Inviting Stillness


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:

  1. Interpret this as time to turn off, take a break, and get some sleep
  2. Try to find something to keep itself busy, entertaining itself by thoughts of future (planning), past (remembering), or new thoughts (noting/ideas/insight)
  3. 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.

Supporting practices

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):

  1. yama
  2. niyama
  3. asana
  4. pranayama
  5. pratyahara
  6. dharana
  7. dhyana
  8. samadhi

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.



Uncoloring the Filters


This is a continuation of the previous post Seeing the World Through Filters.

We discussed about how we perceive the world through the mind lens and we have some filters in front of the lens that provides meaning and context that affect on how we interact with the outside world.

We touched on how some of these filters were products of human evolution. Having a stand of either liking or disliking to something was crucial to survival. Humans survived by knowing what to like, or attracted to, and what to dislike, or repulsed to. Attraction towards sweet food – because it is a source of energy (important during hunter-gatherer times). Repulsion towards decaying things – because it potentially could bring disease.

This like-dislike, attraction-repulsion is called raga & dvesha and is two of the five kleshas. Klesha is often translated as mental afflictions, is described in Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2:3. The other three kleshas are ignorance – lack of awareness (avidya), I-am-ness (asmita), and clinging to life (abhinivesha). Kleshas prevent us to see things as they really are, and bound us to endless cycle of suffering (samsara). They are like filter in front of the mind lens, afflicting the way we understand the world.

Attempting to end this endless cycle of suffering can be done by reducing the intensity and eventually destroying raga & dvesha. It’s like reducing the coloring of the filter until it’s clear. How?

The first step is by acknowledging them, realizing that it’s all perception. It is us that attach value to things in order to understand the outside world. Things in themselves don’t have inherent value. Good/evil, beautiful/ugly – they all are, literally, in our head. Like the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – change the word ‘beauty’ with other adjectives and ‘eye’ with ‘mind’.

Everything has two extremes – negative/positive, too much/too little, black/white, yin/yang, light/dark, hot/cold, heaven/earth, good/evil, and so on.

But is that true? Is that reality? Or is it perception? Our perception? They way we perceive things?

The weather is just the weather… We attach our perception to the weather. When we say “The weather is hot today” – actually it is more correct to say “I’m perceiving the weather as hot today”. I may perceive the weather as hot, but someone from different environment may perceive the same weather as cool. So it’s all in the experiencer’s perception. And the weather is just the weather.

Because we forgot about the “we perceive” part – we are making a shortcut. Because of this shortcut we forgot that it is us that perceive… and then we forgot that we always have the option how to react on that perception… and then we play victim. This is difficult to explain…

I remember one scene from the movie Instinct – Anthony Hopkins’ character were sitting in the rain with the gorilla. The gorillas were just sitting there, Anthony Hopkins was using a big leaf as umbrella. Then he realized that he doesn’t need the umbrella. So he put down the big leaf and sat there getting wet just like the other gorillas. That’s when the gorillas accepted him as part of the family. In the context of what I’ve been trying to say here, when he uses umbrella he was still thinking in the duality mode.. eg rain is bad for me so I should take shelter. When he let go the umbrella he no longer think about rain as negative. Rain is just is.

From my personal blog post Duality & Perception (2012)

With understanding that it is all perception, we stopped reacting and start responding to the outside world. This is crucial in the uncoloring process. If we keep on reacting, the color of the filter gets more and more intensified.

To be continued with more on how to reduce the coloring.

Picture: Orange sky as it is (no coloring nor editing) – Pelabuhan Ratu, 2005