Life is bustling and booming and busy. Time flies by and usually our day, our week, this month will have come and gone before we can say Happy New Year! It is nearly impossible to feel like we can take time to ourselves and slow down our spinning world.
My son is almost a month old and I feel like it’s only been days since we brought him home. I have barely had a moment’s rest to take one deep breath, let alone find an hour for practice. Let alone another hour for meditation. Hah! The idea is laughable!!!
While this may be the way we feel about our free time between work, school, kids, and the rest of it…it is simply untrue. We can find time. Some anyway. We need to. We must. So, let’s concentrate and as I always say, begin at the beginning.
First, let’s take a look into the first chapter of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Samadhi Pada. What, pray tell, am I talking about?! OK, so a long time ago, this guy, his name was Pantanjali.. Well, anyway, he wrote down everything humans then knew about yoga. Therefore, as with all things, since he was the first to write it down, he is the one accredited with finding yoga. Of course, we know humans have been practicing asana, or yoga postures, since cavemen painted on walls. How do we know that? Well, because cavemen painted yoga poses on walls! But, anyway, Pantanjali wrote down everything known about yoga and called it the Yoga Sutras. It’s a fantastic place for us to start dedicating our concentration.
The reason I say beginning by focusing a concentration on the Yoga Sutras is the best place to begin is kind of interesting. Why? Well, the concept of concentration encompasses what the first chapter (Samadhi Pada) of the Yoga Sutras is all about! So, what does it say?
In the beginning, Pantanjali begs the question, what is yoga?! It provides us with the most simple and basic start. What is this stuff?! Why are we doing it?! What’s the goal, the point, it’s purpose?! What does it all mean?! Of course, the question what is yoga has a very simple answer. Or does it?! Well, it does and it doesn’t. Yoga is to unite. To basically, strip yourself down to your most natural and true form by tearing down all the walls you have around you, and seeing who you really are inside and out. We are so wrapped up in who we project ourselves to be or who we allow people to see that it is so easy for us lose sight of what our purpose is, what we are meant for, who we are really. Yoga? Easy. You find the root of your existence and work your way up to bind every facet of yourself together until you have discovered every component making up who you are really. Or, in other words, awaken yourself to who your true self really is. That is yoga. It may feel or seem complicated as we go down this path to progress. But, remind yourself of this purpose and this goal, and it will keep the answer to our first question (What is yoga?) very simple for you. Keeping this thought at the center of your journey, and allowing your mind to expand wide open to the more in depth practices to come, will provide you with a vehicle that will allow you to achieve this ultimate goal.
So, where does Pantanjali begin when answering the question what is yoga?!
The first chapter, the first sutra, the first word… It all begins with the word atha, or NOW. But, what does that mean? Well, it means a lot! One simple word means more than it seems. Not just right now. No. More powerful than that. Now. Now you are ready. After all yoyr experiences in life after everything you’ve seen, said, and done.. the many series of events in your life has brought you here. To now. To this place where you are ready to begin. You have chosen to begin now. Now is the time you take your first step toward the ultimate goal. Self Discovery. Self Awareness. Self Realization. Enlightenment. Finding your true self. Yoga.
Samadhi, the high state of perfected concentration or complete absorption of attention is yoga. This is known. This is our goal. Following Pantanjali from the beginning, the first Yoga Sutras 1.1-1.4 answer for us, what is yoga. So, now that we know what yoga is..how do we get there?
One step at a time. Let’s concentrate on Yoga Sutra 1.1.
” 1.1 Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.” (atha yoga anushasanam)”
Ok? Again, but, how?!!
We need to discern what state of mind we are in first. Once we know, we have our path laid out before us. All of us are in one of the five states of mind.
