by Mark Purser
“Every day something must be achieved inwardly.” ~ Rudolf Steiner
This little doozie I heard from a fellow student whilst sitting in the room of a meditation course at the Mangrove Mountain ashram, I can't actually remember when it was or who was the teacher, but the ‘aha moment’ is crystal clear.
In any meditation course you will always hear someone ask the question, “but I can’t concentrate, how do I stay focussed on breathe/mantra/visual/thoughts whatever?” - or some variation of that same theme.
In this particular course, it was not the teacher who provided the idea but an illumined fellow pupil - an idea that she had heard from another teacher or student at another meditation course (this is why we go to meditation courses) - the simple answer is, you aren’t expected to stay focused;
“The Practice is RETURNING to the Practice”.
Our minds are Funky Monkeys, it is their nature to jump around, as practitioners of meditation we seek to train this monkey mind, gently and calmly with great patience and kindness, to remain steady and focussed, upon the practice, in Dharana, in steady single pointed awareness, which triggers a profound and heartening experience of rest and ease within us.
Yet the Practice assumes that our minds WILL jump around, will wander back and forth, for minutes, days and decades. Yet for the practice to become a real PRACTICE, we must, aha, PRACTICE! We return to it, for moments, for minutes, day after day, for decades, we must make it part of our lives, a regular habit, returning again and again, to the point, the object of concentration.
For the great relief of anxious folk like I, who are overwhelmed with the idea of committing to anything for longer than this week, we only have to commit to returning to the practice this time, for this instance, in this moment, and if that works out just fine, we can recommit once again, in the next moments to come.
Over time I have personally found great relief in treating my practice of meditation and yoga lightly. Yoga is a serious commitment, but I don’t need to take myself too seriously whilst I'm going at it. It was a real aha moment when it dawned upon me that all meditators and yogis had struggles with focus and unruly thoughts, and that my nutty wandering mind was in fact very ordinary, and that the secret for me was the same one that meditators had been using for millennia, the same one that is recommended for everyone else: FOCUS UPON RETURNING TO THE PRACTICE.
Chances are we are going to be working on this for a very long time, so lets just just relax and make it fun, make a game out of it, have some fun with it. When the mind slips, treat it like a game of hide and seek; when you notice that concentration has lapsed, treat the mind like you would a child in the game: "Aha, I caught you!" and gently bring it back again to the point of focus.
A rosebud is never opened with a hammer.
In the yogic meditation tradition we look at this stage of 'returning to the practice' as dharana or wilful concentration. It is said that in the next stage, Dhyana, when the focus of the observer upon the object becomes steady and effortless, that true meditation exists.
Like any activity that is practiced regularly, we will certainly get better at it, but beyond that, the steady improvement in our concentration, something else happens, we can IMPROVE OUR RELATIONSHIP TO EFFORT.
This is the little nugget of genius that my yogi friend was pointing to, that by returning to practice, time and again ad infinitum, we are evolving a mental will power that can transform the shape of our entire reality. The discipline of returning the mind the object of meditation is kinda like a brain gym, each time we do it is like a repetition of lifting weights, it’s building mental muscle power strength and endurance in the mind.
According to one of my favourite yoga teachers, Dr Maarten Immink, who apart from being an 'Aha Yogi' is a Neurophysiologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of South Australia - it is in actually in this process of catching our mind wandering and returning it to the process that the real treasure of meditation lies. Quite literally, through this practice we are developing brain power - activating and strengthening the capacity of our pre-frontal cortex. As Dr Immink states; “It is this monitoring, this watching the brain itself which has been argued to be a key component in developing the pre-frontal cortex.”
By improving the capacity of our pre-fontal cortex we can exert more control over our limbic system which controls our basic instinctual brain functions - which in simple terms improves our capacity regulate our responses to stressful and potentially 'triggering' life situations.
Make no mistake: the capacity to concentrate fully and steadily on a singular object whilst remaining aware of the space between you and that object is a real life super power.
And by the grace of accepting that of course we will inevitably falter again, our minds will of course wander, but that is totally ok, cause we are just going to notice that and calmly point them back to the practice again, we are cultivating an entirely more compassionate and sustainable reality for our minds and the reality within which we must seek to operate.
So there it, is a little nugget of meditative wisdom, gifted to me, passed on to you.
The Practice is in Returning to the Practice.
http://www.manlyyoga.com.au/blog/three-ways-yoga-affects-your-brain by Doctor Marteen Imminck