by columnist Gabrielle Harris, The Suburban Yogini
When I was about nine, Dad bought a strange woman to our house. She was dressed in white and had an exotic name. Our sleep-out was turned into a shrine. Suddenly suburban life was looking up.
The lady was handed some cash and I had to give her something of value to myself. I gave her my teddy. I didn’t want to give her my teddy as I was attached to it. It’s good to have attachments when you are nine; it gives you something to work on in later years.
Little did I know but I was about to be taught how to do Transcendental Meditation. I was given a secret mantra – a sound to repeat over and over in my mind to try to bring me to enlightenment. I secretly didn’t use it in case my young and tender brain got messed up. Forty years on, I still remember it and sometimes it comes to mind as I meditate.
Meditation is nothing mysterious or mystical, in fact it’s quite simple. You sit in a comfortable position and you try to still the mind for anything between 5 and 20 minutes.
In the yoga sutras written by Patanjali the mind is compared to the wild horses that drove the chariots. Most yoga teachers refer to the mind as a monkey, jumping from branch to branch with random thoughts. For some of us the mind is more like a drunken monkey, with absolutely no coherence at all.
In Sanskrit the mind is referred to as citta and its fluctuations or thoughts as vritti. The aim of meditation is simple, to calm the thoughts. Doing this however is not as simple, as anyone will tell you who has tried it.
When I mediate the first thing I tend to do is find one of my top ten play lists and start on that. Some of my favourites so far are:
- a comment someone made to me 6 months ago
- my to do list
- and when are all these competing thoughts going to stop.
Sometimes I get really excited because there is a wee gap of pure consciousness, and then I start thinking about that gap, which is just ironic.
Your mind is designed to work and think about things all day long. It’s almost impossible to not do this. For example, if I said to you don’t think about pink elephants, what is the first thing you do?
In yoga we refer to samskaras. These are habits of thought or action that are deeply ingrained into our psyche. Every time we have a thought we reinforce these samskaras until they become deeply rooted into our subconscious. During meditation we can become witness to these habitual patterns and thereby loosening the grip they have on our lives.
So meditation is becoming a witness to our thoughts and through this we can bring a little change or shift to our lives.
To use an analogy if your car got stuck in mud and you spun the tyres the tyre digs in deeper to the mud. What you need is a tool to release the wheel (meditation). By using some wood or gravel we can release the grip the mud has on the tire. Similarly mediation helps us release the grip our thoughts have on us.
If you want to try out meditation here are a few steps:
- Set aside the same time each day, start with 5 minutes and then you can add a minute each week.
- Find a comfortable spot on the floor. Maybe get a cushion under your sit bones and cross your legs. Try to make your spine a little longer, gently dip the chin and close the eyes.
- Sit quietly and let the thoughts come. Try to see yourself as the witness in the process as if you were at a rugby game as a spectator watching yourself play. The point is not to get too involved in your thoughts just to watch them pass you by. You could use a mantra if it helps. Some people use a name of a deity or a powerful word or phrase such as love or I am (plus adjective).
- When you have finished note how you feel. Some days will be busy in your brain like you’re a CEO of a large company. Some days you will really get in touch with a part of yourself that is always there, always unchanging.