Anyone who has practiced meditation or is interested in practicing meditation has had to, or will have to confront the mind. What do you do with this psychic instrument called the mind that because of its activity, seemingly loves to invade, interrupt, and frankly, sometimes destroy your session of meditation?
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras he states right at the beginning of the text “yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ;” which is often translated as “Yoga, is the stilling of the modifications of the mind.” The author recognises and acknowledges that the mind, with its “modifications,” (as in thoughts and emotions) one way or the other, needs to be attended to in order to experience the goal of yoga.
I was up in Sydney a few years ago when the tail end of a hurricane that had hit Queensland smashed into the Sydney beaches. (Photo attached) I went down to Bronte, my favourite beach in Sydney, and watched in awe as one massive wave after another exploded against the cliffs and shore. Every wave was unique—majestic, beautiful, terrifying, pure, dangerous—these are just a few of the adjectives I use to describe them. I sat there for hours transfixed observing the tumultuous power of mothernature.
My experience in Sydney is almost an exact parallel of how we can work with the mind in meditation. The key word in the paragraph directly above is, “observing.” When we sit for meditation we simply become aware and observe the emotions and thoughts that arise and subside within us. The thoughts and emotions that we experience are just like waves, they come in all shapes and sizes, positive, negative, etc, and we use many different adjectives to describe them. But if we can take the position of the observer, in the same way that I was observing the waves, then we disidentify ourselves from those thoughts and rest in the pure I Am.
What is the pure I Am? It is the ever present awareness without any association or identification with any object. It is always with you from the day you were born until the day you leave this planet. It is with you right now as you are reading these words. It is aware of the words, the computer screen, sounds in your room and outside your room. It is aware of the pressure your body feels against the seat you are sitting on. It was aware of what happened to you last week and it will be aware of what happens to you tomorrow. It is the water that gives birth to the waves, it is the sky that is always present whether there are clouds or not.
As you sit for meditation and simply observe your breath, your body, your thoughts, your feelings, without any form of judgement, then your sense of self transitions from “I am—this body, this mind, this woman, this man, angry, jealous, ashamed, scared, etc, etc, etc, to the pure I Am—the witness—pure awareness.
When you meditate, there is no need to be concerned about stopping or changing thoughts or calming emotions—just let them be whatever they are—acknowledge them in all their unique forms— waves of consciousness—observe them arising and subsiding. This is yoga—it is joining all parts into the whole until there is nothing separate from your own existence, while simultaneously immersing yourself in the pure I Am, the pure awareness that simply observes all this happening.
When you practice this form of meditation, then the modifications of the mind will naturally become still, but even if they don’t, or even if it takes longer than you expect, it doesn’t matter, because you are immersed in the pure I Am—witnessing the play of consciousness, creating, sustaining and dissolving. You are the great Self. You are everything.