By: Sarah Smith
Meditation used to scare me. I have spent a lot of time avoiding stillness and an inward focus. And I still have a hard time sitting still on most days. But meditation isn’t about sitting down and doing nothing. It’s an active training program for the mind that increases awareness and neural connections. I love the definition of meditation on the “headspace” website - a popular and research-backed tool used to introduce people with varied levels of experience to the practice. “Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.” (1)
For me, this growth in awareness has led to growth in the practice of non-attachment. The Sanskrit word is aparigraha, and it’s part of the eight limbs of yoga. While aparigraha can refer to non-greediness, it can also be applied to a non-holding to our thoughts, to our patterns, or to ways of life that have no longer serve us. Non-attachment is at the heart of meditation. Through meditation I observe my feelings, my thoughts, and my internal world without attaching to a specific meaning or definition, or without attaching to the feelings themselves. I can see that I have feelings and thoughts without becoming my feelings and thoughts, or allowing them to dictate my experiences.
This pattern of non-attachment – what I learn from meditation – continues to mold every aspect of my life. Even in the re-writing of this blog so many times. If I remained attached to a specific word or phrase or anticipated outcome, the results would probably feel stiff, forced, lifeless. But remembering the process of non-attachment allowed for a more authentic version of this blog to be written. And practicing meditation allows for a more authentic version of myself to be revealed over time.
I want to unpack that a little bit more. How does meditation bring about a more true version of myself?
My relationship with meditation has definitely waxed and waned through the years. It’s easy for me to get swept back up into well-worn routines and patterns, even those that no longer serve me. Without judgment towards myself or anyone else who follows a similar routine, I find myself constantly inundated with information within minutes of waking each morning.
The source? Instagram. I look to social media often for information, validation, and connections whenever I’m bored, lonely, or upset. It’s such a habit for me. And by no means do I want to villainize social media. Through this powerful network I see messages intended to inspire inner courage and strength for a better life, a more tuned-in awareness to myself and more engagement with the world around me.
But in all of my experience, these positive affirmations pale in comparison with what I can discover when I turn inward. While I realize that the practice of meditation may hold answers to the questions coming to the forefront of my mind and heart, my treaded path is to seek the answer from an outward source. There’s a Sanskrit word for this treaded path: samskara. In essence, samskaras are subtle, subconscious impressions that are derived from an action we continuously repeat. (2) The more we repeat an action, the stronger the impression becomes. The more I turn to an outward source for truth or encouragement, the more that source will continue to be required to meet my needs – regardless of whether my needs are actually being met, or not.
As human beings we are incredibly capable of changing our patterns and forming new associations. This re-wiring of the brain is the active mind-training that the practice of meditation does. So one of the things that I can tend to put off in my morning routine- meditation- is one of the best things that can help me get out of the rut I find myself in. Isn’t it so funny that some of the things that can help us the most are some of the things that we can tend to avoid, based on the patterns we’ve built in our lives? As much as I acknowledge the benefits of a meditative practice, until that practice actually becomes a pattern, it’s not really doing me any benefits. This is one of the reasons I love yoga so much -it has made meditation feel more accessible for me as I have started on my own contemplative journey. If you’ve ever set an intention during your practice at Highland Yoga, you’re participating in a moving meditation, and starting to see the mind-body benefits. By inhaling and exhaling, calling to mind a word or phrase on the breath, you’re allowing your focus to root back to something central and present.
So it’s all connected. The art and science of meditation–-be that on our yoga mat, or wherever we are--gives us tools to turn inward to observe our thoughts and inner world, engaging the practice of non-attachment. Getting in tune with what’s going on inwardly allows us to start to re-wire our brain, to break old patterns, and to discover the most authentic version of self – our feelings, thoughts, and wiring. Meditation gifts us with the discovery of the power and truths hidden within. That carries over into life, where, through meditation, we discover what patterns and ways of living no longer serve our truest selves. And as we discover new truths to call to mind, we bring our focus towards these truths and create new neural pathways in our brains.
If you missed Georgia’s workshop this past weekend, perhaps this blog has given you another perspective on the practice of meditation. Meditation can be hard work, and it’s easy to give up when progress feels different than expected. Remember to engage with non-attachment, even to the outcome of your meditation journey. The goal is not a specific success, but ongoing practice itself.
1: Headspace. What is Meditation? https://www.headspace.com/meditation-101/what-is-meditation. Accessed October 7, 2019.
2. Yoga International. What are Samskaras and how do they affect us? https://yogainternational.com/article/view/what-are-samskaras-and-how-do-they-affect-us. Accessed October 13, 2019.