Last night my imagination started to take off. I heard a large truck and my mind started telling the story of what if it’s a plane and it’s doing an emergency landing here because it’s had some sort of failure. My breath quickened. I started to panic.
What should I do? Who should I call? Emergency!
The victory was that after a couple of minutes I was able to ‘catch’ it. I could see that I was making up a crazy story.
I also noticed that the crazy stories I make up are most often triggered by sound. When I can’t see what’s happening it’s easy for my imagination to run wild.
…the need of mental training, or regular, orderly, purposeful exercise of the mind, is far greater than that of the body in most cases; for at our general stage of growth most [people]’s bodily activities are well-ordered and controlled , and the body is obedient to their will, but their minds are usually utterly disobedient, idle and luxurious. [emphasis added]
When I look at my life I can see how many challenges a disobedient mind has caused for me. To help with this I started working with Ernest Wood’s basic concentration exercise. In this exercise you draw a circle with rays extending from it in all directions and then you visualize an object and allow whatever thought comes to mind. You write that down on the paper then visual the object, see what thought comes, write it down and repeat again and again.
In his description of the exercise he writes, If you do not like cats, use “dog” or anything else, for it is a rule of mental health not to ponder on disliked things. This was a very important lesson for me. When I sat down to do the exercise my initial inclination was to concentrate on an object I find difficult. A part of me that believes the most challenging road is the most direct one. It’s the same part that when I tries to work through grief tries by imagining and analyzing the traumatic event. I think that I’m facing the facts but all this results in is pain and confusion.
I am learning that right now for me a softer approach is more effective. The Grand Canyon was carved by knives or shovels or even bulldozers. It was carved by a single stream of water.
So for my first concentration exercise I focussed on my golden road bike that I love. And I learned that a mood of concentration is not the natural tendency for my mind. As I thought of each association my mind wanted to continue on that drift – connecting to another association and then another and that to bring it back to my bicycle took effort and also had a calming effect.
The next phase of this exercise is to begin to bring the object and associations together – holding them lightly together in the mind and creating a bond between them. This bringing together is what Wood describes as meditation. He writes,
Meditation is a complete flow of thought about an object which you have successfully concentrated upon. It is not a flow past, like a procession in the street, but a flow into, a filling-up. It is like a thread of thoughts closely wound into a ball, such that every part of the thread is intimate with every other part. In meditation you enfold yourself in a cocoon of your thoughts; you go in a grub and come out a butterfly.
This helped me to dispel the idea that in concentration or meditation I needed to reject ‘intruding thoughts’ and see that it is better if I can integrate them. Instead of throwing them out I ask, what is the connection to the object of concentration? How can I wind this into this ball of thoughts?
People who are given too much thought or meditation on any subject often go to the end of their thought and their mind-hunger than prompts them to look into the void beyond. This is the nature of the practice of contemplation, so that when you have completed your meditation on an object or subject and cannot go further, you do not drop it with a sigh, but poised, in that condition, you look expectantly at it… Beauty, love, power, peace, understanding – something within these groups then comes to you.
This explanation reminds me of what can sometimes happen for me in Hidden Language Hatha Yoga* – a practice that combines yoga poses and journaling. What happens I am exploring something – focusing on it – and then suddenly an insight comes out of nowhere and I am flooded with a feeling of peace or love or understanding.
At the beginning I remember feeling an urge to gather more and more insights. I felt like a failure when they didn’t come. But I soon learnt that is not something I can control. I can work hard. I can be determined. I can do yoga and meditation practices but the insights will come when they are ready.
There is a balance of will and surrender that is needed to live a meaningful life.
My tendency is to use will only. My tendency is to force myself through a process of grief. My tendency is to try to dig the Grand Canyon with knives and shovels and bulldozers. But I am learning to surrender. I am learning to trust. I am learning to wait for the single stream of water to carve a channel more deep and beautiful than anything I make, sweating, with a knife, a shovel and a bulldozer.
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*Hidden Language Hatha Yoga, developed by Swami Radha, takes the practice of Hatha Yoga far beyond a series of physical exercises. It is a gentle and meditative style of Hatha that respects the body as a spiritual tool. By working with metaphor, symbolism, imagery and visualization, the ‘hidden’ messages of each asana are revealed.
Hidden Language starts with the very personal – your observations, your mind, your body, your relationship to the world. And it expands out to the universal, to the mythologies of our cultures, to the subtle force sustaining all life. The asanas are practiced not only for their physical benefits, but also to understand the psychological and symbolic meanings, to demonstrate how each asana can increase spiritual awareness.
For those accustomed to physically intense or rigorous Hatha traditions, Hidden Language will be a change of pace, a chance to go deeper into the body and the mystical potential of each asana.
The atmosphere of a class is quiet and self-directed. The instructor offers principles – such as spinal awareness, moving with the breath, relaxing in the movements, and observing physical, mental and emotional responses – but you are given responsibility for your own self and your own insights. Students take time between asanas to write down observations. At the end of class there is a deep relaxation, then the class gathers together to share their reflections. [Explanation taken from: http://www.yasodhara.org/about-yasodhara/yasodhara-yoga/]