OK, so I have a confession to make. I stink at meditation. Or at least that’s what I thought…
Sitting still for long periods of time (i.e., more than 10 minutes) is not easy for me. I do it, but often it’s a struggle. My mind comes up with a bijillion reasons why I should, even need, to do something else. Lists begin to form. Heck sometimes it’s like I’m the ticket agent behind the counter in an Indian train station (if you aren’t familiar with what that looks like – picture someone seated behind a kiosk window with a loud rowdy mob pressing in mass against the window). For many, It’s one of those things that we know is good for us, but really don’t want to do.
Recently David Garrigues (DG) referred to asana – a yoga posture – as a “meditative device”. I hadn’t heard this terminology before. It conjured up an image of structure – a construct upon which the mind can focus. And since I’m a fan of asana and spend a good portion of each day practicing the postures, this peaked my interest.
There are many ways to approach practice and many mind states that can accompany us on our approach. The body we bring to the mat reflects, in many ways, those mind states. Yoga philosophy describes layers of mind with manas mind being ground level. It’s the organizing, list-making, get-stuff-done side of our minds. Not all that sophisticated in comparison to higher mind states – it’s the part of our minds that interferes most frequently with our efforts to work with, calm and even control the mind.
Yoga Sutra 1.2 (yogash citta vritti nirodah) tells us that yoga is just that – mind control. “Control” can set off alarm bells within us. It can seem rigid, authoritarian, dominating, even sexist. This is Interesting in and of itself because it demonstrates how quickly and easily our mind can close in on something, get distracted, bogged down and stuck. So, it can help to ease up, not get hung up by the shortcomings of the English language, and recognize that it’s meant to suggest that we cultivate a helpful, personal, supportive, cooperative partnership with the mind to allow it to ease up and accept the space, freedom and peace that underlies it.
Asana means seat or connection to the earth. Knowing, feeling, and establishing the foundation in each posture is essential to the practice of yoga. I think this is because it gives the manas mind something to do. It reels it in, settles it down, and allows us to move into the buddhi (intellect) and eventually even beyond that.
Posturing is a means to wrangle with and focus the mind. It starts from the gross level – where do I put my feet? And moves toward the subtle – is my pelvic floor engaged? This process of moving from gross to subtle and understanding the aspects therein, is not a fast one. It takes patience, persistence, will power, devotion, motivation, and curiosity. In “The Supreme Continuity” Maitreya (the future Buddha) says, when describing enlightenment, “Since it is to be realized through self-awareness, it is not realized through external conditions.” This hammers home the necessity of going within and the utility of the postures as meditative devices to direct one’s mind toward a state of openness.
DG talks about the limbs (as in our arms and legs) reaching to infinity – without end… Our own minds can begin to take on this quality – even more, no beginning, middle or end. This may render it free of conditions – free of the influence of emotion and thought – free of suffering.
So, here’s the thing. We tend to sell ourselves short when it comes to our ability to meditate. We get it in our heads that to meditate means we have to sequester ourselves to a cushion for hours at a time without moving and without thinking. But, the mind control work happens in other ways too. In ways that hold great value for unleashing our best selves – our self that is filled with compassion, wisdom and peace.
“Our own natural awareness merely has to recognize its own nature.
Nothing is done, but something is seen.”
– a quote from the Tara’s Triple Excellence program (my Buddhist practice).