One year into a steady meditation practice with Paul Muller Ortega- founder of Blue Throat Yoga I realized that some subtle shift had happened. I had gone from being someone who meditates to a mediator.
All my grown up life I had been searching for this seemingly magical practice that seemed to elude me- meditation. Now, I know I am playing with words here in the title- which I love to do- but there is a subtle nuance to one word over the other. I started “meditating” at age 15 in an exchange program to Japan. Sitting zazen for an hour without slumping, fidgeting or falling asleep was a great accomplishment at that age. I loved the stillness of the room, the anchoring depth that seemed to permeate the surroundings- I loved the quiet. I still would get the paddle on the back once in a while as my posture started to crumple, but for being so young I could at least focus for more than 5 minutes!
The things I did not love about sitting zazen were my achy knees, sore shoulders and the seemingly impossible task of trying to empty my mind. I tried to empty my mind until it hurt, then I was told to stop trying…but try to stop the unstoppable pulsation of dancing thoughts! I would put them on clouds, I would consider some koan (the effort to “solve” a koan is intended to exhaust the analytic intellect and the egoistic will), I would yell at them to go away , I would try not to try and so on and so on. In order to sit I needed the perfect seat, the perfect quietness, that perfect moment….
and so I didn’t sit much.
I tried. I really did. I knew from the few split seconds when things had lined up that there was something there of value. As I got into yoga, I thought it would be the catalyst to my meditation practice that I had been seeking…maybe it would help me empty out better, still my mind more. Because it did say in the Yoga Sutras that “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind- yoga chitta vritti nirodhah”.
There it was! I just needed to open my body through asana and study philosophy to be able to sit perfectly and empty out my mind…no… not empty out now…cease the “vrittis” … STOP my monkey mind. So I started down a new path and still my knees would often hurt and my upper back would ache and my undisciplined monkey mind would jump around…the vrittis swinging from one thought vine to another in the jungle of my chaotic, though sincere, mind. Failure once again.
In 2011, I met Paul for the first time. Many of his first students of Blue Throat Yoga were dear friends to whom I looked at with a sense of wonder about their groundedness, their depth. Something about each of them spoke to my deeper soul of something that I knew was there but veiled inside of me. After so many sincere starts and frustrated stops, I put my trust in what resonance came from these individuals and once again I jumped into meditating.
Now Paul’s approach is from the schools of Abinavagupta of Northern Kashmir- Tantric schools that used mantra as the tool to open ourselves to consciousness. In a very simplistic explanation, the Tantrics saw the whole world as pulsing vibration- everything in motion at different speeds of vibration. This sounded quite radical in 12th century India but we know now that this early understanding can be validated through science as the fact that all matter is composed of atoms… which are vibrating. Everything is vibrating. Consciousness is vibrating…it is moving, pulsing, dancing at every moment. The mantra is like learning the secret rhythm of the dance of conciousness- it lets you step into the dance in an effortless way- like ballroom dancers suddenly changing partners without missing a step. It becomes a gateway that takes you into the dance and then as the mantra continues to swirl around at the surface mind, changing partners with your thoughts, part of your consciousness begins to sync itself into another vibration lying just below that one, and then another, and then another…ever more subtle layers of depth until part of your mind is no longer dancing , no longer moving, but sitting in vibrating stillness….the vrittis have ceased.
In my experience, so far, there is still thought. The thoughts are the surface of the wave like ocean of the mind but the mantra becomes like a weight belt gliding you gently to the sandy stillness of the bottom of that ocean. Unfortunately, when part of my consciousness realizes I have touched that still, quiet depth it often shoots me back up to the waves. Rather than taking this as failure however, I have come to understand through Paul’s teachings, that this is the normal pulsation of consciousness. We continue to sit and sure enough the mantra starts to carry us down once more.
One of the main things I have learned about meditation since taking on this practice is that nothing needs to be perfect to practice. Sore knees? Sit in a chair. Tired back? Sit against a wall. Noisy setting? Just favor the mantra- the world around you disappears almost in the stillness of the sinking depths. I have meditated now almost without fail twice a day in cars, planes, airports, parking lots, doctor’s offices, bathrooms, far from “perfect” settings. Legs in lotus, half lotus, stretched out, in a chair, on a bench, on the grass, in a temple….whatever I need to do that day to get my body to just sit comfortably. Blessings to my zazen roots but it was never “comfortable”. I tell my students you can’t let your mind settle if your body can’t- go sit in a chair- corner of the room….stretch your legs out!! I see the same look of relief that must have passed over my face the first time I saw Neelankantha meditators in chairs…it almost makes me giggle.
The discipline in meditation is not how you sit but that you sit. Regularity over time is what brings you from meditating to meditator. My alarm goes off at 6am and I stumble to my morning seat ( I wedge myself into a couch corner…) like I am being magnetically pulled there. My consciousness is thirsty and the only thing it wants to drink is the nectar of practice. It really is the most wondrous thing. A gift really….a very precious gift that just was waiting inside to be unveiled.
Find a good teacher, build a regularity and let the monkeys swing~ the only thing you need to stop is yourself….the rest will come