As things go your way, you may develop the illusion that you are “in control.” When things don’t go your way it is often a source of suffering because of continual clinging to the illusion of control. Often in yoga, I notice that the various teachings offer the ability to “gain control” of various abilities. This is very attractive to ego because ego is what clings to the illusion of control. I have come to believe that we are reading these words the wrong way though. I believe that the “gaining of control” of say the vrttis (50 strong emotions that pull us out of center) is not so much a building up of the power to suppress or direct these feelings. It is more a quieting of the body/mind that allows a clear picture of the operation of these forces in our body/mind and a subsequent lessening of the development of these states into full blown rages.
This week at the prison, one of my yoga attendees described a situation at his job that causes physical discomfort and back trouble. He has no ability to change the physical arrangement of the work area. He has no ability to change the work process. He is aware that the combination of the physical arrangement and the movements he must make are causing the back trouble. I call this a “practice opportunity.” This is a perfect demonstration of our lack of control. It is a gift of sorts, an opportunity to bring awareness to the situation and the experience. Mindfulness and maintaining awareness while experiencing the work time allow varying responses to the situation. Being present while working allows becoming aware of the discomfort during the work time rather than when the backache comes later. Stretch breaks maybe? The key is the awareness. Where does this awareness come from? It spills over from your meditation sessions. What meditation sessions?
Basic Method for mantra meditation:
What is a mantra? A mantra is a sound, word or phrase. Traditionally, these have been words of power and spiritual meaning.
Get a mantra from a trained teacher. Mantras are created by spiritual teachers/gurus and energized by them. This sounds mysterious and mystical but this is the tradition so if you get to an established acarya or meditation teacher from an established tradition you can get one of these mantras. It is very likely to work well for you and come with instruction on how to sit, how to visualize and/or ideate to begin the session and how to repeat the mantra correctly.
Failing that select a mantra yourself. A traditional choice is to repeat a name of God such as Brahma, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, or one that is meaningful to you. Remember, yoga is not a religion but a set of practices to support your spiritual development in your own way and religion. Another traditional choice is a phrase such as Baba Nam Kevalam or Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha.
Find a quiet place to sit. Sit comfortably and relaxed with your feet flat on the floor. Alternative: sit on a cushion raising your bottom a few inches above the carpet or other soft surface and fold your legs in lotus, half lotus, or Burmese position.
- Whether you sit in a chair or on the cushion, straighten your back. Imagine that a string is pulling the crown of your head straight up.
- Point your gaze down at a 45 degree angle.
- Let the eyelids hang partially open. The eyes should be seeing but not looking. This is Zen practice style. Yogic meditators often sit with eyes closed. Do what feels right for you.
- Open your right hand and place it, palm up just below your navel. Rest your left hand, palm up in your right palm. Touch your thumbs together lightly. Alternatively, rest the hands, palm up, on the knees and touch the forefinger to the thumb on each hand.
- Now that you’re in a meditative posture, focus on your breath. Feel it drawing in and out. Focus either on the point just at the nostrils where the air goes in and out or on your diaphragm which moves up and down with the inflow and outflow of breath. The idea here is not to breathe in a certain way or exaggerate the breath. You just follow your natural breathing.
- Do any visualization or other withdrawal process that was given by the teacher.
- Begin repeating the given mantra either in sync with the breath or not. E. g. Mentally thinking “Braaah” on the inbreath and “maaaa” on the outbreath.
- As you do this you will find that thoughts happen. You will find that all of a sudden, you have lost track of the mantra. At this point, mentally acknowledge that you are thinking. Gently acknowledge this and direct the mind back to the breath and begin repetition of the mantra. It often helps to consider the train of thought as you would a pretty stone that you picked up while walking in a stream. Look it over and acknowledge it. Then gently place it back in the stream and go back to the breath and the mantra.
- Set a time period for your meditation. Start with five minutes. When you reach the allotted time, gently open your eyes and stretch and come back to the room.
- Do this meditation twice daily. Over time you can increase to twenty minutes.
The point here is just the same as when meditating on the breath. Here we are considering and letting go of thought, over and over. We are practicing letting go of thought. The idea is that in between the thoughts, we are totally present. In the moment. On the expressway to right now. This is practice of being fully present in the now. These brief periods of being present are the state of abiding in the authentic nature. Over time more and more of this state will manifest itself in your times away from the meditation cushion wherever you are – even in prison and the situations that cannot be controlled and especially in these situations.