10/2/11 Sunday 7-8pm ~ Meditation based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
with Saraswati Andrea Lee and Chitra Jessica Sunshine
at Starseed Yoga and Wellness, Montclair, NJ
Sponsered by The Yoga Life Society
Hari OM call/response chant led by Saraswati.
Introductions. What is ignorance?
Road blocks happen in spiritual life, just like on the road. What do you do when you are driving and you see a detour? You take a new way, right? In doing so, you learn new ways or things about yourself and your limits. Eventually, we get back on tract. The same thing happens in spirituality. The intention of Yoga and meditation is to know the True Self, and obstacles are only distractions, or tests. We need to be tested in order to prove what we have learned. The road keeps going and it is up to you which path you choose. During a 'road block', keep an attitude of gratitude as pain and suffering are an avenue for growth. Our teacher loves to point out, "If there is no suffering, there is no growth." The point is to see our limitations and transcend them. We are always on a path, sometimes the perspective or the path itself changes as we change and grow. Accpet the lesson and move forward.
The root of all suffering is ignorance. Ignorance is the lack of awareness of the True Self, which leads to identifying with the body-mind. Ignorance is present when we seek and satisfy external cravings, which we perceive will bring us happiness. The thought, "I can't be happy without my morning coffee," or "I'll never be happy without a husband," these are examples of an attachment. The truth is, the peace and happiness we seek is within us, as our True Nature. There is no finding peace, it is just being peace. The soul is eternal, all knowledge, and blissful. When we live in the present moment, not craving for something more, we are able to experience true joy, the True Self.
According to Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.3 Ignorance, egoism, attachments, aversion, and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles. (for attaining Samadhi-Enlightenment)
These are known as the five klesas and act out in a chain reaction.
1. Ignorance - lack of awareness of the Self
2. Egoism - first result of ignorance, mind becomes restless and keeps grasping, "I" know best
3. Attachment - ego looks for happiness in things/circumstances "I am not happy without _____"
4. Aversion - opposite of attachment, avoidance of anything we perceive to bring pain or discomfort
5. Clinging to bodily life - the body is the medium through we the mind experiences pleasure.
I've layed out some of the obstacles for attaining enlightenment, but what is the cure? Just meditate! Just do it! To pause, slow down, breathe, analyze what is going on or how you are acting, then decide if it is necessary for your growth. Meditation in action is being fully aware of your actions and the effects they have on others. Perfection in action is found in acts that harm none and bring joy to at least one. Remember the first ethical principle of Yoga is Ahimsa, non-violence. Do no harm. Apply this to yourself and others, with words, thoughts and deeds. When you see a road block on whatever path you choose, first things first, just breathe. The breath is your connection to the present moment.
What I've always found to be true is that the practice of meditation is simple but not always easy. We just took a look at some of the obstacles that we all face as human beings. Now we will discuss the obstacles that are relevant as we practice meditation day in and day out.
Nine Obstacles for Meditation Practicioners
Nine Obstacles for Meditation Practicioners
Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.30 Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm groud, slipping from ground gained. This list presents us with nine obstacles that occur when there is a loss of focus in our practice. Patanjali does not list these roadblocks in order to intimidate us but as a way to enhance our awareness and tune us in to these potential distractions. Being aware of them allows us to combat them with faith, sangha (spiritual community), and disciplined practice.
These obstacles can and may occur in any order but are likely to follow one another like a narrative. We begin with (1) disease. The word disease in this context is not limited to physical illness but any malady that puts that body, mind or spirit at dis-ease. For the purposes of this example we'll take something like a recurrent lower back ache that rears its ugly head during your practice. You try to sit with the spine erect but you can't seem to find a comfortable position.
You may eventually address this issue with your doctor but for the time being you decide to cut back on your meditation practice, thinking it best that you not subject your body to any discomfort. You were practicing daily but now you practice three mornings a week if you can find the time. When you practice you find that you're less than enthusiastic about it and your meditation sessions are dull -- dullness being the second obstacle (2). You are not seeing the results you expected because you are no longer practicing regularly and when you do practice your focus is always elsewhere. This may lead to doubt, the third obstacle (3). Wasn't meditation supposed to bring you closer to enlightenment? It's true, you are practicing irregularly but you think it might be that you and meditation were just not made for each other. You're not sure if the teachings are actually going to make a difference in your life or if you're "cut out" for this type of practice. Now there's a layer of uncertainty that further distracts you from your practice, however you do commit to practicing twice a week and try to keep at it.
The weeks go by and the enjoyment you once had in sitting for meditation is waning. You find that the time just goes by and you have little idea what is happening in your practice. You become (4) careless and (5) lazy -- the fourth and fifth of Patanjali's obstacles. Perhaps you used to begin your sessions with chants or a few minutes of pranayama. Now you're lucky to sit twice a week and not fall asleep each time. When you sit you find that your mind wanders easily to sensual distractions, whether they be scents, or sounds or just your daydreaming. Sensuality (6) is the the sixth obstacle and one that tends to draw all of our potential energy into external distractions and leaves us completely disconnected with our practice. Finally all of this can lead to what Patanjali calls false perception (7), the seventh obstacle. What you once believed was true about meditation and your spiritual path seems so off base to you. It's deeper than doubt because it mirrors ignorance, one of the kleshas we spoke of earlier. This is the last straw, so to speak, and you let go of the few practices you were still doing.
The final two obstacles are (8) failure to reach firm ground and (9) slipping from the ground gained. There are certain components that make up a firmly grounded practice including regularity, longevity and enthusiasm. Without these factors we are always a few steps short of making our practice truly meaningful and beneficial. If we do happen to have a firmly grounded practice we may, due to any number of factors, slip back into old patterns or habits that we had let go of since beginning our practice. It may feel like we've taken many steps back, but please remember that no morsel of spiritual practice is ever wasted. Any obstacle you face is there as a teacher and any time devoted is remembered in your body, mind and spirit.
A message from Sri Swami Satchidananda that speaks directly to the problems these obstacles create for us. He says,
"It happens to many people…Remember, Yoga practice is like an obstacle race; many obstructions are purposely put on the way for us to pass through. They are there to make us understand and express our own capacities. We all have that strength, but we don't seem to know it. We seem to need to be challenged and tested in order to understand our own capacities. In fact, that is the natural law. If a river just flows easily, the water in the river does not express its power. But once you put an obstacle to the flow by constructing a dam, then you can see its strength in the form of tremendous electrical power."
We are all endowed with this electrical energy that is waiting to be unleashed. Let us not be discouraged when we reach roadblocks because we have the tools to overcome them especially when we support each other. And, remember the cure to any obstacle is to just meditate. Take a minute to focus on your breath, say your mantra, or visualize a calm scene. Namaste.
Practice of Deergha Swaasam Pranayama (three part breath) and guided Introspection Meditation - Who am I? Ending with a So-Hum meditation - I am, that, I am. I am peace. I am joy. I am love. I am light.
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 Light
Lead us from the fear of death, to the knowledge of Immortality.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light
May the Light of Truth overcome all darkness~