. And it is often said in the Yoga and Ayurveda that sleep is rest for the body and meditation is rest for the mind. Perhaps this explains the current popularity with meditation and mindfulness after all, we often hear students at our Yoga Academy based in down town Auckland talk about feeling stressed. When I ask them about the causes they them in various ways:media overload, job pressure, relationship challenges and sleep deprivation as well as health issues and poor diet.
And while students attend asana classes that range from being dynamic or relaxing in nature receiving immediate relief, those who regularly attend meditation classes for long periods of time come to understand the philosophical and psychological teachings of classical yoga, and it this level of knowledge and skill that frees them from the burden stress creates – they reduce unhappiness in their life.To not include meditation in one’s yoga practice is to short change oneself.
We are taught how to move and behave in the outer world but we are not taught how to go inward, be quiet and still with one pointed focus so the mind becomes peaceful. We all know that to have a healthy body you have to train it and feed it nourishing foods, but we forget to train the mind- we become a slave to our mind and it behaves like a television set that will not turn off- it is distracting and constantly focused on the external world and the events going on it. It is well established that the brain uses more energy than any other human organ, accounting for up to 20 percent of the body’s total haul. We grow tired, we grow weary, we become stressed, our immunity is lowered and we have more sick days and generally just feel dissatisfied with our lives.
The technique of meditation is in and of itself simple .It is simply attending.Sit down, be quiet and still, turn your attention inward, and let your awareness rest in the sensations of the breath and focus your mind, i.e. train your mind to stay in one place in the same way you would train a puppy dog to sit and stay.
However the skill required to master this simple technique requires practice, in fact the initial discovery is that we cannot do this technique at all!! We cant keep the mind in one place on the breath for even a few seconds!
Mircea Eliade, one of the twentieth century’s yoga scholars, explains this beautifully:
The mere act of trying to hold the mind to a single point, an act with which higher forms of meditation all begin, teaches the beginner in a radically concrete way, that he or she has little control over the mental flow. All attentional training starts with this failure. Thus, when the Christian is asked to concentrate her attention solely on God, when the Muslim attempts to link her attention solely on the names of God, when the Tibetan Buddhist attempts with massive attention to construct elaborate images of Tarar on the screen of consciousness the first lesson these practitioners learn is they cannot do it.
Our normal response is to react to all our thoughts or fall asleep and mediation teaches us how to pay attention without reacting, and just keep returning to the object upon which we are meditating and this process is what brings freedom from the mind and all its wanderings between thoughts of the past and the future.Gaining freedom from your mind you begin to discover that the mind obstructs the you who is distinct form your mental turmoil. You experience inner peacefulness, contentment, relief and inner relaxation. You give yourself an inner rest , inner pause- a holiday from the din of your external world and all its obligations and duties. You take rest.
The inner holiday is not a retreat from the world but a sanctuary in which you can abide in peaceful awareness and you learn how to apply yourself in your external world more effectively. Through the regular practice of meditation you can learn to be open to whatever arises in your life and give it your full attention rather than reacting because you interpret what you see or hear according to your expectation, fears, prejudice or resistances. This is because ordinarily we react to experiences in life in much the same way we react to thoughts in mediation.
Because it exposes our unhelpful habits in thought, speech and action – all habits that are essentially harmful to ourselves and others – mediation is therapeutic leading to the cultivation of a stable steadfast mind so that instead of becoming what happened to us in life we become who we want to be.
Our Monday night meditation class 7-8pm welcomes all beginners and experienced meditation practitioners alike and we invite you to join us and clean up your thoughts, speech and actions- and as Gandhi said: “become the change you want to see in the world.