Author: Michael Haslett
Ref: Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Sure Ways to Self-Realization. Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India (1980).
Meditation is communication with the inner self.
Concentration and meditation are two topics that have long interested me. I have gone through many evolutions and definitions of these terms or practices, and while I still have not mastered either, I have come to a much better understanding and awareness of both, speaking both in broad terms and in my own person.
We have been taught that the main aim of yoga is to be able to meditate. In yogic practice there are many avenues towards this, both physical and the mental. Physically, through asana, we are training our bodies and make them supple and out joints flexible so that we are able to sit in a comfortable meditative position. Being from the West, this in itself has been one of the largest challenges I’ve faced.
However asana does more than just open up our joints, it helps to calm the nervous system and balances our thoughts and energies.
Through pranayam we further balance our minds and bodies and work to increase our pranic energy. And the practices of Omkar and other chanting furthers this mental power for balance, focus, and concentration.
Outside of the practice of yoga though, I have found times that I once thought of as meditative, but now know are not. I used to find comfort and relaxation when doing chores around the house, specifically mowing the lawn where the sound of the motor would help to drown out all other sounds and many distractions. This work gave me time in which I could be alone with myself, that I could be alone in my mind and I thought this was meditation. However, my mind would wonder. I would spend my time fantasizing about the future, or obsessing about things I have done or not done. Sometimes it was constructive, but most times it was fruitless.
'Much of this mechanical thinking is concerned with the ego; its victories and failures, or how it will fare.' (Swami Satyananda Saraswati: 82) 'Concern about future events, excluding constructive or creative planning, is a great waste of energy and may cause emotional stress.' (82)
I also used to feel this type of thought when I would go running or cycling. The practice was often for extended periods of time, most of with I would watch my breath and listen to the rhythm of me feet landing or the pedals spinning. During these concentrated moments there certainly was a higher level of awareness and a deep knowledge of what was happening in my body. It is found that 'long distance sports allow one to reach states of physical exhaustion wherein psychic states and altered consciousness can more easily occur...[reaching a] hypnotic trance.' (385) After time though, my mind would wander off, sometimes doing positive work, but most times just day dreaming.
Even in my yogic practices of asana, pranayam, mantra chanting, I find myself focused a while but inevitably I will start thinking about what I will do later, or wondering what my father is doing, or how I did on an assignment.
What I’ve learned though, is that this is not bad. This is natural. The mind wanders, it is an active thing, and thought (whether concentrated or not) is what it does. The most important thing when trying to focus on the present is knowing that your mind will wander and that is not bad, you just have to real it back in. We are taught, 'Meditators are advised to let ideas, emotions and thoughts come to their mind freely and, after observing them, gently return the attention to the object of concentration.' (14)
I have found the present moment though, several times, and have held it at length, or in three-minute intervals for up to an hour. When I am giving a musical performance (concert, gig, whatever you’d like to call it) I am focused. My senses are dulled to just the ones I need, the vibrations run through my body, mind, and hands. I even focus on a dristy (or single point in front of me) to help eliminate distraction from the people around. And like in other forms of mediation, the more I practice, the more concentrated I can be and the more relaxed I can be in the concentration.
As found with professional athletes who, '...state that as they develop their skills, the intuitive aspects of the mind take over and they direct their actions so that they become the observer and enjoyer of the sport.' (382) This was found in a few instances of musical performance, particularly when playing with other practiced musicians.
So while I move forward in my own practices to find true meditation, I have been happy to know that I have already reached full concentration in my life and that the present moment is something that I know. And being a musician from the west, I am excited to know that my favorite activity is also one way to achieve this state. Though it is fitting, as Ace Freely stated, ‘God gave rock and roll to you, put it in the soul of everyone.’ And in my heart it has manifest in a uniquely yogic way.
"The views expressed are solely those of the author. Yogapoint.com may or may not agree with all statements."
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