Beach of Maratua Island – north coast of East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Eddy Halim, 2014
In the post Perception vs Reality we explored that we have this filter or perception and often we forgot that we have them. Like we forgot we’re wearing glasses because it’s in front of the eyes all the time. And one way to remember there’s that filter or perception is by reflecting, and in order to reflect there has to be enough stillness.
It’s difficult for us to be still. We are born to move, because if we don’t move we die (not moving means not finding food to eat, not running away from predator etc). We are so used to moving all the time that at the beginning it’s quite challenging to become still. We even move when we sleep.
How do we invite stillness?
Meditation is a form of inviting stillness. Becoming still physically in a position that we can sustain for a while. As the body become still, the five action senses (karmendriyas) become still – and that’s something unusual for them. What are the five action senses? They are the organs for eliminating, reproducing, moving, grasping, speaking – the digestion, genitals, legs & feet, arms & hands, speech organs respectively. In addition to that, the five cognitive senses, the sense for taking in inputs from the external world (jnanendriyas) – also receive limited stimulation from the outside world. The five cognitive senses are the organs for smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, hearing – the nose, tounge, eyes, skin, and ears respectively.
When we become still, when we are not doing anything (the five action senses are still) and receiving minimum stimulation of the outside world (the five cognitive senses are quiet) – the mind have three choices:
- Interpret this as time to turn off, take a break, and get some sleep
- Try to find something to keep itself busy, entertaining itself by thoughts of future (planning), past (remembering), or new thoughts (noting/ideas/insight)
- Become still and rest in awareness itself
We are training the mind to take the third choice.
For some of us the mind often goes to the second choice – the mind jumps around, agitated, like naughty monkey jumping all over the place, and we have no control of it.
For some of us the mind often goes to the first choice – the mind decided to take a break, shut down, and we drifted to sleep.
We are training the mind to take the third choice. It’s not easy. Just like everything else it takes effort & consistency. In other words, practice, practice practice.
Many people think that meditation practice is only during the actual meditation itself. Actually there are practices that builds foundation for meditation. Sage Patanjali codified this in his Yoga Sutra as the eight limbs of yoga (ashtanga):
I will not go into detail about these eight limbs of yoga on this post.
Just a brief recap, the first two limbs yama & niyama are ethical & moral conduct, that when we don’t follow them we’ll tend to have ‘unfinished business’ so to speak. Example – we stole something from someone, and during meditation probably that thought will arise (I feel guilty / he has so much more so he deserves to be stolen from / I need that thing, that gives me the right to steal / I’m sorry I stole I know I shouldn’t have / and so on). These ethical & moral conducts are guides for us to live our life in such a way that we have peace of mind, so that when we meditate we have less worries, less disturbances.
The third and fourth, asana & pranayama, are ways to keep the body fit, limber, and the energy moves freely, so that the physical body can be still in meditation.
The fifth, pratyahara, is about turning the senses inwards, not letting the mind drawn to the outside world through the senses.
The last three – dharana, dhyana & samadhi are different types or levels of concentration / focused attention / awareness.
To be continued.