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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meditation Essentials

7.31.11 ~ Sunday 7pm ~ Meditation based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
Saraswati Andrea Lee and Chitra Jessica Sunshine Klein
Starseed Yoga and Wellness of Montclair, NJ
Sponsered by Yoga Life Society

Hari OM opening call/response chant.  Introductions. 

The primary texts that codify yoga philosophy and meditation theory are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita. Both were written by sages that were among the first to put into writing what was largely an oral tradition. You can find translations and commentary of both texts from a wide variety of scholars, academics and bloggers alike. Each week we will delve deeper into the philosophical underpinnings of meditation practice in hopes that it will inspire and encourage a regular practice. While I would love to read specific passages from these texts I think it's important to start with the basic theory that underlies yoga practice. It's universal, non-denominational and ever-present within so many schools of thought. The story goes like this:

1. Our ultimate goal is to be happy. What happiness looks like for you may be different from what it means to me, but the objective is still the same. We want to find happiness whether we are bug or a human.
2. The happiness we seek is within us, which is so important and we'll come back to this point in a second. 
3. Suffering is caused by our ignorance of our innate happiness, our True Nature, and
4. We can overcome this ignorance by mastering the mind through practices like meditation.

Backing up to point number two, at the very heart of yoga philosophy is the idea that you have everything you need to free yourself from suffering already inside of you. It's a pretty radical concept, especially considering how often we search outside of ourselves for things to make us happy. The sacred texts urge us to believe that we're born engineered to live lives of peace, joy, love and light. Practicing meditation is like chipping away little pieces of stone to find the gem inside. It was always there, but sometimes we just need to the tools to get inside.

There are three qualities that describe the state of the mind in meditation:  peaceful, clear, and one-pointed.  Peaceful to ourselves and others; clear about our intentions and actions; one-pointed with unwavering awareness towards one object or idea. Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha (Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.2) - Yoga is the stilling of the fluctations of the mind-stuff, to focus on one thing. Meditation is the art of being fully present in the now.  It is a realization of unity and a deepened vision blending the individual consciousness to the Cosmic or Divine consciousness.  Have you ever watched a dog play fetch?  The one-pointed ability of the dog to follow the toy and nothing else is a form of meditaiton.  Perhaps you play a musical instrument and when you play, nothing in the world exists but the music you are creating at that moment, this is also meditation.  Anything to still the mind is practice.

There are four basic meditation techniques that we will be covering throughout our classes. They are breath meditation, sound meditation, visualization and self-analysis. They are purposely varied so that you can find a technique or two that work best for you, however they all have one thing in common. Your object of meditation must be something that is pleasing to you and uplifting. That's the only requirement! With that as your foundation, allow yourself to experiment with the different techniques. If you're musically inclined you may want to try using a mantra or chant as your object of meditation. If you enjoy sights more than sounds you may want to use an image as your object. Once you've chosen an object you'll want to get into a seated position that is steady and comfortable, with your back erect. Your palms can rest on the thighs or knees. If you are sitting in a chair make sure your feet can rest flat on the ground. Your comfort is paramount so take care to use any props to support your seated posture. You may choose to do certain meditations while lying down, but you have to fight the urge to drift off to asleep.

Distracting Thoughts
Ignore or analyze - If we didn't have distracting thoughts in the first place, we wouldn't need meditation.  It is completely natural to have distracting thoughts.  The mind is like an untrained monkey running from one thought to another, this is called mental chatter or fluctuations of the mind.  Know that it is ok, try not to pass any judgements on yourself, and instead just be witness to what the thoughts are.  It takes practice to master the mind.  We don't become something great over night.  We don't become surgeons overnight; the longest journey begins with the first step.  All states are temporary.  How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice!

Helpful hints
Where: Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. You may choose to set aside a part of a room or office to be your regular meditation area or you may have several spots that you can go to when it is convenient. Sometimes setting up an altar dedicated to your practice can be helpful. Your altar may contain pictures, meaningful quotes, statues and the like to inspire your practice. That said, if you have five minutes of peace and quiet while waiting in the doctor's office, that's a good place to meditate as well.

When: the most auspicious times to practice are in the evening and at dawn, because of the nature of the mind during these times of day. However, some meditation at some time is much better than none at all. People often say that they are too busy to meditate so if you have even ten minutes in the middle of the day it's as good a time as any. A midday meditation can also act as a nice pick me up and as a way to re-center the mind as you go through your day.

How long: the length of your meditation practice is largely a personal matter. Seven minutes may be a good place to start for one person while twenty is good for another. Experiment with various times. Be practical and build up slowly. One way to tell when it's time to extend your practice is when your meditation sessions seem to fly by. This may be a sign that you are ready to go even deeper.

Regularity comes when we practice for a long time, without break and with enthusiasm. (Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.14)  This regualr practice becomes firmly grounded when the need for Yoga practice is just as natural as brushing your teeth in the morning.  Preparation for meditation is meditation, so prepare well.  Repeat a mantra, practice a little pranayama, light a candle or sit in front of your alter (if you can) and set an intention, this all equals preparation.  If you are aiming for a ten minute meditation, maybe half of the time is preparing with chants and breath work.  Regularity strengthens the mind.  Journals and a spiritual community of like minded people fuel inspiration as they serve as checkpoints on your progress.  Consistent devotion = success.  Remember, the longest journey begins with the first step. 

Practice of Deergha Swaasam Pranayama (three part breath), short breath meditation and short visualization of Drop Your Burdens.

Meditation in Daily Life
Share your practice with a friend or buddy, who can support you in your journey;
Find inspiration through books, magazines and music;
Keep a journal of your experiences and chart your progress, challenges and triumphs.

Remember that meditation is not about making your thoughts stop or turning your brain off. It's not about tuning out, but actually about tuning in to the little voice in your head that reminds you that you are part of a divine system where we are all interconnected.

"Whenever you feel in a peaceful state of mind, meditate.  Just close your eyes and relax, even if its only for a minute.  If you wish to deepen your meditation, then schedule some time for this practice daily.  Meditation needs the cooperation of both body and mind.  Prepare the body with the asanas, or Yoga postures, and Pranayama, breathing exercises.  As for the mind, learn to keep it always fully occupied on one thing, but don't let that thing or concept bind you." - H. H. Sri Swami Satchidananda, To Know Your Self, p. 89

Ending Peace Chants
Asaato Maa Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lead us from unreal to Real
Lead us from darkness to the Light
Lead us from the fear of death, to the knowledge of Immorality
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
May the entire uinverse be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light.

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