May 2014

Meditation and Retreating

Last year I was reflecting on how much I enjoy sharing the deeper teachings of yoga. I've had the opportunity to do this during our last 2 teaching training and many retreats. The Easter yoga retreat was again full in advance this year and the invitation to teach the weekend in Rocky was welcomed. There are just a few spots free for a retreat in India this Dec. So it seems the universe has responded to my appreciation by giving me more opportunities to share yoga in this way.


Having meditated for 20 years and participated for many years in organised and self retreats, I know the growth that comes from this time out – whether it be a short daily practice or a longer retreat. It's a time when deeper insights into life are revealed; the mind's perceived problems dissolve or seem more manageable and a connection with something that feels real and substantial becomes apparent....a rare experience in our society of virtual cyber bombardment.


While it is necessary for us to live in the western world, retreats give the opportunity to step outside the responsibilities of normal life, to take a look at ourselves and soak up glorious nature - India photo below. On recent retreats I've been sharing more the philosophical context that is the background to our meditation practice, which I feel is essential knowledge.

According to yoga philosophy our being is made up of 5 sheaths – our physical body (annamaya), energy body (pranamaya), cognitive mind – composed of what we've learned, our conditioning and some deeper emotional tendencies (manomaya), our awareness (vijnanamaya) and our oneness (ananadamaya). Most of the time we are identified heavily with our manomaya and not very aware of anything else – we ignore or are scared by our body, know nothing about energy, except that we often don't have a lot and do not access the wisdom of our vijnanamaya.


When we learn to meditate we are bringing more awareness to our breath and body. This grounding in the body helps us to lessen the identification we have with unhelpful and often incorrect thoughts and perceptions. We are able to see the truth of the moment more clearly and accurately. This becomes the pathway to live in a higher state of awareness. Our identification with vijnanamaya becomes more possible and through that the grace of realisation of oneness (anandamaya) is possible.


Although there are so many benefits of practicing yoga asana – the physical postures - besides the fitness, flexibility and strength, bringing awareness into the body is the most powerful. From here to take the next step of working more directly with breath (pranayama) and meditation techniques, offer even more powerful benefit. Those of you attending classes presently will be able to attest to this with the greater focus now on pranayama. All of these practices though develop in us the sensitivity to sense something that is beyond the mind and body – a place of peace and spaciousness – that can hold all the sensations in the body and all the chaos of the mind. This awareness is your vijananamayam.


So how can I not enjoy immensely being able to guide students into this realisation. On retreat there is a certain flow that we enter into. I'm there doing the same practice I'm teaching... to observe...breath, body sensations, the crazy flow of thoughts and emotion. My thoughts are no less crazy or persistent than yours and we're all in it together shifting the habit of being lost in the mind, to a habit of consciousness. That's why meditating together is so powerful.


The teachings that guide our practice help us to disentangle ourselves from our thoughts, firstly by detailing the composition of this manomayam.


Over the years we absorb so many mental impressions, from our society. We unconsciously take in – what we read (books – including spirititual books full of fascinating concepts, newspapers), television and advertising (soap operas, reality? TV, endless entertainment.. 'let's face it' mostly trash) – the traumas of living and relating in a challenging world... work conflicts, difficult relationships, abuse and hopefully some joyous experiences as well. I know most of it sounds negative, but as creatures with survival instincts we are wired to remember the bad, as this is most threatening to our survival.


So when we sit to meditate or take time out to be with ourselves this content of the mind pours out ...and well that's expected and OK and part of the practice. It's only by witnessing this 'unflowing' from the place of greater consciousness (vijnanamaya) that we can realise our freedom from it.


So the hardest thing is to accept the content of this mind, not to get caught up in trying to fix or change anything, but just step right out of the game...into awareness. It's a habit that needs to be developed, we need to remember that our true identity is with awareness and get over this painful habit of identifying with the contents of our mind. I hope these words give you greater understanding to inspire your practice. Anytime I get the opportunity I will remind you again and again and again. Tat Tvam Asi. (Google it)


My current recommended reading to support meditation practice and your general wellbeing.

  • Any books of Pema Chodron - she's just fantastic, very readable and accessible for everyone
  • Self Observation - Red Hawk - a bit harsh in it's directness, very funny, good for those with a little more experience
  • A path with Heart & After the Ecstasy, the Laundry  - Jack Kornfield. Practical and insightful
  • A healthy dose of Sufi poetry - The Subject tonight is Love, translation of Daniel Ladinsky of Hafiz


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