Hold a small object still in your hand, with the arm outstretched.
Is the hand moving or still?
If you answered still, you may want to think again. If your hand becomes still, the object drops.
When we drive a car and keep the car steady in the center of the lanes, are we keeping our hands still or are they moving?
If our hands become still, the steering wheel will veer.
Attending to the movement that holds an object within a particular configuration is meditation. Specifically in Yoga, it is termed Samprajnata, as per Yoga Sutra 1.17.
The movement itself is called parninama, also defined in the Yoga Sutras as a 'transformation of state'.
When I began the process of meditation many years ago, my mind attempted to attach to the stillness of mind and object. When the stillness wasn't present, I would have difficulty. This was like starting to veer off the road and instead of course correcting, I would just have driven off the road...
In Yoga, we talk of two distinct aspects of the practice of staying on the road or holding an object steady. These twin processes are called abhyasa and vairagya.
Abhyasa, oftentimes translated as 'practice', is the setting of an intention and holding to that over a period of time. For example, "I will stay within the lines of the road", or "I will hold this object steady in my mind", or "I will regulate the breath in this particular way".
Vairagya is oftentimes translated as 'dispassion' or 'non-attachment'. I don't feel these translations even come close to expressing what this part of the practice really is. To me, vairagya is much more like course correction. It is witnessing movement pulling consciousness away from the chosen form/object and redirecting the movement back, according to our intention set with abhyasa. In other words, if our abhyasa/intention is to stay in the center of the road and we find ourselves veering off, we course correct and come back to center.
In the driving example given, we realize that every day when we drive our vehicles, we employ these twin principles. Abhyasa holds us to center, vairagya brings us back every time we veer. To a lesser extent we employ them when we pick up a plate or a cup of coffee. If we didn't have enough concentration to hold to these simple tasks, nothing would get done.
To fully understand meditation from the yogic perspective, I find it helpful to examine these places in our daily lives where we are concentrated, even if for brief moments. More important than thinking about these processes, I find it important to learn to feel them. What does it feel like to drive a car and keep it steady? What does it feel like to work for an extended period, even when you feel that part of you wants to escape it?
The felt motion out from chosen point and the corresponding return felt motion back to chosen point are important sensations to notice. They are pre-mental and give us a deep clue to the processes known in yoga as mudra. When we start to really get inside of and work with these movements directly and immediately, we gain a much greater degree of control over the mental processes which usually distract and dull us. In fact, we start to witness the relationship between the mental forms and the underlying feelings of movement that give them birth.
Meditation is movement. It is not about stillness. Even when we 'become still', what are we doing but relaxing? Relaxation itself is movement. Surrender is movement. Allowance is movement. When we truly come inside the inside and it seems that everything stops, there are micromovements which cause the further arisings of form to cease. Patanjali calls these the nirodha samskara. The subliminal habituation to the clear state.
Pay attention to movement. Not to the content of mind but to the feeling of mind. Which is movement. Attend to the feeling of how the mind concentrates, 'steadies', and focuses. Attend to the feeling of the movement toward laziness and distraction. Not with judgment but through pure observation. Attend to how movement 'turns around'. Begin to feel the magnetic like pull of habituated movement. What is that magnetic force? Can it be increased? Decreased? What controls it?
As we drive the attention inward on itself in this ever deepening process we dive through the various levels of mind that are discussed in the Yoga Sutras. I will talk about these levels next time.