“The way one see’s life, is like looking through a pair of glasses, formed at a young age. The colour of the lenses distort what is seen. Meditation is a method to clean the glasses so that the view is clear”
By Swami Karma Karuna Saraswati
Perception of life is based on everyone’s unique societal, cultural, and family programming, called samskaras in yogic terminology. Much like software on a computer, this programming creates an interface by which one views and experiences their life. This means, your daily perceptions and interactions – driven by sense inputs, the memory bank, nervous system, and brain patterns – are experienced as your truth or reality.
From a yogic point of view, the samskara glasses that a person wears are considered ‘maya’ or ‘illusion’. Others may have the same sensory inputs, but with their different set of samskaras – their difference glasses – their view of the ‘same’ experience is usually totally different. Thus, one must ask, ‘whose reality is the truth?”.
Many practices of yoga support the gradual cleaning of the illusionary glasses. One of the most important practices, fundamental to every other yogic practice, is the development of the witness ability. Mindfulness based meditation practices are a support in the development of a different perspective, so that one can decipher the difference between maya and the ultimate truth.
Changing the program, and thus how one ‘sees’ life, can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. Patterns of interacting, reacting and nervous system states, can be deeply ingrained, and for the majority they are unconscious.
Bruce Lipton, a prominent stem cell biologist and author of The Biology of Belief, shares that approximately 95% of day-to-day experience is being run by unconscious programming set by about the age of eight. This means, understanding the brainwave development in children is relevant to how one forms samskaras and thus the view of life. It is also pertinent to how samskaras can gradually be released using yoga and meditation techniques, to remain conscious in the normally unconscious states where this programming operates from.
Delta Waves are dominant from birth to two years, and help explain why newborns sleep a lot. In adults, Delta Waves are connected to the deep sleep state which is an unconscious state. In babies, inputs from the outside world are directly downloaded without analytical mind, which forms the unconscious programming that continues to influence the conscious mind as an adult. So whilst the baby is asleep, their subtle body records everything around them.
Theta Waves become more prominent between two to five years of age and are connected to the dream and meditation states for adults. Children of this age have easy access to the internal world and can effortlessly experience the more abstract and imaginary, yet, they have minimal critical thinking. Again, core beliefs and deep programming inputted through experiences are downloaded to the subconscious mind, continuing to form the glasses by which an individual will view life as an adult. If, for example, a child is told or has modeled that they are not good enough through words or actions, this belief will accompany them into adulthood, and even predispose a person to attract situations that validate this belief system.
In Yoga Nidra and meditation practices, one aim is to activate the theta brainwaves whilst staying conscious, so that the practitioner can come into contact with the samskaras and clear them out gradually.
Alpha Waves are more prevalent from five to eight years of age. This is the in between waking and sleeping state that adults go through as they go to sleep or in waking up, and is also connected to a light meditation state. For children, at this point, the analytical mind – associated with external reality – starts to grow, thus influencing the child’s conclusions about the rules of their world. The inner realm is still strong, thus children of this age are walking the line between waking and sleeping states. It is still a time when a child is very impressionable.
Beta Waves begin to become more dominant from eight to twelve, and onwards. The older one gets, the more the brainwave activity increases to higher frequencies. In states of stress, high beta brainwaves dominate. Beta brainwaves represent more conscious, analytical thinking. However, the experience we have in waking states is seeded by the imprints that were planted in the formative years.
While the database containing the impressions of each individual can certainly be changed, practices and effort is required to transform the often deeply held unconscious patterns which form the glasses each person wears. Witnessing or mindfulness practices are highly important in this process, so that one can gradually decipher the programming that is driving the show.
Witnessing is also known as the Drashta Bhava or Sakshi. It is the ability to be an uninvolved, impartial spectator of all experiences internal and external, mental, emotional, and physical. Witnessing can be developed through yoga and meditation practices with an aim to extend this attitude into day-to-day activities.
With consistent practice, one can distance oneself from the distractions of the senses and the antics of the mind and develop the ability to ‘sit more comfortably’ with whatever experience is occurring, not getting caught up in it.
Through witnessing, the practitioner purifies the mind of old patterns, thoughts, emotions, and past experiences that no longer serve seeing the truth of things as they are. Otherwise the samskaras continuing to influence daily perceptions.
The Drashta Bhava is cultivated as a direct part of many yoga practices. It is a fundamental feature in Yoga Nidra and Antar Mouna in particular. Antar Mouna, or Inner Silence Meditation, like many mindfulness practices trains the awareness process firstly through learning to observe the sense inputs and how they trigger patterns of body, mind and emotion. For example, if a loud sound occurs or a particular song comes on, it causes a series of thoughts, nervous system changes, emotional responses like fear or happiness, as well as hormonal and chemical changes in the physiology. All this happens so quickly, that it is mostly not conscious. It is happening all the time with every sense impression. By learning to be the observer in a formal meditation technique, one develops an ability to ‘see’ this inner process and be less reactive to it, and more purposeful in ‘deciding’ how to respond to it, as the situation calls for it.
The second stage is watching thoughts and emotions like observing oneself in a movie as a spectator, instead of being the character who is identified with the experience. Awareness of the different thoughts and emotions, without attaching to them, gradually helps to remove the roots of the samskaras and thus clean the glasses. It also means that one can become aware of their strengths and gifts which may have been sitting dormant, and they can more consciously choose positive inputs and inspirations to support their goals.
Meditation practices such as these have also been shown to develop the frontal brain, which has more ability to analyse, compare and consciously experience, as well as reduce the amygdala or emotional brain stimulation. The amygdala is fast acting and constantly monitoring the environment, looking out for our safety. It checks in with your memory bank, which informs it of anything that has been perceived or experienced as harmful or threatening in the past. While this system is important for our survival as it means we learn from the past, it doesn’t always get it ‘right’, especially when it comes to traumatic or challenging past experiences. Thus, the development of the frontal brain is important to our ability to manage the experiences of life and to be able to see more clearly our own true selves.
Meditation practices support the development of the witnessing attitude which can be extended into each and every activity, circumstance, challenge and joy that arises. It is a 24-hour, 7 day a week practice.
Gradually, expansion of consciousness and energy occurs and ‘true self’ – steady, bright, and pure – can see through the clear glasses.
Swami Karma Karuna Saraswati is an engaging, intuitive yoga and meditation teacher, inspirational speaker, writer and yoga therapist with 30 years of experience. She is a YogaNZ Senior teacher, Yoga Alliance Education Provider, IYTA member of 25 years, and co-founder and director of Anahata Yoga Retreat, New Zealand. She is passionate about sharing an authentic and down to earth approach, weaving together the ancient practices with a touch of psychology and brain science, aimed at motivating people to live their yoga here and now. She runs mentoring and private sessions, as well as YogaNZ Certified Teacher’s Trainings in Yoga Nidra, Restorative Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation.