I discovered something about my mind tonight.
That sounds so funny, referring to my Awareness as separate from my mind…ahh, yes, and here the effect of yoga practice is made evident 🙂 we are separate from our minds. We are separate from our bodies. That’s what has kept me returning to my bolster each morning and evening, to sit by candlelight in meditation. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m human, and in the depths of anxious spells I’ve been known to abandon my meditation practice. It was not a priority, I guess. I’m admitting that, as taboo as it is in the yoga culture to say “meditation just wasn’t a priority for me.” It is now, but there’s certainly something addictive about the go-go-go nature of Western culture, particularly the west coast, Bay Area vibe of movers and shakers. I suppose that’s part of the silver lining, though, is that no matter how moving and shaking your environment, no matter how busy your culture, no matter how bright the lights and loud the noise outside your windows (or how quiet and dark, perhaps)…you have this space. You sit, you practice meditation, you observe yourself from afar.
Just like in asana, the practice shifts. It is never the same. You never come to your mat exactly the same as you did the time before – literally, our cells are changing, dying and renewing, with each breath we take – just like you never kneel before your alter or take to your meditation cushion as the same physical being. We are changing physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, energetically, always.
When I say I discovered something about my mind tonight, I suppose the magic in that discovery is in the details. I’m beginning to normally reference my mind as a separate entity. For me, as a practitioner, this feels like leaps and bounds. Sure, when I take to my cushion the morning, I may fully identify with my mind again. I may fully identify with the ache in my knees and the fact that I feel bloated and sleepy. I may totally identify with all of that. Or I may not. I can’t say now. What I can say is that tonight I closed my eyes and sank right into that safe space. I slipped away from my mind and body, away from identifying with them, and away from attachment to thoughts. Thoughts still swam around a bit, but I felt safe in a harbor, a little nook I’d created for myself. That’s what meditation has become for me, a quiet little port to anchor my vessel for a spell. Whether I hum, practice pranayama, chant mantra in my mind or simply slink into the warm darkness of my own Consciousness, there’s a system reboot happening in my mind and on the astral plane.
The discovery that came to me tonight was my mind’s tendency to obsess. This is nothing new to me, I’ve been this way as long as I’ve been conscious of my own thoughts. It’s a behavior I have, a coping mechanism most likely, and a karmic tendency I was born with. It’s my karma to work this out, to practice the release of compulsive thinking. I find myself planning my days out a week in advance. But that’s not enough, it’s not enough to have a plan and to “know” how things will unfold. No, my mind continues to turn it over…and over and over and over. Until I’m hardly even feeling the satisfaction of having the plan in the first place and am almost waiting anxiously to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. That’s no way to live.
…whiiiiich leads me to yoga. This is precisely why I am a dedicated practitioner. This is precisely why I know I will practice yoga, everyday, as long as there is breath within me.
The discovery that I keep dancing around was so simple. I suddenly had a flashback to myself, three years ago, sitting in my car, hands resting in my lap. I was dressed in black slacks, my trusty clogs, a crisp collared button down, hair pulled back, eyes closed. The sun was setting in the distance, purple and gold on the horizon. I was breathing deeply, full inhales and long exhales. I was trying desperately to cleanse my mind of nagging anxiety before going into work for the night. I was still in college and bar backing at a fancy restaurant downtown to pay the bills. Let’s just say I was way over working in the restaurant industry at that point. This little pranayama before work had become my routine, to try and make peace with the compulsive broken record anxiety that, otherwise, would play round and round in my head all night. There’s nothing worse than having obsessive thoughts banging on the windows of your brain and not being able to focus your attention on them. That’s the nature of the beast, with compulsive anxiety; you have this convincing sense that, if you could just give the thoughts your energy, fully dedicate 100% of your attention to them for a moment, let them stand on their soapbox and leak out all their obsessive glory into your awareness…that then they’d be satisfied and you could dispel them. That’s really not the case, though. Once they leak into your brain they have to be mopped up. But what’s the better decision – to let them come in and make their mess, or to lock them out entirely? Neither way is healthy. Locking them out entirely can result in denial which can become a prison all its own.
So, the me from three years ago sat in her car each evening before the dinner shift, practicing the only method of anxiety quelling she knew at the time. This angst that plagued me so regularly had become regular, almost comfortable. Comfortable in an I can’t really breathe, tightness in my chest, jaw clenching kind of way. It was guilt mixed with anxiety. So I’d breathe. That was my means of slowing down enough to get myself into the restaurant and through another night of drying hot glasses and pouring rich people their cocktails.
