Scientists have calculated that over the course of one day in our modern world we consume five times more information than people did 30 years ago. As a result of this our concentration span is diminishing. When closing our eyes for meditation practice and being asked to focus, for example, on breath rather than external stimuli, our capacity to focus reduces into seconds. The mind is always looking for some sort of stimulant – referring to past or future, something we are emotionally attached to. It resists the present moment and this moment’s breath. It may be caused by our strong belief that happiness is to be attained in some hopeful future – after all our desires are fullfilled and all past problems resolved – and here we are always in search of a better now, making the present moment a fleeting moment, both in meditation and in daily life.
Master Patañjali defines yoga as the cessation of fluctuations of the mind. When the relentless thoughts cease, the Seer is established in its own nature and the individual recognizes its true essence as svarupa. Otherwise, he says, one is identified with the thoughts only.
Meditation is a process of getting to know your mind, paying attention to what’s going on inwardly, completely, with all its dark corners and deep-rooted saṃskāra (subtle imprints caused by experiences), that often cause fear, anxiety, and depression on the inside – and conflict, exploitation, and domination on the outside.
That’s why at the start of meditation practice, unless a person already has a sattvic mind with the natural capacity to become contemplative and in relationship with the present moment, one will most likely come face to face with internal experiences that are far from peace and bliss. If the mind is tamasic you may simply fall asleep within a few minutes of sitting; if the mind is rajasic there will be restlessness and raging thoughts. Deep-rooted complexes, phobias, and worries may surface, but this is an inevitable part of the process. Through meditation itself, these mental impurities surface, are carefully attended to, and dissolve in the light of pure observation. Consistent, continuous practice with faith in its efficacy is the key to the burning of impurities.
Another obstacle to meditation is the body and its constant calling for attention through discomfort – pain here, itching there. Patañjali describes āsana as a comfortable and steady seat, but it does take time and practice to get there. Āsana practice is very useful for meditation as it removes and prevents ailments of the body and mind, strengthens the nervous system, and makes the body supple and strong for longer sits without physical discomfort. When the body has become comfortable and can be still the mind will follow. In itself, we can approach āsana as a form of active meditation.
As the mind becomes more sattvic with meditation and other practices – such as the study of scriptures, āsana, prāṇāyāma, mantra repetition, and many more – the nature of thoughts in meditation changes. Often times, reflections upon teachings of Truth will arise and their understanding and assimilation will deepen, so that one finally becomes the wisdom that has been transmitted by our teachers. As Sharon Gannon puts it we move from “listening to hearing to knowing to becoming and to being.”
S.N. Goenka, the Vipassana meditation teacher, says that there are only two yardsticks to measure the progress in meditation practice: compassion and equanimity. If these two don’t develop, the technique may not be practiced correctly, he says, and needs to be revised. With meditation being part of your daily life, ahiṃsā (non-harming) naturally will be established along with stillness and stability of the mind.
There is a big variety of meditation techniques. Patanjali in sutra I.39 says yathābhimata-dhyānād vā: “Also through meditation in whatever way or on whatever object agreeable the mind-field attains stability”. We all have different inclinations according to our past experiences, and we may be drawn to meditate on different objects as a focal point: images of various deities, mantra, sensations of the body, breath, chakras, sound or any other form or formless object that is agreeable. In Jivamukti Yoga classes, we use breath awareness for its universality and the words “let go”. It is a form of mantra meditation. Whatever is chosen, the practice is to direct the mind towards it with firm determination and not to get frustrated or defeated when you realize it’s difficult to stay with the chosen object even for one minute. By repeatedly bringing attention back to the chosen object, seconds will turn into minutes, then minutes into hours, and concentration will strengthen and eventually turn into meditation – when remaining steady and uninterrupted with the object for a long time (dhyāna). We should always be reminded that persistence is key.
Investigate through direct experience in meditation – What is this body? What is this mind? And what is this that can observe the body and the mind? What is there, in the background of every thought and every experience? From where do they appear and where do they go? Like that, in the darkness behind closed eyes in meditation, move deeper into the more subtle layers of reality and discover within the inner light, the whole existence, you’ve never been apart from – Sat-cit-ānanda – Truth, Consciousness, Bliss – your essential nature. This recognition of one shared being that has many names such as God, pure consciousness, Eternal Now, spirit, and love is liberation from our perceived bondage.
Happiness, just as unhappiness is 100% one’s own responsibility.
Meditate. Know your Self. Be happy.