Swami Rama describes them like this:
1. Kshipta/disturbed: The ksihipta mind is disturbed, restless, troubled, wandering. This is the least desirable of the states of mind, in which the mind is troubled. It might be severely disturbed, moderately disturbed, or mildly disturbed. It might be worried, troubled, or chaotic. It is not merely the distracted mind (Vikshipta), but has the additional feature of a more intense, negative, emotional involvement.
2. Mudha/dull: The mudha mind is stupefied, dull, heavy, forgetful. With this state of mind, there is less of a running here and there of the thought process. It is a dull or sleepy state, somewhat like one experiences when depressed, though we are not here intending to mean only clinical depression. It is that heavy frame of mind we can get into, when we want to do nothing, to be lethargic, to be a couch potato.
2. The Mudha mind is barely beyond the Kshipta, disturbed mind, only in that the active disturbance has settled down, and the mind might be somewhat more easily trained from this place. Gradually the mind can be taught to be a little bit steady in a positive way, only occasionally distracted, which is the Vikshipta state. Then the mind can move on in training to the Ekagra and Nirodhah states.
3. Vikshipta/distracted: The Vikshipta mind is distracted, occasionally steady or focused. This is the state of mind often reported by students of meditation when they are wide awake and alert, neither noticeably disturbed nor dull and lethargic. Yet, in this state of mind, one’s attention is easily drawn here and there. This is the monkey mind or noisy mind that people often talk about as disturbing meditation. The mind can concentrate for short periods of time, and is then distracted into some attraction or aversion. Then, the mind is brought back, only to again be distracted.
The Vikshipta mind in daily life can concentrate on this or that project, though it might wander here and there, or be pulled off course by some other person or outside influence, or by a rising memory. This Vikshipta mind is the stance one wants to attain through the foundation yoga practices, so that one can then pursue the one-pointedness of Ekagra, and the mastery that comes with the state of Nirodhah.
4. Ekagra/one-pointed: The Ekagra mind is one-pointed, focused, concentrated (Yoga Sutra 1.32). When the mind has attained the ability to be one-pointed, the real practice of Yoga meditation begins. It means that one can focus on tasks at hand in daily life, practicing karma yoga, the yoga of action, by being mindful of the mental process and consciously serving others. When the mind is one-pointed, other internal and external activities are simply not a distraction.
The person with a one-pointed mind just carries on with the matters at hand, undisturbed, unaffected, and uninvolved with those other stimuli. It is important to note that this is meant in a positive way, not the negative way of not attending to other people or other internal priorities. The one-pointed mind is fully present in the moment and able to attend to people, thoughts, and emotions at will.
The one-pointed mind is able to do the practices of concentration and meditation, leading one onward towards samadhi. This ability to focus attention is a primary skill that the student wants to develop for meditation and samadhi.
5. Nirodhah/mastered: The Nirodhah mind is highly mastered, controlled, regulated, restrained (Yoga Sutra 1.2). It is very difficult for one to capture the meaning of the Nirodhah state of mind by reading written descriptions. The real understanding of this state of mind comes only through practices of meditation and contemplation. When the word Nirodhah is translated as controlled, regulated, or restrained, it can easily be misunderstood to mean suppression of thoughts and emotions.
To suppress thoughts and emotions is not healthy and this is not what is meant here. Rather, it has to do with that natural process when the mind is one-pointed and becomes progressively more still as meditation deepens. It is not that the thought patterns are not there, or are suppressed, but that attention moves inward, or beyond the stream of inner impressions. In that deep stillness, there is a mastery over the process of mind. It is that mastery that is meant by Nirodhah.
But, before we move on to the second Yoga Sutra. I suggest we take this slow. Why don’t we find three times today where we can stop, look at our mood, and categorize our state of mind. In fact, after we have done this for a few days, let’s find 5 minutes before bed to concentrate on being honest with ourselves and decide what is our general state of mind. Once we have found this, we know where we are on our path to Nirodhah. To Yoga!
I am so excited for you to join me!!! Let’s concentrate. Soon we will all be aligned in the right direction leading us straight to enlightenment.