What I realized tonight is, that one thought that used to plague me for years, is now gone. It’s simply not relevant to my life anymore, and so my anxiety has let the thought flee from its clutches, out into the world to be claimed by the air. But did I really even notice it left? Not completely. From time to time I breathe a sigh of relief that I no longer circulate around that guilt-fest that used to occupy my precious Awareness so often. But, for the most part, it goes unnoticed because it’s been replaced by just another, more relevant symphony of obsession.
Where does it end?
Again, such is the nature of the beast. But I heard a teacher recently say something beautiful. We so often identify ourselves, they said, we claim these titles like, “I have an anxious mind,” or “I’m a stressed out person.” We develop these identities, and then we just live with them. When we stress out or have outburst of frustration or fall victim to a fit of obsessive thinking, we just rationalize it with, well I’m a stressed/angry/nervous/obsessive/whatever person. It’s normal for me, this is who I am, we tell ourselves.
But it’s not who we are. At our core, we are peaceful. Silent. Perfectly imperfect. By nature we are untouchable, divine and exquisitely handcrafted. Our bodies and minds cannot hinder our supreme existence. But we so often fail to see ourselves in this light. Even after moments of greatest clarity, I find myself slipping back into the conditioned thought patterns of identifying with behavioral or personality traits. We are none of those identities.
We. Are. SO. Much. More.
We are infinite, limitless, astral.
When I came out of meditation tonight, I felt a surge of emotion. From root to crown, the feeling just sort of bubbled up, a gentle eruption. I felt compelled to just let it flow through me. My face crinkled and a few tears crept out. I couldn’t pinpoint what had made me cry, nor did I really feel the urge to. It was definitely a release.
I think what happened was subtle, and made even subtler by the meditative state in which it came to me. The flashback stirred up some emotions, like sand at the bottom of the sea, some long forgotten truths that had lain down on the floor of my mind. Its habitual tendency to latch onto a thought and obsess over it, the years I spent gnawing on this slice of guilt and regret, chewing it to pieces and choking on the shreds. It all shifted tonight and rose to the surface, and it wasn’t pretty. It hurt my heart. This realization that I spent so long feeling this way, worked so hard to erect walls around the thoughts, to try and keep the spillage from pouring over the dams I’d built…the realization that, even though I’d wriggled free of that particular mental shackle, I’d opened the gates for replacement obsessions to step in and take its place. I just felt so sad for my Self, for having let my poor mind be tortured by these obsessions, for having wasted so much of my energy trying to squirm out from beneath the oppressive thumb of guilt.
I know it was all unconscious, but the understanding finally set in tonight; this is why I practice. I always knew that, deep down, but never before had I been presented with such a tangible, real example of why I practice. Interestingly, it poked through my Consciousness during meditation, probably because my mind is too busy planning out every next step when the sound is on and the lights are up. This discovery had to wait until the lights were low, the mute button had been hit, and it could lurk in, unannounced, as I sat in silence.
The discovery didn’t feel like a violation of my safe space. It felt like I’d unconsciously agreed to meet my demon, in a mutually neutral area, to peacefully hash this out once and for all. This karmic tendency of mine causes me suffering. The root cause of suffering, however, is ignorance, say the yogis. My demon and I agreed to identify the interplay and call a truce, neither of us agreeing to step down from our role, but neither of us threatening any action. I’m certainly aware of this tendency, and of this demon. They’re certainly aware of me. And, for now, I think that’s enough. I’ve identified the karmic tendency, seen it in effect, and realized that I am not that tendency. I am not bound by that tendency. I will work through that tendency. I feel the release. And that’s enough.
I suppose that’s the nature of release, after all. The deep and gentle sense of liberation that’s left in its wake. Even if the situation isn’t solved, even if there are still pieces to fit together, there is a vibration of freedom nonetheless. The truth is that there will always be pieces still to fit together. There will always be more to discover. So why label anything as finished, or unfinished? We are always unfinished. Beautifully unfinished. Limitless. Release is always followed by another mount of energy and, subsequently, another release. It’s an ebb and flow. A cyclical process. The “circle of life,” if you will, spiritually. Practice, practice, practice. As Byron Katie says, “What would my life be like without that thought?” We have the power to change our reactions to the thoughts we’re having. We have the power to liberate ourselves. It’s an exhilarating truth, one that keeps me returning to my practice day in and day out. Reach for the stars, eager spirit. We are made of stars, after all. For tonight, though, I will rest in this release. I will savor the liberation and welcome tomorrow with clear eyes, ready for whatever release it has to offer.
[*Samatha meditation is the practice of pacifying the mind, practicing tranquility.]