Filling the Cup – The process towards meditation
What is meditation?
At its essence it is a space of reflection around external life and a special listening ‘within’. We embark on meditation via the instrument of the mind. Yet by the nature of thought, we are using the mind to reflect on itself!! What happens if the mind is not in a fit state to begin meditation?
We can compare this idea to water pouring into a cup. The mind is like a cup. If we are always pouring something into it and not emptying it, there is sure to be an overflow! How do we empty the cup so that there is space to begin reflection? This is a process we have to do consciously (unlike filling the cup which seems to happen of its own accord.)
In understanding the mind a little further, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali talk about two distinct and opposite states. One is conducive to meditation, the other not.
- Pattern of Agitation / Distraction (vyuthanna samskara)
2. Pattern of Clarity / Focus (nirodha samskara)
This distracted mind is often referenced by the analogy of a chariot led by horses. The horses are our senses, the driver is the mind. Too often the horses have bolted and the rider has lost control. It is possible we are in this state most of the time!The goal of meditation is to get the driver back in charge – to the mind that holds clarity.
How can we prepare for and then supercharge this meditation experience?
Patterns (samskaras)– these set us up right from the get-go in terms of how our meditation experience might play out. Choices we make during the day leave residue for us in body and spirit. If we fall into making wrong choices – in how we may speak, think or act in our day, then negative traces will exist somewhere within us. If, however the choices are the right ones for us we may have a mind directed towards ease (sukham) and less disturbance. This idea is linked to how we conduct ourselves through social disciplines ‘yamas’ (how we relate to our world) and personal disciplines ‘niyamas’ (or how we pay attention to our own needs) according to Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. This idea is linked to how we conduct ourselves through social disciplines ‘yamas’ (how we relate to our world) and personal disciplines ‘niyamas’ (or how we pay attention to our own needs) according to Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. This is also why meditation is often promoted as a start of day activity. The mind is fresh, rested from sleep and ready to hold something.
Lifestyle – Our behaviour and the nature of thoughts, as well as the food we consume all form a basis for how our mind will be. This links in with the previous Patterns. The meal you ate last night may have left heaviness or disturbance in your digestion – and agitation in the body/mind. The disagreement with someone at work or a family members will stay simmering until there is a resolution. If we are always making incorrect lifestyle choices then the capacity to have clarity will be limited. Everything we do in our day can affect how we arrive into our meditation practice.
Asana and Pranayama – yoga is a valuable tool for changing patterns. Each day on the mat is different and we notice this and consciously make a shift from one place to another. The good news is that some kind of yoga or breath practice, however simple, can provide our body with steadiness and comfort (sthira/sukham). The more we practice these the more internal balance we experience – leading towards clarity of mind. Preparing body and breath is actually vital before meditation can commence, according to the 8 Limbs of Yoga. When we feel comfortable there is no agitation for the mind to engage with. Asana practice was classically designed to get us to a seated cross-legged meditation position (sukhasana) and stay with comfort. For people not used to practising this type of sitting, agitation can be increased and takes the mind far away from being able to focus.
How our body arrives for meditation can have a big effect on the practice itself.
Sensory Regulation – After all of the above are worked with, the process of beginning to sit and withdraw the senses may flow more ease-fully. The chariot driver is beginning to gain control of the reins! The mind is ready to connect with something new (pratyahara) – the meditative process. The birds outside the window are there but not heard. The movement of people in the next room exists but is not a distraction.
Reflection (svadhyaya) – Here is where the quality of meditation begins – a guided direction of the mind, attention, being present. This is all we need. Through this, a deeper experience of meditation may happen. (dharana). But for most of us the place we linger will be here – drifting out but returning. Cultivating space around our thoughts.
In a sense, our meditation experience starts in our everyday life, not when we arrive to do the practice. Putting these tools into place can ensure the cup is ready to be filled, the driver has control of the horses – and that the experience can unfold with grace.
by Jill Harris