Cultivation of Abhyasa
Abhyasa is defined as choosing or cultivating that which leads to sthitau. To understand the meaning of sthitau, it is necessary to combine two principles. Firstly, that of tranquility, calmness, or peace of mind. Secondly, that of stability, steadiness, or being of firm ground. Thus, sthitau means a stable form of tranquility. In other words, it is the pursuit of an equanimity that is with you at all times.
A single thought arises, and the mind goes off into a fantasy about that single thought, creating a whole train of thoughts. We might simply recognize the fact that our mind has strayed and for what reasons, “Mind is starting to fantasize”. (Vikalpa) With the same thought pattern, we may note that, “This thought arose from memory (Smriti). Shall I act on this, or let it go?” We may be listening to an individual, then suddenly, perhaps with a jolt, recognize that we had stopped listening. The mind might have drifted in the direction of the blankness associated with sleep (nidra), though this does not mean we actually fell asleep. We might then remind ourselves to stay awake or remain alert. We might have been working on a task, and notice in a positive way, that for this past few minutes, the mind was fully present, seeing clearly (Pramana), and that the thought patterns were correct or accurate. We notice how useful this is. We might be experiencing some thought process, thinking about some person, or witnessing some thoughts at meditation time.
After a certain amount of time of performing such a practice, you will naturally find that the labeling process becomes non-verbal. It is very useful to literally say the words internally when you label the thoughts. However, the non-verbal labeling comes automatically as you increasingly become a witness to your thought process. During meditation, the thoughts can then easily come and drift away. (This means the mind is awake and alert, as well as clear, which is not meaning dull, lethargic, or in a trance.)
Yoga science maps out many aspects of the mental process so that the student of yoga meditation can encounter, deal with, and eventually go beyond the entire thought process to the joy of the center of consciousness. We learn to label the thoughts, and then gradually learn to go beyond them.
t is important to remember that there is another aspect of labeling and witnessing that has to do with the direct training of your mind. This is the process of deciding and training your mind whether a given thought is Useful or Not Useful. However, ultimately one must face his or her own thought process. There is no other way, as the mind stands between our surface reality and the deepest inner Truth. The methods may be somewhat different on different paths, but encountering and dealing with the mental process is inescapable.
If the “Yes” to the willingness to explore the thoughts and thought process is even a small “Yes,” then one can nurture that small flame of desire until it is a forest fire of desire to know the Self. That single-minded desire for Truth swallows up the smaller desires and opens the door for the grace which guides from within.
This burning desire to know, with conviction is called Sankalpa Shakti. Many people hear of and say they want the awakening of Kundalini Shakti, the spiritual energy within. However, the first form of Shakti, or energy, to cultivate is that of Sankalpa, or determination. It means cultivating a deep conviction to know oneself at all levels, so as to know the Self at the core. It means having an attitude that, “I can do it! I will do it! I have to do it!”
In the oral tradition of Yoga meditation, it is said that you should never just believe what you read or are told, but that you should also not reject these things either. Rather, take the principles, reflect on them, do the practices, and find out for yourself, in direct experience whether or not they are true.
The means of doing this, in this case, is to systematically explore all of the levels of the thinking process, one at a time. Repeatedly you will discover, “Who I am, is different from this particular thought pattern that I am witnessing right now!” Over and over this insight will come, in direct experience, thought after thought, impression after impression.
Gradually, you come to see in your own opinion, observation, conclusion, and experience that, “I am not any of these thoughts!” Then you own it as your own experience and truth.
Good or bad, happy or sad, clear or clouded, none of the thoughts are who we are. It is no longer a theory from some book, or the mere statement of some other person, however great that person may be. This kind of direct experience is the goal spoken of by the ancient Yogis, Sages and Masters of the Himalayas. It comes when the practices of meditation, contemplation, prayer, and mantra converge in one experience of pure witnessing.
Resting in this realization, we also come to see that the habit patterns which define our personality are perfect expressions of this individual person. The beauty of our personality uniqueness is seen, ever more clearly, as we remember our True Self that is beyond, yet always there.
Reality and Space-Time
“The nature of Reality is a game of hide and seek, which is really the only game there is. Now you see it and now you don’t. That which smiles through all faces is only One Reality and the same One is called One without second. There is only One that exists beneath all the forms of the world. There is only One…Here, there, and everywhere incomparable, changeless and everlasting.”
It is stated that as long as there exists the sense of duality, there also exists a space, along with a sense of time. These bind one under certain conditions, hence allowing for mental states, such as fear, agony, and pain.
It is significant to understand the three conditionings of the mind, which are time, space, and causation. For instance “You are afraid of someone because you acknowledge the existence of someone as different from you. If there is only One, who will be afraid of whom?”
When all desires are swallowed by only one wave, and when that wave alone exists, then there will be no time, space, or causation. It prevents one from the realization of the unity in diversity. The secrets of birth and death are revealed only to a fortunate few. “It is a rare individuals, who can lift the veil of time, space, and causation and then know that past, present, and future are but commas and semicolons in a long sentence without a period”
Mindfulness and Concentration
It is very common for teachers of meditation to describe one of two general types of meditation, and to recommend one as being superior to the other.
– Concentration: In this approach, one intentionally focuses the attention on only one object, such as breath, mantra, a chakra center, or an internally visualized image.
– Mindfulness: In this approach, one does not focus the mind on one object, but rather observes the whole range of passing thoughts, emotions, sensations, or images.
Students of meditation often find themselves confused by having to decide which is more suitable for them, having to practice only one or the other. To cause further confusion, mindfulness is often described as coming from one religion or tradition, while concentration from another religion or tradition, which is in actuality inaccurate.
Numerous sages and yogis apply both methods in yoga and meditation. In fact, they are not seen as different choices at all. Mindfulness and concentration are companions in the same one process that leads inward to the center of consciousness. If one stays only in the shallow, beginning levels of meditation, then choosing between one or the other can seem to make sense. Yet, if you wish to go deeper in meditation, you will find that both processes are essential to obtain progress.
If one practices only mindfulness, the mind is trained to always have this surface level activity present. Having this activity constantly present may be seen as normal, and the attention simply does not go beyond the mind-field. Attention can back off from experiencing deeper meditation and samadhi so as to remain in the fields of sensation and thoughts. However, if one practices only concentration or one-pointedness, the mind is trained to not experience this activity of thoughts, sensations, emotions, and images. The activity is seen as something to be avoided, and the attention may not even be ditation and samadhi.
By practicing both mindfulness and concentration, one is able to experience the vast impressions, learning the vital skill of non-attachment, while also using concentration to focus the mind in such a way as to be able to transcend the whole of the mind field, where there is only stillness and silence, beyond all of the impressions. Finally, one can come to experience the center of consciousness…
When exploring the mind, mindfulness may be emphasized, while remaining focused. Then, if a particular thought pattern or samskara is to be examined so as to weaken its power over the mind, concentration is the tool with which this examination is done. This allows an increase in vairagya, non-attachment. When settling the mind, trying to pierce the layers of our being, including senses, body, and breath, concentration carries the attention inward through the layers. When attention moves into that next deeper level of our being, then concentration and mindfulness once again work together to explore that layer, so as to once again move beyond, or deeper.
– Swami Rama
– Yoga Sutras of Patanjali