After adopting mindful behaviors, the do’s and don’ts of yama and niyama , that reduce self-inflicted mental turmoil, the question is: Why is the mind still so scattered? According to many Eastern texts, including the Yoga Sutra, the answer lies in the principle of attraction and aversion, like and dislike, called raaga and dwesha. The unaware or “sleeping” mind is constantly running from like to dislike.
We are all under the sway of four pairs of opposites: pulled by pleasure, perceived material or mental gain, fame, and praise; and the push away from displeasure, perceived loss, notoriety, and blame. There is constant tension between getting what we want and avoiding what we do not want. This is the root cause for discontent, scattered minds, and the shadow of unhappiness.
Our intention for personal meditation practice, as well as “teaching” meditation, is influenced by these four pairs of opposites. The shift may change to some extent from the material to the more subtle mental acquisitions. If meditation is used to withdraw from undesirable emotions and phobias to push toward perceived desirable states, the push-me pull-me continues. Our practice does not help. It only exacerbates the mental confusion.
The lake is a common analogy for the mind. Visualize the mind as an infinite lake. Each thought, emotion, sound, taste, smell, image, is a wave that arises on the surface of the lake. It may be big or small, shallow or deep, some are surges. Each thought, sound, touch, feeling, image, is a wave form or vritti. The more we act or react mindlessly, the choppier the surface becomes. The mind-lake gets turbulent and confused because the nature of the untrained mind is to follow form and movement. And at times, there is too much of it buffeting the surface by the pulling and pushing of multiple waves.
It makes sense to begin with stilling the body so the mind is not distracted by its movement. Then through the breath and sense withdrawal practices, part of the mind becomes still. We call this the witnessing awareness (sakshi bhav) or mindfulness. It observes clinically without getting caught and lost in what it is observing, whether it be body, mind, internal or external spaces.
The witnessing awareness is not judgmental. It examines the constant state of like and dislike, how we act upon these perceptions. In this way, we are learning about ourselves: how our thoughts dictate behavior, action, life. This is self-study or self-knowledge (swadhyaya). When the awareness sees anger, anger has arisen or appeared. The anger is not good or bad. It is just anger. In the same it sees the waves of envy, compassion, empathy, judgment, etc. It sees everything this way, a wave or cloud appearing in the mind lake (chitta). Initially, there is labeling of what has arisen to sustain attention. Later, there is no need to label any thought.
Witnessing awareness does not think, it is aware of thoughts. There is a difference between thinking thoughts and observing thoughts–like generating waves or clouds and watching them.
We note that the witnessing awareness is neutral. It has no self. It is not attached to or an extension of I/you/me. Anger is anger–not mine or yours. So there is no identifying or personalizing or taking ownership of what is observed. A wave arises on the surface of the ocean–it is not me or mine or anyone else’s wave. It is just a wave. Training the mind to observe and see this, we realize that all beings have the seeds of these waves in the space of the mind lake. When triggered, the wave will form and arise. We learn to judge others less, have more empathy, knowing that our own minds have the same conditions.
When we don’t take ownership, there is no need to defend, justify, cling, and sustain the wave of thought and keep it alive. It is possible to be more open in seeing other people’s thoughts as well. There is less story-creating around the thought–all the stories we make up about ourselves. Not owning it (aparigraha), we are more able to let it go. This also means we are not compelled into knee-jerk reaction, action. It does not mean that we become passive! Rather, we train ourselves to exercise conscious will and knowledge of when to act and when not to act, as well as how to act. We have more mindful action and minimize mindless ones.
By simply observing the breath, we have directly experienced the calming of the body and mind. Blood pressure, anxiety, and heart beat all slow down. The breath is an excellent teacher and constant companion when we give it our full attention.
Today, in our breathing practice, let us be mindful. The breath flows in from emptiness, through emptiness, and dissolves into emptiness. The same breath threads us all together in the fabric of life. Your out-breath is my in-breath. It is not possible to cling to the breath or reject it for sustained periods. We have to let go of one breath for the next one flow. The in-breath feels like a cool, refreshing stream. Hold on to it for too long and the pleasure becomes acute discomfort and pain. The out-breath becomes a releasing relief. Keep the breath out too long and the relief becomes discomfort and pain. In order to have an in-breath there has to be an out-breath. To have fullness there has to be emptiness. The breath is neither full nor empty. This becomes excellent training for thoughts as well–let them come and go as the waves of breath. As we watch without interfering, without jumping into the lake, the lake of the mind becomes more peaceful, still, and clear.
This is the definition of yoga as given in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the second sutra: What is Yoga? It is stopping the thought waves or thought formations (vrittis) in the mind lake. Yoga is the elimination of mental fluctuations. There are always residual waves as that is the nature of the mind. Yoga is liberation from the pull and push of the residual waves as well–not being mindlessly hooked and caught. When caught by thought waves, awareness loses sight of itself as the infinite lake that the waves rise from, move through, and dissolve into. Pure awareness becomes so entwined and inseparable from the thought waves that it sees itself as the thoughts, identifying completely with the whirlpool of thinking. In reality, the energy of thought waves come and go as clouds in a sky, but awareness remains unchanged as the clear sky. Any training method that does this is also yoga.
This will be followed by my version of the guided lake meditation–water is a reflective mirror. A mountain is solid and stable awareness. These meditations are structured to understand, directly experience, and cultivate awareness. I have attached audio links to other teachers’ meditations and further reading. These meditations need to be done repeatedly.