In a world of technology and never-ending stimulation, we are constantly bombarded with information to process. From news to entertainment, games to social media, family to social lives, work to hobbies, we never have a moment to even consider the idea of turning our minds off. It is no wonder we have a difficult time finding peace of mind, let alone deal with stress and anxiety.
But this is nothing new. Just having our 5 senses is enough to keep us busy processing input in even the most mundane conditions. And then processing all that input gets our mind really amped up.
So what's the answer?
Shut it down. But...
Easier said than done.
Thousands of years ago, humans had the same problems. Yes even without iPhones. So the wise men of the day started figuring out some cool ways to fix the problem. And in the beginning, these were secret teachings passed only on from teacher to worthy student.
Secret Number One
Well it is quite obvious when you think about it. Remove the stimulus.
In yoga it is called pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses. When we sit quietly and focus on just our breath we begin the practice. So quite literally if we stop the input, we can slow down the processing.
The tricky part is habituation. This is the endemic part of our culture that is hard to escape. We are constantly attracted to more stimulation and breaking that habit is difficult. All the more reason to come to your mat, your cushion, your recliner or where ever you see fit to quiet the busy mind.
Begin this practice with the acceptance that it may be a challenge. The mind is a powerful thing and controlling it may seem impossible. Relax, it will take time. Let every new thought that comes up be accepted and then let go. If you are the kind of person that is afraid of letting go, make a list on paper and then tell yourself that you will come back to it after you have done your meditation.
Start your practice with removing stimulation from your environment. Use an eye pillow and lay down or sit in a darkened room. Put earplugs in or play soothing music in the background to drown out other stimulation. Be in place that is not too warm or cold.
Practice, practice, practice. Soon you will be able to disconnect from stimulation around you and let it just pass through and by you without reaction.
Secret Number Two
The second secret is more challenging than the first but equally important on the road to meditation and quieting the monkey mind.
The yoga sages call it dharana or concentration. Once we have removed stimulation we can start to focus our mind on a singular thing. Ideally it would be internal such as the breath. But to begin with something tangible can be very effective. It could be a flower, a rock, a picture, or a steady gaze to nothingness.
Concentration may at first be analytical in nature or even emotional. Finding connections with the object or allowing the object to elicit feelings is a great place to start. As the practice evolves you dissolve the interaction with the object until it is only a tool to withdraw from all interaction and leave the mind clear of all activity.
More on Dharana
Pratyahara and dharana are two challenging limbs of yoga but very important stepping stones to unlocking the secrets to quieting our minds and finding our state of bliss!
Intention and Yoga
If you have been to more than a few yoga classes, you have certainly by now heard the phrase “set your intention for class”. What does that mean and how do you do it?
Let’s first explore what intention is not. We live in a culture that is rife with expectation. The mantra of business is to exceed customer expectations. The measure of an experience is to have an outcome greater than the expectation that preceded it. We are often disappointed when the outcome of an event, a hope, or a dream is not what we expected.
We are sometimes upset with someone who does not behave in a way we expect them to behave. And for some, continuous unmet expectation leads to depression, anger or anxiety. Expectation is attachment to an outcome. Aparigraha, the fifth ethical observance of the yamas of yoga teaches us that it is important to be non-possessive. This includes thoughts.
Now versus the future
When we have an expectation of an outcome, we are attached to the future. And in that attachment to the future we lose the present. There becomes no now. So the result of unmet expectations is cognitive dissonance in the present moment.
Leaving Expectation for Intention
Setting an intention is like choosing a direction without specific goals. Living intention is being in the moment. It is putting one foot in front of the other. You can climb a mountain without the expectation of reaching the summit. You can work and earn money to live without the expectation of being rich someday. It is finding solace in every journey you take without regard to outcome.
The key to intention is the two word components of “in” and “tend”. It is what we tend to in life that creates our journey. It is what we put in that counts. It is here that we see the dramatic juxtaposition of intention to expectation. In yoga the focus sharpens. Intention means bringing focus to virtuous qualities such as non-harming, truth, love, gratitude. We “tend to life” with these tools. Sankalpa is the Sanskrit word for intention and can be interpreted as forming direction from the core truth of heart and mind.
Bringing Intention to the Mat
Setting intention on your mat may be as simple as saying to yourself that you are grateful for the next hour that you will have to quiet your mind. Or that you will surrender to all that is peaceful in your space for the next hour. By allowing the heart and mind to dwell in the yamas of yoga, you can practice the blissful sensation of non-attachment.
Bringing Intention off the Mat
It is a bit more challenging to live intention. But if all thoughts words and deeds are influenced by the yamas and niyamas, we get on the path. It is not to say all expectations are bad. But it is the attachment to them that gets us in trouble. For example, I may decide to sell my car. I can set the expectation that the car will sell next week for $6000. And if I am attached to that expectation I will be disappointed if it does not happen. On the other hand, if I intend to no longer have the car and do all the right actions to support the process and let it unfold as it may. I could have a buyer tell me a condition of the car I was unaware of and now I must be flexible on the price or maybe even donate the vehicle for a tax write off. Or maybe I just have the right person who wants this car to come along and offer me a fair price that meets the value I have researched. But it may take a week or maybe months.
Intention does not favor time and space for events to happen. It is applying our heart and mind to the process of intention that counts.