Monday is AUM-day; in search of meditation.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” (T S Eliot)
Having covered something of the greater purpose of meditational practice last week, let's knock it back a few notches and come back into the daily practice and how to improve it. You may wonder at the header quote; another which may have fitted here is Laozi's "even the longest journey must begin where you stand". That one is well known and gives encouragement. The Eliot quote, though, points to the inherent risks of pushing the envelope of one's boundaries. How do you know what you can do if you don't give it a try? Sure, there may be a fall or a dispute arising from doing this, but pioneers are the ones who really light the way along which others may follow.
As pointed out in last week's workings-day discussion, the first step into something unfamiliar, with somewhat numinous benefits on offer, can induce fear. Then there is expectation. There are those who rush right in and listen not to the inner workings (or the leader), who gain this or that 'experience' and mistake it for the completion, becoming deflated or disillusioned when the experience cannot be repeated or they discover it was merely a distraction on the path. Still others who want only a short 'trip' with simple rewards.
Does this mean that 'meditation' cannot be used for stress management, or simple relaxation? Of course not. What needs to be clear is the purpose. Certainly one can sit in aasana and undertake the breathing exercise, work on stilling the buzzing mind and gain great relief. This is to be encouraged at all times! However, having gone to the bother of setting up such an environment for yourself, why not use it for something just that little bit more profound? To go to school only to learn to read and write at sufficient level to gain employment is one thing; to explore where this new-found literacy can take one is quite another. It bears repeating...How do you know what you can do if you don't give it a try?
Revisit the page on aasana. Consider the discipline of sitting. It is not lounging, not squatting, not lolling, not rigidity, not tension - but neither loose. A common mistake in the pursuit of relaxation is to think it requires total laxity of muscle tone. NO! To talk about the body in its best state of peace is to more correctly call it 'resting'. Relaxation is a desirable mental condition, in which there is no agitation, no hankering, no desire to move outside itself. A mind which knows how to relax well is the most efficient tool you can have in life. Almost by default it becomes more 'present', more observant, more pliable. The intellect has more control.
Consequently, physical senses and reflexes sharpen and there is improved spatial awareness. Thus it is that in aasana we will feel 'relaxed' but in total control. If at all any tension of muscle or joint enters it alerts us to the loss of posture. The pose given, balanced and well held, will feel not a jot of discomfort.
This is why meditation must begin at the body level. The roaming soul is shackled to it! So convinced are we that 'the body is me', we are forced to address its needs. Which of us has not experienced, at some point in life, the physical lift from caring properly for the body? Is it not that when you had happy and joyful moments, the body also felt better? The body-mind factor in health is of such significance we imperil ourselves by ignoring it. We allow the body to govern us, rather than the other way round. Well-practiced relaxation has been shown to lower blood-pressure by reduction of anxiety. This alone is a boon. How much more awaits? Minor complaints may be eradicated or avoided, major conditions may be better managed.
If we have permitted our body to fall into loose posture and soft-sitting, adopting correct aasana can feel like running a marathon until it has reacquainted itself with some discipline. Work on it. The body will come to know its natural and proper place. Truly, you will be glad of it.
For this week, then, revert to this only. Full aasana practice, balance, muscle resting. Find your centre of balance...thousands of years have proven the practice worth the effort. Spend a minimum of ten minutes each day, observing your most troublesome spots. For many it can be the shoulders, so used to touching the ears that they feel lonely in their rested position! For others a sense of the spine feeling lost without it's support, wanting to curve and twist. Where persistent tension is, there can lie clues as to the mental and emotional state. Listen to your body. Pay attention. The body is nothing without 'you' to direct it. Where will you take it?