I always get a little excited and do a non-visible happy dance when a student, friend or peer asks me about meditation. I hear things like, “I know I should start meditating,” or “I don’t know how to meditate,” or “I tried meditating once and it doesn’t work for me,” all of which I’d experienced at some point in my life as well.
After I’d been practicing yoga asana for a few years, my perception naturally started to shift, and I knew I wanted to pursue more in this spiritual journey beyond physical poses. I began reading about the various types of meditation and what others had experienced.
I’d learned about guided meditation in which you’re listening to a CD or an instructor and you are walked through a type of visual experience in an effort to direct you toward your inner spaciousness and unconscious. Through visualization and imagination, you shift your active mind in a different direction. The issue with this type of meditation, for me, is that it’s still just another form of mind activity. Patanjali describes yoga as “the settling of mind into silence.” I remember thinking that I should be experiencing vivid visualizations and be transformed to a different plane of existence. But, I wasn’t going anywhere and that made me frustrated. I didn’t see any mystical creatures or fabulous lights, and I felt like a failure.
The funny thing — and I didn’t know this at the time — is that there is no goal, there is no “place go to.” In meditation, the only thing you need to do, is sit in silence.
Ok, so I tried that whole “sitting in silence” thing, and all that happened was I had one thought after another, and my mind would go down a rabbit hole following these thoughts. Epic fail #2, right? Wrong! The “goal” of meditation for lack of a better term is purification so the mind becomes spacious. But, I didn’t know that, so I gave up. Feeling defeated, I just thought I was too messed up in the head to “succeed” at meditating.
Flash forward to yoga teacher training, when we learned transcendental meditation. Not tied to a specific religion or philosophy, transcendental meditation or what I’ll call simply ‘meditation’ from here on out, is effortless. Traditionally, a guru or teacher gives a student a specific mantra — typically in sanskrit — that is just theirs for a specific purpose. At first the mantra repeated silently to aid that monkey mind in focusing on something other than thought or the act of meditating.
Eventually, the mantra becomes implanted into your unconscious mind and grows the intent with which it was given. The mantra is something that you come back to very subtlely when there’s a lot of obsessive thought activity, but the mantra isn’t used to force out thought — just to guide awareness. Thought is a part of meditation, for as we allow thought to come and go, it’s released, and we’re purified of it.
I compare this meditative purification to my students with a tab of Alka-Seltzer dissolving in water. The tablet doesn’t break off into big chunks all at once, but dissolves slowly into nothingness, and the only thing that remains is clear water — spaciousness. If you dedicate yourself to the practice, and allow yourself the time everyday to sit in silence, your thought-full mind will dissolve like the Alka-Seltzer. This process takes time, often years. But, with each meditation, you become more and more still — even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Try this meditation tonight: Find a comfortable seated position with your back supported. Try to keep the potential for discomfort in the body from being a distraction. And, you don’t need to look like the woman in the picture. Simply sit, close your eyes, and be for 10 – 15 minutes. After that time, give yourself a few minutes to gently come back to your environment without judgement for what you did or didn’t experience.
You may notice, that your mind is a lot like that Alka-Seltzer when it’s first dropped into the water; full of turbulence and activity. But, if you stay with it, eventually you will become as clear and still as the water after the tablet has dissolved.
– Your Charmed Yogi