Updated: Feb 15, 2020
I was teaching a Yoga for Healthy Sleep workshop at the Folk House in Bristol last Saturday. It’s a workshop that has been running regularly for the last few years, attracting people who are tired of being tired, and who are ready to empower themselves to achieve proper rest and relaxation. After restorative yoga, pranayama and relaxation we discuss yogic techniques including meditation. The practice of observing the thoughts and anchoring to the present has been expounded by sitting enthusiasts over millenia as a path to inner peace and lasting happiness. In fact, the manifesto is set forth with such unerring conviction, it had never occurred to me that the alternative may be preferable.
“My thoughts are much more interesting than the here and now. I prefer to be in my stories.”
Brilliant. This assertion seized my attention, and over the last few days I have set about it with both amusement and curiosity. What IS so good about the here and now? Aside from being the place where you fall into restful sleep. What’s so good about this same old room, the same old people, same old routine, same old chores? What’s so good about that niggling feeling of sadness, irritation or anxiety? Why wouldn’t you want to be absorbed forever in a world of distraction and fantasy?
I can’t answer those questions for anyone else. Consciousness is a choice, and as someone who spent the first few of decades of my life lost in stories and hurtling around in hedonism, I choose reality. In the here and now I can make conscious choices about who I want to be, and what I bring into the world. When I am controlled by my thoughts I act unconsciously and not only do I miss 99% of what is going on around me but the effect that I have on my environment is a potluck hit or miss product of whatever is triggering me. I am reminded here of Henry David Thoreau’s famous quotation, “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.” Who can really say that they consciously affect every moment?
The monkey mind syndrome is a product of the ego, and left to run wild it feeds ever more voraciously on stimulation from the outside world. Like a naughty monkey, it picks up thoughts, impressions and memories, runs around with them briefly then sees something else it fancies and jumps to that, creating an incoherent jumble of half-baked ideas, repeated stories and one-sided arguments. This car boot sale of “pre-loved” thoughts is what makes up the vast majority of our thinking mind, and like a stall full of brightly coloured things, or a string of adverts on TV it appears briefly to be interesting when it is merely distracting. Spend any length of time sitting and watching your thoughts and imagine who would buy the film rights to that content. Right, I thought not. Even surrealists need to stylise and provide a context for nonsense in order for it to be called art.
Merging of the conscious and unconscious
When we surrender to the ever-changing tides of our thought patterns, acting as slaves to the whims of desire, we become numb to what is going on around us. Our senses become dulled from over-stimulation and we find it difficult to engage with our environment. It’s true that sitting in meditation can be uncomfortable – sometimes we must sit with physical pain, sometimes anger, grief or intolerable restlessness. When looking for clarity instead we encounter confusion and when we aspire to peace we find ourselves in anguish. We must sit through that which we choose to avoid in seeking distraction. The key point here is that we don’t do this practice for enjoyment. We do it to be free. We sit with ourselves through all the joy and all the crap in order to refine our awareness so one day we can understand who we are, what reality is and how we can free ourselves from the mercurial vagrancy of the egoic mind.
“If it’s interesting, you’re doing it wrong”
Meditation is not interesting. Meditation is a state of absorption which exists beyond the intellect, in an awareness that encompasses the rational mind. It is both the process and the outcome. As humans, we have the tremendous faculty of intellect – we have sophisticated rationale, impressive dialectic and wonderfully complex and accurate systems for measuring and judging. In meditation we can harness intellect and train it to focus. As we gradually let go of all the BS we hold on to in our minds, there’s a softening and a broadening of the intellect which embraces and holds all in its realm whilst becoming absorbed in awareness itself. Christophe André puts this beautifully in his book Meditér Jour Aprés Jour. He says that being in complete consciousness allows us to “gather naked reality and let it coat us, live within us and impregnate us in an intense experience of letting go.” In this very moment, we can surrender our resistance and begin to break old patterns which predetermine our reactions to the present. We can choose to approach each moment as new, with the lightness and vigour which come from shedding irrelevant baggage. Chuck away all the suitcases full of excuses, misconceptions and grievances and if you can’t bear to lose them yet, at least sort through them so you know what you’re hoiking around with you.
Meditation is not interesting, but it is the womb that gives birth to creativity. Creativity needs space to move into, and whether you sit in meditation or not, every original thought you have had came out of that void, where you made some space amongst all the clutter and allowed yourself to receive. Being in the here and now allows us to relearn how to be like children, to embrace the world with spontaneous joy and wonder, and to reflect our environment in our own unique way.
When every moment is new, the world is a truly mindblowing place to be, every moment.
An aspirant inhabitant of the here and now, I lose count of the number of times per week I have to run back to my house after leaving for work, to check I have locked the front door. I have always locked the front door, but never have a recollection of having done so. To paraphrase Christophe André: to abide in full consciousness is to create, moment by moment a little space for self-awareness. True, self-awareness isn’t vital in order to lock your front door, however it will prove useful training for many other moments in life.
In my weekly Yoga and Mindfulness classes, I give students a mindfulness practice to do for homework. This week I give myself the homework of mindfully locking my front door in an endeavour to show up a bit more in my own life.
I have posted a mindfulness meditation podcast on detaching from the thoughts. It appears as Episode 52 of Yoga Community Podcast on iTunes, Audioboom and Libsyn. To download or stream the meditation please follow any of the links below.
To find out about Yoga and Mindfulness or about about other classes, workshops and retreats run by Morven, please visit www.bristolcommunityyoga.co.uk
Christophe André, Méditer Jour Aprés Jour
Thoreau, Walden Pond