Meditation is a process

The desire for instantaneous results stands in the way of many people developing new skills.  I see some students new to power yoga turn off from the practice after one class because they found it hard and felt they were unable to do everything on their first try.  The same applies to meditation.  Many are turned off from the practice because they do not feel that they were able to meditate on their first try.  Meditation is a process.  Meditation does not happen instantaneously.

Meditation is a Process:

Like any other new skill, meditation needs to be worked at, patiently, for a long time.  In fact, the Yoga Sutras define practice as that which is adhered to, in all earnestness, for a long period of time.  Fewer and fewer are willing to apply themselves in this way.  People today want an app to do the heavy lifting and make it easy for them.  They want meditation to come free as a perk of their job.  They want quick access to an experience that is, in fact, only achieved as a product of committed practice.

You have probably had the experience of being in a queue at the supermarket where the checkout operator has a badge saying “Trainee” and they have another, more experienced, staff member riding shotgun to help them learn.  The trainee works in that way for a day or so, then they are let loose on their own.

For every transaction they perform, every customer they serve, they grow in their skill at scanning, locating items in the computer system, processing payments, packing groceries and so on.  They need to do hundreds of transactions before they are confident and have been exposed to sufficient unusual circumstances that they can competently deal with whatever comes their way.

Yoga has 8 Limbs – Meditation is number 7:

In embarking upon meditation, consider you may need hundreds of sittings to develop the skills of meditation.  Approach meditation as a process, rather than the act of flipping a switch.  In the Yoga Sutras the eight limbs of yoga are described.  Meditation is limb number seven.

Preceding meditation are:

  1. Yama – ethical practices.  These practices ensure that the person who aspires to meditate has no guilty conscience wearing away at them and that they come to the practice with no gnawing feeling of having done wrong disturbing their mind.
  2. Niyama – personal observances. These practices contribute to the groundwork for clarity of mind.
  3. Asana – posture. Try sitting on the floor for a minute.  Five minutes?  Ten?  When we run our 40 Days to Personal Revolution courses and our yoga intensive/teacher training courses there are always people who find simply sitting a tremendously difficult thing.  Some need to sit with their back supported by the wall.  Some end up sitting in a straight backed chair.  There are ways to manage your discomfort with sitting.  Consider, however, that your discomfort betrays a physical limitation of strength, mobility and postural alignment.
    When I ran as exercise, it is true that I could run at a reasonable tempo for several hours at a time.  However, when I got out of bed in the morning I walked with pain and great difficulty until my Achilles tendons had warmed up and the muscles around my hips had adapted to being up and going again.  Now that I practice yoga, I have no such difficulties.  When I get up in the morning, I simply get up and going.  No pain.  Practice yoga asana to be strong, mobile and well-aligned.
  1. Pranayama – breathing practice. Have mastery over your breath.  Breathe with conscious control.  Breathing will take place as a matter of survival and your autonomic nervous system will attend to this process.  For the purposes of meditation, make conscious, intentional breathing your practice.
    Breathe through your nose.  Experiment with pausing between exhale and inhale, between inhale and exhale.  Be more sophisticated in your awareness of how you are breathing and what the experiences of your breathing are in terms of the physical movements, the energy, the hormonal and nervous system responses and your sense of self and spirit.
  2. Pratyahara – withdrawal of awareness from external sense objects.
  3. Dharana – single-pointed concentration.
  4. Dhyana – true meditation.

Progress to Meditation is Subtle:

Pratyahara, dharana and dhyana are shades of grey relative to one another.  Pratyahara involves turning your conscious awareness away from what is external to you and, instead, focussing upon your inner experience.  Pratyahara is not about what you are seeing or hearing, what surrounds you or who you are with.  It is about becoming aware of the inner experience of being.  What are you feeling?

Be aware not just of gross feeling sensations at a physical level such as the floor beneath you being hard on your ankles and knees.  Be aware of that but be more subtle too.  Be conscious of your energy – your energy levels as a whole and the different qualities of energy within you.  Are there areas of dullness or stagnant energy?  Are there areas where you seem lit up by vital energy?  More than that, witness your emotions, the stir of thoughts in your mind and your sense of your own relationship to yourself.

Single-pointed focus:

Dharana calls for single-pointed focus.  Choose a single, tangible experience and concentrate your awareness upon that point.  I concentrate upon the flow of my breath.  Some people use a mantra – a repetitive phrase, statement or sound signature that they repeat, unhurriedly, again and again to focus themselves.

As Baron Baptiste has said during a guided meditation session Margo participated in, “My voice is your meditation”.  Baron was speaking during the meditation and Margo became frustrated with his voice and thought to herself that she would be able to meditate if only he would stop talking.  “My voice is your meditation”.  In that exercise Baron was suggesting that the sound of his voice be the single point of focus for the participants’ minds.

Dhyana, true meditation, occurs when the aspirant’s mind is fully focussed but the object upon which they had been focussing disappears.  If I practice dharana and concentrate upon my breath, there are times when my mind has no hold and when there is an unbroken and undisturbed focus of my awareness to my breath.  If, in that moment, I retain full focus, no thought or distraction, but I cease to hold awareness of my breath, then true meditation, dhyana, occurs.

The chances of this occurring in your first attempt at meditation – or even your 100th attempt at meditation are slim.  To reach a point of sophistication where dharana occurs takes practice.  That does not mean that the preliminary steps are worthless.  Taking time to be still rather than in a shark-like restive stirring is valuable and relaxing.

Turning your awareness to your breath lengthens, deepens and enhances the quality of your breath.  Concentrating your mind, not upon a problem to be solved or an issue that is bothering you but upon a simple, tangible, in-the-moment sensation is valuable.  It relieves your nervous system of care and worry and allows you to relax.  The longer and the more clearly you focus to a single point the more relaxed and congruent you will feel with yourself and your circumstances.

Meditation always has benefits:

Meditation does not happen instantaneously.  It takes time, commitment and practice.  It feeds back to you in clarity, relaxation and a greater sense of union within.  Be willing to take the time to meditate every day.  Your practice at meditation may only last a few minutes – perhaps until your low back or your knees become too sore.  Stop when you need to and repeat the following day or, if you sat in the morning, sit again in the evening before bed.  If your body cries out when you attempt to meditate, consider an absence of asana, posture is a factor and practice more yoga classes.

Be willing to do the work to reap the reward of meditation as a lived experience in you.

Meditation is a process
Sunlit meadow with a pathway conveying that meditation is a process – Apollo Power Yoga Christchurch yoga studio

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